a day in the life of a flute player …

Photo Carola Sofia Retta

My adventures with playing a musical instrument began when I was about 6 years old. My Dad, Santo Urso, who was one of the former Assistant Concertmasters of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, gave me my first instrument; a violin. My Dad was my hero, I wanted to be just like him and as fun as it was to have a violin of my own, it was a little less fun having to practice it in order to sound better. Needless to say, the violin and I ended up not being such a great match. When I came home from school in the 6th grade announcing that I was going to play the flute, my Mom and Dad were quick to remind me that I already played the violin. They had to be kidding. It was no secret that I wasn’t exactly excelling at the violin. But the flute…. now this was my instrument, and more importantly, it was something my Dad didn’t play which meant I was in the clear when it came to lessons at home. I overheard them talking later that night, saying something to the effect of “this won’t last, it’ll be like the violin … or ballet, or tap dancing, or …” I listened from the other room thinking “Oh yeah? I’ll show them!” The rest, as they say, is history. Years later, I’m still fascinated by the shiny, gold tube and the how it can create some of the most beautiful melodies ever written.

Since 1995 it has been a great pleasure being part of the faculty at The Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at California State University, Long Beach. In 2018, I joined the  Fine Arts Faculty at California State University, Stanislaus. I am also a teaching artist for the extraordinary International Piccolo Flute Academy

I am the Second Flutist of the Oakland Symphony and the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra. Previously, I was the Second Flutist/Piccoloist of the San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater for 19 years, and the New York City Opera’s National Company for 2 years, both taking me on several US tours. So many wonderful memories from those years on the road!

My life as a performing artist is fluid, diverse, and incredibly fulfilling – I love the variety of ways I make my living. I split my time between my home in Highland Park, IL and traveling for the work I do as a performer – all over California – mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as Los Angeles – as well as the work I do presenting masterclasses and workshops all over the world. The Pacific, California, Fresno, Marin, Santa Rosa, Monterey, Berkeley, and Modesto Symphonies are among some of the fine orchestras I frequently work with, in addition to recording work for video games, television, and film. I have also played with the San Francisco Opera, Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Mark Morris Dance Group, Seattle Symphony, Hawaii (formerly Honolulu) Symphony, and the Detroit Symphony, as well as for the National Tours for Broadway shows such as Phantom of the Opera and Wicked.

Summers are spent teaching around the US and abroad, and playing in festival orchestras: Oregon Coast Music Festival, as well as occasional work with the San Francisco Opera Center Orchestra, Festival Mozaic and the Carmel Bach Festival. Other summer highlights include teaching, performing, and presenting courses for California State University Summer Arts, Andover Educators Biennial Conferences, the National Flute Association’s annual convention, and the International Piccolo Festival. 

I’m proud to be a product of the State University system in both Michigan and California, having earned my B.M. in Flute Performance from Wayne State University and my M.M. in Flute Performance from California State University, Long Beach with honors. The list of remarkable musicians who I have had the great fortune to study with over the years and who continue to inspire me include: Robert Patrick (Former Assistant Principal Flutist, D.S.O.), Clement Barone (Former Solo Piccolo, D.S.O.), John Barcellona (Retired Professor of Flute, CSULB), Anne Zentner (Retired Principal Flutist, LA Philharmonic), Ervin Monroe (Retired Principal Flutist, D.S.O.), Julie MacKenzie (Principal Flutist, SF Opera, Piccolo, SF Ballet), and my father, Santo Urso (Former Assistant Concertmaster, D.S.O.).

In addition to my university teaching and orchestral playing, I wear many other hats, such as teaching students across the globe (literally!) via Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime – flute, piccolo, and Body Mapping. I am a Licensed Body Mapping Educator and Training Mentor for the Association of Body Mapping Educators and travel all over the world throughout the year presenting master classes, workshops, private lessons, and recitals. A short list of the conservatories and universities I’ve presented classes and workshops for include; Manhattan School of Music, Northwestern University, Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, Rice University, University of Texas Austin, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin Madison, my alma mater Wayne State University, and many of CSU’s including San Diego State University, Fresno State, Chico State, and my own university, CSU, Long Beach, University of Southern California, and Juilliard.

