Behind the Curtain: Alyce Johnson, Flute and Piccolo
photo credit Vilma Jovaisa
The Lyric Opera Orchestra has missed our audiences - and our orchestra pit - during the past 18 months. We’re so excited to be back and to open the 2021-20222 season this September. With the return of full opera comes the return of our routines - in particular, our performance routines. We thought it would be fun to sit down with a member of the orchestra and give you a glimpse of what goes into a night at the opera (hint: it’s not just the three hours you see us down in those chairs!).
Today I’m talking with my flute section colleague and friend, Alyce Johnson. I’m excited to learn more about her behind-the-scenes moments!
Hello, Alyce! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! I joined the Lyric Opera Orchestra in 2004 after one year in The New World Symphony and four years as Principal Flute with the Shanghai Philharmonic. My main position at Lyric is playing the piccolo, but I also play quite a bit of flute depending on which piece we are doing.
What are some unique or specific aspects of your position with the orchestra?
Switching between flute and piccolo can be tricky, especially because the instruments are different sizes. This affects the amount of air we use and the type of embouchure needed.
When I started at Lyric, it seemed difficult to switch between the instruments especially when it needed to happen very quickly. After so many years in the orchestra, I feel that I am finally getting used to this and it is getting to be more comfortable.
What does your playing/practicing look like on a typical performance day outside of your time at the opera house?
Piccolo is the highest instrument in the orchestra and it takes a great deal of control to play it softly. I rarely take days off from practicing because it is easy to get out of shape. On performance days, I usually warm up early for an hour or two. This includes both a general warm-up of scales and arpeggios as well as going over any tricky spots in the opera for that evening. I try to space out my practice sessions throughout the day to avoid injury as musicians can get hurt easily from overworking the same muscles for long periods of time.
Do you have any rituals or things you do during the day to prepare for performances, mitigate nerves, and deal with fatigue during the night?
To perform at my best, I try to eat well, avoiding caffeine and sugar the day of a show and sometimes a few days before. Napping has also become a normal part of my concert preparation. Opera performances sometimes go past 11pm and it’s important to have complete focus until the very end.
Any specific foods you make sure to eat or avoid on a performance day? Everyone at Lyric jokes that the food I eat during breaks is bizarre. I eat simple foods for fuel that don’t necessarily taste very good. Usually, it‘s plain tofu and oatmeal or sometimes a few boiled potatoes…nothing with flavor at all, which my colleagues tend to think is pretty funny ;)
If it is even possible to pick...is there a favorite performance, memory, or opera performed that you'd like to share?
Even though we do it quite often, I could never get tired of playing Carmen. It has some of the best flute and piccolo parts, especially the Entr’acte for solo flute and harp, one of the most beautiful pieces in our repertoire.
Thank you for letting us into your performance space, Alyce. We can’t wait to see and hear you again this fall!