Women’s History Month: Ways to Address Bias or Sexism on the Gig

If your career working as a female-bodied or -identifying musical performer or as a student has been anything like mine, the negative experiences you’ve had have ranged the gamut from subtle instances of patronizing behavior all the way up to outright sexism and harassment.  It’s taken me many years to build up an arsenal of comebacks, attitudes, personal strength, and knowing where to take the fight to feel like I’m on somewhat solid ground in my industry. Today I want to tackle a few of the things that have worked for me, and ask for your suggestions of what you’ve done to address situations as they arise.

A few of the things we can expect to encounter as women on our musical journey:

  • Dismissal/Gaslighting
  • Being interrupted frequently/not being allowed to complete thoughts
  • Distrust or Disbelief in our level of competence and abilities
  • Being patronized/belittled
  • Expected to do a group or studio’s emotional labor
  • Sexualization
  • Harassment/Assault

Some of these are of course more scarring than others, but all can leave a lasting impression on us that is often easy to internalize. I know for many years I struggled to see what I had accomplished and what I was capable of because I had written attitudes about female performers deep into my musical DNA. I had to work very hard to unpack & unlearn certain behaviors, and there are still many ways to improve.

I want to pass on to all generations of young female musicians, and especially up and coming young performers, a few ways to get out of the cycle of keeping quiet and feeling like it must be your fault or that it’s just the way it is. It starts by acknowledging not only  your own skills but also how you want to grow as a musician and how you want to get there. We’re not perfect, no matter how much we practice, and that’s a good thing. There can always be something new to learn, and we can also be proud of what we can do.

Disclaimer: These steps are intended for offenses outside of the realm of physical harassment/assault. If you’ve experienced something like that, you have every right to take that information to the proper authorities.

Step 1: Don’t Internalize. Take Notes. Talk it Over.

You’re at a gig/in rehearsal/at class and someone says something that strikes you in a weird way. You’re not sure if you just got patronized or dismissed in some subtle way, and you don’t want to say anything about it just yet. That’s okay! When you get a chance, jot down the situation and how you felt about it. Or call a friend you trust and relay it, and see what they say. It might just be enough to put you on guard for the next time it happens, so you can start to notice a pattern.

Step 2: Ask why

You’ve definitely heard something kind if icky directed at you this time. One of the best ways to immediately address a sexist joke or comment is to ask for clarification. I’ll use an example from my past that I didn’t address in the moment, and speculate how I could have handled it with a question.

In my new lab band at UNT (I think it was the 5 O’Clock) one semester, the TA running the band gave us a chart that featured the two bass trombonists. I was playing 5th. We read through it and it was okay- a few mistakes and the other bass (a guy) and I traded a few section where we each equally got a little turned around, but we never got lost. Once we’d finished, the TA solemnly looked us all up and down and then stated “I believe in the masculinity of this band. If you don’t have a pair, grow a pair.”

This was clearly directed at me for…not reading perfectly? Seeming unconfident? Existing? Even though the other player and I equally messed up in the reading. I was angry, but I didn’t say anything. Afterward I and  the other two women in the band approached the chair of the jazz department and reported the incident. The TA was forced to apologize to us, but other than that, nothing really happened to change his behavior. He was just more careful about what he said.

Today’s Lauren definitely would have piped up in that moment. “What do you mean by that, sir?” “Can you say that in a different way?” “I beg your UNBELIEVABLE PARDON?!?” Usually, when someone is called out for saying something questionable, they’ll have to reconsider their words and actions. It may mean they apologize or rethink immediately. They may double-down, in which case you have more ammo to take to some of the later stages in this blog. But usually, you can call someone out and they’ll backtrack. Now, in a perfect world, you, the female performer, wouldn’t be the only one to say anything, but you’d have male colleagues that objected to the incident as well. Men reading this, speak up. This is really your problem to fix.

