Vallejo Symphony flaunts its flutist with Fauré's Fantaisie

By Rich Freedman/Times-Herald staff writer/
Posted: 03/31/2013 01:00:20 AM PST

It's not that Melanie Keller takes her job with the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra seriously. Or that teaching 30 flute students isn't a big deal.

But when the guest soloist for the April 7 VSO ponders her two sons, the reality of motherhood hits her. And now, with Owen 5-1/2 and Jacob 3-1/2, Keller understands what family means.

"I think that being a mom has made me feel like there's another very worthwhile and big part of my life out there," Keller said. "Being a mom is a huge part of my day, obviously. I think it's enriched and made me a more patient person. It's not just about music all the time any more."

Yet, there's the intrinsic value of performing for the VSO and other groups in the Bay Area that helps keep Keller balanced. 

"I think I'm lucky to be able to play with orchestras in the Bay Area, especially the Vallejo Symphony," she said. "I don't know if I have the personality to be a 100 percent stay at home mom. It's nice to be able to do what I do and what I trained to do." 

Maestro David Ramadanoff would undoubtedly agree, having thrust his flutist into a featured role performing Fauré's Fantaisie for Flute and Orchestra.

The VSO conductor approached Keller a year ago about a solo effort and she immediately agreed. 

"He asked for some suggestions of pieces I wouldn't mind doing," Keller said. "We settled on this short little piece." 

Fauré's Fantaisie for Flute was a popular piece used at the Paris Conservatory graduation, Keller said.

The VSO, celebrating Ramadanoff's 30 years of leadership, also performs Schumann and Tchaikovsky at the Touro University concert. 

It's not just another concert for Keller. She's videotaped and recorded herself rehearsing the piece. 

"I definitely feel I prepare more when I have something like this coming up or if there's a competition," she said. 

When Keller isn't performing with the VSO, St. Peter's Chamber Orchestra in Redwood City or The Avenue Winds that she founded, she teaches at a San Mateo music school and two private schools. 

Surely, with all those students -- and two young sons -- Keller's mastered the art of patience. Or not. 

"I'm still working on that," she said laughing. 

The trick in teaching, she noted, is to remember when she was young and what it was like learning a new instrument. 

"I try to put myself in my students' shoes," Keller said. "I enjoy every minute and hopefully they're enjoying it and the learning." 

Her own musical excursion began in first grade taking lessons on the recorder. 

"My parents are from Germany and I think in a lot of European countries the recorder is thought of as a little more serious instrument than here," said Keller, who tries to teach particular pieces the student likes. 

"A lot of kids want 'Firework' by Katie Perry," Keller said. "And one fourth-grade student is learning 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson. I have no idea how he knows it. I guess it's from his mom." 

Keller still has the $150 from Bill's Music House in Maryland she got as a kid from her mom.

"I used it all the way through high school and took college auditions on that flute," said Keller, who won numerous flute competitions. 

"I don't often get to perform solo pieces. It stretches me in a new way," Keller said. "The pieces are usually pretty challenging. I learn a lot from it. It broadens my performance experience."

Keller's been with the VSO since 2004, appreciating her fellow musicians and Ramadanoff.

"They're all great players and it's enjoyable to play with them," she said. "And David always picks great pieces for us to play. He expresses himself well to the orchestra and well during rehearsal. He's just really talented. I've worked with a lot of conductors over the years and he's right up there."

As much as Keller loves playing, she surely won't substitute the flute for her sons' bed-time reading.

"I think it would rile them up," she said. "They'd start jumping up and down and screaming."

If you go

What: Vallejo Symphony Orchestra with guest soloist Melanie Keller

When: Sunday, April 7, 3 p.m.

Where: Touro University, Mare Island, Vallejo

Tickets: $15-$35


(707) 643-4441