Emma Sholl is playing a golden flute
Emma Sholl, leading Australian flautist (Image: Ranui Young)

Music feels to me like a language that you understand with more nuance over time.

Emma Sholl began working with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the age of 19. In 2003, she was appointed Associate Principal Flute.

In 2002 –03, Emma studied in Geneva with Jacques Zoon. During that time, she performed in St Petersburg and Moscow as part of the World Orchestra for Peace.

Accolades include first prize in the National Orchestral Flute Competition (1999), the ABC / Symphony Australia Young Performers Awards (2001 – Other Instruments category) and the National Solo Flute Competition (2002).

Emma has appeared as guest principal with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian World Orchestra and the Adelaide, Queensland, Tasmanian and West Australian symphony orchestras, among others. She has appeared as soloist with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and the Adelaide, Tasmania and Sydney symphony orchestras.

As a chamber musician, Emma has performed in festivals across Australia and with groups including the Australia Ensemble, Sydney Omega Ensemble and Southern Cross Soloists. She recorded Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 with Angela Hewitt, Alison Mitchell and the Australian Chamber Orchestra as well as an album for flute and harp, Vignettes, with Jane Rosenson.

Emma is Senior Lecturer in Flute at the Sydney Conservatorium. She plays a 14Kt rose gold Burkart flute.

What drew you to the flute? Did you grow up in a musical family?

When I was seven, my dad took me to the music shop and let me choose which instrument I’d like to play. I was immediately drawn to the flute: I loved the sound and the challenge from the beginning.

My grandmother and great-grandmother on my dad’s side were both classical pianists. While neither of my parents are musicians, they both love all sorts of music and there was often music playing or someone singing at home. I have fond memories of singing Paul Simon and Cat Stevens songs with my dad while he played the guitar.

My brother was an excellent clarinettist and had professional positions in orchestras in Australia and overseas before he decided on a career change, so he could move back to Sydney with his family. We had a double concerto written for us by George Palmer about 10 years ago that we performed with the Sydney Youth Orchestra at the Town Hall, which was a pretty special moment.

We play music all the time in my house now. I love mixing it up for my kids so they can experience everything from Beethoven to Ella Fitzgerald to Sigur Rós to Frozen!

I’m always learning from teaching others and seeing things from new angles.

You’re often asked about your early success, being one of the youngest players ever appointed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
How have you evolved as a musician since then? What have you held onto, and what’s changed?

It was a baptism by fire when I began, with so many concerts each week and constant note learning, trying to keep up with new repertoire. I was pinching myself half the time; it was a dream come true and I was learning so much from those around me in the orchestra. Thankfully they had faith in my potential to learn quickly.

Looking back, I definitely had a confidence in my ability that came from a very supportive family, amazing teachers and loads of performance opportunities in my late teens. There was a naivety, of course; although I certainly don’t practise as many hours now, with two young children, there’s a maturing of your music making that comes from life experience. Music feels to me like a language that you understand with more nuance over time.

I’ve also become more efficient and targeted with practice, and I’m always learning from teaching others and seeing things from new angles.

Emma Sholl is leaning on a bench with her head resting on her arms. On the bench in front of her lies a golden flute.
Emma Sholl, leading Australian flautist (Image: Ranui Young)
In May, you’ll perform CPE Bach’s Flute Concerto in D minor. Have you performed this work before?
How do you approach a work like this?

I’ve never performed this work but I’m so excited to be learning it. Though not often performed in Australia, I think this flute concerto is one of the best solo works in the repertoire: full of beauty and elegance, but also fire and energy, with so much to explore in the harmonic language. 

I’ve been enjoying listening to other CPE Bach music, including the keyboard version of this flute concerto. CPE Bach wrote an Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments which was later studied by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. It’s an amazing connection to the composer’s world and a handy reference for ornamentation and embellishments.

There’s been a noticeable shift in the importance of taking care of the whole self, rather than just shutting yourself away in a practice room for 10 hours a day

Other than practice, how do you prepare for a solo performance? What do you do in the hours before you walk onstage?

It’s funny, I think back to the beginning of my professional career and the amount of time I spent practising, warming up, keeping fit, getting in the right headspace…then you have kids!

Like everything in life, it’s about balance. While, in many ways, I think it’s good to have that perspective and relegation of self, feeling prepared and being in top form is always
the aim. I still believe that optimal preparation includes knowing the score back to front and taking care of myself with exercise, healthy eating, sleep and mental preparation.

The mental side has become a real area of interest and a focus in my teaching: breathing techniques, visualisation, power poses for confidence. There’s been a noticeable shift in the importance of taking care of the whole self, rather than just shutting yourself away in a practice room for 10 hours a day, and there’s so much interesting research in sports psychology that’s relevant to all performers.

My favourite podcast at the moment is ‘Minding your Mind’ with Professor Ian Hickie, a mental health expert, and author / broadcaster James O’Loghlin.

Emma Sholl is sitting on a piano stool on a darkened stage. She is smiling and looking down at a golden flute in her hands.
Emma Sholl, leading Australian flautist (Image: Ranui Young)
It sounds like a silly question…but just how hard is it, physically, to project in a concert hall as a flautist?
What kind of fitness and technique does this demand?

It is a difficult thing, but forcing the sound is actually the opposite of what we need to do to project well into the hall. If we rely on the resonance of the sound and have a good core to the sound, then it should float right to the back.

Is there a story behind the golden flute?

I’ve always found them lovely to look at and had tried many over the years, but found them difficult to play, unresponsive and lacking beauty. About eight years ago, at a flute convention, I was encouraged to try this one by Lillian Burkart. It knocked my socks off and I was converted!

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