Union of Rusty Flautists

She caught my eye and I couldn’t leave without her.

My flute.

She’s not seen much daylight in recent years – perhaps none at all in the past three, even though I’ve had her since high school. My love affair with flute began after I was scheduled into band around 7th grade. I had been in chorus from elementary school and I did not appreciate the sudden switch. But we needed to be well-rounded, or so the school counselor said. And so band was my new elective. My protests fell on deaf ears as momma asked which instrument I planned to learn. When it became apparent that rolling my eyes nor begging would change her mind, I grumpily opted for flute.

Eighth grade, 14-year old me in our band uniform. Go Chargers!
Eighth grade me in our band uniform. Go Chargers!

I took to it quickly, spending hours learning the fingering and appropriate embouchure, practicing all the songs one could play once she knew three notes.

The band director was impressed simply because it is notoriously difficult for beginning flautists to produce sound at all. But his simple suggestion – kiss the center of the mouthpiece and roll it down the bottom lip – was all I needed to hear.

So I played in our middle school band and loved it. We performed at assembly programs and at festival. Perhaps my favorite song at that time was Carol of the Bells.

There was something immensely satisfying in the way music resonated in the body when everyone played in tune. Simple chords made me smile. So much so, I recorded myself playing one part of a piece of music just so I could play another part and enjoy the harmony.

At some point tragedy struck when my flute was stolen. I cried and cried, grateful that my mother was able to replace it. “I thought you didn’t want to be in the band,” she said, eyebrow raised at the outpouring of emotion. No one, not even me, expected that bond.

My mother honored it and invested in it. Within a few days, a brand new, shiny Gemeinhardt took the place of the used, dented flute we’d all assumed would have a short life in our house.

In high school I continued practicing hours a day and eventually played as well as flautists who began lessons years before me. I became a first chair flute, out seating senior musicians as a freshman. Lest you think I was a prodigy of some sort, let me explain. Some of my fellow flautists played because they liked it or their parents wanted them to play, but not because they seriously enjoyed it. I loved it, so I happily invested the time. I never became expert at reading music, but I was decent. A good ear and muscle memory from repeated practices made it easy for me to the perform pieces Mr. Moody sometimes singled us out to play.

All in all it was one year in high school marching band, and four years in concert band. More assemblies, some community events, a few parades and annual band festivals. More joy.

For our high school graduation I played a short solo. I watched that video a few months ago. I can affirm, I was not a brilliant player by any stretch. But I loved it.

I had some time to myself so I broke out the sheet music.
I had some time to myself so I broke out the sheet music.

The Gemeinhardt traveled with me in college. I almost joined the FAMU flute choir, but I was a little intimidated to be honest, and more than a little busy with other extracurriculars. I played in my dorm room from time to time so I wouldn’t forget my favorite songs. And on it went that way for years. I moved here and there and my flute came with. I tried to break it out at least once a year, just for fun. But at some point in the past couple of years, I’ve stopped doing even that.

So I was surprised when here we were picking up books, and all the while I eyed my flute case and the attendant sheets of music. She wanted to come along this trip as much as she wanted to come along on the previous one.

She’s been here a few days, and Saturday I had a few hours alone. I couldn’t shake the feeling to open the case and play a note. Even though I felt ridiculous, I did exactly that. Could I do it? Could I make a sound? Could I play a single note? A whole song?

In other words, the going was a little wobbly, but it went. I tweeted my experience of rifling through my sheet music and trying my hand at some of the pieces with varying degrees of success. First Bernadette, and then Amanda chimed in. It was Amanda who proclaimed our group the Union of Rusty Flautists:

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 3.49.23 PM

Rusty, yes. A few of those notes landed sans grace. Mostly because I was “remembering” how to read music, but also because something just sounded a little off. When I played two of the major scales that’s when I could really tell – one of my keys wouldn’t close properly. Poor B♭sounded sad and confused. 

And that brings us to today…

Flute shop
Found a place to take my flute!

I’m still not sure what’s pulling me to this flute, but there’s no enjoying it if I can’t play a basic note well. I found a music shop nearby and took it in.

“You have good timing,” the young man behind the counter smiled. “All of our instruments get serviced at a central location and the truck only comes on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’ll be here in about an hour.”

SGI Buddhists call this being in rhythm. Ha!

I’m hopeful it’ll an easy, quick and inexpensive fix. I bounced out of the store with a smile, excited for my flute. I have no idea how often (or how well) I’ll play it, but it’s nice to revisit and old joy.

Telephone and Politics

We sat in a circle. Maybe there were 15-20 of us, I’m not sure. But there we were, all sitting crossed-legged in a circle on stained, graying berber. We ranged in age from maybe 6 or 7 to perhaps 11 or 12 and it was one of the many games we played at the nursery center after school.

