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  • Writer's pictureJoe LaRocca

Brain Droppings of a Flute Boy

I decided to start this blog because I have a lot of things on my mind and I don't want to bother so many folks on social media with my rantings and ravings. So here is its.

To start I suppose I should tell the story of who I am and what I am doing and how I got here. I am currently a full time performer in the Boston area mostly performing in theater as a woodwind player. My primary instrument is flute and piccolo, but I also perform at a high level on saxophones and clarinets. I ended up in Boston because I did a tuition-free artist diploma at Longy School of Music in flute performance and decided to stick around. Not long after, I got a job on the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then came back to Boston to freelance as a woodwind doubler and flutist. Thats the short version of that story.

I went through a number of different musical pursuits throughout my 20's with varying levels of success, but eventually landed on wanting to pursue a career as a symphonic flutist. Previously I had tried playing in bands for awhile but decided that I was tired of being exploited by venue owners and festival promoters. While I was at Longy, I realized that a symphony job was simply out of reach unless I was able to find a flexible enough job that paid enough to support me traveling constantly on the audition circuit. That's when I got my first offer to play a musical theater gig in 2019, which was Mary Poppins at a high school, and then The Secret Garden at Concord Players shortly after. It was then that I got my first big break, so heres the story:

I was working with a group called The Du Bois Orchestra as principal flute and personnel director, spending tons of time recruiting for what was, at the time, a volunteer orchestra. The conductor at the time was a colleague named Nathaniel Meyer. I met him from agreeing to sub on piccolo in a volunteer orchestra out in Hudson with like 3 hours' notice, he was playing trumpet in the group and was the one giving a few of us a ride there. One night after rehearsal, we were sitting at the Boat House, a nearby bar in Harvard Square. Nathaniel had mentioned a colleague of his, Brian Eade, who was conductor of the Les Mis tour coming through Boston that week. In true freelancer form I decided to ask him if I could meet him just to get some insight into this new world I was embarking on in musical theater. Little did I know the impact that this conversation would have.

That evening I sent Brian an email, just briefly describing my experience and my desire to pick his brain about the industry. The next day while at the gym I received a phone call from him where he informed me that the Jesus Christ Superstar tour was looking for a woodwind player, and asked if I played sax. Mind you, I hadn't played tenor sax in like 5 years at that point, and didn't even own a sax any more. So naturally I said YES and he offered to recommend me after hearing some recordings that I had dug up from years prior.

A short time later I heard back from Brian when he, somewhat frantically, told me that I needed to change my resume to make it look more like a sax player's resume. He said "you definitely come off as a solid woodwind player and flutist here, but they really want someone who is strong at sax, so I just want to make sure your resume gets off the pile." So I said, thats fine, when should I get it to you, and he said "in an hour max." ......... This threw me through a bit of a loop since I was at my teaching job waiting for my first lesson, having gotten there a couple hours early to get lunch and give my friend a ride. I didn't have my laptop on me and I was nowhere near a computer. So I went to the only place I could think of— the library. So here I am, in the Winchester Public Library, using an outdated version of Microsoft Word having copied my resume from Adobe and having to fudge it to look like a sax player's resume. Nothing I changed was a lie, exactly, but I did things like removed flute performance from my degrees in favor of simply performance, and put to the top projects I did on sax and conveniently removed the dates. I was able to get it done right in time to get back for my first lesson, possibly a minute or two late. I sent it off, he told me it looked great, and he sent it off. The same day I got a message from a contractor in NYC with audition material for the gig with no specific deadline, so that meant, ASAP. So there I was, a sax player without a sax having at the most 3 or 4 days to submit for a full equity tour that tons of experienced woodwind players were auditioning for. BUT, I said fuck it and decided to give it a shot.

I happened to have a few K in my account from a short term contract gig I did that last month for a research firm and got all the money in one sum. So I went to Boston Sax Shop for the first time in my life, and Jack Finucane the owner was there. I told him I only had 2 thousand to spend on a tenor sax, and so he sold me a Cannonball tenor sax and a really solid mouthpiece. I gave it a toot and it was like riding a bike. It was as if I never stopped playing, but it also helped that I had been working on clarinet for about a year before that time, which requires much more lip pressure and embouchure discipline.

So I had the instruments I needed, the recording equipment (a Shure motive mic), and the music. The flute stuff was a breeze especially since I had recently performed Paganini at a recital and played three Beethoven pieces within the span of a month. The sax stuff was also pretty easy since it was pretty much all the improv sections of Superstar. The clarinet stuff however was a little more daunting since the orchestrator decided to put all of the crazy high and virtuosic stuff from the overture on Clarinet. I somehow managed to get some good takes and sent them off. I thought so little my prospects of winning the job that I recorded them in Adidas pants and a hoodie.

I didn't hear back anything for a month, so I figured I didn't win the job. But one day while on a trip I got the call from the managing director at Worklight Productions. "Hey Joe, this is __ from Worklight Productions, just wanted to go ahead and offer you the job on Jesus Christ Superstar so if you can give me a call back...." This is where my life changed completely. Suddenly I went from nothing to everything within seconds, and it directly led to everything I am doing now. I was shocked that I won the job, but I later found out that the uber fastidious music coordinator and arranger Tom Deering really wanted someone who could rip on rock style sax and also play flute at the level of a principal flutist in a symphony, which I guess is rare in the woodwind doubler world. They didn't seem to mind my (at the time) mediocre clarinet playing.

Well, that's the story of how subbing on piccolo in a volunteer orchestra in Hudson led to a national Broadway tour. Tons of stories about touring and freelancing and just living to come for those willing to read them. Even for the internet they will be...shocking.

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