The Iowa Trombone Octet is excited to perform at the 2013 International Trombone Festival in Columbus, GA this summer! We look forward to performing with University of Iowa alumnus Dr. Denson Paul Pollard. More info regarding our performance time / venue coming soon.
While Melba Liston’s influence was in the field of jazz, today women are really pushing the boundaries in contemporary and avant-garde music. Women in these fields tend to champion one another’s music, which has created a truly connected world of female composers and performers. This is true especially in the trombone world. Abbie Conant and Monique Buzzarté are both trombonists, advocates of new music, and activists for women in music. Alice Shields and Pauline Oliveros are both composers who have written for Conant and Buzzarté and have expanded the trombone repertoire. Together, these women have strengthened one another’s careers and have produced meaningful music.
Abbie Conant studied trombone at Temple University, Yale, and Julliard. She has had a long career as an orchestral musician, serving as principal trombonist / soloist at the Royal Opera of Turin as well as the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. She currently serves as Trombone Professor at the Staatliche Hochshule für Musik in Trossingen, Germany. Conant is widely known for the egregious sexism she experienced while playing in the Munich Philharmonic. After winning a blind audition for the solo trombone position, the orchestra director Celibadache demoted her and reduced her pay. Conant took legal action and fought for thirteen years before winning the court case. After experiencing such awful treatment and overt sexism in Munich, Conant and her husband William Osborne sought to “transcend” the current state of music. Osborne, a highly regarded composer, wrote a series of feminist chamber music theatre works for Conant. Conant has performed works such as Winnie, Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano, Miriam, Cybeline, and Music for the End of Time in over 155 cities around the world.
While these chamber music theatre works have certainly expanded the trombone repertoire, they have not been performed by anyone other than Conant and are not published for this reason. In efforts to expand the trombone’s literature for students and professionals alike, Conant started a project called The Wired Goddess. Conant describes her project and the state of trombone literature:
The purpose of The Wired Goddess and Her Trombone project is to explore the theme of the goddess and further a repertoire for solo trombone and electronics that can be performed by college-age trombonists. The spirit is one of practicality, similar to Hindemith’s Gebrauchsmusik…The trombone has so much bad literature, so much B-music, music that I simply cannot identify with…I wanted to find a new music, to work with composers both known and unknown…I wanted a completely original approach and a completely different feeling that I simply hadn’t yet found in this world. (Conant, http://www.osborne-conant.com)
Conant’s noble endeavor has yielded many new pieces of music to the trombone literature. She is still in the midst of this project, but she has already received over twenty new compositions for trombone and electronics. Some composers that have contributed to her project include Pauline Oliveros, Chris Brown, and Maggi Payne. Conant plans to record each work and assist the composer in getting the work published.
Monique Buzzarté is a trombonist, composer, and activist living in New York City. As an advocate of new music, Buzzarté has commissioned new works for trombone alone, trombone with electronics, and trombone with chamber ensembles. A composer herself, Buzzarté’s seeks to “explore expansive musical situations, especially those that attempt to alter inner and outer perceptions of time and space” (Buzzarté). She also composes solo, electronic, and chamber music. Like Conant, Buzzarté began her own project to expand the repertoire of the trombone. 1983, Buzzarté began New Music From Women: Trombone Project. She has received over twenty compositions from female composers in various genres. Composers that have contributed to her project include Pauline Oliveros, Alice Shields, Sorrel Hays, and Anne LeBaron.
Buzzarté is both an author and educator. She has edited the Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (Deep Listening Publications, 2012); and researched and compiled the repertoire listings of brass compositions of women composers published in The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, Bol. III (Greenwood Press, 1991). Buzzarté is also certified to teach Deep Listening, which is a meditative improvisation practice developed by Pauline Oliveros. As an activist, Buzzarté has joined efforts with Abbie Conant and William Osborne that successfully led to women being granted admission to the Vienna Philharmonic. These efforts began in 1997 and are ongoing. Buzzarté has also served as the Vice President for the International Alliance of Women in Music.
