As a young child, Dr. Elizabeth Sullivan was always surrounded by music. Sullivan grew up in Florida and was the youngest of five children. Her strongest musical influence was her mother, who was a pianist, though not professional. She encouraged Sullivan to play the piano, and growing up Sullivan believed she would be a professional pianist. It wasn’t until middle school, when Sullivan heard an orchestra perform Swan Lake, that she was first exposed to the oboe. As it turned out, one of the oboists from the symphony knew Sullivan’s mother, and soon Sullivan was taking oboe lessons.
Sullivan was encouraged by her parents to go to college and study music. She and her older sister were the first in her family to go to college, and she was the first to pursue graduate degrees. Her parents put value on education and the doors it could open for her, recognizing that culture, society, and job demands were not the same as when they were growing up. And they would often tell her that being successful in any career requires a lot of hard work, so you might as well love what you are doing if you are going to work hard at it.
Sullivan’s research addresses underrepresented contemporary female and minority composers. One of her current projects is a CD of music by Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave (b. 1928).
“I've really enjoyed getting to research her as a composer, getting to know her style of composition, making it more part of the standard repertoire for [woodwind] instruments.”
The CD will be released by Albany Records and is funded by a 2019 Regional Artist Project Grant from the Cabarrus Arts Council and a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant.
“Completing a CD project as a musician is not dissimilar to completing a book as an academic researcher,” said Sullivan in a recent Cabarrus Independent Tribune article. “Both involve careful study and the mastery of a specific subject area and are major projects in the life of the artist.”
She has also recently worked with an Iranian female composer to record and premiere her music so that it is more widely available.
Sullivan’s long-term research interests include a two-year commission project in which she and her duo partner Rebecca Johnson, a flutist from Eastern Illinois University, are commissioning four new pieces for flute, oboe, and electronics. The combination of electronic technology with traditional wind instruments is a rare but emerging trend in 21st-century music.
Some of Sullivan’s other passions and hobbies are the great outdoors. She enjoys hiking and running and nature.
“I am currently taking a beekeeping class to learn how to have my own beehives and learn how to take care of them. I also enjoy many hands-on crafting projects, such as knitting and sewing. Even though I don’t have a ton of time for lots of crafty projects, I enjoy the opportunities in the summertime more.”
By Mayra Trujillo-Camacho