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An Interview with Leone Buyse

I had not quite finished my Masters degree when Louis Moyse retired from Boston University and Leone Buyse, Co-Principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra became my new flute teacher for that final year. Her immersion in the French style of playing with Michel Debost, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Marcel Moyse made our transition together familiar because of my long-standing lessons with the Moyse’s. Her attention to detail, yet ability to see the big picture in all things enabled me to step outside myself: a different approach for me after spending 10 years focused on minute detail oriented aspects of musicianship. Both Marcel and Louis Moyse were fastidious in their approach as teachers.

Leone Buyse, an older woman with silver hair, is wearing a green dress and posed with flute while smiling at the camera. her flute
Leone Buyse

Leone’s energy and experienced professionalism make her one of the most sought after teachers today. Her personal and professional ethics are unmatched. She will also tell it like it is constructively and positively. Her extraordinarily fine musicianship towers over many, in terms of her ear, understanding of harmony, piano playing and brilliant flute playing.

To this day we have kept in touch. I invited her and Michael Webster, another great musician, to perform and share with the SDSU music school. They played together in a piece during their recital and facilitated a master class with the San Diego Flute Guild. We enjoy hiking and the great outdoors and share a love of cats! I have fond memories listening to her concerto recordings with her in my San Diego home and talking about music. I still defer to her for words of wisdom when I need it. Seeing and listening to how hard a symphony member must work and being surrounded by her work ethic was a significant part of my education with her.

Leone Buyse received the National Flute Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. This esteemed award has been given every year since 1991 to honor flutists who are considered the best and the brightest of the flute world.


September Payne: Who was your most influential teacher?

Leone Buyse: It's really impossible to say who my most influential teacher was because each of my major teachers [David Berman, Joseph Mariano, Michel Debost, and Jean-Pierre Rampal] encouraged my musical development in their own unique and very inspiring way. My one summer master class with Marcel Moyse in Boswil, Switzerland, was also pivotal in my growth, even though it was only three weeks.

SP: Do you have “pre-concert” prep or traditions that you follow?

LB: On the day of a concert I follow a fairly careful dietary regimen, avoiding caffeine and sugar. If my performance is in the evening I'll eat a fairly substantial meal in the early afternoon and then have scrambled eggs a couple of hours before playing. I also try to do a few minutes of yoga, and (if I have the time) to power walk and take a refreshing shower in the late afternoon.

SP: What concert experience stands out most in your career?

LB: Being summoned from a Symphony Hall audience and asked to sub on piccolo during a Boston Symphony concert in February of 1995 was an unexpected highlight of my professional life.

At the time I was teaching at the University of Michigan and visiting Boston after having just performed a concert and master class at the Hartt School. Leon Fleisher was soloist in a new Lukas Foss concerto that evening, and remembered the location of my comp "retiree" seat so that an usher could contact me while Ozawa was conducting a work for string orchestra. The repertoire that night also included Dukas' "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," and piccoloist Geralyn Coticone had been stricken with stomach flu at 7:20 PM. Apparently every freelance flutist whom the personnel office contacted had declined the opportunity to perform those challenging works without rehearsal for a Symphony Hall audience, so I was the orchestra's last hope...

I had exactly 40 minutes to practice on a borrowed piccolo after changing from street clothes into the black suit Ozawa's personal assistant happened to be wearing. Fortunately we wore the same size! When I arrived onstage during intermission Fenwick Smith oriented me to various tempi and then Ozawa made his entrance. The concert ended with Daphnis, and I'm sure the audience wondered why Ozawa saved the final bow for the piccolo player, and also why the orchestra then began applauding wildly. I received a special review by Richard Dyer in the Boston Globe and a generous check from my former employer for helping out in an unexpected crisis. It was a delight to be back onstage with my friends playing such thrilling symphonic repertoire, and it was also proof that music learned really well can remain in one's fingers and retrieved at a moment's notice when necessary!

SP: What playlist favorite is on your iPod?

LB: This may sound strange, but I tend not to listen a lot to music on a regular basis. Much of each day is spent hearing others play in lessons or master classes or listening to myself practice, and my ears need a break in order to stay fresh. I do listen to classical repertoire that I'm curious about, and my taste in music runs from classical to ethnic, Tuvan throat singing for example, to jazz and country - I live in Texas, after all! I even enjoy some of my stepson's heavy metal and guitar virtuosos, such as Steve Vai.

SP: What advice would you give emerging career flutists?

LB: Discover your own strengths and devise ways to share them and your passion for music. There is no one else with your unique contribution of attributes, and you must believe that that you can truly make a difference in our world. One of the best ways to get more established and known is to play chamber music with really good musicians in your city. Form alliances, praise others, collaborate in rehearsals, yet be ready to offer firm musical reasons as to your musical choices. Go above and beyond reproach in your deeds and speech.

About the Interviewer

Dr. September Payne is an entrepreneurial artist and pedagogue who’s musicality, effective teaching, and long-standing association with prominent French and French-influenced teachers have won her praise. The list of teachers includes Marcel and Louis Moyse, Sir James Galway, Leone Buyse, and Carol Wincenc.

She has performed as Principal Flute with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, piccolo with the Boston Opera and has been on the faculty of the Chen International Music Festival in Arkansas. September's touring experience includes chamber ensembles Duo Pastiche with harpist Carolyn Mills (New Zealand Orchestra) and Duo CANsonare (Canadian Sound) with pianist, Jane Perkyns. September was 1st to catalogue Contemporary Canadian Flute Music, housed in The Canadian Music Center in Toronto.

September is Flute Professor Emeritus at San Diego State University. She is the former President of the San Diego Flute Guild and Director of Winds at the California Institute of Music. She is the Co-Founder of San Diego Coastal Flutes and Founder of Vancouver Island Coastal Flutes. September can be reached through her website:

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