Where did you grow up? I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I lived there until I was about 10 years old. Then my family relocated to Poughkeepsie, New York, and I lived there throughout middle and high school. After high school I moved to New York City and lived there until about two years ago when we moved to Montclair, New Jersey.
How did the arts influence your life as a kid? Music was omnipresent in my house. My dad had a very extensive and eclectic record collection and was an amateur musician in a lot of ways. I also had family members who were musicians—uncles, cousins. My entire family has always appreciated the arts at large, music in particular, but visual art was also a big thing I grew up with. My dad and uncle were very talented visual artists. I grew up with that kind of artistic surrounding.
Where did you go to school for music? I did my undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase in Westchester County, New York, which is maybe 30 minutes north of New York City. I did my graduate degree in composition at NYU.
Did you always play flute or did you play other instruments too? I always played flute. I started when I was 10 years old, and I’ve played ever since.
How did you meet Nathalie Joachim, and where did the idea to start Flutronix come from? Nathalie and I both grew up in the tri-state area. We both were taking our flute lessons in the city every weekend as we were growing up. It’s a really small network, especially when you grow up studying classical music. You kind of know everyone, and you come up together, especially if you play the same instrument. But Nathalie and I never actually met until we were both finishing college. At the time I had started composing and experimenting with technology in my music. I had put some music up on a MySpace page, and she found my music and reached out to me. She introduced herself and explained that she also played the flute. She was also writing music and using electronics, and we both lived in Brooklyn. We had a lot of mutual friends, so she suggested we should meet. I said definitely, of course. It turned out that not only did she live in Brooklyn, but she lived in the same neighborhood as me, just a few blocks away. I invited her over and she walked to my place. Now we laugh about it because when you meet someone on the internet today, you don’t just invite them over to your house right away!
She came over, we talked, and we realized that beyond the flute and our musical taste, we had a lot of things in common. We were also both in a place where we were trying to figure out what to do with the flute and the training that we had. We knew it wasn’t going to be a traditional path. We weren’t training for orchestras or aspiring to be soloists.
It was really bizarre that we hadn’t met beforehand, and it was serendipitous when we did meet. We immediately clicked, and pretty much that day, we decided to work together and Flutronix was born. And we’ve been doing it ever since. That was probably about 10 years ago, and we’ve come a long way for sure.
When you decided to study the flute in college, what were you thinking your career path would be? First and foremost, I just knew I wanted to play music and I loved playing the flute. I always have, from the minute I started playing. I was initially self taught and didn’t really start taking private lessons until I was 14 or 15. It was at that point that I knew I really was into this thing and I really wanted to do it. When I went to music school it was more about working on being a better musician and really learning how to play my instrument well. I loved being a student of music.
As far as career was concerned I definitely had no idea what the plan was. I always knew I wanted to do something creative, I just didn’t know exactly in what capacity or how it would unfold. I just kind of went with the flow. After I finished college I was going to go straight to grad school for music performance, because that’s just what you do. It’s what everybody around you is doing, and what teachers are preparing you for. It’s the standard trajectory. I was ready to go, and then over that summer I had a sort of internal struggle, wondering, why am I doing this? Am I trying to get into academia? Not necessarily. Am I trying to go for an orchestral career? No, I’m not. I knew that about myself, so I took some time off just to figure it out and that’s when I started writing music. I started gigging in New York, doing different kinds of things just to see. I started improvising and trying to open up my musical language a little bit more. In retrospect, that’s the smartest thing I ever did. At the time it was not well received, because I was young and I was confused and I had turned down some really good opportunities. People who really cared about me wondered what I was thinking. And it’s true, I didn’t really know. But my instinct just told me that maybe I needed to give myself the opportunity to just work things out and figure it out. So that’s what I did. I never went to music school with a clear idea of where I would end up.
“I always knew I wanted to do something creative, I just didn’t know exactly in what capacity or how it would unfold.”
It is so easy to listen to all of those voices around you telling you what you should be doing with your life. I will say, it’s definitely a hard choice. I was definitely depressed for awhile about it. “What did I do?” I felt like I was disappointing people. It’s definitely not easy, but like I said, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
When did kids come into the picture for you? I got married pretty young. I’ve been with my husband since I was 19 or 20, and we got married when I was about 25. We got pregnant with our first child about two years later, and it was a surprise. This was probably about a year and a half after Nathalie and I had first met and we were starting to work on launching Flutronix. It all happened around the same time. I remember being about seven months pregnant with Jonathan, my son, and we were doing our second or third Flutronix show.
