When Richard Sherman first set foot on the grounds in 1979 to spend his summer at Chautauqua as a flute student, he washed dishes at Bellinger Hall after dinner and participated in the music program during the day.
“My father said I had to work,” Sherman said, “and I said, ‘I’m going! I’ll work it out if I get in (the program) and if I get there.’ So I worked.”
Now the Rita and Dunbar VanDerveer Symphony Principal Chair for Flute with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, Sherman says he has “a long history with this place.” Sherman has come to Chautauqua every summer since 1989, when he became a member of the CSO. The 2018 season marks his 29th consecutive year. During the off-season, Sherman lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where he is a professor of flute at Michigan State University.
“My kids call this their happy place, and I kind of feel like … I don’t need to go on abstract vacation because I can live here for some parts of a year, and then go back home to Michigan,” Sherman said.
Sherman is the winds and percussion chair at Chautauqua’s School of Music, but Sherman is not satisfied with only teaching students who aspire to be professional flutists. He is also willing to help all flutists who just want to get better.
“I felt like it’s one thing to train people for a career, and you know, a specific career-specific profession. You know you’re going to play in orchestra, you’re going to be a college professor and maybe you’ll be a band director,” Sherman said. “But there are also people who love it and either stopped taking lessons or never really had an advanced teacher. … I want to make their enjoyment a little bit better. I just want to help.”
Several years ago, Sherman came up with the idea of holding a master class in Chautauqua that is open to any flute player on the grounds. This year, Sherman’s flute community master class will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, July 16, at McKnight Hall. Performance and coaching opportunities are on a first-come, first-served basis, and Sherman said he prefers flutists to bring something they have been working on. All woodwind players are welcome to attend.
According to Suzanne Fassett, director of arts education at Chautauqua, Sherman is willing to work with anyone who wants to get better at flute.
“Where Rick is coming from is that music is accessible for everyone, not just for the elite,” she said. “His community master class is for anyone who wants to bring what they have to the table and share it with others.”
People of all ages have come to play in Sherman’s flute community master class. When Sherman first held the class, there were flutists ranging from 8 years old to 60 years old.
“When this man who came into the master class three years ago said ‘That is the beauty of what I’m seeing you do,’ it gave me a lot of encouragement,” Sherman said.
For Sherman, it’s also a chance to return to his roots.
“Once again, I go back to when I was 19 and set foot on the grounds for the first time. I got a chance to spread my wings, and I still feel like I’m doing that here,” Sherman said. “I feel like the Institution has empowered me to be my best at a lot of levels.”
Sherman said he is happy to be able to create a space for flutists in the community who just love to play.
“I think (in) creating an environment where people feel comfortable and safe enough to learn, some good things can happen,” Sherman said.