Composer Alice Shields has contributed trombone works to Buzzarté’s New Music From Women: Trombone Project. Alice Shields was one of the first women to receive a D.M.A. in composition from Columbia University. In her long musical career, she has been a professional opera singer and a composer of electronic and computer works, operas, pieces for dance and chamber music. With regard to her views on the challenges of being a female composer and getting one’s music programmed, Shields states:
In my view, only excellence should be accepted in music, but one has to always be aware in life that every one of us has prejudices. So when looking for pieces to perform, organizations should consider whether they have looked at women’s work. I think it’s a matter of conscious raising. (Molly Sheridan, “New York City Opera: Women’s Work” Playbill Arts, 2008)
Shields’ works for trombone and tape include The River of Memory (2008) and Mioritza: Requiem for Rachel Corrie (2004). Shields was commissioned by Monique Buzzarté to write The River of Memory through the Meet the Composer grant. The New York Times described Shields’ work as “a lush, ambient electronic work in which major and minor chords melt into one another, and chimes, bird song and insect sounds periodically peek through” (Allan Kozinn, The New York Times, 2008). Mioritza: Requiem for Rachel Corrie was composed in memory of a 23 year old woman who was crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer as she stood before it trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home.
Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) is a prolific composer and a senior figure in American contemporary music. 2012 she was awarded the John Cage award from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts. In fact, with regard to Oliveros’ Deep Listening program, John Cage said, “…I finally know what harmony is…It’s about the pleasure of making music “ (Oliveros). Oliveros’ compositional style features improvisation, meditation, electronics, and myth and ritual. She has composed five works for trombone and has contributed to both Abbie Conant’s and Monique Buzzarté’s trombone literature projects. Her works for trombone include: The Heart of Tones, mixed realities version for trombones/voices and avatars (2008); The Gender of Now: There But Not There, for trombone and piano (2005); Big Room, for solo trombone, oscillators and noise (2000); and The Heart of Tones, for solo trombone and electronics (1999).
Each of these remarkable women made their musical careers by exploring the unexplored. The trombone’s repertoire was severely lacking, and these women have made conscious efforts to expand and enrich the literature. Not only have they expanded the trombone repertoire by composing and performing, but they have also been educators, mentors, and activists to women musicians around the world. They were/are respected by their peers and have all received honors in their respective fields. Most importantly, these women have banded together and championed one another’s music.
Melba Liston (1926-1999) paved the way for women in jazz—especially trombonists and arrangers/composers. The world of jazz continues to be a male dominated field to this day. There may be many reasons for this: Jazz music has always had sexual associations—these associations are more easily made when women are not actually the ones performing the music, but rather the object of the music’s attention. Jazz has also historically had ties to drug use—something that women with values should not be seen associating with. It should be noted that all of these negative associations have nothing to do with the actual music of jazz, just the cultural aspects surrounding it. The only real consistent inclusion of women in jazz were as vocalists. While these women were often extremely talented musicians, they were often seen as a pretty face—another object for a man’s gaze. Melba Liston managed to make a long career as a jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger. She was highly regarded by her peers, who were some of the “jazz legends.” Liston managed to steer away from the politics and focus on her music.
Born 1926 in Kansas City, Missouri, Liston grew up in a musical family. Her mother bought her a trombone at a young age, and by the time she was eight years old, Liston was proficient enough on the instrument to perform on the local radio station. Liston was self-taught—a musical prodigy who even invented her own notation system based on numbering notes. When she was sixteen she won a trombone job in the pit band at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles, and she wrote arrangements for the band. Liston played in the bands of Gerald Wilson, Dexter Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie before she re-joined Wilson’s band in 1949 and toured with Billie Holliday. Liston and the band experienced the ugliness of racial prejudice during a tour in the South. After the tour and experiencing the Jim Crow laws, Liston became disillusioned with music and left the scene for three years. She re-joined Dizzy’s band in 1956 and continued to write arrangements for the group.
1958 Liston recorded her first and only album as bandleader and trombonist entitled Melba and Her ‘Bones. The album featured her compositions and a lineup of great trombonists such as Slide Hampton, Jimmy Cleveland, Bennie Green, Frank Rehak, Al Grey, and Benny Powell. This album was re-released in 2006. After recording her album, Liston met Randy Weston, who was a musician known for combining jazz and African elements in his music. Liston and Weston began a 40+ year collaboration, and Liston wrote arrangements for many of his albums.
During the 1960s and 70s, Liston worked in New York playing in studios and making jazz arrangements. She was known by her colleagues especially for her lyrical and rhythmic writing / playing and her blues and ballads. Liston taught music courses at the Jamaica Institute of Music from 1973-79. She came back to the United States to play in the first all-woman jazz festival in Kansas City. Liston performed in an all-woman septet: “Melba Liston and Company.” The group later toured the world as a mixed gender ensemble.
