Sunday profile: Carbondale’s Annie Flynn shares her love of ‘Music Together’
January 5, 2019
Annie Flynn always had music.
Her father sang to her about the moon when she was still an infant, gently rocking her in an alcove of the family's farmhouse while they gazed up at the bright orb in the night sky. She remembers singing to the sheer curtains that blew over her crib, then pulling herself up and singing to objects in the room.
"Once, my mother tells me, there was a mouse that was playing with some black and white saddle shoes. I lived on a farm with cows, and we called those 'moo,' and there was the mouse and those shoes that looked like cows, so apparently I was singing about the 'moomow,'" Flynn said.
She began taking piano lessons at the age of 5 and fell in love with the instrument, displaying all the qualities of a natural musician — learning to read notes on a staff more easily than words in a book.
As a farm girl she attended a two-room country school, and by the second grade began accompanying school programs at Christmas, Mother's Day, Veterans Day and more. It was a passion she cultivated all through high school and college and on into adulthood, accompanying musical theater, opera and ballet performances.
"I love accompanying and collaborating with other musicians," Flynn said. "I think that my real passion and forte is working together with other musicians — that aspect of performance where you're breathing together and feeling together and coordinating."
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Flynn moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1992 and began working as an accompanist with the Aspen Ballet, in the years before it became Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She also plied her trade as an accompanist with the SoL Theater Company along with another accompanist, Jonathan Gorst, co-owner of the Riviera Supper Club in Glenwood Springs, whom she'd met at other musical events around the valley.
"He was playing for 'Rent' and I was playing for 'Annie Get Your Gun,' and we just sort of collaborated a little bit," Flynn said. "I went to his restaurant to watch him play one night and I just loved the feel of what was going on — the magical music playing while people were dining."
It wasn't long before Gorst invited her to play at the restaurant, which turned into a regular Tuesday night gig.
"I love that I get to meet all these visitors that come into the restaurant," Flynn said. "They are people who are drawn to that special unique atmosphere of having some live music, like a cabaret."
In her more than 25 years in the valley, Flynn has grown deep musical roots — teaching classes at the Aspen Music Festival, playing in a Dixieland band called "Noodle Soup" that is an arm of the Symphony in the Valley, and working as an accompanist at the Carbondale Community United Methodist Church where she performs with the choir and various guest musicians.
But she might be best known as Carbondale's children's music teacher: Providing inspirational lessons to a long list of aspiring pianists, leading a children's performance at the Carbondale Mountain Fair for each of the past 15 years, and teaching music and movement classes for children and their parents at the Third Street Center.
Five-year-old Maeve isn't sure what a reporter is doing in her piano teacher's studio, but she knows why she is there. And, as soon as she sits at the piano with Flynn by her side she focuses on the joy of creating music.
Teacher and student begin with finger exercises, then warm up with some scales before working on a song, and then finishing by mapping the keyboard's octaves with bright-colored markers in Maeve's work book.
When Maeve's 10-year-old brother Cal begins his lesson, he approaches the keyboard with the same kind of joy, playing chords in rapid succession with his right hand while adding subtler notes with his left.
Both Maeve and Cal began their musical journeys as infants with Flynn in her Music Together class — an early childhood music and movement program for children and their parents that Flynn has now taught for 20 years.
"The parents are really the students because it helps them become musical parents and brings the music into their home life, into their family," Flynn said. "They're sharing some experiential activities, but they're also learning a lot of ideas like, 'how can I encourage and nurture this musical growth in my child?'"
The answer is that it's mainly through play, so a lot of what Flynn does is teach parents how to play, musically, with their children. She shows them how to observe and allow whatever the children want to express, and through that observation, they discover their child's learning process, Flynn said.
"Sometimes in our culture we have the idea that we have to learn in a certain way and we have to take information in cognitively," Flynn said. "But this whole experience blows that apart because this is not cognitive learning; it is bodily, emotional, non-verbal learning that happens very quickly. It's surprising to some how quickly children learn through their bodies, just by us playing in movement ways and rhythm ways."
Flynn said she looks for specific instances in class when children create musical expressions — called characteristic gestures — that she can point out to their parents.
"Like, 'did you notice the baby is humming on the pitch?' or little ones rocking their torso to the beat," she said. "Sometimes the little ones will run around the circle — they're kinesthetic learners — and I'll say, "look at his feet, can you see he's running in eighth notes?"
Flynn tries to help parents cultivate a sense of openness, and grow what she calls "the improv mind," which is a receptivity to play, experimenting and imagination — just allowing things to happen and feeling comfortable with it, as if there's no such thing as making mistakes.
"I believe music comes from our essence. We each have an identifying nature that we are born with, and I believe that music really touches that," she said. "It can easily be hidden by all the masks we wear in our socialization as we grow up. We can mask that little hidden voice that speaks truly to us.
"I want my students to identify that, 'I am the instrument … I have the ability to make this sound. … This is being created within me, and I'm the conduit.'"
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