By Gwen Klassen: CPO Assistant Principal flute player

I was asked to write a little about the Pender Island Flute Retreat (PIFR) of which I am Founder and Director. It’s a tough assignment, as we are approaching the 5th annual retreat (June 15 – 22) at Poets Cove Resort & Spa with all of those last minute details while CPO performances are going full steam until the day before we leave for BC! In addition, one of the headline flutists, William Bennett, is arriving in Calgary on Tuesday. Wibb, as he prefers to be addressed, is staying with me as he recovers from jet lag. The garden, house, dogs and kids must be in spit-spot, shipshape (and yes I did attend “Mary Poppins” at Theatre Calgary on the weekend)! He is also going to attend a CPO rehearsal or two next week, and the Tchaikovsky 5th performance on Saturday. It’s a lot of pressure, as he is my musical hero.

However, nothing “fires” me up more than the flute retreat, so I’ve had my afternoon coffee, blueberries and avocado for extra brain power and here we go….

The retreat idea occurred to me one day while sitting on the deck of my little cottage on Pender Island. I love it there – quiet, calm, ocean, trees, lots of reading, dreaming and practicing in a different way. I realized that if I, as a type A (++) flute player can find “centre” here, maybe others would as well.

That same year I started taking classes with Heather Campbell at Varsity Natural Health Centre and found that there were many similarities between what I was learning on a personal and physical level in her classes with performing and teaching the flute.

The following year I met and heard Lorna McGhee, Principal Flute of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra – an amazing artist. I took a chance and spoke to her about the retreat. I told her that it would be for Professionals and Advanced University students who are interested in exploring the physical, mental and emotional aspects of flute performance and pedagogy. She jumped on board and spoke to her former teacher, William Bennett, about joining us. He said ‘yes’ immediately.

Wibb has played Principal Flute in almost every major British Orchestra and teaches at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He has recorded over 300 CDs, and received many awards including the Order of the British Empire.

If that sounds impressive, it is. I remember driving us around on Pender Island while he was telling me about his conversation with Her Majesty, the Queen!! A full circle moment as Pippa FitzGerald-Finch (former First flute of the CPO) and I often enjoyed sharing our Majesty magazines! If you’re interested in learning more about Wibb , head to the Pender Island Flute Retreat or the Royal Academy of Music websites. You may also see him in the audience at our Saturday, June 14 concert!

The retreat Faculty has expanded – Lorna teaches alongside her own Alexander Technique teacher, Dr. Gabriella Minnes-Brandes,  to unlock the participants’ full expressive potential through a psycho-physical approach to musicianship! (below: photo of the 2012 Pender Island Flute Retreat attendees.)

Calgary’s own amazing pianist and teacher, Colleen Athparia, accompanies all the participants and the faculty for our recital – June 21, 1pm at Pender Islands Community Hall, a 20 minute walk from the ferry terminal. The four of us released a “live” CD in March of 2012 – contact me if you’re interested in purchasing one!

Participants are University Professors and Orchestral players as well as Advanced University students from Australia, Canada, England, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. Did you know the five out of the six flutists who perform with the CPO have attended PIFR?

The other component that we offer, which I believe to be truly unique, are the personal growth workshops led by Calgary business owner Heather Campbell. Topics such as breathing, boundaries, healthy ego and other topics that are relevant to life and to our work environment.

What’s my role? I am responsible for the administration, marketing and promotions, fundraising, website design, and accounting, as well as teaching a flute class, sharing what I’ve learned over the year (and I’m so glad that journey is not ending anytime soon!), and performing in the recital. I never imagined this for myself – I even produced a CD!

This year I’ve taken a leap and am leading some of the personal growth workshops too:

• “Flow” On Stage – how to be in the zone more often.

• “Finding Centre” – how to perform and teach from your centre.

• “Kung Flute” – the commonality between Martial Arts and Flute – how to still the mind, develop your intuition and transcend form.

• “Brain Awareness” – a slightly different perspective on “deep practice”, performance anxiety, teaching, performing, living.


• Leadership.

The experience of trusting my intuition about the flute retreat, working hard, developing new skills, asking for a lot of help and receiving it, and having faith has transformed my life and I try to bring that wonder, passion and joy to my place of work – on stage and behind the scenes. If you are curious about the retreat or want to become involved with the retreat and/or CPO in exploring these topics, please contact me!

There’s also a class with William Bennett for Professional Musicians in Calgary on June 14 from 10:00am – 1:00pm at the Doolittle Theatre in the University of Calgary. Admission is free, all are welcome. Sponsored by PIFR, Brussa Bravo! Legacy Program, U of C, Long & McQuade, and Altus Flutes. The Faculty recital is Saturday, June 21 at 1:00pm at Pender Islands Community Hall.

I wish to thank all the many people who have contributed to the success of this retreat. The sponsors and donors for this year are; Andrea Brussa, Brussa Bravo! Legacy Program, PIFR faculty, Poets Cove Resort & Spa, Long &McQuade, Altus Flutes, University of Calgary,  and several anonymous contributors. For a full comprehensive list of past and present supporters, please visit