1985, Liston suffered a debilitating stroke that left her paralyzed on her right side, effectively ending her performing career; however, she continued to compose using her left hand and computer programs. Liston was always highly regarded by her peers, and the men in the band insisted “she made them better.” Liston has received many honors as a musician. 1987 the National Endowment for the Arts named her a Jazz Master. 1993 the first International Women’s Brass Conference honored her as a Brass Woman Pioneer. 1995 she was interview by the Smithsonian for its prestigious Jazz Oral History project. When asked in the Smithsonian interview what advice she would give young women in music, Liston encouraged women to get an education and learn as much as they can. Liston’s contributions to the music world far exceed the realm of trombone. Not only did she arrange hundreds of tunes, but she charmed audiences with her soulful, beautiful trombone playing, and recorded an album where she led her male colleagues as an African American woman.
I want to thank Bill and Abbie for sharing my research about their chamber music theatre work Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano on their website! It’s been such a pleasure working with them, and I look forward to continuing my research as I write my dissertation.
Check out my paper and please watch Abbie’s performance. You can even print out a score and follow along!
Tomorrow night the lights will rise,
Floating by themselves in Love’s order.
And far from this corner on the street,
We’ll sing from our hearts.
You and I. We’ll sing from our hearts.
Wow, the past few months have been so busy! My last update was right after IWBC. Since then, lots has happened…
1. July 14, 2012 Chris and I got married in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was a perfect day filled with family, friends, and lots of love.
2. Chris and I moved into our new place in Iowa City.
3. I went to Taos, New Mexico to visit Abbie Conant and Bill Osborne. We had lots of fun, and I got a lot of work done for my dissertation.
4. August–began the fall semester of my second year in the DMA program at Iowa.
5. Got a last minute Teaching Assistantship for Fundamentals of Theory. My friend Matt Smart and I are having a blast teaching the oh so young freshmen music majors.
6. Started my dissertation. Let the writing begin!
7. This week– Comprehensive Exams! 3 concerts! …almost…finished…
Here is a photo from our wedding day. What awesome family and friends we have!
I have just returned back to Georgia after attending the International Brass Conference held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Co-hosts Lin Foulk and Deanna Swoboda organized a fantastic conference– I had a wonderful time!
How refreshing it was to be surrounded by so many talented, smart, and courageous women! I really learned a lot and feel motivated and encouraged. I attended many lectures, concerts, discussion panels, and met lots of great people. Luckily, I took lots of notes and recorded a few of the lectures. I will be sure to write a few posts soon about the events that I attended and participated in (once I find my notebook in my yet-to-be-unpacked suitcase…).
Thanks to everyone who helped organize the conference– it was a great success!
There has been quite a lot of discussion going on recently regarding the lack of women invited to ITF Paris this year. Most of these discussions have been going on via social media websites like FaceBook, the online trombone forum, and articles have even started popping up on The Huffington Post. It is interesting to read the wide array of comments that these discussions elicit. Most people are outraged, some pretend that the issues don’t exist, and some even defend M. Mauger’s actions and assert that Abbie Conant is sexist in her remarks. For the record, I could not disagree more with the last statement.
Is it possible that M. Mauger is receiving too much flack for his actions? Some may think so. The fact is, is that this is not an isolated problem. Women have been excluded from the past four ITFs as soloists, with an exception of one female soloist in Austin. Have we as women grown numb to the fact that we have not been included or invited to this “boys only” club? I think that may be the case. Well, we are not numb anymore, and unfortunately for M. Mauger, we decided to bring awareness to this issue when he was organizing the festival.
I think that some people do not agree with how all of the information was shared and discussed. I’m sure that some people regret heated statements that they made while feeling very brave behind a computer screen. I very much disagree with the attitude that women have made such a stink about this for the sake of making a stink– that we will never be happy with any decision that comes out of this. Some even accuse us of making this only about gender and that it should really be about the music. Women and enlightened men do have a right to be offended by the lack of women involved in ITFs. We are not bringing this situation to light because we want something else to complain about. We are making a big deal about the current situation because it is in fact a big deal with even more serious implications and consequences for out organization’s future. As far as “getting back to the music,” I wish that it could be as simple as that. Unfortunately, the increasingly sexist actions of our leaders make this goal hard to achieve.