Step 3: Talk in Private

If you feel comfortable talking alone to the person who’s offended you, arrange to do it. Take your notes from the various encounters and be prepared to speak calmly and rationally about how you feel, but don’t be afraid to be a little fired up if need be. People are more likely to see eye-to-eye with you if you speak in person. One word of caution- don’t go overboard exaggerating your own faults or mistakes (I know because I do this). Have confidence in yourself. Think about what they say when you’re in a car accident: Don’t admit fault at the scene. If someone is truly and intentionally biased against you they will use that as ammo to knock you down again later. Been there, experienced that. Just state what you’ve heard said/what actions were taken and how you feel that might be inappropriate or how it has affected you. I always ask to be treated with agency, to be seen as someone with valid motivations and ambitions: i.e. the default way we treat men in our society.

Step 4: Say No 

Similar to the situation in step 3, be able to turn down a suggestion, comment, or opportunity that you feel puts you in a bad light or place. Someone might suggest you wear something more sultry at a gig, and whether you would or not, that’s not their place to comment. You can say, “I know how to dress myself” or “No, I’m not comfortable with you suggesting that.” Clap back if you need to. I’m not the strongest sight-reader (although I’m not terrible) and there have been a few occasions where someone’s come swooping in to ask me if I know what I did wrong. I’ve developed a pretty good script of “Hey, I screwed up, and it’ll be right the next time, but I don’t need you to explain music to me” that usually makes my point for me.

Just saying ‘…nah’ to something you don’t feel is right is not going to jeopardize your career. You don’t need to put yourself in situations where you’re put upon or looked down on. There are better, more equitable opportunities for you out there.

Step 5: Escalate it

Ok, so nothing’s worked, and you’re pretty sure the behavior directed at you violates some rule of the establishment, job, or just basic human decency. Is there someone above that you can talk to? At school, it’s your departmental or school advisor, or a conflict center. On the gig it might be the band leader (if the band leader is not the perpetrator) or the person who hired you. Whoever it might be, schedule a meeting and prepare your notes. Just like in the private conversation above, be calm and insistent that you think something is wrong. Offer some solutions that might work for you if you can see them. Follow up on the meeting; take it from experience, sometimes they will listen to you sympathetically but hope that you’ll go away after that having ‘therapized’ your problem.

Step 6: Spread the Word

Ah, my favorite step, the ‘burn it all down’ moment. Higher ups have not been helpful and the issue is not going away. It’s time to ORGANIZE. Find your community and see if other people have stories that relate to yours about your harasser or situation. There might be someone with some legal experience who can advise or direct. There might be a public or private forum you can use to document your tale and get the word out that someone is behaving badly. And again here: Don’t internalize. It’s likely at this point people will say some pretty nasty things to you or insinuate that you are somehow responsible. Again, this is NOT YOU. This is an endemic, societal struggle that men and women alike have to fight. You are doing your part to further the success and recognition of women in the music industry.

What other ways have you addressed a bias while on a gig or other situation? What’s worked and what didn’t? Share in the comments!

Women’s History Month: Women and the New Gig Economy

“It’s who you know, not what you know.”

Networking has always been a part of the music industry to the great advantage of some and the overlooking of a great many more. Women and other underrepresented minorities often struggle to find footing in the different branches of professional music, from classical to popular styles, and it can feel like there are extra mountains to climb just to get noticed, much less hired.

In psychology, this feeling reflects a trend toward “in-group bias” (the proverbial ‘old boys club’), in which the dominant members of a profession or group select new members based on how well they relate to them. I don’t necessarily think there is always intentional discrimination involved, but that as men in our society have been socialized primarily to interact equally with other men, this can feel like the most comfortable route to take when booking for a gig or filling a position. There’s less risk of conflict and less need to ‘speak a different language’. The end result is that a whole swath of the population that is looking for work or recognition is left out, or feels marginalized.

The fight against sexual harassment through campaigns like #metoo and #TimesUp are incredibly important, and I think go hand in hand with the ways women in the music industry are fighting for equal representation and the ability to be authentically themselves without fear of repercussions. Besides seeking visibility for the issues women and other marginalized groups face in the broader industry, I also see and participate in so many powerful internal movements that, behind the scenes and in the public eye, are changing the game for female performers. I want to highlight a few of my favorites.