I am a Certified RYT-200 Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Instructor and Certified Meditation Instructor. This pairs beautifully with the work I do as a Body Mapping Educator, giving my students a variety of useful movements to explore, deepen their breath work practice, improve focus, and help to quiet the inner critic so many of us performing artists deal with.

Chamber music feeds my soul and I feel grateful for the collaborative process with my friends with whom I play in various chamber ensembles including my flute and piano trio, Alcyone Ensemble, among others.

I play a 9k heavy wall Muramatsu Flute, Keefe Piccolo, and Yamaha Alto Flute. I also play a Peter Noy Boxwood Head on my heavy wall DS Muramatsu.

Away from the piccolo and flute, I have no trouble filling my time with other things I love to do: practicing yoga, baking and cooking, traveling with my husband John, and spending time with our two dogs Po and Girl.

Click below to view my CV and BIO.

17 responses to “a day in the life of a flute player …”

  1. Dear Ms. Urso-Trapani – I am attempting to locate a flutist. His name is Robert Patrick and I studied with him in Philadelphia years ago, probably 57 +/-. He was a student of Walter Kincaid. He went out to the west coast to play after graduation from Curtis, and we lost track of each other. I wonder if you know his where-abouts or what happened to him. I note that you studied with a Robert Patrick and perhaps he is/was my former teacher…I am 83, and one tends to think “a time below a time,” what might have been.

    1. Hello Robert,
      Thank you so much for your note. What a pleasure to connect with a fellow Robert Patrick student. I feel very lucky to have had the privilege of studying with Mr. Patrick all throughout high school and early college. Sadly, he passed away back in 1991 of pneumonia after being ill for some months. What a loss to the flute world. He was the Assistant Principal Flutist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for many years. I believe he joined the DSO in the late 60’s. My father, Santo Urso, was Assistant Concertmaster and always loved his playing. He considered him to be a tremendous musician with a beautiful tone who could turn a phrase like no-one else. I felt honored to be accepted into his studio, which by the way, was in the room next door to the teaching studio where my father also taught at a local music store in the Detroit area. A favorite story I enjoy telling is how Mr. Patrick would teach me new technical studies each week – all from memory. We wrote nothing down, he wanted me to really know these exercises. Week after week he’d teach me more arpeggio and scale studies. I’d leave my lesson feeling a little bit like I just completed a calculus exam. One day, a family friend gave me a gift of a beautiful leather bound music manuscript book. This seemed like the ideal place to write down all of “Mr. Patrick’s Technical Studies.” I spent weeks working on it and then finally brought it into one of my lessons to show it to him. I pulled it out of my bag, proudly displaying my hours of hard work, cataloging all of his brilliant (and difficult) studies. He looked at it and said “Well, I don’t know why you would have bothered writing all of that down, that’s just the Taffanel and Gaubert 17 Daily Exercises book.” He taught me to love practicing Andersen Etude’s and to this day, I still regularly go back and review all of those old etudes. I’m trying to instill this habit in my students. Hopefully in the years to come they’re figure out how great they are for us … like a daily multi-vitamin.
      I had forgotten that he spent time playing on the west coast, Seattle as I recall. Incidentally, the teacher I studied with after Mr. Patrick was also a Curtis grad and William Kincaid student; Clement Barone. Clem was the Solo Piccolo of the Detroit Symphony with Mr. Patrick. Between the two of them I sure feel lucky to have had that kind of inspiration, weekly wisdom and musical guidance.
      Do you still play?

      Thank you for contacting me, Robert.
      Best regards,

  2. Rhoda Mann Murphy Avatar
    Rhoda Mann Murphy

    Your dad was my violin teacher when I was a youngster. In the summer, I used to come to the house, where all you kids were playing! I am mainly an amateur piano/keyboard player for church and local fundraisers where I live in a retirement community on Long Island, but when my granddaughter decided the violin wasn’t for her, I inherited the instrument and am again playing. Your dad was an inspiration and a wonderful person. R. Murphy

    1. Thank you for your kind message, Rhoda! I have been meaning to respond to you for sometime – my apologies for the delay. Your thoughtful words about my Dad mean so much. I miss him everyday. Thank you, again, and best of luck to you on your new/returning adventure with the violin. Rena Urso

      1. Your Dad was a remarkably nice person, who I’m sure realised that my efforts on the violin were limited, but he never indicated that! Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.  Rhoda

  3. It’s Christmas Day and we remember your dad, Santo.

    Fr. Ed Perrone’s father had the Pied Piper music store (co-owned by my dad, Joe Pizzimenti) where Michael used to work.

