…and then there are days when a colleague in your percussion studio asks you for recommendations on academic resources relating to feminism because they are interested in learning more.
Many days being an activist/critical thinker are frustrating. Activist Burnout Is Real. We can’t reach everyone, I can’t reach everyone. It’s been an uphill battle (that I may or may not still be in the midst of) learning which conversations have the potential to be productive, and which ones will only leave me with yet another glass of wine when I get home.
But it’s not all bad! Sometimes you reach people. Sometimes just by talking about these things, individuals come to you for guidance (or just an open mind for listening) when facing something they’re unfamiliar with maybe regarding their sexuality or of that a loved one. And sometimes you get the warm-fuzzies because someone (who you didn’t know was really at all interested) asked you where they can learn more. It’s hope for me that things will change. It’s hope that maybe I actually can make a difference. It’s hope for me that this world will get better.
On the way to San Antonio earlier this month I wondered if anyone has written a lyric in some intimate indie song about the tiny crystallized frost that forms on the outside of the fuselage windows when flying. It seems somehow poetic that regardless of climate below, it’s freezing up in the sky.
It was just something so beautifully under-noticed that crossed my mind…
I just wanted to take a moment and announce that I’ll be presenting my paper on the marimba and gender at the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy next month in San Antonio, TX! I’m so excited and grateful for this opportunity!
P.S. I’m working on a blog post about the potentially gendered nature (and subsequent marginalization?) of chamber music. More on that soon.
So. There’s this contest. The Hit Like a Girl contest. It’s for female drummers. Which seems awesome, right? It seems like something I should be rallying behind, ya? I’m struggling to get behind this contest though. I think the point of this whole deal is to increase the visibility of female drum set artists. Which is SO great. I understand, and appreciate, the empowerment of females (this is me here). But does a contest like this mean that others are not for females? Is this just supposed to call attention to how awesome it is to be a drummer..in general..or specifically being a girl drummer? I want to be excited about something like this, but I don’t think a contest (pageant culture, folks)exclusively for girl drummers is the answer. We’re not novelty.
The history of the HLAG contest:
“David Levine of TRX Cymbals conceived the Hit Like A Girl Contest in 2011. He felt that the music products industry was seriously underserving female drummers and he wanted to support and promote their development. He got together with Mindy Abovitz of Tom Tom Magazine, and Phil Hood and Andy Doerschuk at DRUM! Magazine, and the Hit Like A Girl Contest was born. Since then the contest has attracted 700 contestants from 42 countries. It has generated millions of page views and hundreds of thousands of fans votes around the world. And it has raised the visibility of female drummers and spotlighted the efforts of girls and women.”
Thoughts? Help? I may be having an existential crisis over here…
Relatively recently, I wrote a paper exploring the potential gendered implications of the marimba. This paper was formally for a class I was taking, but informally something I had been wanting to look in to for quite a while. I’ll be posting about the marimba/percussion and gender in various installments. I believe the issue is too big, and too complex to discuss in one blog entry. Well, one entry that any person who isn’t me would actually read the whole way through.
A few years ago at the annual Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC), I had the stark realization that I am a minority in my field. To many of you, this is probably obvious, but to me, I think I couldn’t see what I didn’t want to. Long story short, I am an avid promoter of new music. And so, like any overly zealous, naïve young percussionist, I thought it’d be a great idea to attend the New Music Research Committee meeting. I walked into the room with another female colleague and we doubled the amount of women in the room, not that that really did much for the ratio has a whole. Needless to say, this experience alongside many similar ones throughout my budding career led me to ponder why the percussion field still seemed so heavily male-dominated. Then I realized where all the women are. They’re playing marimba. This is of course hyperbole, but relevant nonetheless.
I’m still fine tuning aspects of the paper and my research, but I thought I’d put this idea out here now that I’ve had some time to sift through the available literature and my thoughts as well. In my paper, I focused on the issue of gender and the marimba through the critical reception of Paul Creston’s Concertino for Marimba and the social climate in America at the time. I feel the attitude surrounding the marimba was, and to an extent continuing today is, that it was/is a woman’s instrument. There are potentially many reasons for this. One being how closely related the marimba is to other historically feminine instruments. I also believe that the way in which the physicality required to play the marimba puts the body on display may have led to females being directed to this instrument to be viewed by the male gaze. I discuss the complicated issue of gender more thoroughly in the essay, but for now I think I’d like you to consider some of the following evidence regarding not necessarily the concertino, but gender and percussion playing in general in the early 20th century.
“. . . but this should not discourage them by any means from the profession of drumming, for there are many other engagements open which are a good deal easier from a physical standpoint.” –George Lawrence Stone, “For Ladies Only,” Jacobs Orchestra Monthly 8 (1923): 91.
There are numerous examples of the thought that the “tender” sex could not physically create the necessary sounds on drums. One such example is in the words above from percussionist George Lawrence Stone in an article from 1923. Stone went on to suggest that one of the open engagements appropriate for women was marimba performance. In the early 20th century, the thought of a woman playing an instrument that required so much physical exertion was presumed unattractive.
