Creating on the Spot
By 12th Grader Robin McDonald
“Ha, on the radio, I don’t actually listen to classical music, believe it or not,” Ms. Anthony says as she laughs with her vivid, brown eyes. Instead, “It’s mostly the very 90s rock and roll music I had growing up.” Monica Anthony, the charming and accomplished flute teacher at Arizona School for the Arts is known for her intensive warmups in the morning and her emanating warmth by the students. Wrapped in a maroon sweater paired with gray leggings, she carefully puts away her flute with its shining gold-plated head joint at the end of class to meet me as the sun streams into her classroom.
Her flute career actually started off a bit late. While most people begin the flute when they’re about nine, Ms. Anthony didn’t learn until she was 12. Instead, she was the quietest middle child with six siblings who started learning dance since the age of four. Ms. Anthony would listen to music all the time with her family, and she relayed, “I used to pick the flute out of music in recordings and I would say I want to play that, but my mom didn’t know what it was.” Ms. Anthony had to repeatedly beg her mom to get her a flute. Luckily, fortune struck. One day, Ms. Anthony was babysitting and the children’s mother asked, “Do you want to take flute lessons?” Of course, Ms. Anthony said yes and exclaimed, “Hey mom, I found a teacher!” Since then, Ms. Anthony has gravitated towards the flute while continuing on with dance through high school.
Ms. Anthony spent her early years in LA surrounded by her large family of cousins and siblings. Due to the uncertainty of the Rodney King riots, her parents decided to move to Phoenix, and she’s spent her time here since then. Because her older sister decided to pursue ballet professionally, Ms. Anthony choose to focus on music in college instead of dance. She nods at the whim of her decision, rooted in the idea of setting herself apart from her sister. Following a period of sickness in graduate school, Ms. Anthony recovered to play the “Renaissance Concerto” by Lukas Foss. Clasping her hands she mentions, “After coming back from being ill, you have this almost rejuvenated sense of being and deeper gratification of what you’re doing and the act of making art.” From persuading her mom for flute lessons to overcoming sickness, Ms. Anthony has developed a sense of resilience about her. Hanging in the wall of her classroom is a neatly printed graphic that says, “Don’t stress, practice!” as a reminder to her students to keep striving to get better.
Following college, Ms. Anthony often plays across the valley with the Arizona Opera and in the Mill Ave Chamber Players on flute and piccolo in addition to teaching. She formed the “Red Mountain Winds” which merged with the Mill Ave Chamber Players in 2009. For about 10 months of the year, Ms. Anthony rehearses weekly in the Mill Ave Chamber Players quintet to put on a five-concert series and numerous community outreach performances for kids held at restaurants and libraries. For the month of October, Ms. Anthony programmed a concert centered around female innovators, and the highlighted composers can be found on the Mill Ave Chamber Players’ website. As for the shortlist for the kids outreach performances, the list includes Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and a redone version of Aesop’s Fables.
When selecting pieces for her flute and oboe students at school, she goes about it in a pragmatic way: “I decide over the summer how I’m feeling, look at where the students left off the previous year, and see what do I need to do to grow them in a specific way.” She has it all laid out before the first day of school. Before mid-August, she has figured out what techniques she wants her students to work on, has broken each quarter down into a concept, and has sifted through piles of music that links to a concept like musicality or articulation. She is able to balance her teaching and performance through careful planning. It’s her drive and deep passion for flute that keeps her going with a charmingly optimistic attitude.
Most of all, Ms. Anthony is connected to her students. 18 year-old Helena Häber, a senior at ASA, still remembers her first day of school in 5th grade: “I messed up a scale in the Advanced Woodwinds class and embarrassed myself. I remember running out of the classroom crying tears of shame, and Ms. Anthony joined me to tell me that it’s okay to make mistakes and that she believes in me.” Since then, Helena has continued to grow under Ms. Anthony’s guiding touch. Inspired, Helena now serves as a Band teaching assistant, developing her own way of teaching younger students by incorporating the lessons of growth instilled by Ms. Anthony.
Ms. Anthony also keeps an open mind and embraces change. Once, she thought that Jazz music was a formulaic with its 32 bars form following the same chord progression until she started to appreciate Jazz’s underlying simplicity. Now with a shrug, she exclaims, “I’m fascinated by the ability to just create on the spot! Though I’m intimidated about improvising in front of professional improvisors as I like to call them, I can improvise at the same level as a basic jazz improviser, which is more so than many classical musicians.” Her interest in different styles of music continues to expand, and she’s willing to tackle the challenges of improvisation with a laugh. Ms. Anthony has come to especially enjoy baroque, modern, and Americana music. Recently, she’s also been scouring the internet for foreign pop artists such as the French and Créole singer, Christine Salem. Ms. Anthony is invigorated by the possibilities of music and has a wide appreciation for other artists as well.
Outside of music, Ms. Anthony likes using her hands to create. She leans in to say, “I used to knit a lot, but I actually did it so much that I hurt my hands and had to stop.” Instead, she had to quit knitting and turn to painting instead. She finds “that there’s something enjoyable about doing something [she] doesn’t have to think to do and where no one’s actually judging it and no one will see it.” The spontaneity in the fine arts and hobby of running allows her to unwind. Whether Ms. Anthony is playing music or exploring the juxtaposition of light and dark paints on her canvases, she sets no limitations for herself. She’s open to creating to teach and just to relish for herself. In the future, she is looking to do more musical compositions, and has decided to embrace the idea of “just writing and seeing what happens.”