I attended my first ITF last year in Nashville. As a woman, I definitely felt somewhat out of place in the swarming sea of men at this festival. Luckily, I had friends and colleagues to attend the events with, but if I hadn’t, I would have felt like an outsider. I did find it strange and even confusing that there were no female soloists. I was one of two women in a participant trombone choir. While I could probably count on one hand the number of women that were members of performing ensembles, it is not just about numbers.
The hopeful outcome to result from these discussions is not to have a few token women invited last minute to ITF this year. While the numbers help to give us a better idea of the trends, they are not the most important thing. What the ITA and ITF need is a revamped attitude towards women in music. It is also necessary for these organizations to change their overall culture, for they are headed towards a rocky path. Abbie Conant mentions in her recent commentary that these organizations need to move away from the celebrity based leadership back towards a more educationally based form of leadership. That is the primary mission of the ITA, after all. Here is a short excerpt from Conant’s article, but you should definitely read the whole thing. She really addresses the more serious issues that have resulted from sexism and discrimination in the brass world.
Over the last decade, the ITA has tried to compensate for years of insiderism by positioning famous trombonists in the executive committee and Board. The number of university teachers among the officers and Board was significantly reduced and replaced with people in top orchestras, military bands, and well-known jazz/commercial players. Even though this improved the ITA’s image of professionalism, celebrity culture has an inherent tendency to create a narrow, dominate culture in the center that marginalizes important aesthetic and social view points. As a result, the ITFs have recently tended toward a dichotomous division between a small group of stars and the groupies who worship them. We have thus seen a corresponding loss in the ITA’s and ITF’s educational, social, and artistic dimensions.
A closer cooperation with our European colleagues has created a new and extremely important kind of diversity in the ITA, but as we have seen in the last two European ITFs, it has also brought with it some forms of ignorant, provincial chauvinism that segues in unfortunate ways with the problems already created by the ITA’s excessive celebrity culture.* As a result, the ITA has not been able to give European ITF hosts the guidance they have clearly needed to create appropriately diverse festivals.
And finally, these narrowed perspectives continue to leave some very serious, long-term problems unaddressed. One of the worst is the sexual exploitation of students by a few star players and members of top orchestras – a problem that has recently affected even the ITA Board. This sexual abuse of students is yet another manifestation of our excessive celebrity culture in the brass world.
During all of this, M. Mauger has kept relatively silent, which was a bit discouraging. He finally addressed the current situation in a FaceBook post writing:
I want to make some corrections because of imprecise information on the internet about women at the Festival in Paris.
While women are certainly much less numerous, they will absolutely not be absent from the Festival. Such a proportion is not the result of personal choice or the will to evict women. Most artists of the Festival have offered to participate. Of the around twenty requests to perform at the Festival I received, no one have emanated from women trombonists.
I asked the only French woman professor and soloist of international acclaim to perform, Ms. Yves-Lise Girard. In addition, Ms. Astrid Nokleby will lead the Junior ITF.
Over fifteen women trombonists will occur within various ensembles scheduled.
You can, by attending the Festival, see it for yourself.
While this may not be an entirely satisfying answer, at least it is something. It seems like more excuses to me and not apologetic in the slightest.
I think that many trombonists are in agreement that there needs to be a change in our current culture of leadership. I have heard discussions about the possibility of forming a diversity committee in the ITA. I think that would certainly be a great start to instigate much needed change.
The International Trombone Festival will be hosted by Jacques Mauger in Paris, France this summer. What a lovely place for such an event! Too bad M. Mauger failed to invite a single female artist to the festival. Of the 42 artists that were invited, all are men. Of the 9 composers that were invited, all are men. Not only is this in inaccurate representation of the current trombone demographic across the world, but it is also incredibly insulting to all female trombonists.
There is currently an extended dialogue of over 60 comments on trombonist Abbie Conant’s FaceBook page, for she posted:
Jacques Mauger, who programmed the 49/0 men to women ratio for the ITF 2012 has a post on his FB page that says, “ITF PARIS 2012 – the best trombonists in the world will be there, why not you???” (You have to scroll down a bit to see it.) I answered, “Why not? Because there are 42 men invited as soloists and 0 women. And all 7 composers are also men. Total: 49 to 0! This is insulting to all women trombonists, all women musicians, and all enlightened men.” Perhaps you can go to his FB page and tell him what you think too. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you…
The majority of the comments that Abbie has received have been in outrage at the situation at hand. Men and women Aalike have expressed extreme disappointment in the organization of this year’s ITF. Some comments have expressed sympathy for M. Mauger saying that he is such a nice guy and shouldn’t receive so much flack for what is sure to be an oversight. While M. Mauger is probably a nice guy, the fact that he has not responded or made efforts to invite women trombonists to his festival exudes intentional sexism. He has the opportunity as a leader in the trombone world to correct his “mistake” so that the International Trombone Festival’s reputation is not, “ITF 2012: Women, Stay Home”
I am excited to share that I will be serving as a graduate student member on the Council on the Status of Women at the University of Iowa next year! Check out the official website to learn more about this group and the work they do.
