The Center for Musical Arts has a variety of talented instructors that teach several different classes. In this interview, we sat down with Lisamarie Windwalker, who teaches flute, piccolo, Native American flute, and more.
Center for Musical Arts: Hello, my name is Erica Reid. I’m the Marketing Manager at the Center for Musical Arts, and we are continuing to talk to the different faculty members of the Center for Musical Arts just to put some faces with some names. Today we are talking to Lisamarie, how are you doing?
Lisamarie Windwalker: I’m doing very well. Thank you, Erica.
Center: Can you just start me off and tell me how long you’ve been with the Center and what you teach?
Lisamarie: I was hired with the Center in March of 2018, and I teach flute and piccolo and Native American flutes. And I guide the Native American Flute and Drum Circles. And as soon as everything opens up, we’re going to be working in the prisons, in the Denver prisons.
Center: Oh, tell me a little bit more about that experience if you don’t mind.
Lisamarie: Well, it’s a new experience. So I’ve worked in hospice, I’ve worked in nursing homes, I’ve worked in orphanages offering music and music therapies. And we have this opportunity to offer Native American flutes and drums in just small circles at the prison. And I’ve got a support system with the Zen Peacemakers who do a lot of engaged Buddhism and social engaged work. And so I’m excited about this program and we’ll see how it unfolds.
Center: Can you describe to me the feeling of being a part of a flute and drum circle? It’s something that I have never done and I think maybe other potential students at the Center might not have experienced. Can you describe a little bit what that experience is like?
Lisamarie: Well, the flute and drum circles that I’ve guided before involve a connection with the earth, meditation. So it’s atmospheric learning how to breathe your breath into an instrument and/or feel the pulse of a drum is very primal and it’s healing in many ways. We use it in ceremony, and so it’s something that can bring peace and calm and a connection.
Center: Fantastic. So let me back up a little bit. I ask everybody this question because I find it so telling, but what drew you to flute in the first place? How did you know that was your instrument?
Lisamarie: I had to think about this a lot. What drew me to the flute? I was a wild child and I ran around and climbed trees and played with boys and was in the mountains and I’d go off on my own and play in the parks and stuff. I was always outside.
So in fourth grade they asked us if we wanted to play an instrument and I chose the flute. I actually first wanted to play the drums and my mother, in so many choice words, said “no way.” [laughs] And my next instrument, I thought, “well, how about the harp?” And she said, “I’m not lugging that around.” And I thought, “Okay. Why not the flute?” I had seen a flute player at a wedding and I was sort of drawn to it, so I thought that was cool.
And I had buck teeth. My teeth were so bucked I couldn’t close my mouth and I couldn’t get a sound in the instrument in fourth grade at all. So, time goes by and they put me on an oboe first and I could get my lips around the reed, and I played on the oboe for a little while, and probably sounded like a duck, I don’t remember.
But when I was in ninth grade, I decided that I wanted to go back and try the flute. So I had braces, it moved my teeth back and so I started there. And I didn’t have any lessons until ninth grade in high school. And one of my really good friends was principal flute in the band, in the symphony bands at Wheat Ridge High School.
And I asked Monica at one time, I said, “Why are you so good? You’re so good. How can I get this accomplished? How can I play this as well?” And she said, “Well, I take private lessons from Suzanella Noble.” So I said, “Oh, I wonder if I can do that.” And I started taking lessons with Suzanella.
I didn’t have a family support system and so she saw something in me and she said, “Okay, I will give you flute lessons if you come to my house and clean my house in exchange for lessons.” So I traveled two hours one way, from Wheat Ridge and all the way to Boulder, and she picked me up at a bus stop sometimes when it was snowy, other times I would just walk to her house in Boulder. And I would clean her house and she would give me an hour and a half to two-hour lesson and then she allowed me to stay and listen to live performances of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Cleveland [Orchestra], live broadcasts and records. And then I would take the bus back two hours.
And I did that all the way through high school. And yeah, it was pretty amazing. And she connected me with my next teacher who was Murray Panitz, who was the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and I had to send him a tape, and I was the first freshman that he ever took. He only accepted upper graduates until I came along.
