Interview with Audrey Flores: Horn Player in NYC

Professional HeadshotAudrey Flores is a freelancing horn player in New York City. She attended the Juilliard School and the Mannes College of Music, and regularly plays in Broadway productions and with orchestras in the tri-state area. Formerly Principal Horn of both the Allentown Symphony and Symphony in C in Camden, NJ, Audrey has also played with the New World Symphony, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, the Miami Symphony Orchestra, the New Jersey Festival Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Mariinsky Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble. She was a musician in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Orchestra in 2011 and 2012, and in the New York Spectacular in the summer of 2016. She released her first solo album in June of 2017.

Audrey also enjoys a full teaching schedule in addition to pursuing a varied career. She is a Teaching Artist for Midori and Friends, an organization in New York City that works in tandem with the Department of Education to supplement and provide music instruction for public school students. She taught beginning and intermediate brass at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Palestine in 2006, and coached chamber music for the Juilliard Pre-College Program in 2005. She specializes in teaching beginning brass students.

When she isn’t working, Audrey enjoys cooking, swimming, traveling, and being home with her family. She is married to Steven Behnke, a horn player whom she met in New York Youth Symphony. They have a two-year-old son and a baby daughter. They also have a perfect rescue pug named Rocky!


Interview

You have a considerable web presence in the form of your Facebook Live series “Musicians of Now” and your blog. We really admire your blog’s honesty and candid tone, writing about many aspects of being a musician that are often not discussed. How did you choose the topics you wrote about? Why did you start the Facebook live series?  

I’m glad you (editor’s note – Kate Amrine) were one of the first guests on the series!  I actually got the idea to start doing this from an NPR series I was listening to in passing.  It focused on the stories of corporations that started from nothing, went through some tough times, and ended up being wildly successful.  I realized that I was uncomfortable listening to it, and it’s because of the simple reason that while we were hearing about these big companies, there were many others who made better product that didn’t have the big money number to hook any outside interest.  There are many companies with similar stories that we’ll never hear about, and they might be great people, and have great stories, but because they haven’t hit the traditional mark of success, no one will care about their plight. Continue reading

Five Subtle Sexist Things You’ll Encounter in Your Career (and how to address them)

Lauren Husting, trombone, is a low brass teaching artist working in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. She performs on tenor trombone with the jazz-infused Scottish/Irish traditional band Brass Lassie, plays bass trombone with the Adam Meckler Orchestra, and is a freelancer in all genres from classical and chamber to jazz, pop, and contemporary. Adjunct faculty at Hamline University in St Paul, Lauren also manages an active studio of learners ranging from beginner to advanced, middle school to adult, and works to provide private lesson opportunities for low-income students in her region. She is committed to building community among women in the local and regional music scene, and encouraging all her students to develop healthy and creative ways to make music in their lives.

Lauren received her Masters in Trombone Performance from the University of North Texas in 2007, and her Bachelors in Trombone Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2003. She can be found online at laurenhusting.com and is on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Thanks Lauren for sharing this post with us!


I’ve talked to very few women musicians in my life who claim to have never experienced bias or sexism while at work or in training. Most of us, at some point, will be on the receiving end of chauvinistic behaviors ranging the gamut from subtle to severe. In many cases it may just be a person unaccustomed to speaking to professional women, or an older colleague with a slightly outdated mindset who doesn’t really mean any harm. But even the smallest offenses can be exhausting and discouraging for us.

There are ways to fight back, if you can recognize the symptoms. Here are five categories of bias that I’ve encountered in my career, and ways in which I’ve managed the situation. In no way is this an exhaustive list; let’s keep the conversation going!

 

  1. Patronizing comments/disbelief in your competence AKA “You play pretty good for a girl”

The classic. Someone just can’t seem to get over the fact that you play well, and they want to know exactly how you got your skill. It might be just an offhand comment or an awkward way to start a conversation with you, but sometimes it can manifest as utter disbelief in your ability. When that happens, it can feel pretty insidious and disconcerting. Sometimes it feels like they don’t think you actually understand how you got there yourself, or that it’s all luck or talent.  I’ve usually answered with responses that are a variation on “here are my credentials” (and sometimes with a snarky “Well, I’ve got lungs and arms and a pair of ears, so…”). The best way to fight it is with action: continue to play your best, speak your opinion, and act professionally. Continue reading

Five Lessons from my Embouchure Change

This week’s Five Things Friday post comes to us from trumpet player and recent high school graduate, Katherine Idleman. Katherine recently decided to undertake an embouchure change, and has chosen to share what that transition has taught her. Thanks to Katherine for writing!