I have been giving the idea of having a “musical hero” a lot of thought recently. What is a hero or heroine really? A hero/heroine can be defined as:
A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities
As young musicians, it is easy to develop this idea of a “musical hero” and apply it to the great musicians that we listen to. As young musicians, how can we not admire the powerful and seemingly perfect sounds that emanate from the back row of the orchestra? As young musicians, how do we make the distinction between professional orchestral musician and god?
It’s easy. Professional orchestral musicians are not gods. They are not automatically deemed heroes. Professional orchestral musicians are simply that– professional orchestral musicians.
It has been a very eye-opening and painful journey for me to finally recognize this truth. It took me a long time to realize that good musician does not necessarily equal good person. What a disappointment it is to admire someone for their outstanding musicianship and pedagogical skills, only to have it ruined in an instant.
What I am referring to in a rather round-about way is sexual discrimination/harassment/assault in the orchestral world. This appalling behavior is most commonly a direct result of the over-inflated ego of said professional musician taking advantage of the admiration of the trusting student. It saddens me to write that this type of behavior in ever-so-common in today’s brass world. It makes me sick to know that most, if not all, of these highly regarded offenders escape any consequences greater than a slap on the wrist as their victims suffer in silence.
And why do these egregious offenders escape blame? Many women (men, too) say nothing. They are scared that if they do say something, then they might lose connections, cause an uproar, ruin their career, ruin their offender’s career, or even to not be taken seriously or believed. Even worse, the employers of these sexual predators seem to value the talent and prestige that they bring to their orchestras over a truly simplistic matter of right and wrong. It astounds me that professional orchestras in today’s society can so easily put up blinders and ignore this offensive and even criminal behavior.
While the worries and concerns of the victims of these abuses are legitimate, and I myself have had these thoughts, what is worse is to suffer in silence. These consequences are much greater and painful: to think that it was your fault, to think that you did something wrong, to feel nervous or sick every time you play your instrument, to cry alone, to hate being in your own skin, to worry when/if you might see him again, to see him praised and admired by others, to see him go to other universities and festivals and work with other trusting students.
I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Abbie Conant and William Osborne on this subject. (Visit their website and check out the many resources that they make available!) It has meant a lot to me to experience their support and encouragement, and for that I am truly grateful. William really hit the nail on the head with this statement:
We need to work against this patriarchal deification of orchestral brass players. How ridiculous it is, when you think about it. Please know that things are changing and that the victims of this behavior now receive wide-spread and very strong support in the community. It’s not going to be too long before these predators start paying for what they do.
Patriarchal deification– this is exactly what fuels this type of despicable behavior and why so many offenders get away with it. We have somehow turned these musicians into untouchable gods that do as they please without repercussions. These men are people who play their instruments extremely well, nothing more. It is not my intention to stereotype all male orchestral brass players as being this type of person. I have met and worked with many who are amazing musicians, great teachers, and perfect gentlemen. Unfortunately, it would be mind boggling to learn how many of these men are exactly the opposite.
The solution is not simple or easy. To start, we must be brave and honest. We must not accept this type of behavior as “part of the business.” We must not support musicians or orchestras that condone this behavior. We must not invite these musicians to our universities and festivals, and we surely must not allow them to teach in our studios in a one on one situation.
I return to my original thought about this “hero status” that we sometimes attribute to professional musicians. I felt so cheated when my “hero” turned out to be nothing more than a creepy predator, and what was a wonderful experience for my colleagues continues to be a nightmare for myself. So, should we not have heroes or heroines in our lives? That doesn’t seem fair, either. As young (and less young) musicians, we should allow ourselves to be inspired musically. We should be able to dream and strive to be better at our art. I suppose I don’t know the answer to my own question, but I do know that a true hero/heroine in the music world is someone who is an inspiring musician, a thoughtful teacher, a respectful person, someone who stands up for what is right, and someone who is truly principled in everything they do.