Erika Boysen: Artist Interview

Flutist, educator and cross disciplinary collaborator, Erika Boysen, is the flute professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.  Through movement, singing, and acting, she promotes an approach to education and performance that highlights multiple aspects of artistic expression.  Please visit for more information on upcoming events and projects.

How has it been teaching at Univ. North Carolina Greensboro?

There is nothing more fulfilling and gratifying than working with individuals from ages around 18-28.  The world holds so much promise during these years.  It is a privilege to work with young  adults who are developing their creative voice and sense of self. In addition, I get to make music everyday with inspiring colleagues.  How did I get so lucky?

What have you been working on lately?

The three primary projects I have been working on most recently:

  • Final editing for the release of Reimagining the Album;" a collection of commissioned solo works for the moving, singing, acting flutist.  The album is purely virtual and will be released on a mobile app.  The emphasis of this album is questioning what constitutes the future of an album”?  Will it continue to only be released on a CD or DVD? Will in continue to be purely aural? How does the public consume their musical product and how are we as flutists/musicians evolving with the trends of 2019?
  • Workshopping and recording a new concerto by Shuying Li.  This work is a part of the Four Corners Ensemble’s Strolling on a World Map series and includes elements of beatboxing, acting and movement.
  • Research study: Anatomic Evaluation of Flute Vibrato Production using Transnasal Videostroboscopy with Dr. David Brown.  We are looking forward to sharing results of our study in publication and at the Anatomy of Sound Workshop and Flutes By The Sea Masterclass.

What is the vibrato experiment I’ve been seeing on Facebook?

During the spring semester of 2015 while I was acting as a sabbatical replacement for Nancy Stagnitta at the Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA) and while finishing my DMA at the University of Michigan, I was fortunate to work with extraordinary students at IAA.  During one very snowy morning lesson, I remember a student asked, How and where do we produce vibrato as flutists?”.  My immediate response was a rehearsed, your throat and abdomen muscles work in conjunction with one another to oscillate the air pressure." This bright and curious student followed up with, what in my throat is able to oscillate air pressure”?  It appeared my understanding of this topic seemed completely insufficient. My interest in further researching the anatomical origins of vibrato production began during this lesson.

Like the dutiful doctoral student I was, I did some research that evening.  I immediately consulted studies regarding vibrato production in flutists and found an interesting study conducted in 1988 by authors, Austin I. King, Jon Ashby and Charles Nelson entitled, Laryngeal Function in the Wind Instrumentalists: The Woodwinds.  A collection of students playing the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, english horn and flute received a nasolaryngoscopy to analyze the laryngeal function during tone production. In the short paragraph that discussed the flutists’ laryngeal function it mentioned, Most flautists reportedly believe that vibrato should be diaphragmatic in origin; however, we found active vocal fold motion in all rapid vibratos which surprised many of our subjects.”[i] I had to know more.

It was later that summer, at the National Flute Association Convention in Washington D.C., that I connected with Dr. David Brown, flutist and professor at the University of Michigan in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.  Knowing his expertise in otolaryngology, I struck up a conversation on laryngeal anatomy and what could be going on in the throat” during tone production.  Having received nasolaryngoscopy as a 15 year old prior to my tonsilectomy, I wondered if it would be possible to actually SEE what was going on in this area of the body while playing the flute….

Stay tuned for more regarding our recent study at the University of Michigan this past December where nine individuals received a transnasal laryngoscopy.  Each performed around eighteen musical exercises demonstrating tone production with and without vibrato in different registers, varying speeds and amplitudes of vibrato and different locations of perceived production of vibrato (laryngeal and abdominal).

Tell us about that duet with the soprano/actress!  Who composed the piece? How did it all come about?

Composer, Kate Soper, is awe inspiring.  Learning and memorizing her Only the Words Themselves Mean What they Say at the inaugural Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab with soprano, Justine Aronson was a highlight of my 2017 year.

I feel a tinge of jealousy when performing with vocalists and spoken word artists.  Their ability to use language and their freedom to exercise non verbal communication with face and arms, opens an entire realm of expression that is more challenging for me to achieve with a flute in my hands held against my face.  Soper’s treatment of the flute in this work invites the flutist to partake in spoken and singing fun. The flute acts as an aural extension of affect that the singer, alone, cannot achieve.  This piece of music allows all of me (the actor, singer, mover) to show up!

