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Musician Spotlight: Elizabeth LaCoste, Principal Flute

Musician Spotlight: Elizabeth LaCoste, Principal Flute

AYS Principal Flute, Elizabeth LaCoste, sat down with us to share her experiences playing with AYS and starting her own business!  Her business was developed after her experience in the iCadenza “Be Your Own Agent” program, which AYS subsidized as a way to continue our musicians’ professional development during the pandemic. Elizabeth (her friends call her Liz) aspires to be in a Hollywood film orchestra and is on the path towards it, but after the pandemic and closures of live performances she realized that she can’t just rely on playing and gigging for income. Read our interview with Elizabeth to learn more about her journey to where she is today, the inspiration behind her business, and be one of the first people to learn about her new product: a flute cleaning cloth! 

Tell us about yourself!

Besides being a flute player, I have a lot of other hobbies! I enjoy cooking, sewing (which inspired my business!), the outdoors, and photography. I am also a natural homebody and introvert, so I actually adjusted pretty well to quarantine. The pandemic gave me space to explore my interests further and be more creative.

Something I always forget to mention, but I want to make sure to include, was that I was really into jazz both in middle school and high school. I played alto sax for several years and switched to baritone saxophone my senior year of high school, which included doubling on flute, piccolo, clarinet, and bass clarinet–while simultaneously studying and learning classical flute playing! My high school’s wind ensemble and marching band programs were extremely competitive but when it came to jazz, the ensembles were always one step higher. In fact, when I graduated to continue on to my bachelor’s, going in I definitely felt I had more in-depth knowledge of jazz performance than classical. I strongly believe that my intense jazz background from those formative years helped my classical playing in many ways from learning improvisation and being fearless in new situations, as well as learning jazz styles for any sort of instance I may need. I am forever grateful that I had those opportunities. Being multifaceted is extremely important, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, I am so grateful for it now that I am more experienced, because it can only make you a better musician. (However, I do not play the other woodwind instruments anymore!)

Where are you originally from and when did you start playing the flute?

I grew up in Moorpark, CA in Ventura County and lived there for the first 18 years of my life. My father is very musical and plays the guitar and my mom was in musical theatre. Music was a big part of my upbringing, we were always listening to Pink Floyd, jazz, and many other music genres. At a young age, I taught myself to play piano on a Yamaha keyboard (which my family still has!) and composed my own songs just for fun. 

I originally wanted to be a violinist. I always loved it and envisioned myself playing it as a kid, but when I was in middle school violin was not an option for our music class. The flute was the next best option for me. Many women on my mom’s side of the family played the flute, so I wanted to keep up the family tradition. 

I learned early on that the flute can be really difficult, either you get a sound immediately or you struggle to produce a sound. I was fortunate enough to take on playing the flute pretty quickly! I have vivid memories of transposing music from my favorite movies as a kid and doing little performances for my parents. A big part of my life was listening to movie soundtracks. 

When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in music and the flute?

In high school I got more series about the instrument. I went to Moorpark High School which has a strong music program and was exposed to many wonderful musical opportunities from marching band, wind ensembles, and being a strong alto/baritone saxophonist in the various jazz ensembles. My junior year we went to New York City and attended a NY Phil concert at the Lincoln Center where they played Mahler 5. I’ll never forget that moment of hearing the orchestra play that extraordinary piece and seeing principal flutist, Robert Langevin with his gold flute. I decided right then that playing music professionally was exactly what I wanted to do and pursue next in my education and beyond. 

I started training with a private teacher, Toby Capland-Stonefield, who introduced me to solo competitions, flute choir, and music theory via Certificate of Merit.

I originally was thinking about being a double major so I had a Plan B if a career in music didn’t work out. When I told this to my high school band director she said, “If you always have a Plan B, you’re never going to follow that Plan A.” This was one of the best pieces of advice that I could have received. I decided to major in flute performance for my undergraduate studies and went to California State University, Long Beach. 

Elizabeth at her High School wind ensemble performance in New York City. 
Elizabeth and her flute teacher, Toby Caplan-Stonefield, at AYS' Daphnis concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall (2018).

How did you hear about AYS? When did you join and what was your audition process like?