Binders Full of Women

As a Minneapolis-area local, the whole game changed for me the day Andrea Swensson started a private Facebook group called “Binders Full of Women in Minnesota Music” (a spoof on Mitt Romney’s 2012 unfortunate comment about the number of female applicants he’d seen for cabinet positions).  Someone added me, and suddenly the whole diverse, beautiful community of women, female-identifying, and non binary folks in my music scene was at my fingertips. Immediately, I knew we could all use it as a place beyond networking- a place where we all felt safe, seen, and valued, a place where we could complain about an incident, spread knowledge about things going on, tell people who to avoid and who to watch out for, and most of all, HIRE EACH OTHER. A whole community of people in love with music and performing, ready to each other up.

Since becoming a part of that group, I’ve hired and been hired, attended a free clinic on sound engineering hosted by one of our members, started a roster of local freelancers, and added exponentially to my list of cool local music to listen to and support. And that leads me to my next feature…

Happy Hour! 

Last year, my good friend and collaborator Rebecca Hass and I decided to go beyond digital networking, and starting doing semi-regular happy hour meet-ups for female-identifying folks in our local music scene. Since then, we’ve hosted 3 or 4 of them (I’ve lost count!) in which a collection of women both diverse in background and musical genre have attended, trading cards and war stories, and agreed to keep in touch and promote one another. Our next venture is to host a jam session, and Rebecca has plans to do composer-specific meet-ups. It’s informal, friendly, and fun- and I’m so glad to have a colleague to coordinate it with.


Sarah Schmalenberger, horn & musicology professor at the University of St Thomas, and another good friend and colleague, started BrassChix ten years ago as a way to bring multiple generations and ability levels of brass-playing women together for a day of music and camaraderie. She hired me in 2012 to be the “Celebrity Trombonist” and I was delighted to present my experiences and educational philosophies to the trombonists in attendance. Since then I’ve presented or participated every year. Women are a minority in brass performance at most levels, but having a community to draw from is so important for the next generation, and so soul-fulfilling for us ‘old guard’ that are paving the way for more women to pick up brass instruments.

The Art of Asking

It’s not necessarily a community (although AFP’s fans would argue differently), but an idea- in 2013 performer Amanda Palmer presented a TED talk on “The Art of Asking” detailing the ways a new, digital marketplace could be a humongous asset to artists and musicians. She had just crowdfunded an album through the most successful Kickstarter in history to that date, and people were listening.

In some ways, I find the approach simplistic, and perhaps not the route everyone would go, but what really hit home for me is the idea that asking for what you want is not a bad thing. I think we are afraid to ask/trained not to. “American exceptionalism” tells us that we should do it all ourselves, bootstraps, etc etc. But what if we made our goals known, showed clearly how we wanted to get there, and then asked for help?

Last year, my student Caroline did something I never would have done in high school. She had an audition for her fall band assignment and it didn’t go the way she wanted to. She was convinced that she could do better, that nerves got in the way of preparation. So she went to her band director and asked for a second chance. He said yes, and after re-audiitoning, she was told she’d made it into the next level band. I was so proud of her for knowing her ability and her power that I could barely contain myself. I think maybe I cried a little bit.

Years ago I was back in my hometown of San Diego having a beer with Sean Reusch, who taught me in high school and continues to be a friend and mentor to this day. I was going through some stuff, really discouraged by the music scene in Minnesota and feeling like no one saw me. I was ready to burn it all down and do something else, ANYTHING, where I didn’t feel like a ‘woman in music’, power- and gig-less. Sean acknowledged all my concerns and then said, “You deserve to play; you’ve done the work. Now you need to ask for what you want: an opportunity, an audition, a lesson, whatever. But you need to ask, you need to be available for it.”

