Interview with Lisa Bost-Sandberg!

Hey everyone! I am pleased to have had the opportunity to get to know Lisa Bost-Sandberg, a flutist, improviser, educator, and composer who I met while a student at the University of Iowa. If you want to learn more about her, check out her website at

When and how did you start composing?

A few unrelated but aptly timed events convinced me to try my hand at composing, the most significant of which was the influence of Robert Dick.  During my masters degree studies at NYU I was putting together a solo recital program (Debussy’s Syrinx, Varese’s Density 21.5, Berio’s Sequenza I, Dick’s Afterlight, and a piece I was commissioning Evan Mazunik to write), and he said “there needs to be something on this program with your name on it.”  He welcomed me to improvise, arrange, or compose a piece.  I knew he was right, but at that time I think composition was the option furthest from my mind.  I originally thought I was going to arrange a piece for alto flute – but I often feel less compelled by arrangements (why not just stick with the original instrumentation and have something new for the alto flute?).  I considered improvising, but it just didn’t seem like the right choice at the time.  Finally I pulled out some staff paper and starting writing down and editing improvised phrases.  I brought about one minute of composed music to my next lesson with Robert Dick, and he said “keep going.”  I premiered Diandya on the recital a few months later and never looked back.  It instantly became an integral part of who I am as a musician.

I know you’ve also done some improvisation; can you say some about that?

Absolutely!  I began to improvise a couple of years before I began to compose, and improvisation is an equally integral part of who I am as a musician. Like composition, I came to improvisation through a few aptly timed events, and I am grateful to Evan Mazunik (the same one mentioned above!) for getting me to improvise for the first time.  He had been trying to convince me to join Gamut, his Soundpainting group at the University of Iowa, and I was slowly coming around but with some apprehension (okay, I’ll say it – fear!).  One day I was helping a mutual friend, a jazz saxophonist, pick out a new flute for doubling.  Evan walked into the room with a world flute of some variety and basically said, “okay – let’s play.”  I grabbed one of the trial flutes, and we did.  I was hooked.  He provided a simple opportunity that opened the door for me to realize that part of my musical voice, and I told him I would be at the next Gamut rehearsal.  I also enrolled in an introduction to jazz improvisation class the following semester.  When I moved to New York, improvisation threw numerous opportunities my way.  On several occasions I was paid to improvise with my colleagues – what is better than that?!  I also got some real on-the-ground introductory experience into world music styles via improvisation – an amazing experience!

Has composing affected how you perform the flute?

I sense music differently and can understand it more clearly – I can see and hear “through” it more easily rather than looking at it.  It becomes easier to imagine the music through the composer’s ears, which is crucial to ethical interpretation.  Often I feel I have a clearer view of what they are getting at, which the notation may or may not always make clear.

Does the fact that you are a composer affect how you listen to music, and if so how?

There are so many different levels of listening to music – I teach a world music class at the University of Texas at Dallas, and I love it when I see students realize what they can hear in the music when they learn how to listen differently or have different aspects of the music brought to their attention.  I still have my “background” listening mode when I just let it float around me, and I still have my “thoughtful” listening mode where I am much more absorbed.  I would say that being a composer has affected how I hear and understand music much as it has affected how I perform.  However, perhaps even more importantly, it has instilled a stronger-than-ever desire to hear and experience so much music – there is so much extraordinary music that has been created and that is currently being created.  My scope of this has been tremendously widened by conversing with composers (which, granted, I did a lot before I was a composer, too!), studying with wonderful composers (many thanks to my teachers Andrew May, Christopher Trebue Moore, Lawrence Fritts, and Robert Dick), attending new music festivals (often as a performer), and just being more strongly involved in compositional circles.  It provides tremendous inspiration and satisfaction to be part of this community.

How do you think that musicians can benefit from being creative?

I think that, as a musician, it is essential to be creative.  Also, as a person it is highly beneficial to be creative!  I take pleasure in little, everyday things that I manage or adapt in creative ways – while there is nothing particularly extraordinary in this, I like the idea that the practical aspects of life can be managed and made more efficient or entertaining through creative solutions!  While that is very different than my creative work as a composer, improviser, or interpreter (performer), practicing creativity isn’t something that needs to be turned on and off as a big dramatic gesture (“now I shall compose great music…” vs. “now I will deal with the mundane aspects of my life…”).  As a musician, creativity should be our trusty side-kick in problem-solving, in technical development, in sonic exploration, in teaching, in interpreting music new and old, in deciphering tricky or atypical scores, in presenting music to the world, and so on.  It gets us out of our tunnel vision and into a much more fluid process, one that has potential for flexibility and growth.  And – the end product will reflect this.

Do you have any advice for aspiring composers?

Listen.  Discovering music that is new to your ears – whether you like it or not – is of tremendous importance to anyone in music.

Work with performers every opportunity you can, especially great performers.  That collaboration is an important expansion on any instrumentation studies.

Be fearless.  I was lucky – I never believed I couldn’t be a composer, I just hadn’t realized that I could until I started.  We need to remember that we can do whatever we want to do, we just make guiding choices along the way.  It is important to know your own voice and choose to follow it – however, it is also important to choose to be a perpetual learner and to be inspired.

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