I first heard of AYS during my freshman year of college. AYS is something that everyone at CSULB auditioned for every year. The orchestra is held to high regards and is something that people want to be at for the collegiate level. I actually auditioned three times for AYS. I did not win a position the two times I auditioned and I made the sublist the third time, but I took it as a learning experience which I believed helped me to achieve the Principal Flute position years later. I believe that if you learn something from your failures then it’s not really failing. 

I reauditioned in 2017 after I graduated from CSULB with my bachelor’s and had my teacher, Diana Morgan help prepare me. I’ll never forget preparing for the audition. I had a scary health condition come up 8 weeks before the AYS audition which kept me from practicing. I’ll never forget when I was able to practice again I went into a lesson where I played the solo excerpt from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 for Diana and I played one too many B naturals. She sat me down and said “putting your health issues aside, people who have prepared for this audition in the past and have won the audition did not play one too many B naturals this length away from the audition date.” After that I hit the ground running and did the best I could by following her advice. 

On the day of the audition I was slightly late because I was teaching in Lakewood right before. When I arrived I only had 3 minutes to warm up and then was taken to the audition room for the blind audition. I started playing Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun and actually gave myself goosebumps which was a happy surprise. The adjudicator (Maestro Izcaray) kept asking me to perform each excerpt, one by one, and had me play the final excerpt, Daphnis, twice. I left feeling like it was a great audition because in the past, I had never been asked to play the entire list. Regardless if I won or not, I was extremely happy with the way that I played.

When I got the email from Isabel (AYS Director of Orchestra Operations) that I won the Principal Flute position for AYS, I felt so accomplished and successful. I am now in my fourth year in AYS, and to be honest the first two and half years were really difficult for me. I had huge imposter syndrome and struggled with my self confidence. Not until I started my masters program at UCLA did I start to believe that I did deserve the position and to be here at AYS. I worked really hard to be in AYS. I learned that it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, it matters where you are now. I’m so fortunate to still be playing in the orchestra because it has been a wonderful learning experience and to be surrounded by other like minded musicians.   

Being with AYS now for four seasons, how do you think AYS has prepared you for a professional career in music?

AYS flute section at Walt Disney Concert Hall on February 8, 2020.

AYS offers a holistic experience from networking with people in the field, connecting me to other performance gigs, having the opportunity to perform in various concert halls and community concerts, and giving us real world experience of what it is like to be in a professional orchestra. The experience of AYS concert week is really similar to professional orchestras where you have to be on your A-game because everything happens so quickly. We usually only have 2-3 rehearsals as a group before the concert which means we really have to know our music and learn it quickly. In AYS you usually always play with a different group of musicians as well which teaches you how to work closely with others.

You recently participated in the iCadenza “Be Your Own Agent” program that AYS helped subsidize. Can you tell us about the program?

The iCadenza “Be Your Own Agent” program coaches artists on how to scale up their career in music including how to represent themselves to agents, setting up a home studio, cold calling venues, importance of networking, and how to represent yourself as your own business. I participated in this program right upon graduating from UCLA with my masters and when the pandemic was just beginning. It came at a perfect time for me to start to deeply focus on where I wanted my career to go and how to support myself through diversifying my income sources, especially since my income at the time was primarily focused on live performance gigs and teaching. The pandemic taught musicians that we can’t just rely on playing for income. 

I had weekly coaching sessions with my assigned coach, and it really opened my mind up to ideas of having different income streams that weren’t just gigging and playing. I worked closely with my coach to discover what that meant for me. This is how I came up with the idea for my new business! I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this program, through the help of AYS, because it really inspired me to go beyond just playing and do something that not only brings me joy, but what I’m also passionate about to help me make a living. 

Tell us about your new business!

The foundation and inspiration for my business came from a need that I was seeing for flute players and how they clean their instrument. Flute players usually bring an old cloth or cheese cloth with them to practice, rehearsals, and performances that aren’t usually the most hygienic or professional looking. I saw a market for cleaning cloths amongst my peers, and wanted to design something that they can take to any audition or performance that helped make them feel more confident and professional. From there, I started to design the cloths!

sempre|flute photo of the artist series in the color Concert Black.

