Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • In the Company of Virtuoso Musicians

    • Posted on Nov 04, 2013 by Scott Cawelti
    Published in the WATERLOO COURIER on Sunday,  October 27.  It's the culmination of our London trip, really, and explores what happens when gifted people develop their gifts with fierce passion and discipline.    

    For the past three weeks I’ve been surrounded by music and musicians, and it’s been—well, read on.

    By “music and musicians” I mean the highest of high-end virtuoso musicians, principal players in the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, among others.   

    Because I’m married to a UNI flutist who’s researching a book on British flautist Geoffrey Gilbert, we’ve been in London interviewing those Gilbert students who are now accomplished concert performers and teachers.  

    Gilbert taught several major flautists in the United Kingdom, including Sir James Galway, William Bennett, Trevor Wye, and Susan Milan, among many others.  We’ve been interviewing them all.      

    I’m here to tell you:  Musicians at the virtuoso level are special people.  Being with them has offered a chance to ponder music and its place in our lives.    

    Having taught music briefly myself, I know a little about how music works.

    Humans seek it, play it, listen to it, yearn for it, use it as therapy, and wish they could play it better. 

    I’ve now become more aware of how music affects those who devote every waking hour to it.  All the musicians we’ve interviewed have done just that from childhood.

    What else makes them special?

    First and foremost, they’re disciplined.   They spend hours in daily practice, and all emphasize the need to love and play their instrument, virtually constantly. It’s not for the uncommitted or lazy.     

    When we arrived at Galway’s hotel suite in Belfast, the first notable object was a music stand with music on it.  He had been practicing that morning, and every morning, beginning with scales and difficult passages.  

    Galway emphasized during his interview that no one wants to listen to musicians who don’t practice daily.  Susan Milan, the first woman principal flutist of the Royal Philharmonic, told us that she spent a full year, seven hours a day, practicing nothing but scales and studies.

    And she loved it.  Every minute of it.   Those are her words. 

    That’s the second trait of accomplished musicians.  They spend their lives in love.  Totally, completely, unequivocally in love.  Not necessarily with a romantic partner and certainly not with themselves.  But with making music.  

    Many are in happy relationships, but their partners have a rival in music.

    All accomplished musicians overcame doubts, complaints, critics, personal hangups, and devoted themselves completely to music, to improving their playing to the point of near-perfection.

    I asked William Bennett, another superstar of the flute world, how he managed to teach nine one-hour master classes in one long day with such high energy.  We visited his master class at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where only the best students get admitted.  Forty students also attended.

    I observed two hours, and his intensity and devotion to each student was beyond admirable.

    Bennett said, “This is a like a vacation from worries for me.  It’s plain fun, all day.”

    He’s about to turn 78, by the way. 

    That’s the third trait of these virtuosos:  Longevity.

    Because these musicians never “work” in the sense of grinding through a day of resenting what they do, they’re often able to carry on for years beyond the norm. 

    Besides Bennett, Sir James Galway may be the best example.  He’s 74, and when we interviewed him he was about to headline the Belfast Music Festival, playing a concerto with the Ulster Chamber Orchestra. 

    Though busy with interviews, rehearsals, master classes, and constant demands on his time, he seemed relaxed and full of good humor.  Clearly he enjoys fame—he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2001--but not nearly as much as he enjoys making music.

    That’s the whole key:  Making music. Nearly everyone I know has made music, or makes music, or wish they had made music.  It seems the very stuff of life, akin to breathing and eating.      

    Virtuoso musicians, by virtue of their talent, practice, and commitment, just have more of it.

    “Music has charms to sooth the savage breast,” wrote William Congreve in 1697, then the striking second line: “To soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.”

    That’s the power of music:  sooth, soften, bend.  

    Now I would add:  Transform.   

    Go comment!
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  • FINAL: DAYS 25 AND 26

    • Posted on Oct 31, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    I.O.W.A. in London
    Sun/Mon Oct. 28/29 

     All good things must end, as do all bad things, and our good thing ended a  day late on Tuesday the 29th.  We were scheduled to fly on Monday afternoon—American Airline Flight 47 from London to Chicago, to be exact. 

