Connect
To Top

Meet Melissa Hulett

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melissa Hulett.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I started playing music, like most people, in the fifth grade. I chose the flute, adamantly so, against the long seeded tradition of grade school clarinetists that existed in my family. I denied their passed down wooden relic, and instead borrowed the flute of my best friend’s older sister. Maybe I preferred it for the sound, or maybe I just liked the fact that it was shiny (let’s just say both).

For whatever reason however, I was hooked from the start. The joy and fascination that I got from my music propelled me into a flurry of practice, and the proceeding growth in my musicianship caught the eye of the local flute instructor. Dr. Dee Odgen became much more to me than my teacher, she became my mentor. She encouraged me, she motivated me. She showed me that the future as a musician I had tucked away in my heart as a dream could be a reality. She was there for me every step of the way- good days and bad days.

All the way up until the moment I packed my bags, including the beautiful Powell auromite golden flute she had gifted me, and I hugged her goodbye. Off to University, off to pursue the dream she showed me was possible. For my undergraduate degree, I went to California State University, Long Beach, and I studied with Dr. John Barcellona. I was awarded a full scholarship for my music, as a Bob Cole Scholar. In that time, I learned the pedagogy of the flute, I made a lot of friends, and I was able to immerse myself in the subject that I love most: music. Orchestra, Wind Symphony, New Music Ensemble, Chamber Music, Solo performances- I took on all of it, did as much as I possibly could (with almost always the maximum amount of units), and I loved it. I was even the winner of the college’s concerto competition my sophomore year, and I had the honor of performing, from memory, the Nielsen Flute Concerto with the orchestra.

For my subsequent master’s degree, I attended California Institute of the Arts, where I studied with Rachel Rudich. It was there that I experimented more with new music, composition, and different hair colors. Bettering my skills and abilities on the flute is always a main goal of mine, but it was here that I focused more on the many extended techniques of the flute, creativity, and the importance of self-expression. Highlights included performing the Boulez Sonatine with the Los Angeles based pianist Bryan Pezzone, and performing Ligeti’s Double Concerto for Flute and Oboe alongside my colleague Michael Torres and the Cal Arts orchestra the Ensemble, under the LA-based conductor, Christopher Rountree.

Post-college I have had so many wonderful experiences with the musical life I have chosen for myself. I have been in the background providing music on television, I have been asked to scream, murmur and improvise on stage at a Redcat concert featuring the music of Jani Christou, I have played in so many wonderful orchestras and wind symphonies. I have created music and had the honor to meet and learn from so many great musicians and friends. There is certainly never a dull moment, and I love it. I also teach lessons. Having such a great instructor in my youth, I know the importance that a teacher can have, and the importance that music as a subject, can have in student’s lives. I am always trying to follow in my mentor’s footsteps- be patient, kind, inspiring, and present in all of my student’s lives. It seems like on a daily basis, I have gratitude and am humbled by the fact that I get to spend my life’s work doing what I love. Spreading the joy of music, in all its different facets.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has certainly not been a smooth road! I excelled in school because I was always practicing and getting ‘better’ at my instrument, but that in and of itself does not translate into a career. In my undergraduate, I was sold the idea of the orchestral flutist, and so upon graduating from universities and being exposed to the uphill battle that comes with auditioning – their rarity, the monetary cost of each audition, and the high competition, it started to become more and more evident that this wasn’t a realistic option for me. All of this leads me into an identity crisis- can I claim that I am still a musician? I started teaching and was taking any gig that was thrown my way, but when you are starting out, it takes time to build a studio and a reputation.

Meanwhile, in my head, I was still preparing for that orchestral flute audition. In other words, practicing an extreme amount every day to become the best musician I could possibly become. I even experimented with drastic practices like 100 days of practice (no days off), and splitting sleep into two sections (waking up to practice). I was fortunate enough at this time to study with the lovely LA musician Diana Morgan, and I learned so much about my music. I became a more skilled flutist than I had ever been in my life. However, finances were becoming a burden, and in the back of my mind, I started to think what does it really matter that I’m a player if I’m not hired by an ensemble to play? My brain started to look for an escape method.

