Genghis Barbie Interview

Thank you to Genghis Barbie for this incredible interview! Their responses below are thoughtful and informative. We appreciate their sharing their wisdom and hope our readers can learn as much from them as we have.

1. What is it like being in “the leading post post-feminist feminist all-female horn experience?” Tell us about your experiences! How did you all get started?

Each Barbie had a unique musical journey that led us all to New York City. We all crossed paths whether at school, summer festivals, or freelancing. Eventually, the four original members converged at Freedom Barbie’s bachelorette party. I thought it was cool that four young women all essentially competing in the same music business were all good friends. I made a mental note, and months later, this idea popped into my head: I was in a rehearsal with Attila the Horn (Rachel), and I blurted out, “We need to have a horn quartet and play pop music!” It wasn’t long before we were setting up shows, making CD’s, and, most importantly, organizing photo shoots! (for a while we joked that we had done more photo shoots than performances…) From there it was a natural progression to where we are today. We’ve always striven to play music we love at the highest level, and have a great time playing and traveling together. -Velvet Barbie

2. What have you done as a group and individually to get to where you are today? Any secrets for success?

Obviously as individuals we have all put in countless hours of practice on the horn.  We all have a natural drive to make music as individuals and a group, so we all continue to keep ourselves at a level on the horn where we can fully express ourselves musically.  Each of our methods for doing that are different, but what it comes down to is finding your own daily routine. One of my former teachers, Chuck Kavalovsky, had his “Daily Dues,” which he passed down to me- things that I do everyday on the horn to keep me feeling good.  And I will say: always spend a little extra time on the things that you aren’t as good at!

The other part of our success in our individual careers and as a group is that we are all true to ourselves and what we want in our lives.  I think we all truly enjoy our careers as musicians, the type of work we do, and how it fits into our lives.  The same goes for us as a group.  We have always focused on things we wanted to do and then executed them together.  We made this group because we wanted an outlet to play music with friends and to be able to unleash some creativity and share our joy of performing together.  All of the recordings, traveling, and business partnerships have all been towards the goal of making the best music we can together and sharing the love of music we have with others.  -Attila the Horn

3. What do you love about being a female brass player?

Recently I spoke at a “Women in Music” symposium. A young student asked, “What are the advantages of being a female brass player?” First, I laughed, and said “None!” One thing I do appreciate about being a female brass player is, I suppose, that it is more accepted for us to be sensitive, emotional players (on the flip side, we are often unfairly judged for our perceived “aggressive” playing or behavior…). What I really love about being a “female brass player,” though, is really just being myself. Part of what makes Genghis Barbie such a fun group to be a part of is the fact that we are four very individualistic people who enjoy coming together into one unit. We each bring our own personality, strengths (and weaknesses!), artistic preferences and expressions, etc. Playing in any ensemble should be the same way, no matter how big or small. In a perfect world, one’s gender wouldn’t play a role in how we are viewed and heard, but in the struggle to that point, we should continue to recognize the imbalances and biases that currently exist in our field. -Velvet Barbie

4. Do you think we have a specific role or responsibility as female brass players? How do you incorporate that (or not) into your own life as a musician?

Being a female brass (especially horn) player is not uncommon anymore.  I was raised in an environment in which I was told that with hard work and perseverance, women can accomplish as much as men, if not more. For long as I can remember, I truly believed this, and still do.

I don’t know if I have a specific role or responsibility as a female brass player. I’d like to believe that I have a specific role and responsibility as a citizen of the world and as a professional in my workplace. I believe that relentless hard work, persistence, kindness, focus, integrity, open-mindedness, authenticity, patience, passion, and most of all positivity, are the drivers in my quest to feel fulfilled and to contribute my best to my group and my world. Man, woman, or anyone beyond the binary, I believe it is our responsibility to emphasize our energy towards strengthening these qualities in order to continue making strides towards genuine and rightful workplace equality.

It’s a shame that in 2017 we even have to discuss gender equality but I acknowledge our society and the business we work in still has a long journey ahead. In the New York Philharmonic, Orin O’Brein was the first woman to join the orchestra in 1966. Fast forward 51 years, and now the women outnumber the men. The numbers of women in the brass world are growing each year. The future is where it’s at. -Freedom Barbie


5. Is there anything you wished you had known as a student or young professional that you know now? Any advice that you’d like to share with younger musicians?

Music matters! The greatest horn players were and are artists in addition to expert instrumentalists. Being a great technician, especially on an instrument like horn that has such a rich, distinctive tone, can only take you so far, whether in an audition or any performance. I spent way too much time as a student focusing on accuracy (i.e. not missing notes) and using that as the only criteria when evaluating the success of my performances. Now I see things in term of the bigger picture: Am I deeply committed to musical intent in what I’m playing? Making my best sound possible? Trying to create a shared experience with my audience versus protecting my own ego by playing it safe? And since these have become my primary considerations, my accuracy and fluency on the horn have actually increased. It’s easier to be in a flow, and for natural, easy execution to occur when you get your focus off not making mistakes and play with a desire to be an expressive and effective communicator. And in the end, beautiful, compelling music counts for a lot more in the minds of audiences and audition panels than a few missed notes!

DON’T WAIT to take chances or put yourself “out there” until you think you are ready! I am so grateful to my teachers and classmates who encouraged me to just go for it, be it an audition or a solo competition, and not worry about whether I was in the perfect place to suceed 100%. I started taking professional auditions while still in undergrad because I knew I wanted a career as an orchestral musician. I definitely wasn’t qualified for those first few jobs I auditioned for, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of them for anything! When it really counted, I had lots of previous experiences and test runs under my belt by virtue of taking those, not to mention familiarity with the way auditions are run. And in my case, it took me 20+ professional auditions (with summer festival, grad school, concerto competition auditions NOT included) to “crack the code” and land my job. If I had waited until I thought any of those attempts was a sure thing, I would probably still never have taken any audition 😉 The one caveat is, be sure the repertoire you’re preparing is within your skill level to play solidly and correctly, and prepare like you mean it! Don’t do it by half-measures even if you think the job is a moonshot. Some day, it won’t be if you start taking tangible steps toward your goal now! -Cosmic Barbie


6. Any resources you recommend? Books, podcasts, recordings that changed your life etc.

  • Tonal Energy app – a metronome, tuner, drone generator, sound recorder, and tonal analyzer all in one! I use it every day.
  • Blow Your OWN Horn! by Fergus McWilliam of the Berlin Philharmonic. A collection of common sense yet fresh-feeling observations about the horn and pedagogy.
  • Shared Reflections – The Legacy of Philip Farkas, specifically the eponymous track “Shared Reflections for Four Horns” by Douglas Hill. I applied and ended up attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Doug on the basis of hearing that piece!
  • New York Philharmonic with Kurt Masur, playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad” – a live recording of a piece I played as an impressionable 15-year-old at summer camp.
  • Hilary Hahn playing the Barber Violin Concerto with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The first classical recording I remember being truly obsessed with!
    – Cosmic Barbie
  • Mastering the Horn’s Low Register by Randy Gardner – such well thought-out detail!
  • This youtube video of Eli Epstein talking about vowel sounds and breathing. So much gold in here:
  • The Efficient Approach: Accelerated Development for the Horn by Richard Deane
  • Check out the Pathways podcast hosted by Adam Wolfe and produced by Siegfried’s Call. I might be biased, since I was a recent guest…! 😉
    – Velvet Barbie

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