Graduate Center doctoral candidate Emily Eagen (D.M.A. in Music Performance) will ring in 2020, or rather whistle it in, with the New York Philharmonic’s “New Year’s Eve: Celebrating Sondheim,” a tribute to the legendary composer whose 90th birthday is in March 2020. A two-time international champion whistler, Eagen was invited by the nation’s oldest symphony orchestra to perform a whistling solo for a symphonic arrangement of music from Into the Woods, the second piece in the concert. Tickets to the event are sold out, but PBS will broadcast it live, starting at 8:00 p.m. on December 31.
For those watching, she said, “Look for me next to the celeste — in a ballgown!” This is her debut performance with the New York Philharmonic and her first performance whistling with an orchestra of this size.
“It’s an honor and a thrill,” she said. “The part is a lovely one for whistling, and it really, to me, helps characterize the feeling of wandering in the woods.” She added that she is a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s work. “He wrote, ‘Anyone can whistle,’ and my children are obsessed with the music from Into the Woods. They are delighted.”
Eagen describes herself as a “versatile singer at the intersection of several genres, including classical, folk, and contemporary music.”
In 2000, at age 24, she earned the title of International Female Grand Champion at the International Whistlers Convention in Louisburg, North Carolina. She was 10 to 15 years younger than most contestants and the first to win the event on the first try. She won the title again in 2001.
Classically trained in violin and voice, Eagen said in an interview that she began performance whistling when a friend persuaded her to whistle “Ashokan Farewell,” the title song to the PBS miniseries The Civil War, during a talent show in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In addition to being a doctoral student at The Graduate Center, Eagen is a teaching artist at the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall. In 2015, she was part of a national tour with the Bang on a Can All Stars and the SITI Company as part of a production of Steel Hammer, a celebrated composition by Julia Wolfe based on the much-sung ballad of the African American folk hero John Henry. Eagen’s recent projects include the premiere of NOOMA, an immersive opera for children written by Eagen and Saskia Lane for the Weill Institute.
Eagen gives whistling workshops, an in this video, says, “The secret to whistling is just to lick your lips.”