    We like your playing of the Bizet.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Al! And thank you for thinking of my Dad on Christmas Day. I miss him everyday. My brother Michael has told me many stories of the Pied Piper days. I will see him in a couple of weeks and let him know we’ve been in touch. I’m sure he’ll send his best regards. Thanks again and happy new year!

  4. Rhoda Mann Murphy Avatar
    Rhoda Mann Murphy

    Merry Christmas to you and your husband. The world needs more music now than ever! People will always need music. I recently was part (piano) of a fundraiser for a young veteran who had been badly wounded and his wife. Our retirerment community raised over $4,500 for them. Very gratifying. Rhoda

  5. Ms Urso,

    We are acquaints from some time ago. I just arrived in Oakland for a few days of business meetings and thought I saw you. I was wrong but took the opportunity to google you (what did we do before Google?). Great story and do happy for you and your success.


    1. Mr. Isola,
      Hope this finds you well. What a pleasure to hear from you after all of these years! Thank you for your kind words.
      Incidentally, I play with the Oakland Symphony. Please let me know if your business travels should take you there again – it would be lovely to see you.
      Meanwhile, enjoy your stay in the beautiful Bay Area.
      Kind regards,

  6. Donald R. Griffis Avatar
    Donald R. Griffis

    Bob Patrick and I were in a diverse group of about six students who spent the summer of 1955 in a small farm house outside West Gray, Maine while studying with Mr. Kincaid at his summer home on a bluff jutting out over Little Sebago Lake. Bob was always the first to arise and last to retire, practicing demonically most of the day. I published a nostalgia piece in the NFA Newletter titled “The Bird Sang Maquarre” in 1977 which may resonate among many of your readers. It was a most enjoyable and pivotal experience in my long life. I even went down to Boston and had lunch and a long conversation with VQP at his expense!

    1. Dear Donald, Thank you for this lovely story about Bob. His artistry, integrity, and amazing work ethic made such a positive impact on me from an early age. I love hearing stories from his friends like yourself!

  7. Great video! I see that you are one with your instrument, making your body an instrument. Good stuff. I am a massage therapist who delightfully met you at Deerfield family Chiro, formerly Lapp. I am interested in learning more about body mapping. Please send me info about your classes.

  8. Very lovely site! I found you when I googled Robert Patrick flutist. I knew him briefly one summer at the Brevard Music Center. I was in the Advanced Division, a summer program modeled on Curtis with original guidance from Vittorio Gianini, then Dean of Julliard. I was sad to learn (from your account) that he passed away from pneumonia. I believe he was 2nd flute in Cincinnati in the early 60s when I knew him.

    1. Hi Ginny, Apologies for taking forever to respond to your note. I don’t always see the comments on my website. Thank you for your message. Yes, Mr. Patrick was a wonderful teacher, flutist, musician … so grateful to have had the opportunity to study with him. He was actually Asst. Principal in the Detroit Symphony actually. I don’t know if he ever played in Cincinnati.

  9. My father was a concert violinist at Northwestern University and after he moved to Detroit and married my Mom in 1934 he played only for our family. However, later he played with an orchestra near Detroit and there he met Santo. They became friends and my dad continued to play the violin. He depended on your dad to help him if he needed any help and they became good friends. I love violin music and do miss hearing it played by my Dad. I bet you feel that way also about the beautiful sounds that came from a violin well played by your Dad. Enjoy!

    1. Hello Susan, Thank you for your message and beautiful memories. What was your Dad’s name – wondering if any of my siblings (or me!) remember my Dad talking about him. Thanks again for reaching out. Happy New Year!