Thoughts from a Flute Teacher, by Carolee Bowen

MichaelPope,playingflute-1996

Michael deCourcy Pope 1984—1996

Michael deCourcy Pope died on October 15, 1996. He was coming home from school and was hit by a car. He was 12 years old.

Mike was my best flute student. He had a love for playing his flute and a desire to excel. I remember the first time he came to a lesson. He made sound immediately and took to reading notes almost as fast. We set a goal: he would be the first in his band to pass off the band book, and he did.

Many times he came to his lesson directly from football practice. He would stand there, wearing his football uniform, pads and all, looking mean and tough. Then, he would pick up his flute and melt my heart. His band teacher was astounded at his ability and asked him to play a special solo at their last band concert of the year. He amazed everyone in the audience. Later, that same band teacher said that Mike was the best flute player she had ever had.

Mike moved so fast through the lesson material, I worried that he must be missing something. But he wouldn’t let me hold him back… and I could never find anything that he was missing. Just four months after starting the flute, we decided he would play a solo at a local contest. He completely memorized his piece, not knowing that memorization was not a requirement. He never even asked if he would memorize, he just knew he would be able to play better if he did.

He wasn’t selected as one of the winners at the contest. The judge selected someone older and said that Mike would have many more years to win many more contests, being only eleven years old and so outstanding. I watched him cry, hands over his face in the back seat of his mother’s car as they drove away that day. There were tears in my eyes as well, even though my own two children were selected as winners.

That summer, Mike called me, as he often did, just to talk, and told me that he planned to enter a talent show to be held at the fairgrounds. He said he was going to win and go on to the state fair and win there as well. I laughed and thought, “What a great kid, willing to try anything!” I let him choose the hardest song from one of my easier flute solo books. A few days later, he came back, asking for something harder and “flashy.”

I laughed again and told him to look for something in my high school level book, thinking that he could never learn a difficult piece that quickly. As always, I was wrong. He not only learned, memorized and played the hard piece up to tempo, but he went on to win $300 at the Wyoming State Fair. He didn’t spend his money on a snow board, Nintendo games or Legos. He chose to make a large payment on his flute.

Mike was good at many things, as so many gifted musicians are. I worried he would get distracted by other things…sports…he was an excellent football player… he loved soccer. He was brilliant in school, earned countless awards in Boy Scouts and was devoted to church and his faith. So many opportunities would open up to him. I was afraid of eventually losing him to some other gift that he possessed. I tried my hardest to teach him to love music and his flute. It was ironic. I loved music more when I was with him; he was the one teaching me. Mike took the talent he was blessed with and made it into something that affected many of us, especially me.

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