Hostile Work Environments and Unraveling Tapestries: A Follow-Up to Untouchable

Untouchable took me a month and a half to write, but I spent four years trying to articulate its content. As (the blessedly many of) y’all who read it probably saw, I referenced fifteen other pieces I’ve put out since early 2017. This morning, I piled all sixteen posts into a single document to check the word count, and it came out to just under 29,000 words—or about half of the minimum requirement for a full-length novel. It was 47 pages of material. While that bodes well for any potential doctorate I may choose to pursue in the future, it says some interesting things about the likelihood of being both believed and understood within our community.

You see, I don’t expect people to believe me when I start talking about most of the things I discuss on my blog. Part of why I started writing the thoughts down was because my in-person conversations with peers were so often derailed by some level of disbelief—sometimes in the form of “[other woman] doesn’t say that,” sometimes manifesting as “I’ve never seen that so it must not be too bad,” sometimes in other forms that are intricate and nuanced and harder to illuminate. I was only rarely allowed to communicate a thought beyond its first couple sentences and almost never given the space and time to puzzle through something that felt important. On paper, though, I had the freedom to do just that, to make sure an idea was complete and concise before putting it out into the world. And while no one’s obligated to read the entirety of anything I post, I find a lot of people do. (For this, I’m incredibly grateful. Yes, that means you, sitting at the screen.)

Continue reading Hostile Work Environments and Unraveling Tapestries: A Follow-Up to Untouchable

Performance Restrictions, Ethics, and Calls for Scores

It’s been a busy semester of teaching and grading, rehearsals and more grading, and I’ve found myself composing a little less. This isn’t entirely a surprise—it’s my first full year out of grad school, and I’m trying to commit to not writing on absurd deadlines anymore—but it’s been an interesting change of pace. While I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to sit back and really think about what I’m putting on the page, I’ve also learned a lot from watching competitions and calls for scores go by.

The side of me that cares very much about ethics isn’t super impressed with those right now.

Before we get too far into it, I’ll freely admit this is colored by my preexisting dislike for most competitions. Some are fine, but anything that costs money to submit to and doesn’t provide transparency about what that money is used for grinds my gears. (My rule of thumb: for existing ensembles, if there isn’t a cash prize involved, regardless of performance opportunities, competitions and calls for scores should be free to submit to.) Further, the motivation behind competitions specifically has always been a little odd to me. How are any of us realistically going to identify the best composer?

Okay. Time to get back on topic. Otherwise, this is going to get unfocused fast. I’m not the biggest fan of competitions, but I’ve run my share of calls for scores, and for the most part, I don’t mind them. They’re a great opportunity for composers and performers to swap scores for recordings (and performances!) without either party losing a lot of money. They’re especially awesome for composers who have scores sitting around and ensembles who wouldn’t have a lot of access to new music otherwise.

That said, I tend to shy away from calls for scores that are billed as “new works” recitals, and tonight, I want to talk about why.

Continue reading Performance Restrictions, Ethics, and Calls for Scores

Fire in my mouth And Pushing For Ownvoices Rep

[The following is a transcript of a thread I did on Twitter this evening. I’ve kept things as intact as possible, besides some minor punctuation changes to make it make sense when it’s not delivered 280 characters at a time. Additional thoughts added for this version are in brackets.]

So I’m listening to Julia Wolfe’s Fire in my mouth, and first of all, the writing is very good and the recording is very good, but second of all, I have thoughts. Apparently I’m threading these on Twitter again, so buckle up, folks. A couple things: one, this is my first listen, so there is undoubtedly stuff I’m missing. Two, my thoughts on this are shaped especially by what’s going on in publishing right now.

First, the text setting is good. Nothing revolutionary (though I’m not to the end yet), but good. I get that it’s an oratorio and there’s formal guidelines being followed. I’m more of a scary-noises-and-extended-techniques person, but given the sound palette, it all makes sense. The string writing is probably my favorite part of the composing itself. It’s compelling. The percussion choices are good ones, too. Honestly, though, that’s probably all I’ve got to say about the composing part f this, because the circumstances around the work catch me. [I was running out of characters, but what I meant here is that the circumstances are the thing that piques my interest.]

Continue reading Fire in my mouth And Pushing For Ownvoices Rep

Young Lions (and things I’ll never be)

Though as a professional musician who’s friends with other professional musicians, I live my life in a deluge of Facebook event invitations, I do try to take the time to read through most of them so I know who’s playing and what’s happening. A recent one caught my eye: “We have chosen Michael Kocour to give voice to some of the ‘young lions’ of the Phoenix jazz scene . . .” The description was apt—the lineup was full of folks who are skilled and particularly roar-inclined—but “young lions” made me pause. First, because it shouldn’t be in quotes if you really want to sell it, and second, because it’s one of those terms I instinctively know would never be ascribed to me as a default.