When I got home I messaged a few ‘power players’ on the trombone scene and asked to get together for coffee or lessons or just to be considered on a gig list. I started my professional Facebook page and started marketing myself more as an educator and unconventional performer. It hasn’t all been up from there- and I wouldn’t say I feel like the biggest trombone success on the scene, but I’m happy with the opportunities and experiences I can now rely on getting regularly.

So for #womenshistorymonth my message to you is: Go out, find your people. Ask. Share. Give. Hold each other up. The new gig economy is all of us, creating  and sharing our humanity through art.

#WCW: Sitar Star Anoushka Shankar

Welcome to the first edition of #wcw (aka Woman Crush Wednesday) on my blog for Women’s History Month! I’m featuring  a musical artist every Wednesday who has inspired me and driven me to expand and develop my own art in new ways.

Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised by the first honoree. For the past month or so since discovering her music I have been absolutely immersed in it, listening to little else in favor of catching up on her back catalogue and live performances. So without further ado, please meet Anoushka Shankar!

Sitarist Anoushka Shankar performs at blueFROG Amphitheatre, in Pune on Friday. PTI Photo

You may recognize the family name, and the instrument: she is indeed the daughter of famous sitarist Ravi Shankar, who came to fame in the Western music scene through the influence of the Beatles in the 60s. Anoushka was born in London in 1981 and grew up between London, Delhi, and California. Her half-sister, Norah Jones, is also a musician.

[When I say “Woman Crush Wednesday” I really mean it here: Anoushka and I are the same age, and we both went to high school in San Diego, which means WE TOTALLY COULD HAVE BEEN FRIENDS AHHHH]

She began studying sitar with her father as teacher at age 7, and grew up performing with him on stage. By 17 she had released her first album, Anoushka, and others quickly followed. She became the first woman and the youngest-ever nominee for a Grammy in World Music in 2003.

In her recent career, Anoushka has blazed a trail through modern music, combining jazz, Western classical, flamenco, electronica, and pop with her Indian classical training. She frequently performs her father’s works as well as her own.

Right this minute, you should make some time to listen to her 2013 album, Traveller. 

Combining Indian classical traditions with Spanish flamenco, Traveller is built around the idea that flamenco may have had origins in India.

“In Indian music, we call it ‘spirituality,’ and in Spanish music, it’s ‘passion,'” Shankar says. “It’s really the same thing in both forms, that reaching at the deepest part of the human soul.” -Interview for the LA Times, April 21, 2012

I’ve been most captivated by her newest work, Land of Gold, dedicated to the victims and survivors of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and refugees from other embattled nations. Central to the compositions are women’s voices:

Separate from my desire to have an established core sound at the musical heart of this album, thematically, I wanted to integrate the authority of the female voice, and the drive for women to establish personal autonomy and dignity in situations where the female perspective is often, sometimes forcibly, subdued.  –Land of Gold album notes

Guest artists on the album include hip-hop artist M.I.A and actress & activist Vanessa Redgrave reading the poetry of Pavana Reddy.

Favorite tracks: Crossing the Rubicon, Remain the Sea]

More than anything what has drawn me to Anoushka Shankar in recent weeks is the pure passion and creativity with which she approaches her work. She sits comfortably on stage, brings her in collaborators with smiles and moments of shared groove, and invites the audience to feel the music with her- it is art and love and joy.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

[Shankar is touring the US this month & next: find her at the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee, playing Philip Glass with the Pacific Symphony in California and at Carnegie Hall in NY]

Women’s History Month 2018

Women are always making history, of course, but we get official about it in March. Next Thursday, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Originally observed by suffragettes in the United States and factory workers in Russia, IWD now convenes internationally to celebrate the cultural, political, social, and economic achievements of women worldwide.

On the blog this month I’ll be celebrating musical women; highlighting not just brass and classical players but a wide variety of ladies making strides in the music world. Over on Facebook you can find a link to the Women Composers Database, a resource for finding your next performance piece. On Wednesdays we’ll celebrate #wcw – that’s ‘woman crush wednesday’ for you non-hashtag-hip folks- by showcasing a woman in music who’s really inspiring us. I’ve got a great one for this week and I can’t wait to share her music with you.

