‘Gentleman of the Flute’ Recounts Gilbert’s Love for Teaching at Stetson
As a child growing up in post-war London, Monya Gilbert got a firsthand view of her father, flutist Geoffrey Gilbert, plying his trade.
“He let me look through the keyhole when James Galway and William Bennett were having their lessons from him,” Gilbert said in her DeLand home, her British accent still buoying her speech. “He would put the music stand in a place – he didn’t tell me, he told mom – where he knew I could see what was going on. So, I had a chair and a little keyhole.”
Beginning in 1969, Stetson University students got a much better view of Geoffrey Gilbert plying his trade. The flutist – by then an internationally acclaimed orchestral performer and teacher – served as director of instrumental studies, conductor-in-residence and studio flute teacher at the university until his retirement in 1979.
Upon his death in 1989, Gilbert was proclaimed “the most influential British flutist of the 20th century” by the London Times.
Gilbert’s life and career, and especially his passion and talent for teaching, are recounted in a new documentary, “Geoffrey Gilbert – Gentleman of the Flute.” The 56-minute film is nominated in the Best Documentary – Historical category at the 41st annual Suncoast Regional Emmy Awards, which will be presented on Saturday, Dec. 2, in Orlando.
“He is among the names of James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal,” said Tammara K. Phillips, D.M., instructor of flute at Stetson. She considers herself a “grand-student” of Gilbert because she studied under Jean West, former flute professor and dean of the School of Music at Stetson – and West in turn was a student of Gilbert.
“The fact that Stetson had this major flute player in our history — that is so amazing to me and to everyone who finds out about that,” Phillips said. She hopes the documentary will help “get the word out” about Gilbert’s Stetson connection. Indeed, she has shown the film to her students and plans to do so again.
“Geoffrey Gilbert – Gentleman of the Flute” details the musician’s life from his birth in Liverpool in 1914, to his appointment as principal flute with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at age 19 and his subsequent tenure with the BBC Symphony and other orchestras, to his teaching roles at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and other academies.
A world tour with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1966 brought Gilbert and his wife, Marjorie, to Daytona Beach – and led to a relationship with Stetson University. Paul Langston, then dean of Stetson’s School of Music, persuaded the Gilberts to join the university’s faculty in 1969 – including a teaching position in the theater department for Marjorie.
“They found it extraordinarily easy to come to Deland,” Monya Gilbert says in the documentary. “The Stetson family was so welcoming. It was so different from living in London where nobody knows who you are anyway.”
Documentary director/editor Tami Salame, a former local public television producer and currently a TV commercial producer, amassed 20 hours of footage for the film, including interviews with more than a dozen of Gilbert’s students. Featured are Jean West and Gilbert’s two most famous pupils – Bennett and Galway. Bennett will perform at Stetson on Feb. 6, 2018, and hold master classes with music students.
Nathalie Maldonado, a flutist who graduated from Stetson in 2015 with a major in music performance, served as the documentary’s historian. Monya Gilbert is executive producer of the project.
Working with Monya Gilbert’s personal archives as well as the university’s archives, the documentary crew poured through “endless, endless photos, documents, historical letters written between Geoffrey and his wife, between Geoffrey and famous conductors” and other records during the course of the four-year project, Salame said.
Gilbert’s passion for teaching arises again and again.
Though the filmmakers could not unearth any footage of Gilbert performing or teaching, the documentary does feature Gilbert’s voice from a recording as he spoke about teaching master classes at Stetson: “I love doing these classes. I love being with young people, and I want to go on doing it as long as I can.”
“He was very, very serious about teaching,” Galway says in the film during an interview in his home city of Belfast, Northern Ireland. “His responsibility to the student was something other teachers didn’t have.” His mentor, Galway adds, was “the foundation” of “virtuoso flute playing.”
“He loved teaching,” said Monya Gilbert, a former professional violinist, flutist and arts organization administrator, the latter including a stint at Stetson’s School of Music. “He had a tremendous talent for seeing what a player needed in order to progress up the ladder so that eventually they could be a William Bennett or Jimmy Galway.”
“I think the greatest compliment on the documentary came from one of the professors at Stetson, who said every professor at Stetson should be made to watch it because there’s so much about the art of teaching and how to support one’s students,” Monya said.
— Rick de Yampert
If You Go:
British flute player William Bennett
William Bennett will perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in Lee Chapel at Elizabeth Hall, on the Stetson campus at 421 N. Woodland Blvd., DeLand.
Admission is free and open to the public.
For more information, call the School of Music at 386-822-8950 or go online at stetson.edu/music.