Katherine's HeadshotKatherine Idleman is 18 years old and will be majoring in music education at Bucknell University this fall. She plans to join the many ensembles at Bucknell and hopes to become a band director for a middle and/or high school. She has played trumpet for 8 years and is learning trombone, clarinet, and saxophone as well. Katherine was a member of the Intermediate Wind Symphony and Jazz Band at Interlochen Arts Camp
in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, she was a member of the World Youth Wind Symphony and trumpet institute at Interlochen. Katherine was chosen to conduct the famous Interlochen Theme. This summer, she is going to be a camp counselor at Interlochen. She was also a member of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra for two years. She became a member of MYSO’s flagship orchestra, the Senior Symphony, her second year. She was a member of her high school’s concert, jazz and pep band and conducted her high school band for a band arrangement of the Finale
from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at her last concert. She is an avid advocate for music education and currently volunteers her time raising money for and teaching music at the Albert E. Kagel school in Milwaukee, shadowing band directors throughout Wisconsin and playing for churches in her community.


“You need to change your embouchure:” These are words no brass player ever wants to hear. I had gotten used to hearing it, though, and it made me upset every time. I knew that changing my embouchure meant I was going to sound like a beginner again but I could never find a convenient time to take a few weeks up to many months to go through this process. However, one day I told myself, you know what, it’s either now or never, and I am so glad I did. Continue reading

Interview with Sarah Belle Reid

Sarah Belle Reid is a Canadian performer-composer, active in the fields of electroacoustic trumpet performance, intermedia arts, music technology, and improvisation. She is a co-developer of the Minimally Invasive Gesture Sensing Interface (MIGSI) for trumpet: an open-source, wireless interface that captures performance data and provides real-time extended sonic and visual control for improvisation. Reid has presented and performed with MIGSI at institutions and festivals around the world including Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), the International Conference of New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME 2015: Brisbane, Australia), New Media Art & Sound Summit (NMASS 2017: Austin, TX), University of Oregon, UT Austin, and UC Irvine’s Women in Music Technology Symposium (2016), among others. Reid received a Bachelor of Music in trumpet performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, where she is currently on faculty teaching music technology (Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence, and Design), and music theory.


1.You have so many interesting projects, from composing, interactive media works, teaching, and your own performing. How do you keep track of everything and decide where to focus your attention?

I’m the type of person who always has a lot of different projects on the go. Over the last 6 years or so my practice has evolved from being exclusively focused on the trumpet to something that is much more interdisciplinary in nature: working with technology, incorporating different media, and exploring ways of presenting and interacting with sound-based performance that fall beyond  a typical recital hall or concert setting. I find that working this way—merging music and sound art with electrical engineering, computer programming, and some elements of theatre or performance art—truly enriches my creative output and feels most genuinely like me.

I guess what I’m saying is that I always have a lot of projects on the go because I am constantly inspired by things I don’t fully understand. That leads me to study and learn about something new, which then inspires me to create something with those new tools or skills. And from there it’s a very fortunate snowball effect—if you’re open to new directions and collaborations, you’ll always be busy!

Of course, there’s always a balance that needs to be struck, as time and energy are limited resources. One on hand, learning new skills and tools can enrich your creative practice and open new doors, but on the other hand, it’s necessary to focus your practice in order to develop your craft. The way I try to handle this is by checking in regularly on my priorities and goals as an artist (and as a human). Is this project really fulfilling to me? Is it distracting from other goals I have? It’s important to ask yourself these questions and to really try to trust yourself. What makes you happy? This is a very different question from, “What do others think I should be doing?”

Beyond this, I make a lot of to-do lists, and schedule my time meticulously. I’ve learned that if I don’t protect my practice time and studio time, it’ll get buried beneath a hundred other obligations, so I carve out time in my calendar every morning to make sure it happens. One approach that has been particularly helpful to me over the past year is time blocking. This is where you block out time in your calendar for particular areas of focus, rather than specific tasks (e.g. you might block out an hour each day to business-type tasks such as answering emails or updating your website, or you might block out a few hours each Saturday to dedicate to composing.) Then, separate from these time blocks, you maintain a detailed list of all the individual tasks that fall into these categories and you pull one out at a time to focus on for that time block. This approach helps me stay focused and know that I’m constantly taking small but steady steps toward my goals.

