I spent my last semester at CalArts taking almost literally every class I possibly could with Tim Feeney, who’s not only a beyond-words percussionist, improviser, and composer but also arguably the nicest human being you will ever meet. During the spring, I saw Tim three times every week: Wednesday mornings for Writing for Percussion, Wednesday afternoons for Free Improv Ensemble, and Friday afternoons for The Experimenting Ear. By mid-March, I could no longer remember which thing we’d talked about in which class, and as such I spent a lot of time connecting very distant dots in front of peers missing one end or the other of the train of thought. While that was super confusing for almost everyone around me, it meant I walked around getting my mind blown for months. It was the best.
One of the most important lessons I learned from Tim—and, arguably, among the most important things I absorbed during my MFA—began in The Experimenting Ear as we were analyzing Jed Speare’s Inside the Cable Car Barn, a beautiful piece that provokes a daunting question: are the things we might find on a field recording already music, or do we make them music based on how we consume them? My analysis of the piece basically summed up as: “wow,” and my grade reflected that lack of attention to detail, but the conversations we had in the wake of the assignment piled questions on questions. Again, it was the best.
At one point, we were discussing a formal shift in the music where formerly prevalent tones give way to more rhythmic sounds. Tim posed a simple question. “What does this mean for the person holding the field recorder?”
It took us a minute, but someone got it. “They’re moving.”
That was the first of hundreds of times Tim must have uttered the words it all boiled down to: “when you are making or consuming this work, you are implicated.” Or, to put it another way, your decisions to make a thing or listen to a thing or frame a thing as music (or make any number of real-life interpersonal decisions) puts your own stamp on it out of necessity. In making/doing/consuming things, we give them perspective they would not otherwise have. In saying, “here’s a piece about a cable car barn,” we intentionally listen to appreciate sounds and nuances and decisions we might not otherwise think twice about.
“You are implicated.”
Continue reading You Are Implicated: Pedagogy Ethics and Why Everyone Should Have a Point Where They Quit Their Job
TW: sexual assault
My parents enrolled me in dance classes when I was three years old. My mom claims it was because I was clumsy (I believe her, as I’m still clumsy), but integrating myself into a world of high buns, leotards, pink tights, and hairspray taught me innumerable lessons that have affected my musical training from the beginning. Dancing was where music got to be fun, where I got out all the energy I’d never be able to project through a horn or a piano. But there were hidden benefits, too—chief among them, the safety net that helped me as a young victim of sexual assault.
Unlike the majority of women, my assault wasn’t committed by someone I knew, but claiming and using my body as my own, as something I could use to create amazing things, was and is a key part of my recovery. Dance has always been key to that. And the most affirming things I’ve ever heard from a teacher were spoken in dance class: “Is it okay if I fix your posture?” “Can I lift your leg to help you stretch?” “Will you come up here to show the class?” “I’m going to shape your foot, okay?”
Did you catch the commonality running through these questions? Each one asked my permission for an act that required my body. Further, not a single teacher touched us outside of those corrective moments, except for high fives or holding hands (you try herding twelve kindergarteners onto a dark stage and let me know how that works out). I knew as early as elementary school that people should ask before touching me, and I owe that to my dance teachers past and present.
Dance has its fair share of systemic problems. Not all teachers are like that. But in music, most teachers aren’t.
Continue reading A Memo to Private Teachers/A Thank You to My Dance Instructors
Most musicians will tell you that plenty of us need to work on our people skills. (Kind of funny, since our lives revolve around networking.) We like being on stage, but we aren’t always good at subtlety or tact or comforting or the things that remind your friends that you’re a pretty okay human. As a result, most music schools feature a crop of nineteen-year-olds who make jokes about women (and men) that are tasteless at best and downright offensive at worst. This happens a lot in the jazz world; lots of guys just don’t put a filter between their brains and mouths. And somehow that’s okay, because the jazz stereotype is that you’re supposed to be your raw, unfiltered self, and everyone else is supposed to think that’s the greatest thing since the iPhone.
More than a couple well-meaning jazz people have danced around the question of how to make women feel more included. I’d like to introduce my suggestions on how to not only invite women into the space but improve the interpersonal relationships in our scene as a whole:
Continue reading Musicians are People, Too: A Smart Dude’s Guide to Improving the Jazz Scene