    Weather for Monday in London turned mean, however, as we began to discover Sunday afternoon.  By Sunday evening, AA was suggesting that passengers consider rescheduling. Hurricane-force winds were scheduled to roar across all of Southern England most of the day Monday.  Many morning flights at Heathrow were already canceled by late afternoon Sunday.   

    Angeleita called AA, and immediately talked with a live representative who asserted our flight was “grounded,” so we should reschedule our flight for  Tuesday.   Which we did. 

    Nothing wrong with another day in London, especially since AA was not charging for the change.  And we were on the same flight, same time all the way to Waterloo—just a day later.  

    So as a FB user asked:  What does one do in London during a terrible storm? 

    Answer:  the storm wasn’t really all that terrible.  The powerful winds (70-90 mph)hit further south (four casualties, in fact) but London was just seriously windy for the morning.  By afternoon, the sun peeked out and the winds had died down.  

    So we tubed over to Trafalgar square, home of the newly installed blue rooster: 

    The striking sculpture will sit for a few months on a platform (“plinth”) then will be replaced by another avant-garde work. 

    This large rooster supposedly symbolizes the male domination (rooster!) of British power and influence.   Not sure many visitors get that, but being the most colorful object in the Square, it certainly grabs the eye.

    Of course the Square is most famous for the Lord Nelson Column, all of 169 feet high, and commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805—killed by a sniper’s bullet.   Still, he was a naval hero who presided over major British victories and they honor him with this column, which was completed in 1843. 

    Also on Trafalgar Square sits the National Gallery, where we spent two hours wandering the galleries of masterpieces ranging from the 13th to the 20th centuries.  Unlike the Tate, they allow no photographs, so I can’t do much more than relay the shivers one gets when encountering real Rembrandts, Michaelangelos, Carravaggios, Leonardos, and on and on.  Always an exhausting high.   And it’s all free—as are all the state-run Galleries in London.  

    About fifty feet from the National Gallery sits the Church of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  On Monday this venerable old building hosted the BBC2 live broadcast of the “Best Young Chorister in England” competition.   Only in England. 

    Eight young singers—four female and four male, ages 11 to 14, sang two short pieces apiece for a live BBC2 radio audience and a full house in the church.  It was a shock to hear these kids sing high-end vocal repertoire ranging from venerable hymns to Mozart, Bach, and Handel, with spot-on pitch, tone, and timing, to the accompaniment of this large organ and piano. 

    Now get this:  the male winner was Luke McWatters, son of Vanora Bennett (McWatters), daughter of William Bennett (Wibb) the great British Flautist that Angeleita interviewed on Tuesday, and one of her best flute friends.  See previous posts here for photos of Wibb and Michie. 

     What a proud afternoon for them all.  Luke McWatters is a wonderful boy singer—and I can’t help but wonder how he will sound as an adult. He could become a force in the vocal world. 

    We went out for dinner with Wibb and Michie afterward to a fine Indian Restaurant near Oxford Circus—and that ended our for-sure final day in England. 

    Then home Tuesday afternoon on AA Flight 47 to Chicago—uneventful but cramped.  Felt stove up on arrival, and unable to sleep, being six hours ahead.  
    Iowa's midnight is London's 6:00 a.m.   

    Thanks to our Beaver Ridge Circle neighbors Tim and Peggy Gannon, our mail and house were safe.  Being Irish, they needed a couple of souvenirs of Belfast. 

    And so ended our 25—oops, 26—days in London.   I did write a column for las Sunday’s Courier—see the next blog post—that captures what it meant to mingle with all these high-end virtuoso musicians.  

    That was the best part of the trip.  And seeing London as an I.O.W.A. comes in a close second.  

    Idiot?  No, an Innocent Out Wandering Around. Thanks, readers, for taking the trip with us.  

    I do read and appreciate all comments, and will reply if appropriate.  


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