 

2. How did you get started writing music for yourself and others? Do you have anything coming up in the near future?

I started writing music for myself and others around the same time I started to get interested in working with technology. At the beginning, I felt intimidated by the word ‘Composer’ because I had no formal compositional training, and a lot of the work I was creating used systems, instruments, or modes of interaction that didn’t really fit into traditional Western notation. I resisted calling myself a composer for a couple of years (even though I was regularly creating work for myself and others to perform) because I felt like people wouldn’t take me seriously. I eventually decided that I wanted the same opportunities as people who called themselves ‘composers’ and wasn’t going to let a silly word get in the way of my goals. Sometimes you just have to jump in!

One of the first large works I created after this point was called Disonillum. The piece is a multimedia installation inspired by memory imprints, which incorporated hand-drawn graphic scores printed onto three-dimensional acrylic objects. The performance of the work took place over the course of a week, with one performer entering the space to interpret the scores each day. As they played, their sound was recorded and sent into a long term degenerative audio process. One by one the performances would be added into the room, layering on top of each other and gradually degrading until almost unrecognizable.

I recently premiered a new concert-length work for augmented trumpet, modular synthesizer, and large metal objects called Timepiece. The metal objects are suspended throughout the performance space and are each outfitted with a contact microphone and surface transducer, transforming them into resonant feedback instruments. The trumpet I play has a custom hardware interface called MIGSI attached to it that I have been developing for the last few years. Using a number of different sensors, MIGSI captures gestural information from me and my trumpet as I play, and sends that data to a computer as control information. In Timepiece, data collected from MIGSI is used to control and interact with a Serge modular synthesizer.

The next performance I have coming up is a 45-minute solo set on trumpet with MIGSI as part of Moogfest (in Durham, North Carolina) on May 17th. I’ll also be leading two workshops on building interactive systems and performing with electronics throughout the weekend.

 

3. Tell us about your work on Patreon. How does that influence your process in terms of output of music, posting on social media, and more? Why did you decide to move to this platform and what do you hope to achieve from it?

Patreon is an online membership platform that makes it possible for people to support their favorite artists and creators. It’s a lot like a subscription to Netflix or a magazine: for example, if you like my music and the work I’m creating, you can become a patron by making a monthly pledge of $1 or more. In return, you can receive exclusive content, early access to releases, behind the scenes footage, mentorship, or other perks like free downloads and discounts. For independent artists such as myself, this platform makes it possible to grow and connect with your audience in a really meaningful way that might not otherwise be possible.

About a year ago I launched a patron-only collaborative project called The Postcard Project, in which I compose graphic scores on the backs of postcards and mail them to my patrons all around the world. They perform the piece in whatever way makes sense to them, and then create their own graphic score for me and mail it back, which I perform, and so on. It has been inspiring to see this project grow to over 20 collaborators spanning multiple countries, with more continuing to join in!

Even though my Patreon community is still relatively young, the motivation and support I have received from my patrons has been life changing. The monthly pledges I receive make it possible for new projects to come together (such as Timepiece and recent MIGSI developments) that would otherwise never be possible without external funding. It also means I can focus more time and energy on actually creating work and less on project-specific fundraising, pushing merch sales, and so on. I’ve been more productive than ever this past year and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I feel like I have a cheering squad behind me every single day!

 

 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?

As a woman who plays trumpet and works with technology, I am regularly at the receiving end of comments that downplay my accomplishments or question my expertise. Many of these come from more or less well-intentioned audience members who don’t realize that comments about someone’s body (“how can such a small girl produce so much air?”); gender (“I never knew a woman could make noise music”); or technical ability (my personal favorite: “who coded/built/set all of this up for you?”) are draining, offensive, and damaging to self-confidence. Unfortunately these biases exist within our community as well. I was recently hired to play in an all-women band for a high-profile artist. Upon sharing the exciting news, I was told by a male colleague that it could have been a success for my career, had there been men in the band too—as though the presence of men would somehow legitimize the job and my position within it.

