Interview with Sara McDonald

Sara McDonald is a vocalist/composer living in Brooklyn New York. She recently graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music with a degree in vocal jazz. Soon after graduation she went on to perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and then headed to Germany to record this big band record. In February she was named the winner of the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award.


1.Tell us about your band the NYChillharmonic and what you have coming up!

The NYChillharmonic is a 22 piece progressive-indie-jazz ensemble that I write, arrange/sing for and lead. Our next show is on August 2nd at National Sawdust! Some international touring is happening this fall as well and our next album will be out in ten years. (Joking)

2. You were recently named one of Brooklyn Magazine’s 30 under 30. You have this unique position of being the face of the band as well as the composer and cattle wrangler of all 22 people in the band. How do you keep track of everything as well as manage it with everything else you do in NYC?

I’m a control freak, which works very well when running a massive group. I’m also very bad at delegating. I like to do everything myself even when I know it’s killing me. Over time I’ve had to learn how to pace myself. Running a large band while maintaining other projects and working a fulltime job requires a lot of planning. When I first created this ensemble it was sort of a fun, sloppy mess. But the project grew and the level of musicianship rose, and I knew that I needed to treat the music and the musicians playing it with equal respect. I keep detailed lists of everything I need to do, and I stay in touch with people. With so many moving parts involved in my work, I have to keep tabs on everyone and everything involved. Also, over time, a natural order and flow sort of come into place. But I really do spend a lot of time sending emails and making phone calls.

3. How do you face the position of being a female brass player and a female band leader? Have you faced discrimination or difficulties in either of these roles, and how do you deal with it?

Fortunately I have never truly felt discriminated against in a professional setting because of who I am or what I play. People (men) make comments, jokingly and ignorantly. I was a vocal major in college but I’m also proficient on french horn and piano. Plus I write and arrange for ensembles of many shapes and sizes. So when someone questions my ability to actually play another instrument I just set them straight. This is NYC; anyone that manages to stick around and work for many years is probably good at more than one thing, or they’re just doing one thing a lot better than everyone else.

4. 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?

Forget about the doubts of others. Not everyone is going to understand your ideas the first time around and that is really ok. When I first began this project everyone was so quick to hit me with unsolicited advice. Granted some of it was completely legitimate – voicing chords better, learning easier-to-read notation tricks, etc. But a lot of it was and still is – “why does your band need to be this big?” Sometimes that still stings. Have those people not considered that I have put years of thought into this? But it’s not their fault. People see something they can’t immediately categorize and it frustrates them. I’m glad it’s the exact opposite for me. To summarize – if you have a clear idea of what you want to do – go for it. Don’t feel shy or embarrassed about it, and definitely do not half ass it.

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

Listen to what you like! I don’t ever listen to jazz big band recordings but here I am with my giant band playing jazz clubs.

There are a lot of musicians I admire and listen to regularly though – Hanne Hukkelburg, Grizzly Bear, Kishi Bashi, Nine Inch Nails, and Madonna are always at the top of my recently played list (lol) but nothing gets the inspiration flowing like going for a long run and deep cleaning my apartment. (Control freak.)

Interview with Jen Baker – trombonist and composer

Jen Baker, trombonist/composer, has collaborated with artists all over the world in site-specific mixed media performance, concert halls, solo and chamber commissions. As an improviser she is featured on the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s Oscar-nominated Encounters at the End of the World. She has performed internationally in festivals and has toured with Arijit Singh, Karole Armitage, and Mansour, and new music ensembles S.E.M., TILT brass, and the mobile ensemble Asphalt Orchestra (founding member). Her forthcoming book, Hooked on Multiphonics aides composers and trombonists in understanding and executing the deep complexities of multiphonics. She currently teaches trombone and composition at Sarah Lawrence College and also Brooklyn Conservatory, through which she goes to after school programs in various neighborhoods in Brooklyn for trombone classes (New York City does not fund public school music education, so this program is a vital way of bringing music to kids who wouldn’t have it otherwise.). She loves improvised vegan cooking (10 years and counting!), teaching, listening to animals, and long meandering walks.

 


  1. Tell us about your project, Silo Songs. How was the process of recording and putting it together different than that of your previous albums like Blue Dreams? How did you balance that with all of your other responsibilities in NYC?

