For our next edition of our Alumni Spotlight series, we recently had the chance to speak with flautist Kaili Maimets. A member of the 2009 NYO, Kaili has was recently appointed Second Flute & Piccolo of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and also has performance credits with Orchestra London Canada, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the National Ballet of Canada on her resume (to name a few). An in-demand orchestral performer, soloist, and chamber musician, Kaili spoke with us about her beginnings playing music, her first professional gig, and what gets her through the tough aspects that come with a career as a professional musician.
1. When and how did you first get involved with playing music?
Growing up, there was lots of music in my family. My great-grandfather loved to play piano, my grandmother was an amateur singer, and all of my aunts sang Estonian folk songs together.
I started piano lessons at age 5 and my parents took us kids to Toronto Symphony Saturday morning Cushion concerts where I was introduced to the flute. Something excited me about the flute, and after lots of begging, my parents finally let me start lessons. I lucked out with an inspiring teacher, Peg Albrecht.
2. What are some of your memories of playing with the NYO?
I played with the NYO in 2009 with Alain Trudel conducting and Camille Churchfield as the flute coach. We played some great rep! Mahler 6, Stravinsky Rite of Spring, and Bernstein Westside Story. I remember at one of the faculty panel discussions, Kimball Sykes said that one day some of us would become colleagues with the coaches, and that a large percentage of musicians playing in Canadian orchestras were alumni of NYO.
I think NYO was an amazing training orchestra and I feel that the coaching that I got really helped prepare me for life as a professional musician.
3. You have had the opportunity to study at the University of Toronto and McGill at the post-secondary level. What has the transition been like for you from student to full-time musician?
I remember at my very first professional gig in Toronto after graduating from McGill, I was playing piccolo for Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony.... With one of the scariest piccolo excerpts in the 3rd movement! And the other musicians in the pick-up orchestra were coaches and teachers from my undergrad and the National Ballet Orchestra. I was so nervous! I thought I wouldn't survive it. But then, it went well, and I felt a huge sense of relief that all the years of practicing, great teachers like Nora Shulman, Denis Bluteau, and Camille Watts, summer festivals all across Canada and abroad, and experiences in training orchestras like NYO had prepared me for this very moment, and that I was ready.
4. Along with recently being appointed Second Flute & Piccolo of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, what are some of the other things you’ve done on or offstage that you are most proud of?
When I look back at my life so far, I think things that I have done that make me most proud have been being Principal Flute of the former Orchestra London for 2 1/2 years. I have been honoured to sub as 2nd flute with the NAC orchestra over the past year and a bit, and have been so inspired to sit beside and play with their principal flute Joanna G'Froerer. Also, I remember the first time I sat between my teacher Nora Shulman and Camille Watts in the TSO - that was a definite highlight!
I also love teaching, and am super excited and proud of my students.
But other than being a musician, my husband and I spend a lot of time at my family's cottage in Parry Sound in the summers, and there we have a some building projects that I am proud of, such as building a sauna, for which I shingled the roof! I am also really proud of my dog, Rasmus, who is so much fun, and brings a smile to my face every day.
5. Based on your experience, what are some valuable tips you could give future NYO members?
I remember when I first shared the fact that I wanted to be an orchestral flutist, many people thought I was crazy... What an insecure choice for a career!
But the thing is, I couldn't (and still can't) imagine doing anything else with my life. I think to "make it" as a professional musician, that almost needs to be a requirement. Of course, being a professional musician is a difficult career choice. Getting rejected over and over at auditions is really hard, even painful sometimes. Especially because you have to sacrifice a lot to prepare mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. Overcoming performance anxiety and other challenges that come your way (like injuries) can be a huge challenge. And picking yourself up after a rejection to prepare for yet another audition is not easy. There have been many auditions where I have thought to myself "Why in the world would any sane person put themselves through this horrible audition process?". It would be so much easier just to get a "normal" job. But then, when I get to sit on stage with an orchestra and perform the most amazing music that exists, I realize that I go through those auditions for exactly those moments. If you stay persistent and focused, reflect on each audition as an invaluable learning experience, gradually, step by step, you will get stronger, and better, and closer to achieving your dream. There is an Estonian saying that I think of quite often, which translates to "The way you push the cart is the way it will go". So my tip is to be persistent. If you know what you want, go for it, stay focused on what you want to achieve.