So, I promised to keep up my practice, my teaching, and also become a certified personal trainer. It was here that I discovered my love of movement, health and fitness. I became (and still remain) a vegan. I helped people transform into healthier lifestyles, reach their goals, and I made a lot of friends. But with training in the morning and teaching at night, my exhaustion levels went higher and higher, and my desire to practice went lower and lower. Even though my schedule was full, the ringing question in the back of my mind, “am I still a musician?” would repeat and repeat. This didn’t last too long, however, as I was overworking myself in a manner that was not sustainable. I decided to answer the question- to hell with it- I’m quitting my prospects of performing. I had reached the point of burn out. Now, I became separate from my music, and it forced me to reckon with all these insecurities about my identity that had previously remained quiet. Who, what am I, besides a flutist? I felt weak, powerless and I felt like a failure.

So what does one do when experiencing such emotions? I decided to start taking boxing lessons. It gave me feelings of strength that I would not have otherwise remembered that I had. I started waking up to the idea that I should be working smarter, not harder, and so I stopped taking on personal training clients. I got my free time back but left my beautiful flute in the closet. I picked up the boxing gloves and the mouth guard instead. But always through it all, I would be humming my favorite pieces, Copland’s Duo for Flute and Piano, Sibelius’s Concerto in D minor, Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, etc.. Music never really left, and I had never really stopped being a musician. I just needed that time away for self-discovery. I needed to find a hobby. I needed to realize that I’m strong, smart, adaptive, and capable- and not just with music. There is more to me than just flute, and- gasp- there is more to life than JUST music. I had found my confidence. The flute came back out of the closet.

I’ve realized that sometimes, musicians have day jobs. Sometimes, we are working in big venues, other times we are playing in someone’s back yard. Some days, we wake up with so much motivation to practice or compose or make art, and other times, not so much. It’s finding the joy in the process. Finding joy in the collaborations and performances, we do with our colleagues. It’s about turning frustration into wonder. It’s about inspiring and motivating the younger generations in our lives. It’s about connecting and sharing meaningful content with the people who are present to hear us.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
As of now, I take gigs in the LA area, and I teach one on one music lessons. What sets me apart as a performer is definitely my versatility- I can integrate very well in an orchestral or more traditional musical setting, but I also have training in performing new music. New music contains a lot of what we call extended techniques. These techniques include singing and playing, creating percussive sounds in a variety of ways, exploring very complex rhythmic meters, and even playing multiple sounds at once. I also have experience improvising, and in some concerts, even a little bit of acting. I love working with composers on their own pieces, and I love collaboration and new musical experiences.

With my teaching – I particularly like starting students with the flute. I was lucky enough to study with Dr. Barcellona, who is such a great flute pedagogue, and because of his motivation and teaching style, he turned me into someone who always thought very hard about the how and why behind creating a beautiful flute sound and beautiful music for that matter. With his inspiration, I have cultivated my own method (that I’m always perfecting and adapting to each individual) that helps my students really understand how to play the flute. I also make sure to stay present in my student’s lives- I want to be an inspiration and someone that they can look up to. I am so proud of all my students.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is a great place for musicians and a great place to start out. It is a hub for so many different facets to the music industry, for example playing in an orchestra, working in the studios creating movie soundtracks, performing in theaters, collaborating with peers on projects at so many of the local venues, and so much more. However, being a musician, you will experience setbacks, and you have to be adaptive. You have to create your own path. Make sure that you connect with your colleagues. With music, the more the merrier is oftentimes true. Collaborate, find causes or groups that have value to you, and explore them. Los Angeles is such a big city, with so many different people, and I believe that music is here to help and connect communities together.

Pricing:

  • Chamber Music- Weddings, Private Parties, Etc. $350/hour
  • Soloist $150/hour
  • Private Flute Instruction $75/hour

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Shota Hanai

Suggest a story: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in