And Fridays are challenge days. Watch my Facebook page for a prompt from me asking you to share something or seek out some knowledge and report back. Let’s all grow our knowledge of women in the music industry and help promote their visibility!

Happy Women’s History Month!

Black History Month Roundup

Here on the blog and over at my Facebook page, it’s been great fun exploring the dynamic and depth of music from African and its diaspora. As a roundup, today’s blog is a master post of all the things I’ve shared and you’ve shared with me!

On the blog

February- Black History Month 

A discussion about whether or not Justin Timberlake can adequately play homage to Prince, a man with whom he had a noted feud.

Black History Month: Getting Ready for Black Panther

Representation and music inspired by Black Panther- the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack; Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and current politics.

Black History Month: African Inspiration

Covering the score & soundtrack to Black Panther, and where the composer,  Ludwig Göransson, got his inspiration.

On Facebook

Thread– Your favorite musical artists of African heritage. Some shares:

Re: Donald Glover

Resources & Challenges:

Jazz & Its Feminist Future

Test Your Implicit Bias

What’s Your Magic? 

Coming in March: Women’s History Month!

Getting geared up to celebrate women in music (and in all things) in March. Stay tuned!


Black History Month: African Inspiration

Well, did you see it? Did you catch Black Panther on opening weekend?

I saw it on Saturday and I was blown away. By everything- the plot and the rich, human characters, the costumes, the scenery, the fights, the MUSIC, the message of hope and redemption. It was so tasty. I will see it again!

Last week I introduced you to Kendrick Lamar’s commercial soundtrack album for the film. Going in, I was really curious as to how the film score would draw from African sources. I knew the costumes were taken from various cultures, but I hadn’t heard much about the scoring.  Enter Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer who has worked with BP director Ryan Coogler before, as well as co-produced Childish Gambino albums with Donald Glover. He spent a month in Africa, soaking up as much as he could.

He tells Variety:

“I came back with a totally different idea of music, a different knowledge. The music that I discovered was so unique and special. [The challenge was] how do I use that as the foundation of the entire score, but with an orchestra and modern production techniques — infuse it in a way that it doesn’t lose its African authenticity?”

The result was a repertoire of leitmotifs and sounds from the music of Senegal that infuse the film with deeper, intrinsic meaning.

For T’Challa, Göransson used 6 talking drums (“tamas”- held under the arm and squeezed while hit to breathe and change tone) to signify the young king’s character and journey. His challengers for the throne matched the intensity with the sabar, a drum played between the legs.

You’ll also hear choirs singing in Xhosa, a Bantu language of South Africa, as well as the Senegalese artist Babaa Maal featured as Wakanda is revealed in the film.

The main antagonist of the film, Erik Killmonger, was represented musically by the fula flute, which Göransson describes as ‘sad but also aggressive, energetic and impulsive.’

Other instruments used include the kora harp and the vuvuzuela (which you’ll remember as the buzzing noisemaker we heard at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa).

Did you catch any other African-inspired sounds in Black Panther? How did you feel the film blended all its source material into the final product? Tell me in the comments!

Black History Month: Getting Ready for Black Panther

There’s a lot of things to get hyped up about this February, what with the Winter Olympics, a Tesla Roadster headed off toward Mars, and Mardi Gras celebrations throughout the world, but few things have been as fervently anticipated as the premiere of the newest Marvel superhero film, Black Panther.

There’s so much excellence going into this film that I am incredibly excited to see it.  I can only begin to get a glimmer of how much this must mean to the Black community. On top of a whole cast of POC in featured roles, beautiful cinematography that properly lights all the skin tones of its actors (for the startling history on why this is an issue, start here), and celebrating a vibrant, joyful, enlightened culture in an (albeit fictional) African nation, we get a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar highlighting established and up-and-coming black hip hop and R&B artists.

