Faculty Profile: Wendy Rolfe
During her 29 years in Berklee’s Woodwind Department, professor Wendy Rolfe has carved out a multidimensional musical path. She was the first woman the department hired in 1987, and since that time, she has guided countless flute students through the intricacies of technique and repertoire. Additionally, Rolfe maintains a busy schedule teaching, performing, and recording orchestral and chamber music with various organizations throughout the Americas. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin Conservatory, she chose a career that was open-ended musically and professionally.
“I had become interested in the outside edges of the repertoire,” Rolfe says. “So when I finished at Oberlin, I realized that I didn’t want to go the symphony audition route.” For Rolfe, the “outside edges” started with early music and historical flute performance on period instruments, which led to her involvement with Baroque music. She simultaneously dove deeply into contemporary classical repertoire.
“I ended up meeting Harvey Sollberger, a pioneer in contemporary flute music and extended techniques for the flute, in New York,” she recalls. “I went to work with him to learn how to make all the different sounds you could make on the flute.” With Sollberger’s encouragement, Rolfe enrolled at Manhattan School of Music and completed her master’s and doctoral degrees there under his tutelage. “Manhattan was a hotbed of contemporary music,” Rolfe recalls, “and I played with the legendary Group for Contemporary Music with Harvey and [group cofounder] Charles Wuorinen.”
Rolfe stresses the importance of learning diverse aspects of one’s instrument’s repertoire. She gained experience early on playing in youth orchestras, and later as a Tanglewood Music Center fellow working with conductors Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, and Gunther Schuller. Over the decades, she has brought that experience to her teaching as well as to her performances with the Boston Baroque, Handel and Haydn Society, and Cape Symphony orchestras. She recently played historical piccolo with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Toronto for their recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Her own recent CD releases, Images of Brazil and Images of Eve (the latter featuring music exclusively by women composers), reveal other musical interests. On the first, Rolfe explores Brazilian folk-inspired and contemporary works, and on the latter, works by Berklee professor Beth Denisch, and alumni composers Yun Chung and Kazuyo Kuriya, among others.
While some of Rolfe’s Berklee students hope to join professional orchestras, others have quite different goals. “I have a lot of students coming to me who play jazz,” she says, “and others wanting to do film-scoring sessions. They need to develop the ensemble skills to blend with a section and work with a conductor. There is a real need for that kind of training at Berklee.”
Rolfe teaches students with many differing interests in her woodwind doubling lab classes. Generally, they play multiple woodwinds and some aspire to work with musical theater productions. She stresses to them the need to develop a great tone and solid intonation, among other skills. Rolfe says of her approach to the doubling labs, “It’s a bit like a one-room schoolhouse. I teach in Latin America frequently, and there, the older kids help the little kids. In my Berklee classes, I think it’s important for the classically oriented flute majors to help the doublers, and they in turn help the flute majors with jazz. They all have something to offer each other.”
One of Rolfe’s long-term goals has been working on social issues through music and music education. When she was the chair of the Cultural Outreach Committee for America’s National Flute Association (NFA), she initiated a program to provide funding for disadvantaged youth to attend the NFA conventions in various cities. After establishing musical connections with top flutists and educators in Ecuador and Brazil, and having witnessed the need among impoverished youth in South America, Rolfe mobilized her Berklee colleagues to help provide young people access to musical instruments.
“I visited a town west of Río de Janeiro that had a wonderful school, but the kids had almost no resources,” she says. “I was asked if I could help them.” Rolfe enlisted her Berklee faculty colleagues, including Walter Beasley, Beth Denisch, Matthew Nicholl, and others, who donated about 20 flutes for the program there. Rolfe has also added her energy and expertise to what has become a very successful outreach effort begun by the principal flutist of the national orchestra in Ecuador.
Rolfe imparts lessons about service through music to her Berklee students. “I encourage them to think about how they can make the world a better place through music,” she says. “I’ve taken them to play at senior-citizen residences—we did six of those outreach concerts last fall. It’s helped them to appreciate the special skills they have and how much they have to offer. The students were a little shy at first, but then they saw the joy they were bringing to the people. Some students told me after one of those concerts that it was the best thing to happen to them all week. They were happy to see what they could give back with music. It’s important to have that perspective.”