The fundamental inspiration for both projects came from physical surroundings of the family farm where I grew up. At the time of Blue Dreams I was intrigued by the beauty of slow motion decay and decomposition many disused barns were undergoing (and continue to do): rusting roofs, peeled paint, weathered wood, bent rebar, piles of orange twine knotting together, entire barns leaning impossibly far but not falling. Silo Songs was developed entirely inside one of the buildings on the farm- a large concrete grain silo, completely empty since the 80s.

Silo Songs was a slow accumulation of ingredients that eventually clarified itself during the four years I spent workshopping ideas inside the silo. Silo Songs bears little musical resemblance to my solo album Blue Dreams aside from the continuity of multiphonics, a world that I obsessed over and lived within for several years. Blue Dreams was conceived early on in my immersion into through-composed and through-performed multiphonics pieces, and it was recorded during my most prolific stage as an improviser when I was living in Oakland, California. Free improvisation is another area that I focused on for several years, particularly in the Bay Area, where I was in close proximity to a hotbed of creative musicians with open minds and gigantic listening ears. I long to saturate myself once again in that world, playing as I float along the stream of consciousness, and i look forward to reuniting with improvisation sometime. As to recording Blue Dreams, I gave myself 3 hours in a gorgeous studio-all wood and dim lighting with a fantastic audio/sound engineer/percussionist/improviser (Karen Stackpole) who I knew would give me the psychic space I needed to improvise crystal clear ideas. My sole focus was representing what I heard/saw/thought/felt from the collective stream of consciousness in the form of multiphonic trombone pieces/songs. In the weeks prior to the recording, I sketched out a basic harmonic form for three or four pieces, and played multiphonics daily to build endurance.  

Recording Silo Songs was a completely different experience. For starters, I spent several years working out the physical and technical kinks of playing outdoors in various temperatures. I was also living and working in New York at this point. Economically, the silo project all had to be done by myself – there’s no way I could have hired someone to travel out to Jonesville Michigan every time I experimented. Besides, I vehemently believe that my personal and psychic space needed to be uninterrupted by others. As an individual who is influenced by others to a disturbing degree, I struggle to hear my own thoughts. In order to make artistic decisions unfettered by the ideas and opinions of others, I must honor my need for solitude, the chameleonic Pisces that I am! So there I was, learning how to be a field recording engineer, while also assessing the acoustic phenomena of the space for what pitch sets would be optimal, and testing out how other found objects and instruments reacted in the space. Eventually (in the final year), I was also thinking about the mechanics of actually playing trombone in such an unlikely performance space.

Within real life this recording project was one of many varied performing and related projects. Having many irons in the fire (professional, personal, and otherwise) tends to keep me alive and focused – I thrive on a plurality of identities! Silo Songs could have been done in a month’s time, but the beauty of spreading it out is that it had time to marinate and simmer alongside other projects like commissions for Loadbang and The Fourth Wall, and writing my book on Multiphonics. My work in the silo was done at times of the year when performance seasons have a lull, like February, early July, August, and so on. It worked out rather seamlessly with my “regular” NYC life. I’d like to think that is because I spend a lot of mental energy manifesting – in this case, manifesting an ideal schedule that doesn’t cause any outrageous double bookings. It more or less worked out.

 

  1. What inspired you to write Hooked on Multiphonics? What were your original goals with the book and how do you feel now that it has been out for a little while?

I remember in 2011 noticing how often I had to repeat myself to composers who wanted to write extended techniques for trombone. “Why don’t these people learn more about the mechanics of the trombone in school,” I thought. Or, “if you’re so interested, why don’t you look it up?” But when I looked around for resources to point them to, no text or resource really gets granular and specific enough to convey what the trombone can do. So then I thought I’d just make a quick sheet or two of musical examples to hand over to any composer interested in my instrument…well, that quickly exploded into multiple chapters, and eventually into a two part book, because trombonists need to understand the mechanics of multiphonics as well, and tricky passages could be made easier by having some studies to practice. I’ve heard good things from both composers and trombonists who are using/have used the book. Personally, I’m still editing the book in my mind. I think the process of making the book exacerbated my inner critic and perfectionism has now run rampant in my life. I’m gently swinging the balance back toward spontaneous fun and play in my musical life.

