Flutist honors mentor who showed ‘women what was possible’

Trudy Kane and Emily Dierickx. Photo courtesy of Emily Dierickx
By Maya Bell

Trudy Kane and Emily Dierickx. Photo courtesy of Emily Dierickx

Flutist honors mentor who showed ‘women what was possible’

By Maya Bell
Emily Dierickx, who is graduating this week with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, gives Trudy Kane’s groundbreaking musical and teaching career its due.

In 1976, when Trudy Kane was just 26, she became the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal flutist, a post she held at the fabled New York company for 32 years—far longer than any of the 11 men who proceeded her.

Yet, despite Kane’s illustrious, groundbreaking career, which she capped by teaching flute at the Frost School of Music for more than a decade, her life story and enduring legacy had never been well-documented. 

Until now. Flutist Emily Dierickx, who will receive her Doctor of Musical Arts in Instrumental Performance from the University of Miami this week, rectified that oversight by producing a definitive oral history of Kane’s career and life for her doctoral essay. Soon, she’ll create another one for the National Flute Association. 

“I wanted to record her voice and her legacy because she has meant so much to me, to her students, to the school, the University, and to the music world,” said Dierickx, who was Kane’s last D.M.A. student before the acclaimed flutist retired in 2019. “She showed other women what was possible.”

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Based on about 15 hours of planning and recorded interviews, data collection, and archival research, the 149-page essay is a personal but scholarly endeavor—one of the best D.M.A. essays Dierickx’s doctoral adviser, Stephen F. Zdzinski, professor of music education, said he’s seen. For it, Dierickx, who aspires to become a professor of flute, had to learn reporting techniques and follow the Oral History Association’s guidelines.

But she admits the project is a biased labor of love for a flutist known as much for her warmth and wisdom as her virtuosity and vibrato—an essential breathing technique that produces shimmery variations in pitch. “I completely adore her, so the whole essay is positive. But really, there’s nothing negative you could say about Professor Trudy,” Dierickx said.

As Dierickx shows, Kane has always left a trail of admirers in her wake, from the male musicians who once doubted she belonged in the orchestra pit, to the legendary film composers and music directors who rewarded her talent, to audiences and critics who depart recital halls enchanted by her consummate skill, and to her students who have gone on to impressive teaching and performance careers.

As one former student told Dierickx, “Trudy taught me how to approach the mastery of difficult passages and more importantly, how to execute that consistently. Most appreciated, though, is probably how deeply she believed in me and how she communicated that consistently through generously long make-up lessons, thoughtful critique, sage advice, and loving hugs.”

Unlike Kane, whose parents were music teachers, Dierickx did not grow up in a musical family. But the Michigan native knew before she picked up her first flute in sixth grade that she wanted to play one. “I loved the shiny silver and pretty sounds it could make,” Dierickx recalled. “I also admired my elementary music teacher who was a flute player.”

But Dierickx never heard anyone play the flute like Kane, who Dierickx first met at a flute camp when she was an undergraduate at Michigan State. “We were all entranced,” Dierickx recalled. “Everyone in the room fell in love with her sound and her legendary vibrato.’’

Dierickx left the camp with one of Kane’s hugs, and a determination to follow her to the Frost School. Accompanied by her future husband—Zachary, a clarinetist who this week will add a Frost School artist’s diploma to the D.M.A. he previously earned at Ohio State University—she auditioned for and won a place in Kane’s flute studio in 2017. There, Kane saw Dierickx flourish as a musician, teacher, and person.

“Without a question, all of those things are blossoming, which of course is what happens with experience,” Kane said. “She’s become more comfortable with herself and, oh my goodness, I couldn’t be more pleased with the job that she did on the essay. It is incredibly flattering.”

Flattering, but true. The essay documents the many challenges Kane faced in the male-dominated music world of the 1970s and the many mentors who nurtured her drive. The earliest was her father, who often told his daughter that to succeed in music, “You can’t just be better than the guys. You have to be a lot better.” It was he who suggested she play flute, rather than clarinet or violin, because the flute was “easy.”

“We had a good laugh over that,” Dierickx said.

Kane began her first flute lessons in fourth grade with her father, who also took her to weekend conservatory-style schools. Soon after, she began playing in youth orchestras and, by ninth grade, was performing with the Huntington Symphony—and continued to do so through her third year in college at Juilliard. There she earned two performance degrees and played with a national training orchestra for young musicians.

After college, Kane auditioned at the New York Philharmonic. Although she didn’t land the part, she so impressed music director Pierre Boulez, he put her on top of the substitute list. For the next two years, she was regularly called on to play, until she won the Met’s principal flute chair in a blind audition—meaning the judges didn’t know she was a woman. Years later, her flute solo in the score for “The Untouchables”—one of many movie and TV scores for which Kane performed—so moved Ennio Morricone, the film’s legendary composer, he kissed her on the forehead.

But when she began playing at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, which was built without a locker room for women musicians and relegated them to a tiny room with a single toilet, some of Kane’s colleagues were openly hostile. One even slipped an obscene picture in Kane’s music notes to unnerve her. But nothing ever did. As Dierickx’s essay documents, Kane’s talent and warmth always won over the skeptics. And, she always followed her own advice for success: “Want it so badly that you will devote your life to it.” 

After concluding her interviews, research, transcriptions, and writing, Dierickx said only one thing surprised her—how her opinion of Kane had changed. “I just admire her more now than ever,” she said. “I didn’t think that was possible.”