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Emily Duncan

Flutist Emily Duncan in a lesson

UI flutist graduates on a high note

BY: MIKAEL MULUGETA  |  2016.05.11  |  10:52 AM

When Emily Duncan first learned to play the flute, it was supposed to help her become a better singer. Now, it's her ticket to the Juilliard School in New York City to begin a two-year master's program in flute performance.

Music was important to Duncan from an early age. Her mother, a church music director, supported her desire to pursue singing but suggested she learn to play an instrument so she could read and understand music from a different perspective. The instrument soon grew out of its supplementary role and into her primary passion.  

Duncan, a University of Iowa graduating senior from Iowa City, Iowa, will graduate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Saturday with degrees in flute performance and English. Though she was determined to continue her education beyond undergraduate studies, she initially found applying to the prestigious performing arts school intimidating.

"I was looking to apply to schools in New York but hesitated to apply to Juilliard," says Duncan. "But my professor, Nicole Esposito, encouraged me to go for it."

Esposito, associate professor of flute at the UI, didn't stop at simply encouraging Duncan. During Duncan's senior year, Esposito crafted lesson plans intended to prepare her for acceptance into Juilliard.

"The idea was to practice in an as many ways as possible instead of just practicing in a room the same way over and over," says Duncan. "She had me record myself and listen to it, play in front of the mirror, play in front of as many different people as possible so I could round out my performance as much as possible."

But Esposito and Duncan's relationship began long before this past year. The first time they met, Duncan was an eighth grader attending a summer band camp sponsored by the UI.

"Although she was endearing, she had developed some strange habits in her flute playing," says Esposito, who also teaches high school students. "One of the qualities I appreciate most, and that I noticed in her, is persistence and determination."

Although she had some doubts about her ability, one year later, Esposito accepted Duncan as one of her students.

"Emily Duncan is every teacher’s dream," says Esposito. "She goes above and beyond what is assigned to her, always sets clear goals, and keeps high standards for herself. Deciding to accept her as my student was one of the best decisions I made in all of my teaching career."

Duncan performed frequently while at UI through her involvement in various groups, including the UI Symphony Band, UI Symphony Orchestra and the Center for New Music, a UI organization focusing on contemporary composition and performance.

She says performing in the Center for New Music was a nice change of pace because performers are expected to perform music three to four weeks after learning it.

Duncan says this has prepared her for the performance-heavy course load she will be taking on at Juilliard. Though she also will take courses in music history and music theory, her main focus will be preparation to be a professional performing musician.

Duncan says she is most interested in creating art with artists in other fields.

"Collaborative art is really appealing to me," says Duncan. "Playing for a ballet, opera, theater or other forms of art are all possibilities."

From her beginnings as an aspiring singer to an accomplished flute student, what has kept Duncan going is an unshakeable love of musical expression.

"I love what music can bring out in other arts," says Duncan. "You can say so much with music that you can't say with words."