 

  1. 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?

What does it mean to be a female brass player? This is a really small club, one that’s so small most of its members didn’t even know there were any others in it! I certainly didn’t. Being a female brass player for me has meant taking a “joke” that isn’t very funny and is demeaning to women; walking into a room of colleagues having “locker room” talk and quickly dwindling down to a murmur when you enter; or worse, having locker room talk right there in front of you and expecting you’ll just be cool about it; having to relate outside of yourself in order to “get” male humor, and if you’re hetero, dealing with the complexity of human attraction with an awkward proportion of “date-ables.” And a lot of other stuff. In other words, the ratio of men to women in brass world is tricky to navigate, even for a tomboy at heart like myself!

I think as human beings, we all have a responsibility to one another to keep one another in check by our own sense of (hopefully) good ethical/moral/professional standards. As a population, we will evolve more constructively if we all pitch in, and this is how communities become strong. So to break that down into a smaller sector- the responsibility a female brass player has – it isn’t any different. At least not to me. We are all responsible for our community and subcommunities that we identify with, whether we actively participate or not. We do this face to face, at jobs, after hours, on the train, social media, and on the rare occasion we can get out of our spheres and do something non work related. I’m still working on being better at participating in my communities-especially in the non work, friend hanging portion. It’s a long term project and we can all choose how we contribute to it.

 

  1. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or in your teaching?

Well, more than ever, if you want to be a musician, it had better be a huge passion, and you’d better not be worried about stability…and if you are thinking about stability, then music is just simply not a good career choice. The hardest thing for me to do as a musician is to have fun and remember that I do this because I love it (I really do love it). And make space-psychic, physical, emotional, mental – to create!! Creation is left out of a lot of music education- it’s up to YOU to put creative tasks back into making music!

 

  1. 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 wish I’d known social skills were an integral part of life and of music and of freelance musician work in particular.

Secondly, I wish I’d been trained in sight reading and switching quickly between style/articulation more rigorously and to understand how important that is!

 

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

Silence changed my life.

 

 

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!


  1. 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 (editors 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.

I’ve had unofficial, full-time employment as a classical musician, and I didn’t know how to reconcile myself as a figure for change and positivity in that role.  The times when I’ve felt the most alive and useful as a musician have been those random concerts where the conditions aren’t fabulous, but the audience is excited.  After you play for them, you know that you’ve encouraged them to go to those big concerts of musicians that are traditionally thought of as the authority figures in our field.  I think that these freelancers are really the ambassadors of our art, and it’s imperative and exciting to appreciate and examine them as they are now, and not some years down the line when they’re no longer freelancers.

In covering the life of the modern freelancer in an honest way, I find it necessary to share both the good and the bad.  Historically I think we’ve all been told to put on a brave face because it’ll make you look busier, which attracts more success.  However, I really believe that there’s less work now, and if you’re generally thought of as busy, the calls are more likely to go to someone that is just as talented, but not as lucky as you’re coming off.  Most of us just want to know that we’re ok, and I’m trying to cultivate a new way of thinking, one blog post at a time. I really feel that we’re all going through the same doubts and fears, on every level, but we use our Carnegie Hall photos and our social media as bandaids for those sentiments.

  1. Tell us about your recent album and your inspiration behind it. How did you balance recording an album with freelancing in New York City and your other responsibilities?

My first real love for the horn came from listening to hours and hours of solo horn CDs.  I learned a lot from that intense listening, and I knew that I always wanted to give back to the next generation of horn players that were following their passion.  I put it off for many years because I didn’t think that anyone would listen to it it I didn’t have a big orchestral job. In all honesty, I went ahead and made it because I wasn’t getting a lot of work, and I wanted it to be known that I had talent on my instrument, if it happened that I never got called to play anything professionally again.

I had many rehearsals with Manon Hutton-DeWys, who has now completed her doctorate!  It was tough to turn away paying work for those rehearsals, but I’m so glad I prioritized that time.  I chose pieces that I was excited to play, and I looked forward to coming home after teaching classes to sit down and play through them.  The actual recording happened on two dates, so it’s quite easy in early February to block out entire days and record for four hours. I was fortunate to fund the project entirely by myself, so I didn’t have to depend on availability of halls that I was getting for free, and wasn’t at the whim of a recording engineer who was donating time, as I know many musicians have had to do.

