Just after graduating high school, Chantal Balta SC ’21 received a call from her private flute teacher. The Air National Guard’s band, a federal military reserve section of the United States Air Force, was holding auditions for flute players. There were three spots open, and Balta was invited.
It was certainly an audition of a lifetime, but having fewer than 24 hours notice didn’t seem to faze Balta. The call came the day before the actual audition, so Balta practiced flute for five hours the night before waking up at 6 a.m. to drive with her family to the Channel Islands Air National Guard base.
There, she auditioned in front of the commander of the band.
“When I first auditioned, there were two other people with me. One of them has a graduate degree in flute performance; another one, she’s in medical school right now, and she’s [been] doing flute as well,” Balta said. “And here’s me, coming fresh out of high school, going onto college.”
Balta’s audition was a success, and she was officially invited to join the Air National Guard’s band as a flute player.
“A lot of people are really surprised when I first tell them that I’m in the Air Force,” Balta said. “They’re like, ‘What?! Are you gonna die out there? Are you going in combat?’ I’m like, ‘No, no, it’s okay. I’m just playing the flute.’”
Her flute career began in sixth grade.
“At first, it was an excuse to get out of class, but I actually slowly started falling in love with it,” Balta said about her passion.
She soon began playing flute in bands throughout junior high and eventually became the first-chair of the flute section for her high school band.
Having accepted her position as a flute player for the Air National Guard, Balta is currently in a transition program called Student Flight, specifically designed for those who have to push back their basic military training (commonly known as boot camp).
Once a month, she participates in physical activities and briefings to prepare both physically and mentally for boot camp at the Air National Guard base. Though she is enlisted as a flute player, she still has to undergo the required physical training to be part of the Air National Guard.
Despite the rigorous training schedule, Balta said she has definitely felt a strong sense of community within her group: “We’re all going through the same thing, and it just became a bonding experience for us.”
Balancing being a Scripps student, training, and practicing flute was difficult for Balta during the first semester. Orientation week was particularly overwhelming, as she had to deal with adjusting to college and finding time to complete a 20-page security clearance online form for the military.
Now, however, Balta has gotten past her initial unease.
In May, Balta will end her stint in the Student Flight Program and officially start the two month basic military training.
She will then begin rehearsing with the Air National Guard’s band one weekend per month throughout her studies at Scripps College and beyond. She will also go on tour to select states every year as part of the band.
Balta hopes to be playing flute for the Air National Guard in 20 years and considers it an honor to have been recruited. Having previously considered joining the Armed Forces, playing for a military band was the best of both worlds.
“It’s just a dream come true, to be able to [kind of] do both and [have] it be able to work this perfectly into my schedule,” she said.
Until then, Balta can be found playing the flute in the Claremont Concert Orchestra of the Joint Music Program or in the laundry room in the basement of Scripps’ Clark Hall.
Balta said the acoustics in the basement are pretty good, so she often prefers to practice there as opposed to Garrison Theater, which is farther away. However, playing in the laundry room has its faults.
“People come in and out [of the laundry room] all the time, and they often catch me playing, and I get really embarrassed,” she said.
Of her love of and future in flute, Balta said, “I want to continue until I drop. It’s what keeps me sane. It’s what keeps me human. It’s my passion.”