During my gap year between CSULB and UCLA, I was not only in my first few seasons with AYS but also working at JoAnn’s cutting fabric for people. This cultivated my interest in crafting and sewing which I started to take more seriously. For my business, I personally make all of the cleaning cloths myself and design them. I choose the fabric and thread, all quality products and ethically made. One of the main pillars for my business is that these are high quality products that are made sustainably here in the US.

The name of my business is sempre|flute and I designed all logos and marketing designs. There will be different collections for the cloths that all have a different purpose. I’m going to first launch the Artist Series which is perfect for any professional engagements. They are 100% cotton, solid colors, and no visible branding for performing purposes. The Practice Series will feature more fun colors and designs meant to show personalities and make you feel elegant and luxurious. 

I plan to launch my business in early summer with an Etsy shop, and just published my website that you can visit here. If people want to learn more or follow along on product release, they can subscribe to my newsletter on my website or follow me on Facebook or Instagram @sempreflute.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I would really like to win an orchestra job and delve into studio work. My passion really lies in film and video game music. That is truly my dream. I want to break into that avenue once the pandemic is over. Performing in AYS’ Hollywood Project Concerts has always been exciting for me. My first AYS Hollywood Project Concert was ET which was so meaningful to me. ET was one of my favorite movies growing up and playing John Williams’ music was so inspiring. I remember crying a little after the concert because I just couldn’t believe I was there. It’s the music that really makes the film. The music is real, it’s not trying to be anything else but itself, it’s not imitating anything, the music is the real magic behind movies.

I would also like to have a consistent teaching studio or be faculty at a collegiate level. I’m a very serious teacher and see myself teaching students who are ready to be serious in their music career. 

AYS flute section from the ET Concert in 2017.
Elizabeth performing as a trio member for the Little Mermaid Live-to-Film Concert Experience at the Hollywood Bowl (2019).

What has been an unexpected but meaningful experience you have had as a musician?

A few years ago, AYS sent out an email about an opportunity to play at the Hollywood Bowl for The Little Mermaid. Even though I didn’t fit the audition criteria, I applied anyway. I ended up getting the job and had my premiere on the Hollywood Bowl stage! I memorized the whole show the night before the first rehearsal and quickly learned that I was one of the youngest players on stage. It was so rewarding and a huge highlight in my career, though it was an unexpected experience! 

What advice do you have for young musicians wanting to advance their musical career?

You have to take every opportunity especially when you are just starting out. Of course within reason, and know your worth! All of my decisions have been really calculated and intentional. For example, attending UCLA for my masters program was very intentional because I knew I wanted to be living and working in Los Angeles in Hollywood film scoring for my career. 

I would also share that you are never ready to really start anything, but you don’t know until you try. Put yourself out there, be prepared, and try your best. Consistently make the effort and time for yourself. People that show up consistently who work hard will make it.  

About Elizabeth:

Elizabeth is currently the principal flutist with American Youth Symphony. She has performed as a featured soloist at the Hollywood Bowl for the 2019 production of the Little Mermaid: Live-to-Film Concert Experience as well as with the UCLA Philharmonia and CSU Long Beach’s Symphony Orchestra as the concerto competition winner for years 2020 and 2014 respectively. She has premiered many orchestral and chamber works such as Carlos Izcaray’s most recent composition Geometric Unity for virtual orchestra and composer Sarah Wallin Huff‘s album The Oracle. She has premiered many animated scores by the composer Michael Bryan Stein, and is constantly seeking new opportunities for film and video game score collaboration.

Elizabeth has taught at many schools across the Southern California area, and is extremely passionate about flute pedagogy. She has been the guest artist at several masterclasses including Stratus Duo‘s Summer 2019 Masterclass and has been a guest speaker for Jim Walker’s Beyond the Masterclass in 2018. She is also constantly maintaining and seeking new students in her private flute studio that are passionate about playing the flute.

Elizabeth graduated with her Master’s Degree in Flute Performance from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she studied with world-renowned flutists and teachers, Denis and Erin Bouriakov. She received her Bachelor of Music Degree in Flute Performance from California State University, Long Beach where her primary teacher was John Barcellona. Her other primary teachers include Diana Morgan, Toby Caplan-Stonefield, and Mary Predmore. lacosteflute.wordpress.com 

If you want to support AYS and the education of young musicians, consider making a donation today. Learn more about our Champion program and sponsoring a musician on our website or by emailing development@AYSymphony.org.

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