Kaili Maimets, our brilliant principal flutist, is one of the newer members of our orchestra, and has performed with us during the past two-and-a-half years. In addition to fulfilling her role as principal flute, she has recently appeared as soloist with us in a Mozart Concerto, has performed with the Toronto Symphony, as well as with the National Ballet Orchestra of Canada in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
Her full biography may be found at her website www.kailimaimets.com
Kaili began her music studies at the age of 4 and was drawn to the flute after attending the Toronto Symphony’s Cushion Concerts. Kaili is now looking forward to inspiring the next generation of young flutists by hosting two Cushion Concerts on Saturday, 11 April 2015 at the East London Branch, London Public Library. Fellow flutist Margaret Voorhaar caught up with Kaili to find out more about her, and her journey to becoming one of Canada’s most exciting young flutists.
Q: I have seen you give an eight year old a flute lesson. It was a combination of learning and fun. Do you enjoy teaching children?
A: I love teaching children – all ages actually. The youngest student I have taught was 4, and the oldest was 86! When teaching little kids, playing games to teach skills is fun and effective. For example, to teach a child – or anyone for that matter – a proper flute embouchure, spitting rice is very effective. Kids absolutely love to do it, because we can spit rice at each other, at the floor, at the furniture and make a bit of a mess! What is great is that the parents can get involved and spit rice too.
To teach the concept of air-speed, using the idea of windmills is effective. We can make the windmill spin fast, slow, in short spurts or for a long time. Making more than one windmill spin at a time is exciting as well. Once the child is comfortable with both shaping their mouth to spit rice and with having a constant air-speed, we “graduate” to making a sound on the headjoint of the flute.
Q: When you started getting serious about pursuing flute performance as a career, how did you decide where to study? How did your studies with Nora Shulman at University of Toronto differ from your time completing your Masters Degree at McGill University with Denis Bluteau?
A: I was really lucky to have a very inspiring flute teacher, Peg Albrecht, who highly recommended I continue studying with Nora. During my undergraduate degree, I studied music theory, history, played lots of chamber music, took orchestral repertoire class, played in the school’s orchestra and, of course, took lessons and prepared for recitals. Nora helped me to refine my tone, vibrato, and technique and taught me the major flute repertoire as well as orchestral excerpts. I knew that I wanted to be an orchestral flutist, so I chose to specialize in that for my Master’s degree. At McGill, I spent my time focusing on preparing for the final examination in orchestral repertoire. Denis helped me to continue refining my skills as a flutist and develop confidence.
Q: As principal flute of our orchestra, what are your duties?
A: My role as principal flute is, of course, to play the first flute part which generally has moments of solo and ensemble playing. I have to know when I lead the phrase or when I am accompanying someone else in the orchestra. When we are seated in orchestra, I like to make sure that I have a clear line of sight with our concertmaster, so that I can watch his bow and his leadership in phrasing. When I play my solos I have to bring my own interpretation and musical ideas to the phrase, but I also have to react to the conductor’s gestures to inspire my musicality. Ensemble playing is quite exciting because we all have to agree on length of notes, articulation, vibrato, dynamics, and beginning and ending notes together. As the principal flute, I lead the flute section, but I also have to keep my ears wide open to be able to respond to the other winds and strings.
Q: As one of the younger members of our group, what was it like taking on a leadership position amongst colleagues who may might have 20 or 30 more years of professional orchestral experience?
A: Well, I was really nervous at first – especially during my first year on the job. But I was so lucky to have the nicest, most supportive colleagues to work with. I can’t imagine a better group of people to work with. By the second season I felt more confident. Also, I have to say how grateful I am for the training that I received with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, YOA Orchestra of the Americas, Banff Festival Orchestra, National Academy Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Scotia Festival Orchestra all helped to prepare me for the “real thing”.
Q: I know you recently selected a new “Burkart” flute as your concert instrument. What are its qualities that satisfied what you were looking for?
A: The quality I love most about my Burkart flute is it’s tone. I was looking for a flute that had allowed me to freely play with a deep resonant tone in all registers. Adjusting to a new instrument takes some time and lots of work, but once I “figured out” how to play it, I feel that when I relax, then the tone quality and projection is just incredible. The pitch is very consistent on this flute, so blending with the other winds is easier.
Q: Your family hails from Estonia, in Northern Europe. What musical influences may have rubbed off on you as a result of your Estonian heritage?
A: Growing up in an Estonian family has allowed me to be surrounded by music and art. Music and especially singing is a huge part of Estonian culture.
Q: It is wonderful that your brother, Riho, is a composer – www.rihomaimets.com Has he written for flute, and have you ever performed his pieces?
A: My brother has composed for flute and I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to perform a number of his pieces. What I love about the pieces I’ve played – such as lumena – is that they begin very simply, drawing in the audience’s focus; then they gradually develop and grow. Playing his music has demanded a lot of breath control for the long phrases and disciplined use of vibrato, which allows the music to evolve ever so gradually.
Q: If you had time to learn another instrument what would you choose?
A: I love the piano, although I didn’t used to as a child. When I was in university, I took a course called “Piano-Instrumental Masterclass” where instrumentalists were paired with pianists. The course was led by Mrs. Orloff, a fabulous pianist and teacher. She talked about voicing the chords, how to create different colours on the piano – things I had never realized could be done. There is so much amazing repertoire for the piano.
Q: Besides playing orchestral music and teaching, what other kinds of music do you enjoy? Choir, solo or chamber music with your friends?
A: Before joining this orchestra, I sang in a couple of Toronto Estonian community choirs. Over the years, I have developed a circle of friends with whom I love to work. One of my great friends is a harpist, with whom I enjoy playing. Any time a few string players ask if I would like to play the Mozart Flute Quartets, I am thrilled!
Q: Your pet Coton de Tulear,”Rasmus”, has been the source of many fun stories. What does he add to your life? I would think you are too busy for a pet.
A: I absolutely adore having a pet like Rasmus! Having a dog forces me to go outdoors many times a day in all kinds of weather, and allows me to enjoy the beauty of nature. He makes me laugh while I get my exercise.
Q: At what age did you begin considering the importance of overall physical fitness, in connection to music performance?
A: When I got a repetitive-strain injury from over practice during my undergraduate degree, I was afraid I would never be able to play the flute again. I had to take an entire year off from school to recover. It was a very difficult time for me. I couldn’t imagine pursuing anything else in my life but playing my flute. I learned that as a musician, I had entered a very physically demanding profession, and I would have to take care of my body just as an athlete would take care of theirs, with proper physical training, the best nutrition, and good rest.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of orchestral music in London? What does having a professional orchestra bring to this city?
A: Music is an art form that is present in most every culture in every part of the world. One amazing thing about symphonic music, in my opinion, is that so many people have to work together to achieve a beautiful, meaningful performance. These individuals have dedicated most of their lives to their craft. I think it symbolizes the height of human achievement.
I remember when I was deciding what to do with my life back in high school… do I become an architect or a flutist? How can I make the most difference? At times seeing all the terrible news about war and suffering, I thought to myself that perhaps I should become a doctor or someone who can really make a difference… but then one day I realized that what do we actually live for? We don’t live only to survive, to have shelter, food, and water. I think we also crave beauty, and art gives us that beauty. Music is absolutely essential to our lives. When the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall happened in 2014, it was celebrated in Berlin with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. I don’t think such an important event could have been marked in a more meaningful and inspiring way. I feel so blessed that I have the opportunity in my life to be a flutist – to perform and also to teach. Even though arts organizations and especially musical organizations are struggling, I believe that our calling is to continue to create beautiful symphonic music and to share it with our community.