This morning, I wandered into our office (which, despite its stated purpose, is not where I do most of my work) and mused about this to my partner. “You’d be a young lioness,” he reassured me, but I was having none of it.

Continue reading Young Lions (and things I’ll never be)

Empathy, leadership, and “I don’t want to hear it”

[tw: suicidality]

My first truly positive experience with therapy was in the summer of 2018. It was long overdue; the summer had been absolutely hellish, and I was beginning to flirt with suicidality. My partner knew. My parents probably suspected. I’d talked about finding a therapist for a long time—years—but the thing that got me through the door into an office was when my fear that I might at some point actively want to die eclipsed my anxiety about making the appointment, being in therapy, and paying for it. (While my parents have always been of the Healthcare Concerns First, Money Concerns Later mindset, it’s still anxiety-inducing to be incurring major expenses even when they’re paid for.)

My first session was in August sometime. I’d just moved in with my partner, cut all ties with an intensely toxic person, and was trying to start approaching normality again before school got started. My therapist was attentive as I broke down the extensive stress that had accumulated over the previous six to eight months, and when I came up for air, she had one observation: “it sounds like you’re a very empathetic person.”

I can still remember my brow furrowing; for as long as I could remember, that descriptor had been flung as far away from me as possible. “My brother was always the one who got called that,” I told her. But she continued on, and I realized she was right—that empathy wasn’t just the surface-level definition of being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It was the echoes of others’ emotions that would frequently parade through my body and life.

I spent the next four months with her learning how to control the trait enough that I’d stop self-destructing every time it took the reins.

Continue reading Empathy, leadership, and “I don’t want to hear it”

Commissions 2020: Expanding My Horizons (and maybe yours, too)

My dear readers, friends, colleagues, and peers,

I’ve had the time of my life in 2019 working with a series of commissioners on new works and bringing many of my 2018 pieces to the stage for the first time. By my best count, I’ve written almost an hour of music this year, and I’ve begun to explore new artistic directions that really excite and challenge me. As we move toward 2020 (and onward!), I’m looking forward to continuing to build on my current practice and dive deeper into my own voice.

Over the last several years, it’s become increasingly clear that the work I love creating the most doesn’t fall under standard “contemporary classical” boundaries. Realistically, most of it falls somewhere under the New Music umbrella, which does save space for classical- and jazz-adjacent things but allows me to pick and choose which pieces of tradition or time-traveling sonic nonsense I want to include alongside the modern developments that make my heart sing 24/7. For people who know me well, this isn’t a huge surprise, but the wonderful folks who commission me aren’t even always people I’ve met. (Which, for the record, is amazing.) I love working with new collaborators just as much as I enjoy reconnecting with folks from years past, and my catalog is starting to reflect that in some really exciting ways.

That said, my compositional voice today doesn’t sound like it did two or three or five years ago, and as I continue trying to move toward the artist I want to be, I need to point that out. Those of you who knew me (and my writing) in undergrad might not know how I sound now (unless you’ve been keeping up with me online, in which case, you’re awesome). While there are still pieces in my back catalog I love dearly and plenty more I’m still proud of, it’s worth pointing out that I’m not necessarily writing that way all the time anymore. I’m playing with noises and soundscapes and text instructions and concert-theater-aligned ideas, and while some of that does still involve regular notes and rhythms, it isn’t always in the way you’d think. (Exhibit A: People Talk.)

And as my commission calendars start to organize themselves for 2020 and 2021, I’m making an effort to continually work toward making the art at the top of my wish list whenever possible (or, at least, art that’s consistent with my current voice). And while some of that is work for me or John or some of the long-term collaborators I work with, I’m hoping some of that will be for all of you, too. These might not be pieces you can turn around in a month and a half for a recital (or they might be, but not for the reasons you think). These might be pieces that require you to search as deeply within yourself and your own practice as I’m searching in mine. They might not be instantly-consumable, you-can-throw-this-together-in-a-couple-rehearsals bites of music and sound—and if they are, they’ll probably be utilizing different skill sets and making different requests of your musicianship.

Continue reading Commissions 2020: Expanding My Horizons (and maybe yours, too)

On “he’s from another time”

Let me drop you into a situation that’s happened so many times in my admittedly-still-rather-short twenty-three years of life that I don’t even have to point you at a particular instance of it. Picture, if you will, a rehearsal space. Maybe an ensemble is rehearsing; maybe a master class is happening. In either event, an at-least-somewhat-esteemed guest artist is working with people who are ostensibly there to learn and improve, even if they’re not still in school. That artist has commanded the attention of the room and established a power differential, often simply because they are a soloist or lecturer in that context. Still, regardless of why, they are the authority in the room.

