With the complex background you have, we can imagine that a lesson with you is not a typical flute lesson. What has your time teaching at USC been like these last few decades? What teachings do you seek to pass on to your students, both technically with the flute and professionally in the industry?
My biggest priority with students is guiding them towards making a beautiful, personal sound. Every individual is different in how they want to sound and what personality they have, but I want every student to find their voice and to seek that vigorously. I pay attention, maybe more than other teachers, to the aspect of vibrato. I think the flute is closer to the human voice than many instruments, so our vibrato choices must be very intentional and vocal. Many of my advanced students’ choices about vibrato are instinctive, but sometimes their instincts betray a lack of musical understanding. We always have to be thinking about what a great singer, violinist, or cellist would do and try to do that, even if it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. I also encourage my students to study and listen to how the great string players “sing through those strings.”
The other important goal I strive for in every lesson is to try to get the student to hear what I hear. Once a student can hear that, then they can decide if they agree with me or not. If they have a different idea about a sound they want to make, be my guest, but if they can’t hear it, then we run into an issue. I never expect students to have the “Jim Walker Flute Sound” imprinted on them, but I do expect them to have excellent ears and to make personal choices about how they perform. I’m not in the business of creating clones. I’m constantly pushing my students to be more comfortable with expression. I want them to take chances and to feel good on a stage expressing themselves. One way this evolves is by having all my students play in-studio class for each other every week, even if it’s just for 30 seconds.
My most successful students are the ones who can integrate sound fundamental playing and a great sound with the expression I’m talking about. If you have those things put together, nothing can stop you from being a great musician. Obviously, winning jobs and competitions is yet another important component of developing a career. I have a couple of 13-year-old students right now who sound like they are in their late 20’s. I work very hard to help them become content to sing beautifully. That takes a long time to cultivate. We all have heard of amazing prodigies who have the technical aspect of playing down, but sometimes they need lots of great teaching and practice in order to achieve a high level of self-expression.