One CCM Student Branches Out, From Fifer to Flutist, to a College Music Program

April 22, 2021 | Student Spotlight

Motivations behind choosing an instrument can vary—from being influenced by family, friends, and teachers to their cultural backgrounds. Determining the correct instrument can mean the difference between a lifelong passion of playing or dropping lessons because of lack of interest and frustration. It can also mean achieving such fantastic success that it becomes a career.

When a young child gets to perform on a major stage for two U.S. presidents, you know he’s chosen the right instrument. Yo Yo Ma began learning the violin at his father’s direction, but that didn’t last, and either did the piano. The rest is history, as they say—Yo Yo Ma’s decision to learn the cello gave him a music career that’s lasted decades.

Parents definitely play a role for some when choosing an instrument, but it’s an experience that touched a nerve for others.

That was the case for Vincent Canciello!

Living in a region filled with historical significance provided high school senior Vincent the impetus to take up the fife. After experiencing notable local reenactments, he decided to try the instrument and has been immersed in music ever since.

Vincent’s dedication to learning music has led him to study Baroque flute performance at college next year. CCM flute faculty member Nicholas Southwick says, “He has demonstrated incomparable work ethic, strong, cerebral communication skills, and great musical promise. Vincent is consistently prepared for his lessons, as he maintains a high level of discipline throughout his practice that stems from his intrinsic self-motivation.”

Vincent began learning the flute with Nicholas after having studied the fife for eight years. Nicholas states, “Despite having had limited formal training on the modern flute, he adapted his technique at a decent speed and was very receptive to my teaching; he quickly excelled and was playing advanced repertoire within months. In addition, he dutifully prepares scales, etudes, and tone exercises and is always well prepared for each lesson.”

Student – Instructor Dialogue

Deeply interested in music history and performance practice, Vincent consistently questions Nicholas about phrasing and style, demonstrating his deep engagement with his music. Vincent Canciello

How long have you been playing the flute?

At age eight, I began playing the fife, a high-pitched, keyless flute, after being enthralled by the sights and sounds of the Patriot’s Day festivities which occur each April in Lexington and Concord to commemorate the dawn of the American Revolution. The two fife and drum ensembles I've been a part of have allowed me to play with many excellent musicians from across the globe and to perform abroad, and have introduced me to the world of historical music, which I don’t think I would have encountered otherwise. 

After starting high school, my musical interests broadened, and I became quite interested in chamber music, so I began teaching myself the flute. After about a year of self-guided study, transferring what I had already learned from the fife to the flute (bad habits and all), I decided that if I were truly serious about pursuing music, I would need to learn from an experienced teacher. So, I’m a relatively late beginner, having only formally studied the flute for two years now. All in all, I play a variety of flutes, from the fife to the baroque traverso and modern silver instrument, as well as the piano.

What got you interested in studying Baroque music? Your goals for college and beyond?

As a young musician, much of what I loved about the fife was the intimate dialogue between voices and the dramatic grandeur reminiscent of the Baroque. I dipped my toe in the waters of baroque flute music, sight-reading sonatas, and concertos by Telemann and Boismortier with other fifers, and the repertoire captured me. I discovered the baroque, wooden, single-keyed traverso flute about the same time I picked up the modern flute and was enchanted by its warm, mellow sound. Already familiar with many of the instrument’s idiosyncrasies because of its similarity to the fife, I felt at home on the baroque flute and knew that this was the instrument I wanted to play professionally.

I intend to major in historical flute performance in preparation for a career researching, performing, and teaching music from the Baroque through Romantic eras on period instruments. In college, I’m primarily looking to get a lot of hands-on playing experience, especially since the past year hasn’t yielded many opportunities for playing with others. I hope to expand my musical horizons in terms of theory, history, and repertoire, meet like-minded musicians, become fluent in the stylistic language of different periods, and fully immerse myself in the music of the past. Ultimately, my dream is to spend my career digging through libraries and old collections of forgotten musical lore, breathing new life into hidden gems from dusty old manuscripts, and sharing that music with others.

What new techniques and playing strategies did Nicholas introduce you to?

Nicholas is an absolute inspiration and has been invaluably instrumental (forgive the pun) in helping me to find my voice as a musician. When I came to my first lesson with him, I brought nine years of self-guided musical baggage with me, and over the past year and a half, he has helped me chip away at bad habits, replacing them with a solid technical foundation. One of the big themes has been relaxing the muscles involved in tone production to play in a less clipped, heavy, strained, and laborious way, with an open and flexible sound. The transition to a virtual format for lessons due to the pandemic hardly impacted the progress we’ve made together. Nicholas has taught me more than just musical technique - he’s helped me develop a positive and productive approach to practice and music-making. He encourages me to set specific goals and organize my thoughts in a practice journal, helps me coax story and color from the page, and has taught me to think analytically about bringing the right character out in my interpretations.

When I think back to where I was just two years ago, I merely played notes in comparison! Nicholas’ teaching centers around the philosophy that character, expression, and musicality come first, and the technique required will follow the dictates of the music. He’s helped me to cultivate my musical intuition and taught me to trust in my musicianship. I have become a more thoughtful musician as a result of my time studying with Nicholas. 

How has Nicholas prepared you for entering a college music program?

Over the past six months, Nicholas has worked with me to shape my college audition repertoire on both modern and baroque flutes. Many of the skills he’s teaching me and feedback he’s had has mirrored the work I’ve been doing with my baroque flute teacher and vice versa. He’s been more than willing to indulge my passion for earlier classical repertoire and introduced me to works from composers as diverse as Bach and Blavet to Mozart and Schubert.

In addition to helping me develop the necessary prerequisite musical skills, he went above and beyond in helping me prepare for the college admissions process, writing me a letter of recommendation, helping me organize my audition recording sessions at the church, and coming to provide live, in-person feedback for me on the day of my recording. I have been very fortunate to benefit from Nicholas’s dedication as a teacher, passion as a musician, and openness and eagerness to craft his teaching around the student's needs, ideas, and interests.

What has studying music given you?

My historical and cultural understanding of the world is shaped by music. This historically-oriented conception of music has inspired a greater appreciation of the arts and has helped me to form connections between broader cultural currents across the centuries. When you play a work composed by someone who’s been dead and in some cases forgotten for centuries, a connection is formed, and you’re given a unique window into their world. Studying the universal language of music ultimately gives me a connection to the shared human experience.

Vincent will attend the Schulich School of Music at McGill University starting in the fall of 2021. We wish him the best of luck at school next year.

Thank you, Vincent, for sharing your story!