At 34, La Crescenta resident Thea Komen has earned a pretty rare distinction for someone her age — a lifelong musician whose talents run toward piano and flute, she's been teaching music for nearly 20 years.
Komen was just 15 years old and had spent a decade taking weekly piano lessons from La Cañada teacher Marie Highland, a well-known instructor who taught from her home and had students on a waiting list, when her mentor approached her with an intriguing proposition.
"She said, 'I don't have much more to teach you, but I have this really long waiting list, and I'll bet you could teach if you wanted to,'" Komen recalled. "So at the age of 15, I went from being a $5-an-hour babysitter to a $20-an-hour music teacher."
Two decades and hundreds of students later, Komen is still going strong.
In addition to offering private piano and flute lessons, she's the flute coach at Crescenta Valley High School. Rather than emphasizing competition and achievement, Komen focuses on instilling in her students a sincere enthusiasm for the art form.
"I want them to love it," she said. "I don't want to be prepping my students for these tests that take away from their love and their passion for music."
On Sunday, an ensemble of Komen's advanced flute students will showcase their talents in two garden concerts at Lanterman House in La Cañada Flintridge, planned for 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. The "Flutes in Cahoots" event is free and open to the public, although paid museum tours will also be available.
In a recent weekend rehearsal held in the living room of her La Crescenta home, Komen worked directly with the six flautists to perfect the group's performance in advance of the show.
The musicians arranged themselves in a circle as their teacher listened, occasionally snapping her fingers in a metronomic beat or playing in to demonstrate tone, tempo or mood. Among the pieces being practiced for Sunday's Lanterman concert was a movement from Czech composer Bedrich Smetana's "Die Moldau."
Komen advised La Crescenta flute student Sammie Colvin to move her body more when she played so the audience could "see the music."
"It's pretty hard, but I like it," Colvin said of her five years with the flute. "If I'd had a different teacher, I think I would have quit a long time ago."
Glendora student Debra Nicholas started playing the instrument four decades ago in second grade, but picked it up again when she won lessons from Komen in a charity auction. Glendale's Kristina Laue, 18, has been playing flute for the past 10 years.
"My mom wanted me to play the piano, but I did not want to learn piano at all," she said. "We went to an instrument petting zoo, and I just really liked the flute — I heard the music and thought that sound was so pretty."
The students roundly agreed Komen's approach to teaching is a large part of what keeps them interested.
"When I play flute with Thea it's not stressful," said 16-year-old Han Lee of La Crescenta. "It feels like I'm playing for fun and my own enjoyment; it helps me feel that passion."
Sara Cardine, firstname.lastname@example.org