In a 1931 ad for Deagan, one of the first marimba manufacturers:
“This impressive stage setting featuring thirteen Deagan Xylophones is the finale of ‘Tune Types.’ Critics pronounced it one of the most striking and entertaining finales of the year. Thousands of Chicago theater-goers were thrilled by the spectacular tonal effect of a 13-piece Xylophone band—yet these twelve Abbott girls spent only five and a half hours in practice. Could any proof be more convincing that the Xylophone is the easiest of all musical instruments to play?”
Discovering the impression that the instrument requires little skill to make a desirable sound was an enlightening moment for me in my research. Although, I’m not entirely sure now. Non-percussionists walk up to my instruments all the time, pick up the closest sticks/mallets and start playing. I wonder what would happen if I went up to one of my wind or string-playing colleagues, picked up they’re flute/trumpet/violin/oboe/you get the point, and just started playing. On some level, I find the accessibility of percussion one of it’s most beautiful aspects, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that people find it “easy.”
Oh dear, I have digressed. Let me return to the subject at hand. It is interesting how these remarks on the simplicity of playing the instruments constrain the performer, who was often female. As will be seen in a later post, critical reviews of the concertino were generally complimentary. However, when said compliments are trapped under the guise of an instrument that “plays itself,” as one critic said, are they really compliments?
The “all girl ensemble” aspect of this ad will be discussed in a later entry, as that is a problematic notion all to itself. I can’t resist providing the following quote and video for you to ponder though…
“smart, good-looking girls, who can play real good music and, at the same time, display good figures and bare legs.”
Musser was not the only person promoting all female marimba ensembles. Perhaps more famous in the public sphere, but not hailed so unequivocally as Musser was “Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens.” The importance of appearance in this ensemble can be understood through the above quotation from Kehoe himself regarding the success of the ensemble. And now, for your viewing pleasure (interpret THAT however you please), a video of the Marimba Queens:
I’ll just…I’ll just let that sit there…
Once I have this essay cleaned up, and in a place in which I’m comfortable putting it out into the world, I’ll be sure to post it on here. In the meantime, I’d love get some sort of dialogue going on the issue. Do you see this occurrence in your own studios/musical atmospheres? Do you feel you may have been steered towards towards a certain instrument in percussion, or ANY kind of musical performance? Or maybe, do you think this is a non-issue that I should just drop? Let me know your thoughts, regardless of the gender by which you identify yourself.
 D. Antoinette Handy, Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras (Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 204.
Well. We did it. We played all the notes and made it back to East Lansing. The experience of performing with the MSU Percussion Studio at PASIC last Thursday was one I’m immensely grateful for. The past semester has been quite a journey for everyone involved. As I sit here in a coffee shop, trying to put my life back together and get caught up on all the things I had been putting off for the trip to Indy, I keep playing over in my mind various events throughout the semester, trying to find how everything fit together. There were 8am rehearsals, 10pm rehearsals, and plenty in-between. There was schlepping. Lots and lots of schlepping. Really though, the thing that surprises me the most is how we all still get along. You’d think after hauling equipment in the cold/rain/snow, intense and lengthy rehearsals, and everything else associated with playing percussion we’d be pretty tired of seeing each other, but I really do believe that this experience has brought us all closer together. That’s not to say it was sunshine and rainbows every minute of every day, but personally I’m looking back on the whole experience and seeing much more positive than not. Thank you to the MSU Percussion Studio, my professors (past and present), those who attended our concert, and everyone who has supported myself and the studio and I’m very lucky to be a part of.
We were even lucky enough to make the PASIC 2013 Highlight video for Thursday!
It’s been a while since I’ve put anything on here. The main reason being that next week I will be performing with the MSU Percussion Studio on a showcase concert at this year’s PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Conference) in Indianapolis. I am thrilled to be a part of this opportunity for our studio here at MSU. I am playing on Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree. Getting to know this piece has been ever so enlightening. Due to all of the intense preparation for this concert (on top of all the usual things going on) this has been one of the busiest semesters of my academic career. I found out over the summer that we were going to have this opportunity and the time between then and now, being less than a week away from “the show,” seems somewhat like a blur. Funny the way time passes. Anyway, our concert is next Thursday, 11/14 at 10am. I can’t wait! It’s been quite a journey these past few months. It’s been great.
Good news! I’ve officially been offered a position at the MSU CMS. I’ve picked up my keys and everything! The Michigan State University Community Music School (CMS), is an outreach arm of the MSU College of Music. The MSU CMS offers opportunities for the study, appreciation, and therapeutic use of music to individuals regardless of age or ability. This such a great opportunity and I’m very excited to be joining this organization. I’ll be teaching percussion at the East Lansing location. I was able to view the facilities the other day, and it’s really excellent seeing what they’ve done with the space. So if you know of anyone in the Greater Lansing Community looking to take some percussion lessons, send them my way!
As the fall semester is quickly approaching (or already has) for many of us, here are some words of wisdom just posted on a blog I regularly follow. Here’s to a good school year!..or performance season!..or life!