  1. 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?

(such a great question!)  I think we as brass players, regardless of gender, steel ourselves when we walk into a brass group with a mentality of “I have to keep up” or “I’m gonna let everyone know I’m Alpha because I can play loud” or “It’s time to be tough”.  We probably associate this more with men because they historically have occupied the brass section, and it has definitely been an uphill battle for the women that have paved the way for us. I’ve definitely heard things like “you can play surprisingly loud as a woman”, and I’ve been hit on in the workplace, or referred to as “babe”.  Our responsibility as female brass players is to create, and not to respond to the music, and external pressures, around us. Most female musicians I know approach music from the big picture in, and that grace is something we can share with everyone around us. Having had children, I have seen first-hand twice-over the awesome creative powers of women.  In every major professional situation I’ve been in, I have been judged solely on my talent and cooperative nature by men, and I am sure that we will lead the next generation by example.

  1. Do you see any specific challenges for musicians in today’s climate? How do you mitigate those on your own or when teaching?

I think musicians now have less fixed opportunities to play, but almost too many opportunities to think big.  Everyone can use social media to their benefits and exploit technology for the novelty of it, but there’s a decline of talent and refinement.  Playing live for other musicians keeps you honest in your trade, but playing over a computer with bad speakers leaves us less accountable for the way we sound and play in real time.  A major priority of mine is to sound and play as well as the people I love to listen to, and sometimes I think younger musicians neglect that. When I teach, I emphasize two things: listen to the colleagues around you and use your sound to make the group better, and never work to be better than the people around you, but play to be as good as the people you admire.

  1. 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 wish I had known that the level I play at isn’t necessarily going to make me successful.  You can do all the right things and check off the right boxes, but the opportunities that come your way will be very different from those of someone else’s, and talent can sometimes have very little to do with it.  Constantly comparing yourself with your colleagues will just lead to envy and depression. The musicians with the longest careers stay in the business because they love the life, and couldn’t imagine anything else.  I wish I hadn’t gotten caught up in where I measured up against everyone else.

I think female musicians, or even female professionals, are quicker to self-correct than men, and sometimes this leads to us feeling incompetent when we are around men who aren’t so hard-wired to think the same way.  My advice is to combat that doubt with ability and determination. Be better and know that you are because of the practice hours you’ve put in. Be confident in the voice that you’ve found on your instrument through those precious hours you’ve spent with your instrument.

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

Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet

NYP/Bernstein Mahler Recordings from the 60s

Learning Mahler Symphonies from Scores before recordings

Emerson String Quartets complete Schubert Quartets, Shostakovich Quartets

Ariadne auf Naxos, R. Strauss

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:

Interview with Hana Beloglavec

DSC_3893-Edit1.jpgPerformer and pedagogue Hana Beloglavec has always had an interest in chamber music. Currently she is a member of Seraph Brass, a dynamic chamber ensemble drawing from a roster of highly talented women across the United States. With Seraph Brass, Beloglavec has recorded an album, Asteria, and has been a guest artist at the Lieksa Brass Week and the International Women’s Brass Festival. Also interested in trombone quartet chamber music, she competed in the finals of the 2014 International Trombone Quartet Competition with the Lakeside Quartet. She also was a member of The Handsome Dan’s Trombone Quartet, which won the 2013 Eastern Trombone Workshop’s Trombone Quartet Competition as well as the 2013 Yale Woolsey Concerto Competition.

Also deeply interested in orchestral music, Beloglavec has performed as a substitute trombonist most recently with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. While living in Chicago, Beloglavec performed as a substitute with the early-music ensemble Music of the Baroque and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Hana Beloglavec received her DMA from Northwestern University, where she studied with Michael Mulcahy, Douglas Wright, Timothy Higgins, Randall Hawes, and Christopher Davis. She completed her MM at Yale University and her BM degree at Western Michigan University, where she studied with Scott Hartman and Steve Wolfinbarger, respectively. Hana Beloglavec is currently the assistant professor of trombone at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


1.  How long have you been teaching? What are your responsibilities at the school? What do you love about teaching? Any favorite teaching moments?

