It had been years since Caroline Shaffer had set foot on the WMS campus, but she was met by a flood of memories when she returned over the summer. While she was home for the summer, awaiting the start of her graduate program in contemporary classical music performance in Boston, she regularly traveled to WMS to pick up a Camp Montessori camper.
"I can't believe how it feels as an adult - I think of everything as being huge when I was little," she said. "Especially the playground - I thought, 'This is so small!'"
Even though Caroline only attended WMS until first grade, her Toddler and Primary experiences left a lasting impression.
"I remember a lot of it," she said. "I remember being in
Marge Knieriem's class as a 2-year-old - I have vivid memories.
It shaped me into the confident individual I am."
She also vividly remembers losing a tooth one day at WMS.
"I fainted in the nurse's office and woke up in the bed," she said.
After a few less eventful elementary school years at various Brandywine School District schools, Caroline attended Hanby Middle School for seventh grade and P.S. duPont for eighth grade (when Hanby closed) before starting high school at Concord High School.
It was during these elementary and middle school years that she discovered her love for playing music - an interest she'd expressed from an early age.
"I sang before I even talked," she said. "I was 9 months old singing Brahms in the bathtub."
She started piano lessons at age 6 and continued for nine years, but was never passionate about the piano as an instrument. In fourth grade, Caroline took up the trombone, but the mouthpiece made her lips swell. In fifth grade, she tried the clarinet, and "caught on fire with that," she said. For the next four years, she focused on the clarinet and bass clarinet, and as she learned all the other woodwind instruments, she discovered the flute.
"Something happened when the flute got into my hands for the first time," she said. "I knew there was something about it."
By the time Caroline started at Concord, the flute was the only instrument she was playing. In addition to playing the flute in the Concord marching band and the Delaware Youth Orchestra, she took private flute lessons and "came home a lot and played the flute for fun," she said.
"I knew I wanted to be a professional flutist when I was 14, maybe 15," she said. "When things were coming to a place of plateau toward senior year, I knew I needed to raise the playing ground, so to speak."
As her choir teacher - the teacher who inspired her most to pursue music - announced his retirement, Caroline decided as a high school junior she was ready to take the next step on the path toward becoming a professional musician. She had already registered for several weeks of summer arts camp at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Mich., and decided to talk to her mother about attending the Interlochen boarding school - which offered a flute program - for her senior year.
"It was one of the hardest yet simplest decisions I've ever made," she said."Obviously it was the right choice for my career - I knew all along that it was the right choice."
With most of her academic requirements behind her by senior year, Caroline was able to focus primarily on music classes at Interlochen.
"It was very much a conservatory atmosphere rather than a high school atmosphere," she said. "The quality of artists and musicians was really the cream of the crop."
Before she arrived at Interlochen, Caroline had toured the University of Miami (UM), and had her sights set on studying there with professor and flutist Trudy Kane, who was the principal flutist for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 32 seasons.
After graduating from Interlochen in 2014, she enrolled in the flute performance program at UM. In Miami, she had ample opportunity to perform as part of various UM orchestral, woodwind and contemporary classical ensembles, and in hospitals and assisted living facilities through UM's music therapy department. But the highlight of her Miami performance experience was playing at the 2017 Ultra Music Festival - an electronic music festival - alongside the DJ KSHMR, where she played for a crowd of 20,000 people. "That was the best day of my life," she said.
Caroline graduated from UM this spring and began a two-year master's program in contemporary classical music performance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in September.
"Then I'm going to get another degree because I am a professional student," she joked, adding that she will likely look to pursue a doctorate in musical art following her Berklee program.
"I want to hone in my skills and figure out what to do with them," she said. "I want to do it all - traveling, teaching, performing."