Music faculty members collaborate for sweet melodies

Holly Bewlay, standing, and Emily Boyce performed at the Louis P. Ciminelli Recital Hall Thursday night. The two share a professional bond that reflects upon their similar backgrounds.

Celina Bonifacio

Holly Bewlay, standing, and Emily Boyce performed at the Louis P. Ciminelli Recital Hall Thursday night. The two share a professional bond that reflects upon their similar backgrounds.

It was a Thursday night. The audience was large and restless. There’s no doubt that some of them had witnessed such scenes before, as they whispered that this would be unlike anything the newcomers have ever experienced.

After much anticipation, a petite brunette in a long, white gown and a taller, suited woman with blonde hair that was formally clipped back entered from a door behind the stage at the Louis P. Ciminelli Recital Hall. The applause picked up immediately, stopped just as suddenly, and then the show began.


SUNY Buffalo State Assistant Professor Holly Bewlay and Associate Professor Emily Boyce have been musical collaborators ever since they found themselves working in the same department at SUNY Buffalo State.  Boyce recalled that they had a partnership right off the bat, and they have performed together at least once a year since.

Working together and feeding off one another allows them to grow individually.

“I love to make music with other people,” Boyce said. “They really can inspire me to strive for new sounds, new effects and colors, and then we can sort of inspire each other.”

Contrary to what might be expected, neither Bewlay nor Boyce came from musical backgrounds.  Both had to pave their own musical paths.

Bewlay’s parents did not see the value in pursuing music, even after their daughter won a local singing competition at age 12.  The South Korean family decided that Bewlay’s best chance for professional success would be in the United States, where she could pursue medicine.

When Bewlay was 13, she took the trip by herself to Oklahoma, where she would live with distant relatives throughout the course of her secondary education.  She secretly wanted to pursue music, but she knew that her parents would not approve.

One school day, an opportunity presented itself.

“People were telling me, ‘Oh, you should join glee club. That will help you to learn English faster,’ Bewlay said. “So I just didn’t tell them that I was interested in singing.

“I just went, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’”

After Bewlay joined glee club, and then chorus, she took private lessons thanks to a recommendation by the chorus teacher.

When applying to colleges, she had to break it to her parents that she wanted to seriously pursue music. They allowed her to do so, as long as she was enrolled in Premed simultaneously.

Eventually, she dropped out of the Premed program to focus on music. Her parents eventually came to terms with her decision, despite their preconceived notions of how their daughter’s life should play out.

“Do they really understand what I do?” she asked. “I don’t know.

“It’s hard for business people and my parents’ generation to understand that you can actually make a living singing.”


The sheer volume of Bewlay’s voice was breathtaking.  The Louis P. Ciminelli Recital Hall transformed into a grand opera hall.  The pianist and the vocalist were playing a back-and-forth game, providing the audience a glimpse into the breadth of their passion and talent.

Buffalo Opera Unlimited Artistic Director Tim Kennedy has worked with Bewlay in past productions, and came to watch her in the recital.  He first met her in 2004, and is in awe at how much she has grown as a musical artist.

This was his first time seeing Boyce perform.

“I think she is top class,” he said. “I went up and told her that it was wonderful.

“You can tell that they’re both pros.”


It all started with a fiddle for Boyce. Well, kind of. When she was 3-and-a-half years old, she prompted her parents with the idea of playing the instrument.

“Honestly, I wanted to play the fiddle when I was 3-and-a-half because in Texas, there’s a lot of country music, and… that seemed fun,” Boyce said. “And I don’t know how I went from wanting to play the fiddle to my parents starting me in a piano lesson, but that’s what happened.”

Her first performance playing the piano was at the same age, where she played a piece titled “My Pet Dog,” and has stuck with it ever since.

“It’s always been there. The piano’s just always been part of my life, my existence,” Boyce said.

Boyce arrived at SUNY Buffalo State through a colleague at Eastman Community Music School, where she worked after obtaining her doctorate degree from the Eastman School of Music. The colleague was offered the position but had decided to pursue another path, so she recommended Boyce.

“No matter how bad I feel after a bad day, [I think,] well at least I have a good job,” Boyce said.

There is little luck in finding a good job after graduation, even with degrees from prestigious schools.  Both educators received doctorates from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  Bewlay freelanced around New York City after she received her master’s degree.  Boyce remembers feeling depressed after applying to 40 jobs in one year, and not receiving a call back.

Each small step they took allowed them to become as successful as they are.


Both women live in the Buffalo area and are comfortable where they find themselves.  Boyce enjoys coming home to experiment with recipes and feed her science kick with shows such as “How the Universe Works.”

In Bewlay’s spare time, she occasionally goes for a run with her pug, Hank, but has found that his endurance is lacking. She also recently discovered the waterfront, and plans on taking more trips down there.

The two have upcoming recitals and will continue collaborating. Although they have worked together for years, their admiration of one another is still there.

“We are taught that pianos are soft and fortes are loud, but she has millions of pianos, variations of them,” Bewlay said about Boyce.

Boyce reminds herself not to get too caught up in the moment.

”I have to be careful not to get lost in her sound,” she said.


As Bewlay and Boyce concluded their show with a bow, the audience rose to their feet with a giant round of applause. The show invoked excitement and energy, provoking the thought that if more students and faculty from other departments attend such shows, it will no doubt bridge the gap between disciplines.

“That’s the wonderful thing about the concerts,” Kennedy said. “They will bring the departments together.”


Samantha Wulff can be reached by email at [email protected].