In Achievements and Awards, Students

Catherine Boyack reflects on her unexpected win in the National Flute Association’s prestigious Young Artist Competition

When Catherine Boyack’s submitted flute recording landed her one of 15 spots in the National Flute Association Young Artist Competition in Orlando, Florida, she expected to play her best in the first round and get some experience under her belt. She did not expect to advance through the rounds, and she certainly did not expect to win the biggest award for young flutists in the United States.

Boyack, a senior majoring in music, first attended the Young Artist Competition, which features flutists under the age of 30, soon after graduating high school. Most of the competitors had completed their master’s or doctorate degrees or were already working as professional musicians, and Boyack did not advance past the first round. Four years later and working toward her undergraduate degree, she returned to give it another shot, fully anticipating to learn from the experience and return for a third time further down the road in her education and career.

Catherine Boyack at the Young Artist Competition in Florida (photo by David Winters)

“It’s been a goal of mine for a long, long time,” said Boyack. “I thought, in the next six or seven years, I want to get myself to a place where I could win. I didn’t think that I was already there, and I still don’t feel that I am in some ways. It’s overwhelming. I don’t know if it will really sink in, because advancing through the first round was something I didn’t expect. To have won is the very last scenario that went through my head.”

Despite her expectations, Boyack gave the competition her all. In the first two rounds, each flutist played the same pieces, requiring Boyack to stand out if she was to advance. “I learned a lot about practicing effectively because if I wasn’t using my time well, I wasn’t improving the piece, and I needed to improve and polish everything in a short amount of time. It was a little stressful, but the experience of mapping everything out and following through and being so focused has been good for me.”

Boyack was also helped along the way by her BYU music professors, particularly her mentor, April Clayton. “Dr. Clayton knows more about the flute repertoire than anybody I know,” Boyack said. “She’s a laureate of this competition as well, so she knows exactly what it’s like. She’s been through the whole circuit before, so to have her there was so helpful, and I’m grateful that I get to work with her.”  

“I don’t have enough words, or the right words, for the people at BYU who have supported me,” Boyack added. “In the last five years, I have had a lot of health challenges that could have prevented me from progressing in flute or in school, and the administration and the faculty here have been so overwhelmingly generous and supportive and kind to me. My health has been better for about a year, but I would not be at this point if it hadn’t been for their help.”

Boyack is in her last year at BYU, but her journey as a musician is far from over. “This win is not going to change any of my schooling. I’m still going to go for a doctorate, but this competition does get your name out there better than anything else in the states will.”

Catherine Boyack takes first place (photo by David Winters)

Clayton, who was able to work with Boyack between rounds, added, “This is a very big deal not just for Catherine and me as a teacher, but in the flute world. People have definitely taken notice of her win at this young age.”

In addition to the recognition and cash prize, the National Flute Association awarded the winner a career advancement grant for the first time this year. The grant is to be used for a career development project such as a recital tour, an album recording or a chance to work with a major music professional.

Because Boyack is so early on in her education and career, there is no immediately obvious use for her grant. “I have a lot to think about in terms of what’s going to help my career,” she said. “I’m excited that I get to pick! It opens up a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

In the meantime, Boyack remains stunned and humbled by her success in the Young Artist Competition. “I have so much to learn. I’m still in school. I’m just going to keep learning, keep working, keep improving, and see where that takes me.”

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