 In addition, I had the good fortune to collaborate with dear friend and artist, Justine Aronson.  There was an ease and a natural partnership that occurred immediately, making the process that much more gratifying.

What style of dance are you focusing these days?  Do you take class?

I like to think that I am focusing on all styles of ‘movement’.  So often, when I mention to others that a research interest of mine includes the intersection between music and movement, people envision me doing pirouettes while holding a flute.  Though I have used more involved movement in performance, I see my approach to the music stand on stage from the perspective of dance or movement.  How I turn the pages of music on my stand and the way I cue collaborators are all a means of expression in performance.  Using the word ‘movement’ helps to underscore the notion that we are ALL movers as performers. Just as we talk about tone colors and vibrato adding or subtracting from shaping a musical phrase, what we do with our physical selves also aids or hinders our musical and artistic intent.  I am constantly evaluating how my posture, gaze, eyebrows etc. are affecting what I am trying to communicate on stage.  When attending a concert, audiences don’t sit in their seats and proceed to cover their eyes.  It is important to me that both the sounds and sights that are coming from the stage are created with intent and care.

Can you give us more details about your lessons with Paula Robison?  Mark Sparks?

I was very fortunate to have exceptional teachers and it is impossible to describe all they have taught me.  Kim Helton, Tadeu Coelho, Paula Robison, Amy Porter and Mark Sparks have influenced me in ways that extend beyond the instrument and music.  I carry their wisdom, their legacy and their profound impact with me wherever I go.

Kim Helton

Kim combined the roles of teacher, performer, mother, wife, daughter and community member with amazing grace, kindness and an ability to seek the goodness in all things. She was my first professional model and I continue to learn from her example as I enter new stages of life.

Tadeu Coelho

Tadeu had a special way of challenging his students to be the best versions of themselves. Consequently, I spent my undergraduate degree working tirelessly in the practice room. I attribute the work ethic I developed under his tutelage to his supreme example and high expectations.

Paula Robison

Paula's lessons transcended the flute.  She emphasized that music is a means of developing an appreciation and awareness for other cultures, art forms and generations.  Under her tutelage I began to view music and performance as a vehicle for communication  and not just an opportunity to display technical prowess. Paula helped me learn how to play the music, not just the flute.

Amy Porter

At a time when I was overwhelmed with coursework, applications and dissertation logistics, Amy encouraged me to grow my own "wings" and develop my own professional persona.  She gave me the confidence and encouragement to fly from the figurative educational "nest."

Mark Sparks

I thank Mark for the clarity with which he speaks and the honesty with which he teaches.  Having studied with him later in my education, he helped me return to the fundamentals. Understanding key concepts in my own playing enhanced my ability to teach them to others.

What do you do during your time off?

I’ve come to realize that ‘time off’ doesn’t happen without intention.  Professionally, my primary goal is sustainability.  I hope to be teaching and performing all my life long.  In order to do so, I make sure to keep health at the foreground of each day.  From emotional health, to physical health both on the flute and off the flute, this is something I strive for everyday.  That means, getting outside and exercising. For me, exercise isn’t about burning calories.  It is a practice of mindfulness and cultivating the connection between my brain and body.  It is non-negotiable!

What are some of your current challenges?

I frequently question what I am or am NOT doing with my creative work to draw more attention and support to some of the most concerning issues of today:

Global Warming

Rampant Racism

Gender Inequality

Gun Laws

It is my goal to challenge myself, my students and my colleagues to use their platform as performers, creatives and collaborators to empower underrepresented voices and incite conversation surrounding social issues.

What do you have coming up?

 2019 is filled with some fun and exciting projects, collaborations and performances including:

  • Recording a flute and guitar duo, Jethrozen by Lance Hulme, in addition to Shuying Li’s concerto for flute and Pierrot Ensemble
  • Third UNCG FluteFest with guest artist, Nathalie Joachim of Eighth Blackbird and Flutronix.  The day will be filled with competitions, masterclasses, workshops, recitals, flute choir readings and, most importantly, community!
  • Solo, chamber recitals and masterclasses with the Four Corners Ensemble in Qindao and Shanghai, China, in May.
  • Guest artist at the Flutes by the Sea Masterclass and Anatomy of Sound Workshop
  • Unplugging this summer by camping out West with my 7 month old pup, Willa.

Links: Soper video) (Soper only third movement)

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