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SAIC Beat, S01 E02: Jill Degroot — Fl(a)utists Anonymous

In its aftermath, Jill DeGroot recounts the rise and fall of her love affair with classical flute.

By Featured, Multimedia, Podcast, SAIC

Illustration by Catherine Cao.

[click to stream]

For years, Jill DeGroot (MA 2020) imagined herself as a Marine.

“I wanted to be in the United States Marine band,” Jill told the SAIC Beat Podcast.

She began playing the flute in sixth grade. She quickly excelled, winning first chair in her school band and withstanding subsequent contests.

“People could challenge you,” she said. “It would be, ‘I challenge Jill to Lightly Row!’ and if that person was better than me, they stole my spot. So I practiced constantly, just to keep my chair.”

As happens with many budding wind-instrument devotees, Jill’s development was briefly stunted by dental work. After getting braces, Jill could no longer use the same set of muscles to make the same sound. She lost first chair.

“I was devastated,” Jill said. “I wanted to win. That was it.”

Seeing her daughter’s devastation, Jill’s mother suggested private lessons. She enrolled, and her passion reignited. Eventually, her dental care was complete, and she could resume her original intensity of pursuit. Through high school, Jill commuted from Hammond, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois to attend the Merit School of Music, a tuition-free pre-college program. Her dedication eventually led her to DePaul, where her Marine dreams were closer than ever.

But suddenly, she didn’t want them anymore.

“I quickly realized — I hate this,” she said. “I hate playing classical music, I’m sick of Mozart, this is miserable, what have I done.”

The calling Jill had heard for so long had gone silent. Without the old dream to fall back on, she had to find a new one. Through DePaul’s Ensemble 20+ program, she fell into a contemporary classical music scene, aptly termed the New Discipline.

“The New Discipline is this extra-musical subgenre of new music that involves performance art, sound, gesture, and theater,” she said. 

Jill shared a recording of one of her New Discipline performances. Per her description — “a crazy script of nonsense words and syllables that have to be memorized and then performed in unison with another person” — it’s a far cry from Mozart.

In addition to performing, Jill chronicles the goings-on in Chicago’s New Discipline scene as the editor of Cacophony. Having also recently completed her first year of a New Arts Journalism MA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Jill finds herself with feet in several worlds, assembling a life from a wide variety of materials.

“I’ve always been the type of person who pieces my life together with different skills and different jobs,” she said. “Right now, I wanna make money. That’s all I’m thinking about.”

Jill started out with a very specific dream that she eventually found oppressive. Having long followed a calling, she is now leading a calling, as it were; she, not an immaterial dream, is calling the shots.

“There’s still a little bit of hurt feelings,” Jill said, “I kind of feel like I’m a dried-up musician who didn’t ‘make it.’ But I know deep down I would have been restricted and unhappy playing classical music.”

You can stream SAIC Beat S01E02 above, or listen on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher. Click here to watch Jesse Marino’s “Throw Me To You And Back Again,” and here to explore Cacophony.

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