- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2011

The music ebbed and flowed into a gentle wave, backed by a gradual rise into a thunder of drums, which then pulled away unexpectedly. The teenage musicians strained their faces as they breathed into their instruments, and then paused as the director drew them to a halt.

“Are you guys all right?” asked director Jenny Lapple. “Are you guys tired?”

The members of the Washington-area Flutopia Wind Ensemble admitted to some fatigue but also wanted to keep going Thursday evening. They had good reason to, since this was their last rehearsal before their big performance at Carnegie Hall on Sunday.

Ms. Lapple recently became the director of Flutopia after her mother and the group’s director, Judy Lapple, died unexpectedly in August. She since has been working with the ensemble’s 70 members as they persevere while trying to heal from the sudden loss. Their endeavors have now led the Carnegie Hall invitation.

Judy Lapple founded the high-school-level Flutopia in 2000 after she already had built a children’s woodwind camp at George Mason University.

“We always talked about me taking over the group one day,” said her daughter, a petite powerhouse of energy. “But it happened a little sooner than we had expected. These kids were eager to keep going, and so with their momentum I stepped in, and it’s been moving forward, and it’s been wonderful.”

Despite the pain that both she and the student performers are facing, Ms. Lapple leads Flutopia with admirable force. The ensemble still speaks about Judy Lapple at almost every rehearsal, and they openly share memories of her time with them.

One student, senior Eric Jackson, found particular solace in performing a piece he composed for the founding director before she died.

Mr. Jackson said he wrote the piece for Judy Lapple as a way of thanking her for everything she had done both for him and for the other members of Flutopia.

The piece, called “Eyes Wide Open,” originally was written for piano and flute, though after Judy Lapple’s death the composer rewrote it for the full ensemble. It is one of the pieces that will be performed Sunday.

“Judy was a mentor and kind of a second mom for all her students,” said Mr. Jackson, who attends Georgetown Day School, “regardless of what her students were going through, whether familial problems or problems with relationships or friends or school.”

Her death was a blow, he added, but now he holds onto the hope that is left by her legacy.

“It’s just so great that we’re able to perform this piece with full ensemble,” Mr. Jackson said, “because it’s a way to show everyone how powerful a spirit she was.”

Flutopia also boasts a strong familial bond, according to performer Sean Williams, who plays the bassoon and attends Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. What he likes the most is that the students really want to be there, he said.

“It’s the family connection really,” he said. “Everyone feels like family, and it’s just so fun to play with everyone in the room, because it’s people who want to be there.”

Mr. Williams said the ensemble also serves to debunk the stereotypes about teenage musicians.

“When people look at band kids, they expect some of the biggest nerds and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s not just a big group of nerds who are stressed about high school; it’s people that want to be there, that love what they’re doing.”

Judy Lapple’s death affected the parents as well as the students. Peter Feibelman, father of Flutopia member Laura Feibelman, said that soon after the director’s death, Ms. Lapple held a meeting for the students and parents to discuss the group’s future.

Mr. Feibelman described the emotions of the performers as stretching from timid to bold and from sorrowful to angry. However, when asked if they wanted to continue with the ensemble, the result was unanimous. They all wanted to continue in Judy Lapple’s memory.

“I think that experience of accepting a major loss, yet realizing the whole is still there, and committing themselves to continue, is a big impact on all these musicians,” he said.

Students who have not been with Flutopia as long also have been impressed with the force left behind by Judy Lapple. Freshman Olivia Staton of James Madison High School does not play the flute just to play — she plays for something deeper.

“I think everyone has a reason that they’re here,” said Miss Staton, who attended the woodwind summer camp for several years before joining Flutopia. “Especially the music choice that Jenny chose, there’s a lot of emotion behind the music, because everyone has a reason why they chose Flutopia.”

Lydia Newlon, a junior at George Washington Community School, agreed.

“One of the really great things about it is that we have some of the best musicians in the area,” said Miss Newlon, who plays the clarinet. “But there’s very little of that pretentiousness. We’re not like, ‘Oh, I’m better than you because I’m in Flutopia’ — there’s none of that, and I’m really glad.”

As the students prepare for Carnegie Hall, they continue to draw strength from the memory of Judy Lapple. In hard moments, Ms. Lapple likes to ask the players, “What would Judy say?” or, especially, “What are you guys made of?”

“That’s a very important question for them because when they walk in that door, it’s not about egos,” said the director. “It’s not about music abilities at the end of the day — it’s about giving all of themselves.”

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