Living a musical life: One step at a time with Lara Deutsch

Lara Deutsch. Photo; Brent Calis Photography

After graduating from McGill University with a Masters in Music, Lara Deutsch started preparing for her professional life and the kinds of competitions that help build a resume.

The Ottawa native plays the flute and has built up a solid freelance career in this city. But in 2016 she was really just beginning, so being a “recovering” perfectionist, she started looking for an edge. And she found it with psychologist Jean-Francois Menard. He has worked with members of Cirque du Soleil and several Olympic athletes such as Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Alex Bilodeau and Mikael Kingsbury.

“He totally changed my life,” she said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

“People, when they hear the word psychology, think something is wrong.” But actually, Deutsch was learning mental skills.

“I play flute. It’s arguably one of the most competitive instruments out there. And when you audition, everybody can play well.”

Getting the job comes down to who can do well in the two minutes you have.

Lara Deutsch believes mental preparation is important for professional musicians.

“Olympic athletes train their entire lives for a two-minute race. You need to be able to execute at the level you know you can execute in that time of intensity and stress. That’s what you have to practice as much as you practice your instrument.”

It’s the kind of drive and focus Deutsch has had all her life, and especially since age six when she picked up the flute.

“I had started piano when I was three. All three of my older brothers played.”

This was a single parent household in Alta Vista. Her father left the family when Lara was very young and she was raised by her mother Annie Haack-Deutsch.

“She is quite amazing. I have to thank her for a lot of my success.”

Annie is a big reason why Lara is performing in a benefit concert for the Breast Cancer Foundation on May 6. Annie is a survivor.

But we get ahead of ourselves.

Lara found the flute at the home of her cousins.

“I watched them play the flute and I fell in love with it.”

Then she convinced her mom to let her have lessons. Lara is still very close to her first teacher Cathy Baerg.

As time went on, she dabbled in violin and voice but the flute “felt the most natural. It feels like you are almost speaking through the instrument.”

It isn’t easy to play. It depends on a lot of lung power.

“The capacity you have to develop is crazy. As someone who has asthma, it has actually been pretty great to play the flute because it builds lung capacity.”

Through high school she continued practice.

“I loved any opportunity I’d get to play. I was very lucky mother was supportive of that and made a lot of sacrifices and my grandparents helped me get my instrument and cheered me on. That kind of environment was very important.”

After high school it was off to McGill for two degrees. There she worked with “two of the greatest flute players in world Denis Bluteau and Timothy Hutchins,” both of whom are members of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Deutsch is trained in classical repertoire.

“But I’m open to musical versatility. I’m still early in my career so there are a lot of things in classical realm I want to do. At the same time I do want to be forward thinking. I think it is the responsibility of our generation to bring classical music into the future.

“That has to do with commissioning living composers, putting your money where your mouth is.”

As a freelancer she’s also very pragmatic.

“I am open to really anything at the moment. I do a lot of more traditional and classical orchestra and chamber music that is classically but in 10 years that might be different.”

The year after graduating from McGill and mentally ready, she won the MSO competition and the National Arts Centre bursary. She has been named one of the 30 best musicians under 30 by the CBC in 2015.

She has been freelancing all over, first on tour with the MSO, then for almost a full season with NACO. then she got the year-long contract with the Vancouver Symphony as assistant principal flute and piccolo for the 2016-17 season.

She said she remains interested in an orchestra position but the reality is there are more musicians than jobs.

“If you want to be picky about the city you live in (and she is), you have to realize it might always be a mix of freelancing and doing own projects. That’s kind of exciting too. It is what I do now.”

This means she does something different every day and she has a lot of creative input in what she is doing.

That mental training has given her the mindset required to be a flexible performer, something that she think many of her colleagues may need help with.

“You are taught in school there is only one path. But if you want a well-rounded life sometimes that means not moving halfway around the world to the middle of nowhere to play in an orchestra.

“You have to work on your mental skills as much as your musical skills.”

In addition to performing and teaching, she does workshops on mental preparedness.

“I can say honestly the biggest regret I have in life is not having learned that mental aspect of the business from Day One. We were told ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that. You grow up full of inhibitions and completely missing the point of what we want to do or how to get there.”

Deutsch credits her mother with teaching her to make her own opportunities.

“She was always getting me to put myself out there. Martin Luther King said, ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step’.” She follows that one.

“If you had told me five years ago I would get to go on two MSO tours with teachers or that I would have gotten an insane grant to record an album I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s all a gradual accumulation of things over time” including learning how to handle criticism.

“I look for the approval of people who have earned the right to have an opinion on what I am doing. The rest is feedback but you can’t take that to heart.”

Teaching helps.

“I learn a lot through teaching. It’s nice to develop those relationships. It’s kind of therapeutic to talk about music and life in a lesson.

“I don’t have a huge studio because I travel a lot. I tend to teach adults or teens doing for fun or for a couple of weeks.

She lives in Ottawa today in part because of her mother’s brush with cancer.

“When she was diagnosed and I was so far away, I hated it.” Ottawa works for a freelancer too because it’s busy and close to potential gigs in Toronto and Montreal.

She will be playing with the Waverley Winds on May 6. That’s a flute ensemble created by OrKidstra’s artistic director Tina Fedeski. Deutsch was involved with OrKidstra in its early years. She taught there and did internship.

“Tina is constant source of inspiration. She had a goal to be in an orchestra and she did that. She had a goal to open up her own shop and she did that with The Leading Note. She had a goal to start this incredible foundation. And she has done it all with  grace and humility.”

Flute players do get injuries, from dry cracked lips in winter lips to tendinitis. Deutsch has also dealt with a painful condition that affects the jaw called TMJ Syndrome.Despite it all she carries on.

On May 6, she’ll play a few movements from the Bach C minor suite, Bloch’s Prayer on a Jewish Life, the Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits (‘very flutey’) and the Carmen Fantasy. “It should be cute with all the flutes.”

But Deutsch’s big project these days is her album project with her Duo Kalysta partner on the harp, Emily Belvedere.

The project has received a staggering $82,000 in grants from the Canada Council and Factor to record on Leaf Music of Halifax and then tour.

It will be recorded this May and Deutsch hopes the disc featuring a mix of Canadian and international music will be out in the fall. She’s taking one more step up the staircase.

The Waverley Winds present a benefit concert for the Breast Cancer Foundation with Lara Deutsch, flute
Where: St. John the Evangelist, 154 Somerset St. W.
When: May 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Freewill offering. Information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.