I have been teaching private lessons for a long time (since I was an undergraduate student, maybe even earlier), but I have been teaching at the university level for the past three years. At LSU, I teach applied tenor and bass trombone students, trombone studio class, and trombone choir. I also coach brass quintets and teach the trombone portion of a brass pedagogy class for performance majors and masters students. Outside of my teaching, I serve on committees and recruit students, and I have my “research,” which includes performances with Seraph Brass, personal solo recitals, orchestral performances, etc.  Continue reading

Interview With Sarah Culp – NJ High School Band Teacher

To celebrate both Women’s History Month and Music in Our Schools Month, we are so excited to interview some fabulous music educators who are making an impact on their students across the country. I went to a summer festival with Sarah and I have always loved reading her posts about teaching… and I knew she would have great things to share with the Brass Chicks community.  – Kate Amrine


sarah culp.jpgSarah Culp is the current Director of Band’s at Manchester Township High School in Manchester Township, NJ. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from William Paterson University of New Jersey where she studied Classical trumpet and minored in classical voice. In addition to overseeing the jazz band, concert band, pit Orchestra, and other small ensembles at her school, she is enrolled in the Master of Music in Music Education program at Rutgers University. She also holds the position of Principal trumpet in both the Toms River Municipal Band and the Central Jersey Wind Ensemble. She resides in Toms River, New Jersey.

1. How long have you been teaching? What are your responsibilities at the school? What do you love about teaching? Any favorite teaching moments?

This is currently my 5th year of  teaching. I did 2 years in Paterson, NJ Teaching k-8 general Music and marching band, 1 year in Clifton NJ teaching 7th and 8th grade band and assisting on the High School Marching band and this is my second year running a full high school program. I currently run the concert band, jazz band, marching band, pit Orchestra, and small chamber ensembles at Manchester Township High School. What I love most about teaching s giving kids a safe place to be where they are loved and accepted by all, and a place where they can express themselves. My students are a family and they all take care of each other. We also get to make great music and I love seeing them improve through the years. It’s the most rewarding thing to see a student change and develop as a person and as a musician. There are moments when my band nails a piece or nails a run of their field show and my heart is so full that I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Continue reading

A Focused Approach: Interview with Donna Parkes

About Donna Parkes

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Australian trombonist Donna Parkes has been Principal Trombone of the Louisville Orchestra since 2008 and has been Principal Trombone of the Colorado Music Festival since 2009. Prior to this year she played the 2012-13 season with the Utah Symphony and the 2007-8 season with the San Francisco Symphony. Miss Parkes was a member of the Virginia Symphony from 2001-2007 and was a member of the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas for two years. She has performed with many orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Oregon Symphony, National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, Sydney Symphony and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Miss Parkes has performed at the Arizona Musicfest, the Malboro Festival and the Grand Tetons Festival and in 2016 toured with the Australian World Orchestra.  Solo competition successes include winning the Australian National Trombone Competition, the Brisbane International Brass Competition and finalist in the Jeju Brass Competition in Korea. She has appeared as a soloist or clinician at the International Women’s Brass Conference, International Trombone Festival and the Melbourne International Festival of Brass. Miss Parkes received her Masters Degree studying under Charles Vernon at DePaul University and other primary teachers include Michael Mulcahy and Ron Prussing.

Interview

1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do. What do you love about being an orchestral trombonist?  Continue reading

Making Statements: An Interview With Abbie Conant

We are thrilled to have been able to conduct an interview with the fabulous Abbie Conant. Abbie famously fought the Munich Philharmonic for 11 years in court to be solo trombone and now performs groundbreaking multidisciplinary works. She has been a pleasure to work with on this interview!

