Janet Parish-Whittaker

For Janet, music was her life. She started at age six with a pennywhistle her Uncle George gave her and quickly fell in love with classical music. Not many little girls name their teddies "Beethoven Bear".

As a teen, Janet studied flute with Pamela Whitlow, who performed with the North Carolina Symphony. At 16, Janet earned a scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Academy, where she finished high school. She earned her Bachelors of Music in performance flute at the University of Illinois, where she studied with Alex Murray, former principal of the London Symphony Orchestra. Other teachers at that time included Trevor Wye and the pioneer in extended flute technique Robert Dick. Janet performed and taught throughout her college days, taking but one semester off for her battle with Hodgkin's disease. In her last year, she played with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra.

After college, marital choices landed Janet in Florida, where she studied with Charles Delaney, principal flutist of the Tallahassee Symphony. After escaping the "land of giant bugs" (as she put it), she moved to San Diego where she pursued her Masters in Music at the University of California, San Diego, where she studied flute with John Fonville as well as composition and improvisation with the jazz trombonist and experimental musician George Lewis. As befitting her eclectic interests, Janet's Master's thesis was a paper on the 14th century composer Phillip de Vitry and a computer program, Acoustic Reflex, that would listen to a musical piece and create real time improvisations with a human performer. A video of Janet playing with Acoustic reflex at her Masters recital can be watched to the right.

After completing her Master's Janet stayed in San Diego, where she spent some years working with the Harry Castle, their collaborations culminating in Apparatus, a collection of improvisations, parts of which were selected for performance in 1997 at the International Computer Music Conference in Thessaloniki. She would go on to found experimental trio Proving Grounds with Hans Fjellestad and Damon Holzborn, as well as running a local new music library series.

Janet was also a great lover and performer of early music. Starting out with the baroque flute while an undergraduate, Janet could and did play a wide variety of medieval and renaissance flutes, from straight bore fifes and recorders to instruments made from cows' horns and deer bone. The largely improvisatory nature of early music was a natural fit with Janet's talents, and she would often remark on the similarities between modern experimental music and early music. Janet played with a number of early music groups, including the Jubilatores, Columbine, Off the Cuff and the Goliards, of which she was a founding member.

Her modern flute didn't gather dust, of course, and she played in a number of small ensembles as well as the La Jolla Symphony under Thomas Nee. She also performed with her husband in both the Goliards and the cleverly named Celtic Harp and Flute duo.

Outside of performance, from 2000 on, Janet worked as the sole paid employee of the San Diego Early Music Society, running the administration and assisting with concert organization.

Perhaps just as important to her as performance was teaching flute. Starting in high school, and continuing until her final illness, Janet shared her love of music with hundreds of students, adult and children alike. Although she never had children, she touched the next generation in a way few have.

It's tempting to gloss over Janet's illnesses, as she regarded them as severe nuisances that prevented her from doing everything she wanted to. "Don't call me a survivor," she'd say. "I'm just muddling along." And it's true. She was kicked in the face by Hodgkin's disease, crippling rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, a year of unexplained seizures, two separate occurrences of breast cancer, and finally, the pancreatic cancer that took her from us. But while she may not have toured or recorded as much as she wanted to, she accomplished a great deal. And thankfully, she left behind some of her music, so we can continue to cherish her talent, creativity and the pure silly joy she took in life.

Click on a picture to go to that album. Feel free to share her music.

Click on a video to watch a live performance.

Copyright © 2011 David Parish-Whittaker