In the official trailer, we hear snippets of the famous Gil Scott-Heron 1971 track “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised“, a seminal call to arms to participate, to pay attention, to do thing that needs to be done NOW. In the context of the Black Panther trailer, I hear it as a call-out to all the times media and culture have said to the disenfranchised, ‘not now, we’re not ready for that, let’s take some time to think about this from all sides’. But the BP movie is not waiting any longer. It’s about time Marvel featured a black superhero that was more than a sidekick or side character. It’s about time they weren’t the only one in the film, but existed in a backdrop of their own vibrant, colorful environment.

There are plenty of haters out there, trying childish things to diminish the importance of this kind of representation. But that what isn’t diminished? The fact that the movie is outselling everything in pre-sale tickets, smashing records for opening day weekend before it even starts.

You might say, it’s just a superhero movie- it doesn’t solve the problems of our real world – but you’d be wrong. Representation matters. Seeing yourself represented in media means you start to think of yourself as powerful, important, valued, and most importantly, SEEN. Confidence comes with a voice, and voices speak up. The revolution will not be televised, brother. The revolution will be live.

Do you have your tickets? What about Black Panther excites you the most? 

February- Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, this blog and my other social media spaces will be sharing thoughts, performances, and resources  from and about Black artists. There’s an incredible amount of music in the world created by Black performers and composers, and one month can’t do it justice, but we are going to try! Hopefully the things we explore here together will lead to lifelong conversations and celebrations of the things we discover.

There’s a thread running on my Facebook page asking you to share your favorite artists of African heritage. Join in the discussion and come away with a new favorite!

Meantime, what did you think of Justin Timberlake’s tribute to Prince at the Super Bowl? Tasteful? Boring? Great? An assault on the Purple One’s legacy? In an opinion piece that argues the latter, Dante A Ciampaglia notes that Prince, hyper-viligiant of the use of his music and his image, would have be horrified to be remembered so. It brings up questions of what we allow ourselves when a beloved artist passes away, what they give up in order for us to memorialize them. Paisley Park is now a glorified theme attraction, Prince’s music is released on all the streaming services, and his image and reputation are being used to bring prestige and financial gain to artists and locations throughout the country. There are, of course, upsides to this for the average fan, but do you think we are managing Prince’s legacy correctly? Or are we selling him out? Does a white, privileged musician like JT, whose own career has been driven by the  appropriation of black music and musicians, deserve the honor?

Seeking: Higher Ed Applied Teachers & HS Band Directors for Collaboration

I am looking to connect with educators in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota/Wisconsin/Dakotas/Iowa) who would like to help me beta-test my new series of clinics and master classes. Specifically, I want to speak with applied teachers of low brass instruments and high school band directors whose students might be interested in holistic technique, fresh ideas for the music business, and social justice music education. I can offer up to a two hour clinic visit, plus additional individual lessons held on the same day if desired, for up to three schools.

More information about the clinics and booking for the 1819AY will be available in Summer 2018!

If you or someone you know might be interested, please get in touch with me by leaving a comment here with information on how to contact you, or send me a message through Facebook.


January Topic Article: Why Music Matters

This month I’m thinking and writing on #whyImakemusic, and on Wednesdays I want to share articles and resources that have gotten me thinking about why music matters to me and how I can better share my vision with the community.

A recent article in the Atlantic highlighted how jazz musicians communicate through improvisation, unsurprisingly using the parts of their brains dedicated to speech and syntax. On top of that- music has no discernible semantic meaning the way that speech does, because it means something different to each listener. When two musicians are improvising back and forth, they are talking- but they’re sharing more than just words.

From the article:

“If the brain evolved for the purpose of speech, it’s odd that it evolved to a capacity way beyond speech,” Limb said. “So a brain that evolved to handle musical communication—there has to be a relationship between the two. I have reason to suspect that the auditory brain may have been designed to hear music and speech is a happy byproduct.”

So in a sense- why I make music, why you make music, why most cultures have developed musical systems, has more to do with communicating beyond our normal language abilities than just developing something pleasant to listen to. And whether you make music or simply curate a listening library of your own, you engage in musical activity that fires up an important center of your humanity.

I make music…because music makes me human.