Penn Flutes includes more than 40 musicians, mostly undergraduate students who receive a half course credit for being part of the ensemble, plus Penn staff, graduate students and alumni, and even community members. The entire ensemble performs two formal concerts a year; the spring concert is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23, at Houston Hall.
Michele Kelly, the director of Penn Flutes, put the first ensemble together in 2002, playing a performance at a “Nutcracker” tea with eight students.
“I don’t have auditions. I open it up to everyone who can contribute,” says Kelly, who teaches lessons and master’s classes through Penn’s College House music program.
Most of the students are not music majors, or even minors.
“They are studying other things, medicine, business, math, engineering. Flute for them is a hobby,” Kelly said. “At the same time, a lot of them are really talented.”
Lavi Ben Dor, one of the group’s student managers, is a junior pursuing a dual degree in math and finance/marketing. While growing up in Wayne, Pa., he was in the band at Conestoga High School and took flute lessons from Kelly, who encouraged him to join Penn Flutes.
“I’ve just always loved playing the flute,” he said. “It’s great getting into a different head space, focusing on the music, playing with the group, appreciating the musicality of the flute. It’s a totally different experience than what it is like in my classes.”
The entire ensemble practices every other Saturday for two hours, and the smaller group of about a dozen performers, called the “library” ensemble, practices every Friday.
The library ensemble plays at least four “pop up” concerts a year, like the one at the Penn Museum’s Chinese Rotunda in February, and another, featuring the Ukrainian Bell Carol, performed in the Museum’s Pepper Hall in December.
The library ensemble also performs in the community. In a partnership with the Pennsylvania Ballet, they play holiday selections during a tea for families with the Sugar Plum Fairy. And Kelly recently formed a partnership with PlayArts in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown. They performed for the children there for the first time in March, during an “animal picnic.”
Sirmina Dremsizova, a senior mathematical economics major from Cary, N.C., said she enjoyed playing for the groups of children: “The kids were adorable. We had them guess what animals we were playing like.”
Both Ben Dor and Dremsizova said they have made friends through Penn Flutes with people they otherwise probably would not have met.
“It’s such a close community,” Ben Dor said. “Even though a lot of us come from different backgrounds and have different majors, we have a shared interest in the flute and appreciation for music.”