This month on the blog I’ve talked about communities of musicians that inspire me, methods to address bias you encounter on the job, profiled some of my favorite working musicians (in multiple genres), and ran challenges on my Facebook page asking you to think about your mentors and musical ancestors, and find your next performance repertoire piece from the database of women composers. It’s been inspiring for me to think through these posts and present them to you, and I hope it’s been inspiring to read and digest.
Today, for the last essay of Women’s History Month, I want to talk about ways in which we, the musicians working and teaching today, can mentor the next generation of performers and educators to find their desire paths and build a diverse and welcoming musical world.
I have about 30 students, and I see countless others in clinics and performances. 10 of them are young women, high school students who in addition to playing trombone, baritone, and tuba, pursue an array of extracurriculars from track & field, hockey, badminton, Irish dance, ultimate frisbee, Nordic skiing, roller derby, and softball. They study languages like Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, and French, participate in debate teams, march for their rights, and have big plans for their future and their communities.
It’s my job as their guide not to make them the best brass players they can be, but help them realize how music affects their lives and how they can use their own gained skills to express themselves in new ways. Even if they wanted to pursue music as a career, the education they received from me would not be just refining their musical and instrumental skills, but how to develop holistic, healthy attitudes and routines toward their chosen goals.
That said, I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and really, over my whole career) about the myriad ways to encourage young women and men to be the best people in music they can be. I focus on amping up my female students because they have been historically given less opportunity and have farther to climb to find recognition and success, but I give no less of my time and expertise to my male students, in hopes that their attitudes, shaped by my teaching style and example, will offer a more welcoming environment for all performers.
Here are some things I challenge myself to do as a mentor to the low brass players of the next generation:
Match attitudes to actions
I am not perfect. I carry around socialized biases about the talents and abilities of women in my brain just like everyone else, and I have to constantly work to make sure I’m not letting certain ideas or opinions shape the way I treat or teach someone. When I meet a new student, I try to establish a good rapport with them that helps them trust me, and make sure I work to understand their particular educational needs. While I hold all my students to the same standard, it’s not what you might think. My standard is: do you enjoy making music, and are you making it as efficiently and effortlessly as you can? There will be differing levels of ability and commitment, but everyone is a musician. Full stop.
Authenticity is something we define for ourselves.
I also try to combat biases that my students may hold, or that they may encounter in their musical environments. Most of my lady students are pretty savvy- they know what’s out there- but I will help them or fight for them when I see an injustice. Sometimes that means showing them how they can address something that was said to them, or helping them prepare to perform like the boss they are to quash all the naysayers.
All of my students are encouraged to pursue extracurricular musical opportunities, if they are interested and have time. I particularly want the girls in my studio to see the different ways they can make music outside of band. This includes, but is not limited to, auditioning for youth symphonies and honor bands, participating in solo and ensemble contests as well as our studio recitals, and forming their own groups and bands in which they can use the improvisational and ear training techniques I’ve taught them to create music they want to play.
Represent and SHOW UP
I’m living representation for my girl students: I perform, practice, educate, and overall walk the walk. I try to incorporate a diverse array of performers and leaders in the field as examples and role models. I can also try to encourage my colleagues, male and female, to take steps to diversify what and how they teach so that all their students feel empowered and respected.
There are lots of national and local gatherings and conferences for musical performers, and low brass is no exception. These should be held responsible for providing diverse presenters so that all types of people see themselves represented on stage. And I don’t mean diversity just in terms of race and gender identity, either. It’s important to see the broad spectrum of ways people can be successful as musicians, whether it’s in a large symphony orchestra or freelancing gigging in one metropolitan area. Entrepreneurship and creativity should be celebrated as much as winning “the gig.”
Believe what your students say- about their experiences, their feelings, and their motivations. See them as whole, engaged humans with agency. Don’t talk over them or refuse to acknowledge what they say because you know better. Have conversations with them, give them pep talks, tell them it is okay to stumble and sometimes even better to fail. Teach them how to get back up and try again.
I have so much faith in this coming generation to change the world. Let’s all mentor them as best we can so they have all the tools to make the music scene the place it was always meant to be.