CD ReviewsFeaturedIssuesMay 2023Reviews

Elizabeth Robinson’s New CD: AVIARY

Known for her infectious energy and boundless enthusiasm, Elizabeth Robinson spends her time teaching at South Dakota State University and performing as the principal piccoloist of the Topeka Symphony. She is a co-founder and Vice President of the Flute New Music Consortium.

Album Concept


Each piece on the album is a work I commissioned. It all started with Death Whistle, which was really just a joke between myself and composer/friend Nicole Chamberlain about a particularly rough rehearsal cycle in my orchestra. The notes were high, the violins were grouchy, and Death Whistle was born. From there, I’d intended to celebrate Missouri’s 200th anniversary with an enormous celebration; Missouri Adventure and Spooklight were both supposed to be premiered by students at my Missouri-based university. When the pandemic hit and flute ensembles were put on hold, I wanted to support freelance composers, several of whom didn’t have other income streams to rely on, so I pivoted to commissioning works for myself. Flamingo!, Hoppy Feet, and Fowl Play were both plays on the trope of the flute as a musical bird - they’re all birds, but unusual, awkwardly shaped, and mostly flightless. Lisa Bost’s Starling was the last work to be written, and we agreed we wanted as much color as a flute quartet could provide.


Generally, because the works were for my students, or for my own enjoyment, I wanted them to be friendly to a wide range of audiences. The unofficial theme of the album was whimsy and fun, which I think the composers all navigated splendidly.


Recording Experience:
This was my first experience at the helm of a recording!  I learn best by observing more experienced folks at work, so I was really grateful to work with Meerenai Shim, a former classmate and friend, and the founder of Aerocade Music. One of my favorite things about Meerenai is that she’s relentless in the pursuit of quality, so I knew she’d push us to make the best recordings we were capable of. She had a really great system worked out for setting up our space, keeping notes on our takes, and both she and her sound engineer, Alberto Hernandez, have great ears, so it was a really supportive and organized process.


The thing that made this unusual was that COVID was still in its early stages and very much an on-going concern, so travel was limited. I reached out to several flutist friends from the region, and we basically formed an ad-hoc quartet/quintet just for the album. We met in a semi-central location for a rehearsal boot-camp weekend in October, then recorded together on the Oklahoma State University campus in December (thanks to Erin Murphy!). One of the COVID waves (Delta? Omicron? They all blur together) meant that recording the solo works was put off until April. I traveled to the Bay Area and worked with Meerenai and Alberto to lay down the final tracks.


I changed jobs that spring. I spent the time between takes prepping for my interview at SDSU, and flew from the studio to the interview here. recording studio to my interview, so mixing and mastering dragged out a while, and we released in the spring. I can’t say enough about the support and encouragement from Aerocade, and especially Meerenai, without whom this album would absolutely have fizzled out.


Best Part:
There were so many good things about recording. I do a lot of commissioning and working with living composers, but this was the first time I’ve been able to offer them a commercial recording. They were all so happy and excited! And it really put a finishing touch on our collaborations together.
I love working in a chamber music setting, but because of the way my teaching jobs have been structured, I don’t always get to do as much as I’d like.  It was really great to work with colleagues I respect and admire so much in an intensive setting like that; I learned so much just from watching their processes. I learned a ton from Meerenai and Alberto, and feel more prepared if I have the opportunity to do another project down the road.


Most Challenging:
A lot of the challenges centered around COVID and travel. We recorded in the winter of 2021, so there were vaccines and limited social gathering, but it was still a collection of wind instruments. When I initiated this project, I was working at a university that wasn’t able to support creative activity at all, so I was on my own for funding - and commissioning/recording gets expensive quickly! It’s also just really hard to get four or five working, professional musicians in the same place, so we had the usual schedule concerns and headaches. But for me, there was a little personal growth involved, too. Like a lot of flutists, I tend toward perfectionism. You can imagine how idea of making a permanent recording and then distributing it to others might be daunting. Ultimately, it was all worth it - but there were a lot of bumps and starts along the way, and a lot of getting creative with solutions.


Available on band camp


Track Listing:
1 - 3 Missouri Adventure (Gay Kahkonen)
I. Forest and Sky
II. The River is Wide
III. Missouri Adventure
4-7 Fowl Play (Kimberly Osberg)
I. Discopeckque
II. Chasing Tail
III. Featherbrained
IV. Cock Flight
8-10 Death Whistle (Nicole Chamberlain)
1. Ear Knife
II. Ballistophobia
III. #PiccolOhMyGod
11. Starling (Lisa Bost-Sandberg)
12. Spooklight (Nicole Chamberlain)
13. Flamingo! (Anne McKennon)



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