We called it Pass it Down, but you might know it as Telephone. The chosen person began by whispering a word, phrase or sentence into a nearby ear. The owner of that ear “passed it down,” and relayed the message to the next person. And on it went around the circle until the message got back to the originator.

“That’s not what I said!” was the originator’s oft-heard reply. Whatever word or words were passed down were distorted by the time they got through everyone. He said, she said, and apparently almost everyone said or heard it wrong.

It’s a game, but sometimes versions of it happen in real life, too. Notably, in politics. Something happens and folks “hear the message” and get all up in arms about what they think the message is, when what they heard (or read via social media) is a word or phrase or sentence removed from the truth.

Today, the FAMU Board of Trustees had an “emergency called meeting” to discuss the FAMU-FSU college of engineering.  The Chair, Solomon Bader, released a statement which read, in part,

We are aware of an amendment filed on Tuesday evening by Senator John Thrasher that would create a second college of engineering in Tallahassee at Florida State University.

The statement was cause for alarm for those who support the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering – a joint venture between the two universities. The college was founded in 1983 and shares resources including facilities and professors. Students can attend either Florida A&M University or Florida State University and take classes at the college.

I wanted to know what Senator Thrasher’s amendment actually said, so I went searching.

I found out Senator Thrasher’s amendment did not create a second college of engineering. Instead, it added $3 million to the proposed Senate Budget (See SB 2500) which already provided $10 million of capital outlay to “FSU – College of Engineering.” The amendment did not “create” a second college, but it added additional funding to a new college. A previously non-existent FSU College of Engineering is listed in the proposed budget, and there is no accompanying narrative to explain the capital outlay.

Section of SB 2500 funding the FSU College of Engineering.
Section of SB 2500 funding the FSU College of Engineering.

As I discovered this, the Florida Senate debated the budget and passed it, 37-2. The Florida House debated and passed its own version of the budget (HB 5001) which did not include the controversial item.

Some are calling for pressure on Senator Thrasher. I’m not sure what that can accomplish. After all, the Senate has already voted on the measure in question. Others are lamenting it’s over and nothing else can be done. The new FSU College of Engineering is on its way. But this fatalistic approach ignores the conference that must occur to reconcile the bills, and any additional steps required to approve a new program.

Whether you support or oppose an FSU College of Engineering, it’s time to do your own research and stop playing Telephone with politics.

Welcome to FAMU

On Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Dr. Elmira Mangum begins her first day as Florida A&M University’s new Rattler-in-Chief. To celebrate, the school will host a Welcome Rally  on the steps of Lee Hall, Thursday, April 4, at 12:15 p.m.

Dr. Mangum will be FAMU’s 11th president. She also has the distinction of becoming the first female permanent president in the university’s 126-year history.

Dr. Castell Vaughn Bryant served as interim president from 2005-2007.

FAMU’s Board of Trustees selected Dr. Mangum in January, in a 10-2 vote. After rounds of contract negotiations marked by efforts to decrease her compensation package, she was approved by the Florida Board of Governors on February 20, 2014.

Dr. Mangum brings over 25 years of higher education administration to the post. She was most recently Vice President for Budget and Planning at Cornell University.

Show me the money

Today I received the following email from Florida A&M University:

FAMU Board of Trustees Schedules Emergency Called Meeting

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida A&M University (FAMU) Board of Trustees has scheduled an emergency called meeting for Thursday, Feb. 13 at 4 p.m. The general subject matter of the meeting is to consider the employment contract of President-select Dr. Elmira Mangum.

The public may access the meeting by dialing (877) 884-1929. The conference ID number is 23698072.

For more information, call (850) 599-3413 or visit,


A similarly worded release was issued on January 30, 2014 for a called meeting the next day. Earlier this year, FAMU announced its selection for university President:

Contract negotiations are ongoing, yet despite her robust qualifications, the Board of Trustees has had difficulty agreeing on the details of her contract. Mangum was initially offered a base salary of $425,000. Tallahassee.com reports this is $100,000 more than James H. Ammons’ initial salary in 2007.

Her base salary would, “put her in the upper third of Florida’s 12 state university presidents, according to analysis by Florida Trend magazine. However, her total compensation will likely put her more in the middle or lower end of the pack,” says the Tampa Bay Times.

But some members of the Board wanted to cut the offer to $385,000. A divided Board did agree to some tweaks in compensation, but ultimately voted against the base salary reduction 7-5. One of the suggested changes included the removal of a $1000 per month car allowance.

Any changes in the contract are reviewed by Mangum and require the Board meet again as negotiations continue. She has placed a counter-offer for a university sponsored vehicle. The Board will continue their review on Thursday.

If the Florida Board of Governors approves her selection, Mangum’s three-year tenure begins April 1, 2014, with an option to renew.