At the time I had a lot of things going on. I was also still in graduate school. But my husband and I felt pretty stable about life choices we had made up until that point, and we felt stable about each other. I was younger. I felt like we could make it work and it wasn’t a big deal. And only once I was performing pregnant and visibly showing that I started seeing the reactions of people. I would start hearing feedback from people wondering how I would make it work.
It’s so funny because those thoughts never occurred to me. I’m still going to be me. What else am I going to be doing? Now, in retrospect I understand why people said that to me. I know all of the ideas that people have around being a mom and being pregnant and doing other things.
What kinds of things were people saying to you when they would see you performing while pregnant? “Oh, you should sit down. You shouldn’t be on your feet so much.” A lot of them were men, too. And I was like, what do you know about being pregnant? Or, “Are you still going to do Flutronix?” “Are you still going to do this and that?” And I was like, yes, of course! Why would you ask me that?
Most of the comments were that I should be at home, resting. And I’ve always been a busy, active person so that wasn’t an option for me. Of course I was still going to perform. Why not? I was still young. I had energy. I knew what I could handle, thank you very much!
You had high hopes for continuing your work after you had your son, and what was the reality when he was born? With my son, I was lucky. He was a very easy baby. My daughter was not as easy. He was born in October, and I was still in graduate school, so I took that semester off, but I went back to school the following spring when he was about three months old. Thankfully he was healthy. His sleeping habits were pretty good right away when I went back to school and my husband was pretty hands-on.
We worked it out, schedule-wise. While I was at school, he was home with him. We had a lot of family support as well. We were able to make it work. The hardest thing was just feeling guilty. Missing him, and feeling like I would miss out, especially when it was time for me to travel. If I had to check out a little bit to just focus on work, that was the most difficult for me—my own sense of guilt. He was fine. Every time I came back he was totally cool. I never got the sense that it was difficult for him. It was just difficult for me.
Flutronix was still in the early stages. We didn’t have a crazy concert schedule quite yet. We were still trying to figure out how to make it work. So a lot of the work that we were doing was writing music, building a repertoire and doing a lot of research to try to figure out how you run an ensemble and a small music business. I was home a lot, but not always totally present. But during that time Jonathan slept a lot, so it worked out. I would try to schedule work while he was sleeping, or while my husband was home. Scheduling became an art. It still is, to this day. I don’t quite have it all figured out!
How has that daily routine evolved over the eight years that you’ve been a mom? I’m very fortunate to have complete autonomy when it comes to my schedule. It wasn’t always like that. I definitely had part-time jobs to pay the bills. At this point what I really try to do is just clear out my days when my son is at school. My daughter is still at home, and I have my mom with me and she is a huge help.
I try to get my work done during the day, and then in the afternoon when my son is home, we do homework, eat dinner, and a lot of times once they’re in bed, I’ll practice in the evening. I’m fortunate to have a space in my house where I can do that.
It’s a full day. It’s get up, boom, go, and really going until you go to bed. After too much, I can feel a little burnt out, but at the same time I know myself. I know if I don’t have a lot going on I get depressed. Having deadlines and things to do helps me and keeps me going.
What kinds of things inspire you in your writing and in your playing? When I first started composing music, it was really just more experimental and seeing what I was capable of doing. I was coming up with melodies and building off of them. But as the years have passed and I’ve been doing it more and more, I’m more concerned with creating work that is responsive to the times and somehow delves into humanitarian and social justice issues. There is so much going on now that has greatly inspired my work, with my own projects and projects with Flutronix.
In terms of playing the flute, it’s great to work with living composers whose music I can relate to on a personal level, or is responsive to something going on in the world. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about my world or my experience. Even outside of Flutronix, I tend to do new music projects or work with new music ensembles. That has excited me the most, in terms of things to practice and study.
Can you talk about your project Diametrically Composed, how it got started and the inspiration behind it? One of the composers involved in the project, Sarah Kirkland Snider, wrote a post on Facebook one day, and she was talking about how she was having a discussion with some other composers who are moms. They were talking about how they were reluctant to share pictures of their families on social media, or to discuss their family life with journalists or in any kind of professional setting. She was reflecting on that, and how she had an experience where an editor titled an interview with her, “Mixing Mother-love and Melody.” Her initial reaction when she saw the title was to cringe a little bit. There is a fear that because she is a mother she will be taken less seriously as a composer. Because of how she has been treated, or how colleagues have been treated, or because of things her professor had said to her as a student in conservatory, suggesting that the minute you get married and start popping out babies, your career is over. She talked about how her husband, who is also a composer, never deals with these things, and has no problem talking about his family because there is no judgement there. She shared a picture of her and her daughter, and she announced that she was going to show more of her mother side.
