We are so excited to present Lessie Vonner as our first Five Things Friday guest Brass Chick blogger!
A Grand Prairie native, Lessie Vonner’s love of music began at a young age when she picked up the trumpet at eleven. Lessie’s passion encouraged her to pursue a music education at the renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. While in high school, Lessie started her first quintet that had the honor of being the opening act for jazz violinist Diane Monroe at the Black Academy of Arts and Letters.
With aspirations to pursue a career in the music industry primarily as a professional trumpeter, composer, and educator, Lessie chose to continue her education at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. Since arriving to New York, she has had the privilege of studying under many outstanding and experienced musicians, some of which including Cecil Bridgewater, Charles Tolliver, Jimmy Owens, Tanya Darby, Ingrid Jensen, Reggie Workman, and Bobby Sanabria. Along with her studies, she has also gained some teaching experience as a private instructor for the Jazz Big Band’s trumpet section at Frank Sinatra High School for the Arts in Queens during her first years of college. She currently teaches at Upbeat NYC, a local non-profit that uses the pursuit of musical excellence and ensemble performance to bring about positive change in the lives of South Bronx children.
Presently she performs in many venues throughout New York City and has performed at other music scenes across the world. She also performs in numerous groups around the city, and Lessie has worked with many artists such as Beyoncé, the BET Black Girls Rock All Star Band, Jessica Care Moore, the Tokyo Jazz Orchestra, Kathy Sledge, Space Captain, and many more.
Thanks to Lessie for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks Community! Check out her post:
Congrats, you’ve just graduated from music school! That in itself can be a difficult task, and now you have to prepare for an even harder one – getting into the music industry. Now, if you had the opportunity to study in a city such as NYC, hopefully you’ve already started making the steps towards integrating yourself into whatever scene you want and already have an idea of what to expect on your journey. But if (for whatever reason) you haven’t, there are several things that might be good to know going in. Here’s a quick overview of some things I have come to learn over the years on my own journey in the jazz and contemporary music scenes.
1. You Aren’t Owed Anything Just Because You Went To Music School
I know, I know – this can be a difficult thing to hear. You’ve spent all this time and money – maybe even took out a second mortgage – to get your degree. Now after all that, you realize that this sheet of paper doesn’t guarantee you gigs? For some, it can be a tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t make it any less true. Don’t get me wrong, graduating from college will always be a good look – it shows that you got some level of commitment for your craft. But at the end of the day, people don’t really care about what degree you have or where you went to school. What they do care about are things such as if you’re a good player, how well you can execute the music, how well you work with others, etc. Which brings me to my next point:
2. You Have to Be Able To Do Your Job
It seems to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how rare it is to find musicians who do their jobs in their entirety. If you get hired, it’s safe to say your can play the music. But will you have put in the time and effort to know the music inside and out? Will you show up to the hit on time and maybe even (god forbid) early? Can you act professional and get along with anybody while you’re on the gig? Can you do the very thing the band leader/conductor/MD hired you to do? What’s the use in being able to play a thousand licks over hundreds of chord progressions if you can’t play the five notes exactly where they want to hear them? In this industry, there are literally thousands of people who can do what you do, and being able to do your job in the fullest will make you stick out. I’ve learned that anybody can get the call for a gig – not everybody will get the callback.
3. There Are Politics All Throughout the Scene
Politics, racism, sexism, bias – you name it, I can guarantee it happens. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how great of a musician you are or how professional you are – there will be spaces that will not welcome you no matter what you do. As a Black female trumpet player, this is one of the hardest things that I’ve had to come to terms with. My saving grace has been finding my community. The people who are always in my corner and will always look out for me. Finding your community can be one of the most important things you can do when getting into a scene. Once you do so, you can begin to create your own spaces and scenes. Never underestimate how far a good support system can take you, and NEVER forget to give support to others!
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Branch Out Musically
One of the things I wish people would let go of is the notion that you should only stay in one genre of music. I mean, if you only want to do one thing, then godspeed, you do that thing to the best of your ability. However, if you like several different genres, why not branch out? Some of the best musicians that everybody loves have had their hands in several different music pots (insert Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, and Queen Latifah here). I was the type of girl who studied and played jazz music all day and night, and would then come home and turn up to some good ole R&B, Funk, and Hip-Hop. For the longest, I allowed myself to be influenced to think that if played anything other than jazz, I wouldn’t be respecting the music or I’d be “selling out.” However, once I opened myself up to the idea that it was ok to play music outside of jazz, I couldn’t believe the opportunities that opened up to me. Not only was I able to work more, but I’ve been able to come across so many beautiful people who I can add to my network. I find that it has also served to broaden my creativity. The world of music is so broad – why limit yourself?
5. Stay In Your Lane
It can be easy to compare yourself to others, especially in the NYC music scene. You have such a melting pot of musicians of all ages, backgrounds, and levels, and it all can be a little overwhelming at times. You may notice that so and so may be gigging more than you or certain things seem to come easier to others than it does to you. Though it may be hard, you can’t focus on what other people are doing/saying. You owe it to yourself to know what your goals are, and to actively work towards them. Trust the process – if you know that you are truly doing everything in your power to reach your goals, know that you will eventually reach them, no matter the time it takes. Understand that there will be ups and downs in this line of work and that we’re all going through it, no matter how it seems. Stay in your lane, and keep your eyes on the prize!