Now imagine this artist begins a piece or introduces a topic by going on a brief, sexually-charged tangent. Perhaps the ladies in the room are told to cover their ears while the artist makes a lewd joke that’s apparently supposed to be okay for men; maybe someone gets hit on during a song. Or maybe it’s comments that belittle young musicians, or a wet-blanket persona that keeps everyone’s guard up. Context aside, though, this guest artist is saying or doing something that makes you deeply uncomfortable, but due to the power dynamics at play, a callout during that moment isn’t a smart move.

So you tough it out, and when you make it to the end—of rehearsal, of the clinic, whatever—you talk to your director about it. In this hypothetical, I’m going to designate this director or teacher as a person you trust and can speak freely and honestly to. So you express your concerns, you talk through your options, and then, toward the tail end of the conversation, the inevitable pops out: “he’s from another time.”

And in every case, without exception, this is where your heart sinks a little.

Continue reading On “he’s from another time”

Token Hire

I don’t like being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. If you asked my peers about it, they’d probably roll their eyes and laugh. Yeah, that’s Megan. I don’t have to be with other women, though that’s obviously a blessing when it comes along; in LA, there were plenty of occasions when I performed with a section or a group whose members were male-coded but included at least one other person somewhere on the gender spectrum beyond cis man. I’ve fallen in love with working among others whose struggles to be accepted in our professional environments speak to something in my own experience. These moments allow for subtle, important moments of solidarity: little reminders that we’re not alone.

That said, I spend a lot of time being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. (#BrassPlayerProblems #JazzProblems.) It’s difficult to explain why the difference is so stark, especially when I’m trying to make sense of it to folks who have probably never found themselves in such a situation. (And even if my cis male friends have, y’all don’t have centuries of systemic gendered oppression weighing on you and affecting your treatment within that scenario.) But when a well-reasoned fear of the consequences—both professional and personal—of putting even one toe out of line has been bred into you from the moment you chose your career, when you work in an industry that has a tradition of violence of all types against your gender(s), when you’re working around people you know won’t speak up if someone makes you uncomfortable, you spend a lot more time worrying and being quiet instead of working to create the art you want.

However, it’s 2019. Professionals the world over are realizing all-male ensembles can’t continue to be their default. Overall, that’s a really good thing; doors are beginning to open for gender-marginalized folks who wouldn’t have had many options a few decades ago. There’s a dark side to the change, though: musicians are beginning to reach for women and other gender-marginalized performers to incorporate into their ensembles so they can say they have one. It’s a performative, superficial kind of inclusivity that draws in folks facing this kind of oppression without considering the systemic structural changes that might be needed to make us feel welcome. It’s hastily scribbling down the answers to your math homework in the ten minutes before class without bothering to show your work (because you’re copying someone else’s), and the results are usually the same: if you don’t have a plan for getting from point A to point B, you’ll only ever get partial credit.

Continue reading Token Hire

Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out

Hello! If you’ve been directed to this page, you’ve probably spoken to me recently (or somewhat-recently) about looking for resources on gender marginalization, misogyny, sexual assault, trauma, or some combination of the bunch. You’ve also done so in a way that is respectful and makes it clear your self-education on these topics is a consistent priority. First of all, thank you for being cool about it. Taking the time not only to further your own understanding of the world around you but to ask appropriately and kindly for resources to assist your endeavors is a big deal.

Below is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of resources I hold in high regard. I recommend digging into them at a pace and in an order that makes the most sense for you. Be sure to take care of yourself as you go. Happy reading!

Last update: December 14, 2019

Continue reading Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out

“Lead the Change,” Emotional Labor, and Research

Once upon a time, as an undergrad, I accidentally opened up a Title IX investigation. (Yes, that is absolutely a ridiculous sentence, but it’s true.) I didn’t mean to, but no one had ever told me that “I can’t tell if they’re being sexist assholes or just assholes” was enough to accelerate an issue. So the contents of that conversation went up to Title IX, but the office never followed up. The effort I’d made to highlight the issues at hand completely evaporated, caught between higher admin who evidently decided it wasn’t a priority and faculty who never checked back to hear if anything came of it.

In the aftermath of those moments, though, I remember a comment from a faculty member that’s continually drilled itself into my brain: “You could lead the change.” It was said in earnest, with the feeling like this marked a door opening, a path forward through all the bullshit. And twenty-year-old me probably wanted to believe it was. Lord knows I spend entirely too much time contemplating where, or if, I fit within the greater Phoenix musical community. The thing is, even though I know all the way down to the bottom of my heart the idea was presented with wholly good intentions, it’s become a bit of an unwanted pest.

Continue reading “Lead the Change,” Emotional Labor, and Research