Audrey Flores is a freelancing horn player in New York City. She attended the Juilliard School and the Mannes College of Music, and regularly plays in Broadway productions and with orchestras in the tri-state area. Formerly Principal Horn of both the Allentown Symphony and Symphony in C in Camden, NJ, Audrey has also played with the New World Symphony, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, the Miami Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Mariinsky Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble. She was a musician in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Orchestra in 2011 and 2012, and in the New York Spectacular in the summer of 2016. She released her first solo album in June of 2017.
Audrey also enjoys a full teaching schedule in addition to pursuing a varied career. She is a Teaching Artist for Midori and Friends, an organization in New York City that works in tandem with the Department of Education to supplement and provide music instruction for public school students. She taught beginning and intermediate brass at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine in 2006, and coached chamber music for the Juilliard Pre-College Program in 2005. She specializes in teaching beginning brass students.
When she isn’t working, Audrey enjoys cooking, swimming, traveling, and being home with her family. She is married to Steven Behnke, a horn player whom she met in New York Youth Symphony. They have a two-year-old son and a baby daughter. They also have a perfect rescue pug named Rocky!
You have a considerable web presence in the form of your Facebook Live series “Musicians of Now” and your blog. We really admire your blog’s honesty and candid tone, writing about many aspects of being a musician that are often not discussed. How did you choose the topics you wrote about? Why did you start the Facebook live series?
I’m glad you (editor’s note – Kate Amrine) were one of the first guests on the series! I actually got the idea to start doing this from an NPR series I was listening to in passing. It focused on the stories of corporations that started from nothing, went through some tough times, and ended up being wildly successful. I realized that I was uncomfortable listening to it, and it’s because of the simple reason that while we were hearing about these big companies, there were many others who made better product that didn’t have the big money number to hook any outside interest. There are many companies with similar stories that we’ll never hear about, and they might be great people, and have great stories, but because they haven’t hit the traditional mark of success, no one will care about their plight.
I’ve had unofficial, full-time employment as a classical musician, and I didn’t know how to reconcile myself as a figure for change and positivity in that role. The times when I’ve felt the most alive and useful as a musician have been those random concerts where the conditions aren’t fabulous, but the audience is excited. After you play for them, you know that you’ve encouraged them to go to those big concerts of musicians that are traditionally thought of as the authority figures in our field. I think that these freelancers are really the ambassadors of our art, and it’s imperative and exciting to appreciate and examine them as they are now, and not some years down the line when they’re no longer freelancers.
In covering the life of the modern freelancer in an honest way, I find it necessary to share both the good and the bad. Historically I think we’ve all been told to put on a brave face because it’ll make you look busier, which attracts more success. However, I really believe that there’s less work now, and if you’re generally thought of as busy, the calls are more likely to go to someone that is just as talented, but not as lucky as you’re coming off. Most of us just want to know that we’re ok, and I’m trying to cultivate a new way of thinking, one blog post at a time. I really feel that we’re all going through the same doubts and fears, on every level, but we use our Carnegie Hall photos and our social media as bandaids for those sentiments.
Tell us about your recent album and your inspiration behind it. How did you balance recording an album with freelancing in New York City and your other responsibilities?
My first real love for the horn came from listening to hours and hours of solo horn CDs. I learned a lot from that intense listening, and I knew that I always wanted to give back to the next generation of horn players that were following their passion. I put it off for many years because I didn’t think that anyone would listen to it it I didn’t have a big orchestral job. In all honesty, I went ahead and made it because I wasn’t getting a lot of work, and I wanted it to be known that I had talent on my instrument, if it happened that I never got called to play anything professionally again.
I had many rehearsals with Manon Hutton-DeWys, who has now completed her doctorate! It was tough to turn away paying work for those rehearsals, but I’m so glad I prioritized that time. I chose pieces that I was excited to play, and I looked forward to coming home after teaching classes to sit down and play through them. The actual recording happened on two dates, so it’s quite easy in early February to block out entire days and record for four hours. I was fortunate to fund the project entirely by myself, so I didn’t have to depend on availability of halls that I was getting for free, and wasn’t at the whim of a recording engineer who was donating time, as I know many musicians have had to do.
Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?
(such a great question!) I think we as brass players, regardless of gender, steel ourselves when we walk into a brass group with a mentality of “I have to keep up” or “I’m gonna let everyone know I’m Alpha because I can play loud” or “It’s time to be tough”. We probably associate this more with men because they historically have occupied the brass section, and it has definitely been an uphill battle for the women that have paved the way for us. I’ve definitely heard things like “you can play surprisingly loud as a woman”, and I’ve been hit on in the workplace, or referred to as “babe”. Our responsibility as female brass players is to create, and not to respond to the music, and external pressures, around us. Most female musicians I know approach music from the big picture in, and that grace is something we can share with everyone around us. Having had children, I have seen first-hand twice-over the awesome creative powers of women. In every major professional situation I’ve been in, I have been judged solely on my talent and cooperative nature by men, and I am sure that we will lead the next generation by example.
Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?
I think musicians now have less fixed opportunities to play, but almost too many opportunities to think big. Everyone can use social media to their benefits and exploit technology for the novelty of it, but there’s a decline of talent and refinement. Playing live for other musicians keeps you honest in your trade, but playing over a computer with bad speakers leaves us less accountable for the way we sound and play in real time. A major priority of mine is to sound and play as well as the people I love to listen to, and sometimes I think younger musicians neglect that. When I teach, I emphasize two things: listen to the colleagues around you and use your sound to make the group better, and never work to be better than the people around you, but play to be as good as the people you admire.
Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger female musicians?
I wish I had known that the level I play at isn’t necessarily going to make me successful. You can do all the right things and check off the right boxes, but the opportunities that come your way will be very different from those of someone else’s, and talent can sometimes have very little to do with it. Constantly comparing yourself with your colleagues will just lead to envy and depression. The musicians with the longest careers stay in the business because they love the life, and couldn’t imagine anything else. I wish I hadn’t gotten caught up in where I measured up against everyone else.
I think female musicians, or even female professionals, are quicker to self-correct than men, and sometimes this leads to us feeling incompetent when we are around men who aren’t so hard-wired to think the same way. My advice is to combat that doubt with ability and determination. Be better and know that you are because of the practice hours you’ve put in. Be confident in the voice that you’ve found on your instrument through those precious hours you’ve spent with your instrument.
Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.
NYP/Bernstein Mahler Recordings from the 60s
Learning Mahler Symphonies from Scores before recordings
Emerson String Quartets complete Schubert Quartets, Shostakovich Quartets
Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss