Burkart Piccolo player and winner of the 2016 NFA Piccolo Artist Competition, Cara Dailey

Interview with Burkart Piccolo player and the winner of the 2016 NFA Piccolo Artist Competition, Cara Dailey

This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with the winner of the 2016 NFA Piccolo Artist Competition, Cara Dailey. The competition took place during the National Flute Association Convention in San Diego over the course of 3 days.


Q: First of all, congratulations on winning the NFA Piccolo competition! How does it feel to have won?

A: It feels so surreal. The competition was filled with phenomenal players and I feel so honored to be recognized among them!

Q: Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?Cara Dailey, piccolo

A: I grew up in Texas where I was a giant marching band nerd. I played in the All-State Band and Orchestra where I made many friends whom I still keep in touch with today. I attended Baylor for my bachelor’s and then Northwestern for my master’s degree. While at Northwestern, I won my first job playing piccolo for the Kalamazoo Symphony. I loved my time in the KSO but left after I was offered the Consortium Flute position with the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra and University of Evansville. I play third flute and piccolo with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra and am a substitute player with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and Louisville Orchestra. I also have a passion for teaching, so I’ve maintained a private flute studio here in Evansville along with teaching my wonderful students at the University of Evansville.

I live in Newburgh, Indiana with my husband Steve —a middle school band director— and our 3-year old golden retriever, Maggie. Music plays a huge part in our lives. 


Q: When did you first start playing the flute and the piccolo?

A: I started playing the flute in 6th grade, although I put up a bit of a fight at first. My elementary music teacher (Mrs. Mowry), who I absolutely adored, was also the choir director for the 6th graders. I knew if I joined band she wouldn’t be my teacher anymore, so I told her I was staying in choir. Mrs. Mowry was a flute player and must have seen something in me, so she encouraged me to try the flute. The band director immediately signed me up for flute when I made a sound on my first try.

I started playing piccolo at the end of 7th grade when my band director programmed a Sousa march for our spring program. He knew I was a bit of a perfectionist and could see me trying to adjust and tune my flute (not that I was necessarily always in tune, but I at least tried to adjust) throughout band class, so he handed me the school’s piccolo and I never looked back.

Cara Dailey, NFA

Cara with her flute professor from Baylor, Helen Ann Shanley.

Q: A lot of the time, principal flutists shy away from playing the piccolo.  As principal flutist of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra, why did you decide to focus on the piccolo competition?

A: I’ve always been more confident on piccolo than I have been on flute. Throughout high school I only played piccolo in ensembles and never had a good grasp on flute playing until college. (Thanks to the amazing Helen Ann Shanley who transformed my flute playing!) When I played my undergraduate audition, I performed Enesco’s Cantabile et Presto with a pinched tone, nanny-goat vibrato and zero self-esteem. Thankfully the committee listened to my second piece, the first movement from Liebermann’s Piccolo Concerto, and I think that’s the only reason I was accepted. I remember the bassoon professor remarking, “Ah, so I see piccolo is your thing.”

I was interested in focusing on this competition as a way to keep up my piccolo chops and push the limits of my comfort zone. I’ve always loved the piccolo and the exposure that it offers, but I haven’t had much time to focus on solo repertoire lately.

Q: You said that you teach both privately and at the college level, what age range are your students?  In your teaching, do you incorporate and encourage piccolo into your students’ playing?

A: Most of my students are between 5th grade and college undergraduates. I do have a couple of adults who are in their 50’s and 60’s as well. I teach mostly music majors – Performance, Music Education, and Music Therapy majors – but anybody can sign up for lessons. One year at UE I had 5 students giving recitals (among the other majors) and 2 non-major beginner students who wanted to try something new. It’s quite the eclectic crowd.

All of my college students are required to play piccolo at some point during their degree, except for Music Therapy majors (although it is highly encouraged). The Music Therapy majors only play piccolo if they already have an instrument or have access to one. As for my younger students, I recommend starting piccolo in high school. I don’t encourage students starting as young as I did unless they’re extremely motivated and demonstrate outstanding fundamentals on flute.

Q: Had you entered piccolo auditions and competitions in the past?

A: I applied for my first competition, the Walfrid Kujala Piccolo Competition, while I was an undergrad student at Baylor. I didn’t really understand what a competition required and I remember recording myself with my phone, in the lobby of the music school and taking time to turn pages when there weren’t actually rests *laughs*. The second competition I applied for was this year’s NFA Piccolo Artist Competition. I’ve never done a flute competition, but who knows what the future holds.

