Break the Silence

In my last post, I said that I had learned so much this year.  It’s true, and I feel that I now have something to offer my fellow musicians, colleagues, and professors.

When I began this blog, it was a class project (thanks Professor Manning!).  I had not really given  much thought to how I felt about being a female trombonist.  Honestly, there was a time when I felt that being a female trombonist was more of a burden, but now I feel that I have found my niche.  I have learned that being a female brass musician makes me special and can even set me apart from the rest.  I am reminded of my interview with Lin Foulk when I asked her of what advice she would give to an aspiring female brass musician:

Have an awareness of, but don’t dwell on being a female brass musician.  As Susan Slaughter once said in a 1991 article in the Boston Globe, “I tell my female students they can’t be ‘as good as’ anybody else; they have to be better.”  Practice more than anyone in your circle.  Also, don’t be a victim.  Any time you hear crud from colleagues, the problem is with them, not you, so leave it there.  Develop a thick skin to slip on when you have to deal with particularly difficult colleagues.  They can’t get at your core unless you let them.  Finally, playing a brass instrument is highly demanding physically.  You have to be assertive in your approach, even if you’re not a particularly assertive person.  When you perform, you are an actress who must express a full palette of characters and emotions, which includes aggressive, loud, and angry.  Many girls are trained to suppress those emotions, so it might be uncomfortable to play music like that.  But you have to get over that if you play a brass instrument—it’s not who you are, it’s the character you play.

She is completely right, and I now see my role in the brass field as an exciting challenge.  That said, I feel that I must not develop too thick of skin (which I know, Lin, you are not advocating).  Sure, I can put up with the fowl language that inevitably erupts from the back row of the orchestra. I can translate what it means to play “balls to the wall.” This is minor stuff– no big deal.  What I am not okay with is the all too frequent male musician abuse of power.

It is not my intention to bash male musicians and teachers– I have been fortunate enough to have had two of the most respectful and kind professors in the business (thank you Dr. Palmer and Dr. Gier).  It is my intention, though to bring to light that there are certain individuals who abuse their power and assume that they can get away with it.  And how do they get away with it?  Many women say nothing for fear of the consequences, and some women even think that that type of behavior is to be expected in this field.

For all of you men and women who might be reading this– that type of behavior is not to be expected or condoned.  Ladies, please have the courage to stand up for yourselves and speak up if you experience unwanted behavior.  I don’t mean to sound sexist– I suppose this behavior can go both ways, but let’s face it– this is a male dominated field.

My advice to women who are silently suffering: say something.  My advice to good, respectful professors: know who you invite into your studios to teach your students.  A simple window on a door or extra person in the room is all it takes to prevent something horrible from happening.  My advice to anyone arrogant enough to think that they can get away with taking advantage of trusting students: you can’t. Keep your hands to yourself and be professional.

Women who have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment or assault within the music field (or anywhere)– you are not alone.  It is not your fault.  It is not to be accepted.  That said, it is also not to be expected.  Most of the men you will deal with in the music world are both kind and respectful– it is my hope that you will never encounter the inevitable jerks.

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