“I need to basically debunk this idea that you cannot do these two things, but also celebrate the fact that being a mom informs our creativity, and inspires our kids.”
When she shared this, I thought it was awesome, because I immediately related to that. And I saw that there were 80-plus comments from other women saying, “Yes. I know exactly what you are talking about.” And I thought, this is crazy. This is obviously a big thing, and something that affects a lot of women out there. Thinking about it more and more, and how interesting it is that we are not celebrated more for doing these two really incredible things, many of us doing them both at a really high level. It should be celebrated, because it’s actually kind of amazing. That’s what inspired the whole project.
I thought, maybe I can get some women together who are also moms, and I know so many of them who are all so good at what they do. I thought, I need to get these people together. I need to basically debunk this idea that you cannot do these two things, but also celebrate the fact that being a mom informs our creativity, and inspires our kids. This is not a bad thing. I asked Sarah right away to be involved, and she said yes. There are also a handful of other really amazing composer moms involved in the project.
I’m hoping if anything, this project will inspire conversations. I’m really hopeful for that, and I definitely want to bring it outside of New York and get people talking about the issue. And it’s really a non-issue, at the end of the day!
What are your plans for the future, in your career and in your family? Aside from Diametrically Composed, Flutronix is still a very huge part of all that I do. Next season we are starting a two-year residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is very exciting. We will be developing a new work, currently titled Discourse. The idea is to engage communities, talk about their needs and issues, and bring it to life through this musical project. The goal is to have community involvement in the development of the work. We will have larger orchestration, outside of two flutes and electronic sound. We plan on doing it in other locations across the country, catering it to each location because every community has unique needs.
We also have another project that we are working on called Black Being, about exploring the black experience in America. We are including recited texts from different authors, many of them still living. Those are two big projects that we are working on, and besides performing and composing, we also do our own publishing. We have been publishing many of our pieces for two flutes that we’ve been playing for years. I recently wrote the commission piece for the Myrna W. Brown Artist Competition at the Texas Flute Society. It’s a solo piece that we are going to be publishing, and we have a couple of flute pedagogical plans in the works.
For myself, I have a commission on deck from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for Julia Bullock, who is an astounding, rising star soprano. The piece is for Julia and small string ensemble in conjunction with an exhibit at the Met called History Refused to Die.
As far as my family, my son is in third grade, so we’re trying to figure out summer camp. He’s a really visually artistic boy, so I’m trying to figure out if I can get him into a great art camp where he can learn some technique. I also want him to have his outdoorsy time, so we are just trying to figure that out.
My daughter starts nursery school in the fall, and right now we’re trying to potty train. I need to put in more time with that. It’s been off to a slow start, and every time I bring it up she’s like, “I don’t wanna use the potty.” And she’s definitely at the point where she’s like, “Mommy, change my diaper!” So that’s where we’re at.
We’ve been living in Montclair, New Jersey for about two years. We really like it. We were living in Brooklyn before, but we needed a change of pace. In New York City, the school thing is intense, and super competitive, and after awhile, we wondered, why are we doing this? Now we have some room for the kids to run around. We’re still kind of settling in to the house, but we’re getting there. I think my son is definitely getting used to being here. Last year was his first year at a new school, in a different environment. He was going to a private school in Brooklyn which is very different from a public school. So there is some adjustment, but we’re all growing into it, and things are looking pretty good.
“Of course it’s not easy being a mom, but motherhood is a rewarding experience that also informs my creativity.”
Do you have any advice for other Mother Makers? Especially for expecting moms: Don’t be fearful about this. Of course it’s not easy being a mom, but motherhood is a rewarding experience that also informs my creativity. I want to tell women that. You might hear some noise, but actually this could be really great for you and your work. And it’s great for the kids, too.
My kids get really excited when they see me playing in a video or at a concert, and I love that. Especially for my son, who is older and can articulate these things. He’s proud of me, and I think that’s great. I want my kids to see the kind of work ethic that it takes to have a career like mine. In addition to performing and composing, I’m also a teacher. It’s a mixed bag of things, and I want them to see the hard work and dedication that it takes in order to make it happen. It’s a lot of work, all of it. But I also want them to see that it’s work that I enjoy doing. It’s hard work, but it doesn’t feel like labor. I would just tell moms to embrace and be excited about the inspiration that comes with it, from both sides. For me, that’s been the best part.