As for auditions, I’ve had a few encouraging moments through the years. While in grad school I auditioned on piccolo for the US Marine Band’s “The President’s Own” and made it to the super-finals and had success in Kalamazoo and Evansville. In total, I’ve probably taken about 10-15 auditions. Though they weren’t all successful, I think I grew equally, if not more, in the failures.

Q: Do you feel like these auditions and competitions paved the way towards your success in the NFA Competition?

A: They absolutely helped pave the way. The auditions and competitions require a certain level of technical, rhythmic, and musical artistry that helped raise my standard of playing. All of the experience I received working with teachers and ensembles to achieve this level of artistry was extremely beneficial as well.

Q: What was your process for preparing the competition and how do you get into your competitive zone?

Cara Dailey, NFA

Cara with her pianist Lillian Pearson.

A: Essentially, the competition consisted of 3 short recitals-worth of music. As soon as the pieces were listed on the NFA website I purchased the necessary music, although I didn’t get around to practicing them for a while. I listened as much as possible and began practicing slowly with a metronome to make sure all notes, articulations and styles were correct.

As far as getting into my competitive zone, a regular practice session everyday keeps me sane and focused. I try to keep a consistent practice schedule, especially during the busiest weeks, in order to play regular run-throughs of the programs so the performance would be just like any other run-through. During the final weeks before the competition, my husband and I were in full-swing marching band mode with the local high school, so my time was limited. I would religiously run through the programs before I left to teach, then played a few times for my colleagues. I recorded myself almost daily because I was terrified of going over time!

On the days of the competition, I played my regular warmup on flute and piccolo, then put my instruments away and sang through the pieces in my head only using air, articulation and breathing. Personally, I’ve found that I make strange mistakes if I play too much right before a performance, but practicing mentally helps get me focused, my breathing in line and I have an easier time staying out of my head.


Cara Dailey, piccoloQ: Can you give us a synopsis of the entire competition process (i.e. was there a taped round,how many semi-finalists, etc.)?

A: The competition started in February with a taped round of three pieces of standard piccolo repertoire. Semi-final round results came out in April and I then had until the August convention to work up the next two rounds of music. In June, they sent all six semi-finalists the newly commissioned piece, “Paradise” by Stephen Hough. The semi-finals took place on Thursday of the convention, each participant played the same required music. That night at the Opening Gala, three finalists were announced. The final round was held on Saturday morning and was a 25-minute program of music chosen by each competitor. Our only rules while picking our programs was the time limit and the option to use one transcription. For my final round repertoire I chose JS Bach’s Sonata in E minor, Mvts. III and IV, Martin Amlin’s Sonatina Piccola and Michael Daugherty’s “The High and the Mighty.”

Q: Do you have any advice for those who are interested in taking auditions or entering competitions?

A: Just do it! You’ll never feel 100% prepared, but there is really no substitute for the experience. Take it one day at a time, learn the music slowly, work to your highest potential and go for it.

I also suggest recording everything. Snippets of practice sessions, lessons and performances in front of friends, because it gives you a great idea of how you truly sound. I recommend mock auditions — screened or unscreened— or anything else that will make you nervous. Before big performances I make my students climb stairs and walk quickly around the music building then come to my office and do a full run-through. It never sounds great, but that experience of having to control breathing and a rapid heart rate is so important in learning to manage your nerves.

Q: So with all your successes, what’s next for you?

A: For now, I’m going to use this competition as encouragement and a motivator. It’s not a life changer, just a huge honor. I’m going to continue to stretch my limits with repertoire and play as much as I can for anyone who will listen. The longer I teach the more I realize I have to learn! I don’t think I’ll be done growing.

The next solo performance coming up is a recital with Ross Erickson, the Consortium Percussion Instructor at the University of Evansville. I plan to play more piccolo and Ross and I will team up to perform Gareth Farr’s Kembang Suling.

Q: Do you have any final comments or thoughts?  

A: I’d really like to thank Lillian Burkart and her team for making such great instruments. My piccolo, which admittedly was an impulse buy in college, has taken me so far in my career and for that I am extremely grateful. I play on a professional body with a Clarion headjoint and it’s been a great match for me.

Cara Dailey, flute