I know I’m not alone in facing these types of issues, and regrettably, I see many of my students grappling with very similar challenges. While we have certainly have made progress toward equality in this field, there is yet work to be done. As an artist and teacher, one of my main goals is to create a space where students feel excited and empowered to explore new things, whether that’s learning new repertoire, programs, tools, or creative interests. I think it’s important to recognize that we all have the capacity to be role models for the next generation of musicians and creators. We all have the capacity to promote confidence, hard work, and self worth in our students, and to foster an educational environment that is rigorous while being supportive and inclusive.

 

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 female musicians?

I think one of the most important insights I’ve gained over the years is that it’s okay to be different (in fact, it’s good to be different). I struggled as a student because although I loved playing the trumpet, I felt disconnected from the repertoire I was studying. At the time I didn’t feel confident enough to admit that I didn’t love every aspect of what I was studying, so I pushed myself to keep going. I didn’t recognize this at the time, but I became unnecessarily stifled and nervous as a result. My performance suffered as a result, and my progress on the instrument plateaued. But when I started to improvise, build my own instruments, and integrate elements of theatre into my work, I immediately felt as though I had found my voice as an artist. I remember the first time I stood in front of an audience performing a work that truly spoke to me. I had been playing trumpet for my whole life, but it felt like my first honest performance—I never looked back.

At the end of the day, here’s the most important point: Find that thing that makes you feel utterly and completely fulfilled, and own it. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not important, not marketable, not serious enough, or any of that nonsense. Just be you. It takes a huge amount of work, dedication, and perseverance, but if you’re focused and inspired, you can do it. People will notice your passion, and they’ll listen.

 

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

I learned about time blocking from Suz at Rock/Star Advocate, who is a wonderful resource for musical entrepreneurs and freelancers.

For anyone who’s interested in getting into technology:

Five Ways to Make your Emails More Effective

Monica Benson is freelance trumpet player and music educator in the Chicagoland area. Her enthusiasm and experience ranges from classical to contemporary, from rock and indie to pop music, and the occasional musical. Known for her professional work in the Chicago area, Monica has performed with multiple ensembles and bands from all over including the Brass Band of Battle Creek, The Illinois Brass Band, all-female 60s pop cover band The Bangers, and indie band The Generationals. During the summer months Monica can be found at The Arlington International Racecourse, playing the “Call To Post” as the official Arlington Bugler. Along with an active freelance career, Monica also teaches in the DePaul Community Music School’s Chicago Public Schools outreach program during the school year and the Sistema Ravinia program during the summer. Monica is currently working on her Master’s degree in Music at DePaul University.

I know an article about emailing can seem about as exciting as an article about office plants, but trust me when I say being a good communicator will help you get and keep gigs. Do I have your attention now? Whether you think you are or not, you are a business. Part of your business as a musician is being in contact with others who could potentially hire you. As much as musicians would like to think their lives are “all about the music,” wouldn’t it be nice if the music made you some money? As a student and freelance trumpet player in the Chicago area I have learned many things about corresponding with different groups and venues as both a musician and contractor. Below, I have compiled five things that have helped make my emails more effective and, in turn, helped me get and keep gigs. Happy emailing everyone!

1. Respond in a timely manner.

This is probably the easiest, and most fixable, thing you can do to increase your professionalism with regards to email. In this day and age, there is really no reason why it should take more than 24 hours to respond to an email. The old “so sorry my week got away from me” or “this email slipped by me on accident” is not such a valid excuse anymore. If you have never used an excuse like this to save face after a late email response, you are either: 1. Lying to yourself or 2. A magical being that exists only in folklore and on carefully curated Instagram pages. With email at our fingertips 24/7, it is easier than ever to keep up with electronic correspondence. Of course, we have all had weeks where email is the last thing on our minds (we are musicians after all). If it is not possible to respond with a valid or thoughtful response within the 24-hour time frame, send the recipient an email stating that you received their email and need to gather more information before properly answering their question. This way, the person knows you have at least received their email and are actively working on a response for them. However, it is important to consider that your timeliness could be the difference between getting the gig or the gig passing you by.

From a contractor’s perspective, musicians who are good communicators are hidden gems.  At the racetrack where I work during the summer, I am often in charge of hiring other musicians. Communication with the people I hire is key. If someone is difficult to communicate with I will most likely not hire them again. The piece of mind that is created when you are working with someone who is professional and prompt is far more important than having the best player. Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship has to be there too, but I would rather hire a good communicator than a musical prodigy. Gigs can be stressful, and to be worried about whether or not your musicians will be on time or be able to find the gig just adds unnecessary anxiety.