About Abbie Conant

abbie clearAward-winning Performance artist and Juilliard-trained trombonist Abbie Conant is somewhat of a legend in the international orchestral brass world. The story of her epic fight and ultimate victory against egregious gender discrimination in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, where she won the position for principal trombone at a screened audition in 1980, inspired author Malcolm Gladwell to write the NY Times Bestseller, Blink, where Ms. Conant’s story is detailed in the last chapter. The 11-year-long court battle was documented by composer/musicologist/activist, William Osborne, in an article entitled “You Sound Like a Ladies’ Orchestra.” The document is supported by actual court records and experiences in the orchestra with 89 footnotes. This source document has generated countless newspaper and magazine article (Der Spiegel, {the German analog to Time Magazine}, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, etc.) as well as a documentary film, (Abbie Conant, Alone Among Men by Brenda Parkerson), a play produced at the Landestheater Linz, Austria by Award-winning British playwright, Tamssin Oglesby called, Der (eingebildeter) Frauenfeind, (The [Concieted] Misogynist) and a screen play for a feature film in the works by Canadian writer/producer Dale Wolf.

After winning her lengthy court case, Ms. Conant won a full-tenured Professorship at the University of Music in Trossingen, Germany and left the orchestra in 1993. Abbie Conant has performed instrumental music theater works with surround sound electronics in over 150 different cities around the world. She has given masterclasses in as many esteemed music institution such as The Juilliard School, The Eastman School, New England Conservatory, Yale School of Music, Indiana University, Royal Northern College of Music, the Academy of Music and Drama in Gothenburg, Sweden, DePaul, CalArts, McGill, Oberlin and many others. In collaboration with composer/husband William Osborne, the pair has created a new genre of chamber music theater. They have produced five evening-length chamber operas for singing/acting trombonist.

Interview

1. Your story of battling sexism and discrimination in the orchestra world with the Munich Philharmonic is unbelievable, yet your strength and determination (and great playing of course!) paved the way for many discussions and policies on sexism in the brass world. Have your thoughts on that experience changed in any way? Especially in light of recent events in classical music and political culture with harassment and this kind of behavior being less tolerated in the public eye? Continue reading

Auditions, Caruso, and Music From the Heart: A Conversation with Julie Landsman

We are excited to have recently conducted an interview over the phone with the incomparable Julie Landsman! Julie was a joy to speak with and offered, unsurprisingly, a wealth of advice and information informed by her career.

About Julie Landsman

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Principal horn with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 25 years, Julie Landsman is a distinguished performing artist and educator. She achieved her dream of becoming principal of the MET in 1985 and held that position until 2010, and has served as a member of the Juilliard faculty since 1989.

Landsman is a current member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and has performed and recorded with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Additionally, she has performed as co-principal with the Houston Symphony, as substitute principal with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and recently with The Philadelphia Orchestra as associate principal, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra as principal.

Her students hold positions in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras, Washington National Opera Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Colorado Symphony, Rochester Philharmonic, and the American Brass Quintet. She recently received the “Pioneer Award” from the International Women’s Brass Conference and was a featured artist at the International Horn Society Conference in 2012 and 2015. Her recent series of Carmine Caruso lessons on YouTube have led to further fame and renown among today’s generation of horn players. Landsman currently resides in Nyack, New York.

 

Interview

Brass Chicks: Your career has been incredible and has taken you all over the world. What was the process of winning your position at the MET and becoming the first woman in the brass section of that orchestra like?

Julie Landsman: Winning an audition at the MET was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The audition was 100% behind a screen – anonymous – and it’s documented in a very famous book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The last chapter describes the details of  my audition. The men who voted for me had no idea who I was or that I would become the first female brass member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Continue reading

Interview with Trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis

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Combining cinema sweep, transportive emotion, and rich melodic grandeur, Australian-­born trumpeter/composer Nadje Noordhuis possesses one of the most unforgettably lyrical voices in modern music. Her deeply-­felt, clarion tone and evocative compositional gift meld classical rigor, jazz expression, and world music accents into a sound that is distinctively her own. Noordhuis was one of ten semi-­‐finalists in the 2007 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition and was selected as a Carnegie Hall Young Artist to undertake a weeklong residency with trumpet great Dave Douglas in 2010. Recent engagements include a yearly week-­long run at New York’s Village Vanguard with Rudy Royston’s 303, performances with the Grammy-­winning Maria Schneider Orchestra, performances at jazz festivals in Europe, Canada and Brazil with Grammy-­nominated Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, and regular appearances with her group at the historic 55 Bar in Greenwich Village.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I’m a trumpet player and composer, mainly in the jazz realm. Continue reading