Since moving back to Phoenix, one phrase (besides “it’s better now”) has begun to permeate my consciousness—and weigh on my mind—more than it ever did while I was in California. I absolutely spoiled any chance at a surprise with my title, so yes, that phrase is “paying your dues.” Despite all the time I’ve spent wandering through various genres and fields of music, it’s never quite rung true to me. This is, I think, partly because of how intentionally nonspecific it is and partly because of the conditions under which I make music and move through the world at large. The depths of this issue are murky, and from here it’s difficult to see the bottom, but if I had to take a stab at a thesis, it’d be this: the gatekeeping, favoritism, and institutional bias that create the foundation of “paying your dues” stifle creativity, discourage participation, alienate newcomers, and serve the white patriarchy.
Wow, that’s a lot to unpack. So let’s take it a bite at a time, shall we?
Before we get into it, I’m not sure why this didn’t come up a lot while I was in Los Angeles, but the answer is probably partly regional and partly cultural. A wise jazz musician once pointed out to me that the prevalence and outward manifestation of misogyny varies drastically by location. Generally, New York and LA are noticeably different (though not necessarily less misogynist) than most of the rest of the country. And while this “paying your dues” thing can undoubtedly play into that, I think another part of the equation is that mindless playing-for-the-paycheck work isn’t as looked down on in LA as it sometimes is in some pockets of Phoenix—in part because gigs are a step up from the carousel of day jobs, plural, needed to pay Los Angeles rent.
The other part of this, I suppose, is that I wasn’t told to pay my dues in LA; I was told to put in the work. While both phrases carry similar weight, there’s a lot more flexibility to the latter. My friends and teachers saw me making angry assault music and counted that as “doing the work.” They saw me advocating for student life improvements and institutional change and counted that as “doing the work.” They see me blogging about the need for better treatment across the board and count that as “doing the work.” But regardless of the details, I didn’t hear or talk about or think about “paying my dues” much in California, and I do in Arizona, so it’s time to break down some concepts.
Continue reading Paying Your Dues (and other bullshit)
As I’ve begun settling back into Phoenix, I’ve decided that being upfront about my plans and trepidation is the best policy at this point in time. As a result, I’ve been honest with folks—common refrains are “I don’t play standards anymore,” “I’m still figuring out what I want to put energy into,” and “I’m picking projects I really like and going from there.” These ones are easy to swallow for most folks (though the standards one often raises some eyebrows until I add “this community killed that for me”); however, some of the truthful answers further down the playlist of “how are you?” are already raising some pushback.
The big one, unsurprisingly, is the simplest: in some ways, it’s terrifying to be back.
Continue reading “It’s Better Now” And Other Well-Intentioned Half-Truths
I’m really bad at hiding my close relationships. Not necessarily in a PDA sense (though, when I was younger, that was a thing too)—no, I get attached to people and I want them to know it. This isn’t just romantic or sexual; most of the time, it manifests most loudly in my platonic relationships (which, for y’all who could use a refresher, covers the friends-and-family category, plus any acquaintance you’re not interested in dating). However, when most of my friendships spend most of their time in a scene high in toxic masculinity and a little messy in terms of affection of any kind, I feel the effects of my Othering pretty acutely.
Now, the Othering (read: I am female (and queer, though allocishet-passing)) doesn’t seem to be inherently connected to the affection problem if you look at it on the surface—at least, if it is, we choose to ignore it or lump it under sexism generally. But here’s the truth I’ve been able to articulate for five years and known even longer: if you are a female-presenting person and you hug the same male-presenting person a whole bunch, people assume you’re an item. To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter if you’re just sleeping together or something more, though in certain circumstances, being someone’s girlfriend or partner can afford you a great deal of protection. (That’s a whole other post waiting to happen.) In fact, it doesn’t matter that usually, you’re not sleeping together or dating; the rumor mill gets going, and it doesn’t favor you. No amount of “we’re just friends” will convince anyone who doesn’t know you well.
Continue reading the performance of affection in male spaces
I spent a lot of my early life wanting to be a tomboy. Though I didn’t always understand what exactly that meant from a presentation standpoint, I associated it with the results it got in the books I read—being sporty, popular, and seemingly effortlessly gorgeous. For awhile, the label really didn’t stick, but I spent fourth through sixth grade playing soccer with a bunch of boys, and by the time I hit middle school, I felt like I belonged more with them than with my own gender.
