Alumni Q&A: Jill Heinke of Areon Flutes


BM in Flute Performance, UCSB
MM in Flute Performance, San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Postgraduate Diploma in Flute Performance, The Royal College of Music, London


Born in Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Grew up in Rockford, IL

Congratulations on the new Areon Flutes album, Thrive! What was the inspiration behind the album?

As enthusiasts for and promoters of music by living composers, we are constantly looking for opportunities to get our performances of these cutting edge commissions out into the world. These pieces are three of our favorites to date, and we knew that we had to try to find a way to give them as large a platform as they deserve. Innova Recordings reaches a really diverse audience base, and we’re excited about the future of this album. We had commissioned Boots’ epic piece a few years ago as the beginning of a push to collaborate more with San Francisco Bay Area composers. What we ended up getting is one of the most genre-defying, rich, surprising-yet-cohesive Flute Suites we’ve heard. Elainie Lillios was the winner of our International Composition Competition a couple of years ago, and the piece we commissioned from her blew us away: she created sound textures full of extended techniques that mimic insects, each movement is based on haikus, and the overall product is completely unexpected and delightful. Mike Sempert was the leader of Bay Area electro-acoustic indie rock band called Birds & Batteries (in which I played bass), and he now resides in LA composing commercial music. We were drawn to his completely original style, and the piece he wrote us with electronics about the concept of the Uncanny Valley in A.I. (artificial intelligence) technology rounds out the “Thrive” album perfectly.  The pieces themselves were truly the inspiration – we are in love with playing them!
Click here to read a review of the Areon Flutes album, "Thrive," written by UCSB theory graduate student, Elizabeth Hambleton for New Classic LA.

What drew your group to new music, and what inspires you to commission new pieces?

In our own way, each of us knew that a traditional path of becoming an orchestral or freelance musician wasn’t the goal. Kassey and I had Jill Felber as a role model who showed us that anything is possible with hard work and creativity. We each possess a fire for collaboration and thrive on pushing the boundaries of interpretation with staging, costuming, make-up, and visuals. The process of working with living composers is at the heart of our passion. We have grown amazing relationships with these immensely talented composers, and we are lucky that we have such a fun job. Thus, we continue to commission new pieces because we want to give quality music and performances for the next generation to use as a springboard for inspiration, just like Professor Felber did for us.

What piece of advice did your professor, Jill Felber, give that has resonated with you the most?

For me, there isn’t a single phrase that sums up her influence - it’s more about her leading by kick-ass example. We all watched and listened closely as she commissioned, traveled, and taught all over the country constantly, and seeing her success definitely planted a seed that a future in new chamber music was attainable. She supported and encouraged me (despite my naïve 17-year-old-self ideas!) and led me to believe that I could accomplish great things with LOTS of hard work and confidence…and that a pair of fabulous performance shoes never hurts, of course. She was always enthusiastic and kind and pushed the studio really hard when I was at UCSB. Early on in Areon, she would coach us, and she even came all the way to New York when we had our Carnegie Hall debut. Now she serves on our advisory board, so she is still a part of our core, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

What is a typical season like for Areon Flutes? 

We play in and around the Bay Area with various chamber music series and festivals several times per season, and typically we take on one or two big national tours each season.  We are self-booked and self-managed, so we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to how heavy or light we’d like our seasons to be. This is especially handy because we all have a lot going on with our growing families, teaching studios, and other professional commitments. In the end, this flexibility contributes to the longevity and uniqueness of the project – we each have shared control and that makes it easy for us to continue to thrive (pun intended)!

What inspired you to create the Areon Summer Flute Institute? 

This is our way to give back and inspire the next generation of young flutists. We want the students to see how enriching and fun chamber music can be, and the environment is so supportive and friendly. It’s vastly different from what one might imagine a “flute camp” is, and it’s a place where the students can truly experience creativity unleashed!  We take pride in all we’ve done to share our passion and create a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

It is becoming increasingly more important for young musicians in the 21st century to develop entrepreneurial skills to navigate today’s job market. What are your top three pieces of advice for someone looking to cultivate a career as a performer?

  • Be confident, yet kind. The music world is very small, and it pays to be a wonderful colleague. 
  • No one is going to do the work for you, so you need to be organized and resourceful. If you have an office job or a full teaching schedule in addition to a performing career, it is difficult to carve time to fulfill all the necessary admin tasks, let alone keep up a practice routine. Organizational skills are essential.
  • Put yourself out there and try to meet other artists and creatives, not just musicians. You never know what kind of crazy-amazing collaboration and inspiration could ensue through networking and thinking outside of your box.

Learn more about Jill Heinke by visiting her personal website,

Jill Heinke. Photo by Charlie Homo.
Areon Flutes (from left: Jill Heinke, Kassey Plaha, Sasha Launer). Photo by Charlie Homo.