An elite high school woodwind group in Northern Virginia continues to make beautiful music in honor of its beloved founder, who died recently.
Judy Lapple, an accomplished flutist and teacher, first founded Flutopia 10 years ago. Judy was a professor of flute at George Mason University, had an extensive private studio of flutists and ran a well-known summer woodwind camp, where the idea of Flutopia was born. Its members audition for their spots in Flutopia and come together for six hours every Sunday to rehearse.
Since Judy died suddenly in her sleep last August, Flutopia has continued under the direction of her daughter, Jennifer Lapple, an adjunct faculty in flute at George Mason University who also performs in several area groups.
“We had a meeting in September with all the parents and the students to decide the future of Flutopia,” Jennifer said. “Unanimously people just spoke to the fact that they wanted to move forward and do this. Initially it wasn’t a role I felt ready for but I guess that’s how things happen in life. I stepped into it and we all kind of moved together forward slowly.”
Many of the members had been students of Judy’s for years.
“[Jennifer Lapple] was the only person we wanted to fill her shoes,” said Caroline Henderson, a member of the group for the last four years. “No one else knew her as well or would be able to carry her legacy as well. We knew the group would be in the right hands and go in the right direction.”
“At the beginning when you would look up to watch [Jennifer] conducting you would look up and see dual people conducting because she has a lot of the same techniques that Judy did,” Kat Lopes, a member for four years, added. “It took a lot of getting used to that it was actually Jenny up there.”
Directing the group has helped Jennifer as well. She calls herself lucky for being able to do it and says she now understand why her mom did it all those years.
“It has been a healing process in a way- to get up on that podium in front of those students and see in their faces a mix of anticipation and fear and sadness and also this hopefulness,” Jennifer said. “They’re so desperate, as am I, to keep alive what she started. That’s her legacy. It carries through into the music and it carries through into the experience as a whole.”
The group was invited to play at Carnegie Hall by Distinguished Concerts International New York based on a recording sent in of a group Judy directed last summer. students and were among the students who played on Sunday, February 20. Jennifer said that the group's performance at the illustrious music hall has helped push them to greater heights.
“When Carnegie Hall came up, it really motivated us and was that final push over the edge that we needed to keep moving forward,” Jennifer said.
The performance at Carnegie Hall will be a special one, as it will feature several of Judy’s favorite songs including October, by Eric Whitacre and the overture to the Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart. The program will also include Eyes Wide Open, a piece written for Judy by Flutopia member Eric Jackson.
Jackson originally wrote the piece last May.
“Judy’s had such a profound impact on my life,” Jackson, a member of Flutopia since 2004, said. He originally wrote the piece for flutes and piano, in a major-minor-major pattern.
“That was supposed to represent how students came to Judy with tons of things outside of school whether it was familial problems or relationship problems,” Jackson said. “Whenever you talked to Judy it always seemed to get better.”
The piece was played with flutes and piano at the second of two memorial concerts in honor of Judy last semester. He recently revised it for full ensemb.e
“I realized that it wasn’t just Judy’s students that had this great inspiration and this warmth from Judy- it was everybody in Flutopia,” Jackson said. “I thought it would be more appropriate to incorporate all the instruments”
Many of the members cited the song as one of their favorites.
“When I conduct [Eyes Wide Open,] I’m just thinking about all the little things that go into it,” Jennifer said. “But every time I listen to it I’m just in tears- you can’t tell where his beautifully profound music ends and the way they’re playing it begins.”
Judy’s legacy will live on, in the form of Flutopia, her students, and the Judith Lapple Summer Woodwind Camp where it all began.
“This was her idea- this was her seed that she planted ten years ago,” Jennifer said. “And I want the whole world to know it.”