Meet the New Director of Bands: Elizabeth Stoyanovich

Elizabeth Stoyanovich

Driven by a passion for music and years of experience leading ensembles of all ages, Elizabeth Stoyanovich is poised to lead the Community School’s bands as they return to campus.

The Community School is excited to welcome Elizabeth Stoyanovich to the Colburn community. With ensembles rehearsing and performing in-person once again, we recently spoke with Ms. Stoyanovich to discuss her musical family, her teaching philosophy, and her plans for the coming year.

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

What attracted you to Colburn?
As a musician, I knew of the reputation of the Colburn School for many years and admired it from afar. I have known many high school students who studied at the Community School and thought highly of their experiences performing and the teachers they had worked with. When I saw the advertisement for the Director of Bands position, I jumped at the opportunity to become “part of the team.”

Outside of the Community School you work with high school and college students as well as professional orchestras. How does your approach change as you work with ensembles at different levels?
My job as a “Maestra” (the Italian word for “female teacher”) is literally to teach, so my approach always begins by building a deep understanding of the repertoire so that I can interpret and then convey the composer’s wishes to the ensemble. With young students especially, I like to meet them where they are—be it technically or musically—and inspire them to go further.

Our bands are made up of students from all over southern California—how do you connect with students from so many backgrounds and experiences?
The draw of performing live music together solidifies our collective goal to work together. In my experience, the variety of cultural experiences that students bring to the ensemble only enhances our relationships. This semester, the bands are performing music from the Western repertoire—some standard, others newly composed. While the language of Western music may differ from that of other parts of the world, all music shares the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, structure, and instrumentation. Ultimately, it is the energy and passion that music excites in us that allows music to communicate with everyone.

Our students have been learning remotely for over a year now. How does it feel to be able to rehearse in-person again?
We are so excited to be back in person and making music together. The ability to listen to someone sitting in the same room as you—to check balance, intonation, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, notes, rhythm—these are all things that can’t be done over Zoom or spliced together in a video. We currently rehearse in a large tent that is set up on the plaza. This gives us the space to socially distance “outdoors” while still having the luxury of good acoustics, lighting, shielding from the wind and cold, and a standard band set-up. The Community School staff have been fantastic with keeping everything set up correctly, taking attendance, and helping out with coaching the students.

What are you most excited for in the coming school year? Any upcoming concerts that you’re looking forward to?
I am very grateful to be rehearsing and performing in person! Having spent the entirety of my life in music, spending the last 18 months in virtual rehearsals has been difficult. There really is no substitute for in-person music-making. We are currently rehearsing outside in a tent, but I am looking forward to using more of Colburn’s outstanding facilities for rehearsals and performances. Our Concert Band and Wind Ensemble are currently preparing for their first concert of the year, which will take place on Saturday, December 4, in Grand Park! We are covering a range of band repertoire, from standards like Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture to sea shanties and folk songs.

I am also looking forward to promoting the ensembles and watching them grow and develop musically. I have worked with so many young people in the past who have gone on to join world-renowned ensemble, become professors and teachers, and start families of their own. It’s always fun to meet and work with new musicians because I see it as expanding my “musical family” who I will cherish for a lifetime!

Your career has taken you around the world and put you in touch with incredible artists and teachers! What lessons from them do you carry with you in your work today?
I remember the first time I played under Leonard Bernstein as an oboist—we were playing Sibelius’s Second Symphony at Tanglewood. It was an incredible orchestra, and in those days, Tanglewood rehearsals took place in an old wooden shed. Bernstein walked in, and he was wearing a baby blue hoodie and sweatpants. He went on to conduct us using really unusual hand gestures that I hadn’t seen before, but when I watched his eyes and his expressions, I understood exactly what he was conveying musically and emotionally. Later, when I studied conducting under him at Fontainebleau in France, he said “…when you perform, if you’re not feeling nervous or excited, you won’t be able to focus that energy into the music.” I’ve always liked that because it shows that even at the highest levels of performing, you need passion and excitement. We are lucky because performing music is never a boring job; it takes emotional commitment and energy!

Anything else you would like to share with our community?
When I was a kid, I played in my local youth orchestra, the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony, and by the time I was a senior I had been playing first oboe for a couple of years. All of a sudden, the conductor randomly promoted a new member to first chair without an audition, just because he was a friend of the student’s father! I was furious, but I stayed in the group playing second, still loving the music. My friends saw how upset I was and told me that on Sundays they would drive to Ann Arbor to play in the Wind Ensemble there under Carl St. Clair (who later hired me as an Assistant Conductor of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra) and encouraged me to try out for that high school group. I took their advice, and not only was it a great time, it also helped me get a full scholarship to Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. This paved the way for my studies at the University of Michigan, where I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Oboe Performance and Conducting. Now I can look back and appreciate how being demoted to second oboe really set my musical life in motion. Some of the repertoire that the Bands are playing this semester brings back memories from my time in those youth orchestras and in the U of M Wind Ensemble. Like I said before, music is family to me!

Learn More

Learn more about the Band Program.

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