 

2. Establish all pertinent information in the first correspondence.

Recently, I received an email that read like this: “Monica, are you interested and/or available to play the (name of concert) on (date) at (venue). I have 10 pieces.” Notice anything that’s missing? I can’t tell you how many emails like this I have received. Emails like this are incredibly frustrating for most musicians because of the lack of information. In the above email there is no information regarding time, rehearsals, pay, or personnel. This made it impossible for me to give a definitive yes or no to this gig right away. By not including all the information in the first email, an extended back and forth correspondence was created just to determine the details of the gig itself. Not to mention, after finally getting all the information deciding if I was available for the gig. Listing all the logistical information in the first email is key when hiring musicians for an engagement. If all the information is presented up front, it makes for a quicker response time from both parties and streamlines the hiring process.

3. Don’t be an askhole.

Although having all the information is a very important part of determining the success of a gig, there is a right and wrong way to gather information from a contractor. For example, say you are unclear about what the dress is for the gig. You thought it was concert black but have a nagging feeling it’s black pants/white shirt. Before shooting an email to the contractor, look back through previous correspondence. This question could have been addressed in a previous email. If the question is still unanswered, check the email recipients to see if you recognize a colleague’s name. It is possible to ask your colleague if they have any info that will help answer your question. If you still strike out on this front, compile all unanswered questions you have into one email and send it to the contractor. It is not ideal to ask a question about something that has already been discussed in a previous discussion, whether in person or via email. This makes you seem disorganized and unprofessional. Contractors are typically very busy people, so the less you need from them, the easier you make their job. The amount of info you will need to feel comfortable on a gig will vary from gig to gig. Some contractors send all the info right away, others will be like the above email. Be as proactive as possible about your role on the gig before including the contractor. You will be surprised how often we can answer our own questions. Some deductive reasoning and a little help from Google can go a long way.  

 

4. Be concise.

As mentioned above, contractors and musicians are busy and usually working on multiple projects at a time (such is the nature of the job). Very few people have the time or desire to read an email novel. There is a way to be concise without being rude. If you feel like you need to include paragraphs of niceties to make your voice via email less curt, don’t. A simple, “Thanks! Please let me know if you need any more information from me.”  is just as polite as a long-winded response. What most people don’t know is that people would rather read the shorter emails. When you think about the emails that take the longest to respond to, they are usually the ones that are on the longer side. It’s very easy to procrastinate on longer emails because it is more information to sift through. With gig information, try to include everything in the email or subject line instead of in an attachment. The fewer places a musician has to go to get the info they need the better. If everything is included in one email in one spot, it is much more efficient.

5. Be appreciative.

In regards to politeness via email, I end every email with a short “thank you” or “thanks.” This goes a long way. By including a thank you or a “please let me know if you need anything else from me” you seem flexible and easy to work with. Also, if someone is offering you a gig, thank them! They didn’t have to ask you for that gig, but they did, so it is perfectly acceptable to extend a word of thanks. Even if you are unable to take the gig that is offered to you thank them anyway. A simple “thank you for thinking of me, please keep me in mind for future opportunities” is the best way to help ensure future correspondence with that person.  Affecting an attitude of gratitude will not only make you stand out, but it will also make your career much more enjoyable. We are very lucky that we get the opportunity to play music for a living, either full time or part time, and the people who help provide us with opportunities to make music deserve our thanks.

Introducing Anna Garcia: The Newest Member of the Brass Chicks Team

Happy Wednesday fellow Brass Chicks! We are so excited to introduce our newest member of the Brass Chicks team:

Anna Garcia – trumpet player and software engineer

We are so excited to be able to work with Anna Garcia on redeveloping and fixing our website. As a fellow female brass player, Anna completely understands our mission and working with her was such a breeze. We can’t wait to do more with her in the future and thank you Anna SO MUCH for all of your help fixing our site so far. We are so happy to have you be our Women Crush Wednesday 🙂

While we haven’t done a formal interview with Anna yet, we are happy to share some clips from past interviews she has done in her transition from trumpet player to software engineer. Women in the tech field often face many challenges similar to women in the brass community so it was great to hear that Anna found and was accepted to the Grace Hopper Full Stack Academy – a software engineer bootcamp exclusively for women. Check out her profile on their site here. For more about Anna’s background in her transition and her current work situation, check out this great interview here.