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REMOTE | Camille Watts ‘Musicians Are Especially Gregarious Creatures’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on July 16, 2020

Camille Watts (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Camille Watts (Photo courtesy of the artist)

For this episode of REMOTE, we are joined by flutist and solo piccoloist Camille Watts, who has played both instruments for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for thirty years (!). As you’ll see in her contribution to this series below, she’s a person of many interests: from enrolling in courses on fashion and design to taking a slow deep dive on the essays of Toni Morrison. I think it’s the variety of her musical interests that surprises me the most, the latest being Ali Farka Touré — an absolutely brilliant Malian musician, and a name you don’t often hear mentioned in the classical world (if you’re looking for an introduction, check out his album Samba).

How have you been coping with the lockdown?

I’m lucky to be healthy, and isolated in my bubble with a great partner. My husband Jeff Reynolds is a musician on faculty at U of T. We’re both working from home at this point, so picture a house full of all kinds of tunes floating through it, from Baroque to Big Band, opera and world music. Ali Farka Touré is our latest jam and gets us dancing. The discomfort in our lives is in the NOT knowing.

We know live music will happen, but how and when? Those are the questions. For now we do our best not to over speculate and focus on the possible, supporting our communities of students and institutions. I’m so proud of my colleagues, turning on a dime to produce all kinds of online inspiration. We’ve also been helping to put together educational videos, creating a library of resources to support students, teachers, and parents.

What are the ways you’ve been keeping busy?

I’m a nerd, and maybe a creature of habit, so I’m still looking for my practice time every day. Scales, intervals, and lots of Bach and pieces I don’t usually have time to play — it’s all very grounding, and takes me back to 8 year old Camille starting the flute, amazed that I could make sound like this!

I’m doing Pilates several times a week, at Muse Movement online and Core Sound, a studio for musicians started by a former student. We have a weekly morning class of flute players that is an awesome way to start the day. Jeff and I go for epic walks and conversations. We know Trinity Bellwoods and the surrounding area so well by now — the architecture, the gardens, the dogs and the clouds! And fun with food. We’ve managed not to do take-out, and I’ve never made so much food in my life! Oddly, my house is no cleaner than it was before the pandemic….

What are you missing the most right now?

Community and mobility! Thanks to Zoom and the phone, and we’ve had a few people into our back garden, but we really are made to be more social than this. Musicians are especially gregarious creatures, and I realize how spoiled I am playing concerts all the time, and I promise not to take that for granted in the future. The same thing goes for travel. Last summer we were hiking in Italy, and I’m savouring those memories now.

Any specific books, films, or TV on the go?

I’ve been reading Toni Morrison’s last essays for six months, to take in her profound wisdom slowly. And history books, Simon Schama and Tony Judt. I’ve taken some courses on Coursera — “Fashion as Design”, “Contact Tracing”, and now “Love as a Force for Social Justice”, along with a local course, “Sharing Privilege.” After a lifetime built around the flute and piccolo, it’s cool to expand my horizons.

Any words of wisdom to get through this?

I’m looking for wisdom every day, and maybe more for PATIENCE. For me, this isolation has brought out how connected we are. It’s so basic. We all need the same things — food, sleep, safety, amusement. Maybe coming out of this we can find ways to better support each other.

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.


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Michael Zarathus-Cook
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