And yeah, I’ve had some really amazing flute teachers. And unfortunately, Murray passed away about three weeks before I graduated from college and I approached David Cramer who was associate principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra and I said, “I study with Murray and I really need to continue my study.” So I continued with David Cramer and then also Mark Sparks, who’s now a principal in the St. Louis Symphony.
And amazing stories. I understand the philosophies and the diversity and the openness of [Center for Musical Arts] accepting students from all walks of life no matter what their economic status is, no matter what their religion is, no matter what their race is, or their age. And so I have a unique background in that I pursued this, and I had teachers who believed in me who were basically caregivers as well as teachers.
Center: Lisamarie, this is so amazing to hear, especially since it started with an instrument you physically couldn’t play. I mean, there must’ve been something about, if not even specifically flute, but music that spoke to you worth overcoming physical inability to play the flute. [laughs] I think that arc is really fascinating to hear about.
Lisamarie: Yeah. When I was in college, I went home to my adopted father’s house and I went through all kinds of report cards and things from second and third and fourth grade, and apparently I was a troublemaker, but the only time that I was content and creative and imaginative was when I was doing art or making music and music classes. And it was surprising to me to read that because I didn’t remember any of that.
And I always enjoyed music, I thought it was really fascinating to have this sound. And I’ve always imitated sounds around the world, I imitate birds, I imitate sounds of cars, and I’ve done that since I was a child. So it’s interesting. I think music is innate in every human being, and to pick up an instrument is such a gift.
Center: So, let me transition then to asking about your teaching philosophy. Of all these things you’re telling me about the power of music and all of the connection that it creates, how does all of that fit into the way that you teach?
Lisamarie: Well, I realize as an adult that every mind and body is unique. So I utilize a variety of teaching methods, such as the Inner Game of Music, the Suzuki method, and lots of traditional methods that I’ve learned along the way from masterclasses and amazing teachers. I’ve studied with some of the best teachers in the world.
It didn’t come easy to me, making music. I’ve practiced hard, I have a sense of discipline in my being. And I think that has made me a very effective teacher because I’ve had to learn and had to be imaginative about how to learn phrases, how to get technique down. And I had colleagues and friends in college that we’d get together and we would do flute circles and we would work through excerpts, orchestral excerpts, and help each other.
So, my purpose as a teacher is to openly offer guidance and encouragement and understanding, and support, and really nurture the imagination of children and adults both, and just giving them the skill and aiding students to cultivate the love of music. Whatever age they are, or ability, I’ve taught age five through 80 in my lifetime. Over 33 years of teaching I’ve done, and all over the world too.
So I feel if after my time with my students, and whether that’s through high school or a few years as an adult together, if the students can dance their lives awake with music and joy and imagination, I feel that I’ve served their lives in the best way possible. And scientists have proven that learning an instrument, not just listening to music but learning an instrument, is a whole body workout.
Center: Oh, interesting.
Center: That’s really interesting. Well, at this point I’ve talked to a lot of different faculty members, and I ask about sort of teaching philosophy and I get different answers, but the core of it is always about you just need to love music. [laughs] And so here are the different ways I help you connect to music and find that same passion for music and the rest kind of goes from there, which is some of what I’m hearing from you as well. How can we find the piece of it that’s going to connect your passion to this and then use the flute as a tool for that, because there are so many instruments that can just help you make that connection to music as a whole. I think that’s really interesting.
Lisamarie: Yeah. And I think also I do have a passion for teaching and a passion for vibration and healing with it. Using it as a conduit for healing and using my body as a conduit for the vibration for healing, as well as for teaching. And I think when you teach and you have this passion that is transmitted to your student.
Lisamarie: Automatically. I mean, all of my teachers had passion for music. And Murray was pretty funny, he was like, “Let’s learn how to practice correctly. So you don’t have to practice more than an hour a day, practice what you can’t play. Don’t keep doing repetitions of what you can play. You can do that once in a while for fun, but practice what you can’t play and don’t waste your life in repetition.” And yeah, he was a very smart man, principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra. And that also helped me understand how music is a puzzle and we have to figure out the puzzle pieces. And then once we put it together, then it works.
And so I have lots of different methods to help students actually listen to themselves. We’re not taught to actually listen as children, we’re taught to talk. [laughs] So if the students that I have can learn how to listen to themselves and then actually imagine what they want to sound like, and then if they don’t sound like they imagine but they’re listening to themselves, they can change what they’re doing. I think that’s very profound. Change the direction we’re going in just by listening, being present, not knowing. That’s what I love about teaching children over adults, is that the kids come in and they’re like blank slates. They don’t know.