I navigated this in-between fairly well in middle and high school—I did largely male-dominant things, but I had enough female friends to keep me going. It worked out. But college arrived, and with it came an entirely new set of problems. I didn’t just happen to be around women anymore. Most of my friends were guys. Most of my teachers were guys. And in a matter of months, I went from a well-adjusted girl who liked everything from basketball shorts to ballgowns to a young woman who didn’t understand why her image suddenly conflicted with how the world around her expected her to act.
Continue reading Clinging to my Femininity
I grew up playing classical music and longing to be in jazz band.
Granted, it didn’t take long for that to come to fruition—by eighth grade I was taking solos and groaning at lead parts like I’d done it all my life—but with jazz comes an often-stifling series of mistreatments. I don’t have to tell you that; I haven’t touched the art form in over a year, and while I still miss the music, I’m waiting for the opportunity to get back into it on my own terms with people who won’t shut me down at every turn. The thing I loved most about jazz, though, was simultaneously what I hated: the improvisation.
Continue reading Meet in the Middle: When You Want to Improvise, but it’s Not Entirely Jazz
It’s been a couple years since I’ve been okay with how the jazz world is run. Sure, the music’s great and it’s fun to go to shows, and I’d be lying to say I didn’t desperately miss those aspects (and others, like playing with the Nash Composers’ Coalition out in Phoenix), but if you’ve been with me for awhile you know that all the jazz scene manages to do is break my heart and piss me off. I spend almost all my time in male-dominated fields, but for whatever reason, traditional jazz is the one intersection of maleness and music that seems to just keep kicking when I’m down.
Before I go any further, let’s be clear: I’ve spent the most time in jazz circles that glorify swing and bebop, that don’t advocate for experimentalism, whose primary interest seems to be preserving tradition. The jazz people I’m around now aren’t like that; indeed, lots of the creative jazz scene in LA seems to intrinsically value the blending of genres, including jazz and non-jazz. I like that a lot more, but I’m still hesitant to dip my toes back into a world that has repeatedly told me I have no place in it. I thought about trying to explain why, but then I found some old writing I did on the subject and never sent out into the world. It still rings true, so I’ll let it speak for me:
Continue reading Taking Time Off and Why I Don’t Miss Jazz So Much
Panel discussions, at music festivals or elsewhere, are a great way to ask a variety of questions that might not fall under normal “how do I play this” or “what do I need to work on” categories. During my time at the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute this summer, I had the pleasure of attending several such panels. My partner, John, was along for the ride with me, and we both enjoyed getting each other’s take on the day’s discussion. The first day’s panel was about building a sustainable practice schedule, but as it progressed it expanded into performing and personal wellbeing, too. Toward the end the panel, one of our colleagues raised his hand and asked if the panelists had any tips about balancing work and life.
Before I go on, let’s be clear—that’s a great question and one that plagues many musicians at various stages of their careers. It’s one I’ve contemplated asking on various occasions. However, the direction the panel took the question caught me a little off guard. They talked at length about how it’s an extensive process to get your partner to accept your musicality and all the commitments that come with it (especially the practice schedules). They shared anecdotes about taking their horns on their honeymoons. They treated musicianship like something your partner has to accept about you, and that’s true—except when your partner is also a musician.
Continue reading Music, Partnership, and (Potential) Motherhood: What Aren’t We Talking About?
I distinctly remember when I started telling people I planned to go into music.
It wasn’t some grand announcement—I mean, I was a junior in high school—but the way people reacted, you would’ve thought I’d just proclaimed I was going to major in winning the presidency.
Continue reading Choosing Music (and/or Money)
Like every YouTuber ever, I’ve decided to start a monthly favorites segment. Ultimately, my goal is to highlight music, creatives, and moments I enjoy. If anything catches your attention, don’t keep quiet!
March has been an absolutely insane month. I had the privilege of playing on three recitals (including my own), joining ensembles on various other concerts, clearing a couple commissions off my plate, and preparing for premieres of new works. That said, this is what’s caught my eye and ear:
Continue reading March Favorites are here!
Beginning in undergrad (and sometimes earlier), composers are taught how to approach performers—what to say, what not to say, how to phrase critiques, ask questions, and ensure a successful performance. But because traditional performance institutions, particularly those following the conservatory model, value dead composers above all else (except for that one large ensemble concert a year that’s reserved for new works), it’s not uncommon to encounter performers who haven’t thought all that much about how working closely with a composer can require something beyond basic professionalism. Young performers, particularly those who play works by a composer friend, seem particularly susceptible to this, but everyone can stand to benefit from some organized consideration every once in awhile. So what do composers wish their performers knew?
Continue reading Ensemble Talk: On Working with Composers (Successfully)