In Focus: Eliza Shephard

Federal Office AMEB

Flautist Eliza Shephard: boundless creativity and unwavering determination.

Eliza Shephard is a dynamic Naarm/Melbourne-based flautist and performer making strides as a performing artist, collaborator and curator. Eliza won the ABC Young Performers Award and created the March of the Women project, garnering attention for celebrating female composers. As a fervent contemporary musician, Eliza has pioneered 'The Extended Flute,' a course delving into experimental flute techniques. She is a skilled performer on the Glissando Headjoint - a mechanism that allows pitch bending on the flute.

Recognised as a finalist in the Classical Freedman Fellowship in 2021, Eliza's flute prowess and creative endeavours have earned her acclaim for their boldness and imagination. Described as 'fiery' on stage, she captivates audiences with over two decades of experience across various styles, drawing from her extensive background in dance and theatre. Her award-winning recitals have featured in festivals, recital series, and touring productions.

As an educator, Eliza has held positions in primary and secondary schools and serves as a Teaching Associate at Monash University. Her commitment to accessibility in rural and regional areas reflects her passion for engaging students. Eliza’s dedication to contemporary flute techniques is evident in 'The Extended Flute,' a course designed to explore and experiment with these methods for Flautists of all ages. Additionally, her extensive research on the Glissando Headjoint® has expanded its repertoire and global outreach, showcasing her commitment to pushing boundaries in contemporary music.

Key themes: musical journey, instrument choice, regional influence on musical development, educational

What sparked your interest in playing the flute, and how did your musical journey begin?

I have my little sister to thank for the flute being my instrument of choice. If I'm honest, flute wasn't originally on my musical radar as a child: I grew up in a family where music was an expected part of our education, and my four siblings and I underwent piano lessons. My little sister and I shared an hour lesson, with me going first and her having her lesson straight afterwards. Annoyingly (for me), my sister was very talented on the piano, and I (the 8-year-old competitive sibling) got so frustrated at not being the best that I decided to quit!

Because music was mandatory in the household, I was told I needed to keep playing something. A family friend mentioned that he had a flute that he no longer played and offered it for me to try out, and the rest is history! The flute is an incredibly flexible instrument that can traverse across a plethora of genres. I relish the opportunities to explore and experiment to see what else the flute can do and what I could do with it.

How did growing up in regional Australia impact your musical development and education?

In regional New South Wales, the community was central to my musical development and the curation of opportunities. I attended the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga for many years, and there, you have access to top-quality, passionate teachers and a community of peers whom you can learn alongside, perform with, and be inspired.

There were ensembles of every size and level that I could involve myself with, and they encouraged creative thinking, repertoire suggestions, and the expansion of your education to its fullest. I will admit that I went hard on my music making – I was involved in as many ensembles as possible, even ones that typically didn't have a flute so that I could play.

I've never subscribed to the "your instrument limits you to this realm" mentality. Be brave enough to ask to be involved in a different ensemble! Or, if the opportunity that you're searching for doesn't exist, talk to your peers and teachers to see what you can create. Undoubtedly, others will be interested and want to get the concept off the ground.

What key lessons have you learned, and how do these insights influence your approach as a tutor and teacher in music education?

I've been incredibly lucky to have consistently supportive, enthusiastic, and open-minded teachers throughout my learning. They encouraged me to explore and broaden my mindset throughout my training and ensured that I maintained a rounded education with exams, auditions, and chamber playing.

I've received many gems of advice from my teachers and mentors that I could sit and chat for hours about it! I often reflect upon the qualities that have led me to enjoy such wonderful success in my career, and it comes down to three elements:
- an open-minded approach to music
- authenticity within your interpretation
- a solid foundation within tone and technique

My musical opportunities have been vast and diverse, with these three elements firmly in my practice. I encourage these same approaches in my teaching space to further creative thinking and thoughtful curation of musical experiences from recitals to practice sessions. We shouldn't be creative only when we have an audience to play for. Creativity should take place as frequently as possible within our artistic world.

What initially inspired you to explore unconventional techniques like incorporating the Glissando Headjoint and beatboxing into your flute playing, and have you found it opening new opportunities in your musical journey?

I grew up in the world of jazz, making my first appearance at the Wagga Wagga Jazz Festival as the youngest performer at age 11. I was also heavily involved in dance and theatre when I was younger, and improvisation was a go-to warm-up. Being immersed in worlds where exploration and spontaneous musicianship are standard practice allowed me a foundation of creative thinking.

The music of Jethro Tull and Herbie Mann often played around the house in my childhood, and hearing my instrument in such diverse realms provoked the journey to discover how these musicians made the sounds they did.

I hit a rough point in my training during my university days, but I was kept on track by Virginia Taylor's guidance. She assisted me in exploring extended techniques, which reignited my spark. I spent a semester in New York City in 2015, and this opportunity expanded my musical trajectory. When curating, I keep the audience at the forefront of my mind and actively seek to present diverse sound worlds when performing.

All these experiences led me to have an exploratory approach in my flute practice, resulting in an adaptable and malleable methodology in my performances and curative projects. I use this same mindset in my teaching, encouraging my students to think outside the box and not close themselves off from brighter possibilities by only accepting the first result.

Tell us about your March of the Women project; where did it all begin?

I clearly remember thinking on Valentine's Day 2020 that I needed a project to inspire me and shake things up: I had been in the "real world" for a little over a year and had gotten the creative itch. International Women's Day was around the corner, so I rifled through my recordings from the last few years to see if I could build something around what I already had. Instead of celebrating women around the world for a single day, I'd design my project to be a month-long celebration of the music of women. Over the following four years, I've recorded 124 pieces for solo flute and beyond.

March of the Women 2024: Connecting Australia is the fifth instalment of this project. I have now moved into a producer role. I am working with 31 female Australian flute players nationwide, facilitating the recording of pieces by an all-Australian lineup of female composers. Every day in March, you can check out what I'm up to and see a daily announcement of the artists and compositions showcased in March of the Women 2024 (MOTW). All recordings from MOTW 2024 will go online in July with a limited run of CDs available – mark it in your calendars!

There are also links to all the pieces recorded under the MOTW banner, and you can support the curation and funding of future MOTWs via my website!

Australia has such a rich tapestry of young talent! I'm often in awe of the drive and immense creativity coming up in the Australian music scene. I had the honour of competing alongside some of them in the ABC Young Performers Award and know that the future of Australian music is bright with the creatives emerging through the ranks and the established artists we have within our rich music culture and community.

A joyful white woman with vibrant red short hair, wearing a bright smile, holds a flute and gazes directly at the camera.
Eliza Shephard is a dynamic flautist making waves in education, improvisation, and performance.
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