Center: They don’t have to unlearn.
Lisamarie: They don’t have to unlearn. The adults do have to unlearn but for some reason I’m just really good at being very patient and open with them and I listen to them and I can teach them how to listen to themselves and to be patient with themselves, because most adults want to be fantastic right then and right then, right now. “I want to be really good right now.” But it takes time. And so to enjoy the process and to teach students to really enjoy this process is also a part of the passion.
Center: These sound like life lessons not just flute lessons, am I right?
Lisamarie: Yeah. It’s true. [laughs]
Center: Translates pretty broadly. So let me ask you, what are you doing when you’re not teaching and listening to music?
Lisamarie: I’m listening to nature right now. It’s spring and the birds are singing. [laughs] I’m very engaged in Zen practice with the Zen Peacemakers, engaged Buddhism. I care about the earth and I care about human beings. I do a lot of healing work, I’m a ceremonialist, and I love to cook. I have a lot of practices, rather than interests, I have a lot of practices.
So I’ve been practicing macrobiotic cooking and I’m a macrobiotic chef since the early 90s. Whole foods and eating well. I love yoga, I practice yoga. I’m practicing [physical therapy] right now because I have an injured spine and I’ve been restoring from that. And I love connecting with people, and I have traveled around the world and served communities on six continents with Sound Journey. Music has brought me everywhere. Even back to Colorado from Philadelphia to be with my partner, who is also a musician.
I formed and I’m director of Mystic Pulse, which is an ensemble that offers gong baths and religious music and parties and all kinds of stuff. We’re playing at the farmer’s markets in July, on the 11th of July, up here in [Nederland].
And yeah, so I’m also very engaged with the Animas Valley Institute, which is the work of Bill Plotkin. I’m interested in and practice depth psychology, which works with the earth and maturing and connecting with each other and the earth and the more than human world.
I do lots of things. I’m interested in art and crafts, and painting, and drawing, and photography. I’ve taken all of the photographs and written all the memoirs. I’m a poet, I love poetry, and I appreciate other poets. And so I’m feeling like I’m very plugged in into this amazing world that we’re living in, even with all of the chaos there’s amazing things coming up and going on.
Center: Absolutely. I think you and I would get along just fine. [laughs] Is there anything else that we have not talked about that you think would be important to know for a potential future student or someone who’s not sure where to start or someone who has had an interest but doesn’t know what the next steps are? Do you have anything that you’d like to share with a student like that?
Lisamarie: Yeah, I think curiosity is important and some parents are really willing to let their children try or adults are interested in trying, and I suggest that you rent an instrument if you don’t have one and then come and try some lessons, not just one or two, but give yourself a chance to grow and see if you can grow into the flute in particular. I consider myself a musician. I could have played any instrument, and I do play several instruments, percussion and different world flutes. So I think if somebody is not quite sure what they want to do, what instruments they want to play, I would suggest, just pick one, one that works with you, with your heart, one that resonates with you. And if you don’t know what that is, there’s so many YouTubes to check out.
There is a world flute. I send my students a YouTube when they’re new, every week of a flute from a different country in a different culture. There is a flute in every single culture. And I think that engaging students is my job, and their curiosity is their job. And showing up and being present and being willing to do, I don’t want to call it work, willing to play, because that’s what music is about. It’s about playing.
And practice isn’t a dirty word. It’s the journey of it. And so, yeah, that’s what I would suggest, is that if people aren’t sure what they want to play is to listen to YouTubes of instrumentalists and then find a teacher. I’m here. [laughs]
Center: I will add to that, the Center offers tuition assistance and you don’t have to clean the Center to receive it. [laughs] And that we also offer instrument rentals as well. And so those are two additional tools you could find at the Center if you need that extra push to get there.
Lisamarie: Yes, and I’ve gone through all of the flutes that are available and picked out the ones that work and the ones that needed to be worked on. So there’s several flutes available.
Center: Great to know. Well, Lisamarie, thank you so much for taking the time with me today. It’s been fantastic to get to know you.
Lisamarie: You too, Erica. Thank you so much.
Center: Thank you.