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”
Is it okay if I call you Mark? I’ve heard you’ve made appearances at my alma mater, CalArts, and everyone there is on a first-name basis, so I’m going to call you Mark. I read your article this morning about Plácido Domingo stepping down from the LA Opera, and even though I’ve got plenty to do today, I couldn’t help but write you about it first. As I mentioned, I’m a CalArts alum; my artistic practice has been molded and refined by that school and the experiences I had there that changed my life.
Your writing reminds me of the dark spots in my education.
I’m not going to link to your article here—even if they’re hate clicks, I don’t want to give you more exposure—but let me take you through and align some things you’ve written with things already enshrined into my memory as a twenty-three-year-old with a newly-minted MFA. See, Mark, I’ve been very fortunate to have learned from many teachers I hold in high regard, but I’ve also already been disadvantaged not only by my gender but the things my male peers are expected to get away with doing to me.
Continue reading To Mark Swed re: Plácido Domingo
I have carried the weight of my own existence for a long time. Some days it’s light and life is easy. I laugh and love, I take the risks I’ve dreamed of, I pursue my best self relentlessly. I am my own best comforter.
On these days, my mind is sharp. I engage with my peers, my friends, my colleagues. I am brash and loud and bold. I am the woman fourth-grade me would be so excited about. And on those days, very little can touch me—I’m up in the clouds, soaring to my heart’s content. On these days, I am free of my past. (This feels good.)
I have carried the shame of my own existence for a long time. Some days it’s so overpowering I can’t breathe very well. I fall silent. I pull away. I can’t bring myself to confide in the people I love; they don’t need to watch me suffer. I shrink into myself, asking what I was wearing or why I was alone or why I didn’t report or whatever other vitriol someone in power chose to sling at a survivor today. (This does not feel good.) I reduce myself to a casualty of this war to normalize violent behavior. I find a thousand things to write but none to say aloud, lest I find myself the target of that powerful person’s vitriol someday. I let my music speak for me because there are still so many things I can’t bring myself to say. And I bleed. (This does not feel good.)
Continue reading this does not feel good
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
What a month it’s turned into! April is shaping up to be action-packed in more ways than one. Because I’m about to plunge into a bunch of different performances, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight a few of them here:
Continue reading April Performances (and other adventures)
Dear Ms. Bialik,
Most of the time, I am a fan of your work. The Big Bang Theory is one of my parents’ favorite shows (and given their degrees are in electrical engineering and computer science, it’s not a huge stretch to see why), and I follow your online presence with some regularity, particularly enjoying your insights on Jewish culture, heritage, and tradition. You are generally an eloquent, ardent supporter of women’s rights, and that’s great.
I began reading your opinion piece in The New York Times with high hopes,
and your anecdotes about being the gawky, awkward teenager in a sea of beautiful people were both poignant and relatable. Even before your piece was published, I knew you made (and frequently continue to make) what you refer to as “conservative choices as [an] actress.” That’s totally cool. I applaud your decision to represent yourself in a way that makes you comfortable and allows you to pursue the professional life you wish to have. But then you started talking about policies you set for yourself that “might feel oppressive to many young feminists,” and as a young feminist, I’m here to tell you that the words you followed that up with aren’t just oppressive; they’re enabling to predators of all ages.
Continue reading An Open Letter to Mayim Bialik
This is not how I wanted to start my journey with you. You championed yourself as a bastion of diversity, a place where the disenfranchised can be heard, an environment in which people look out for each other.
Your staff didn’t look out for us tonight.
Continue reading Remain in Your Seats: When Sexual Respect Training Goes Wrong
Four years ago, I was a very different person.
If you’d seen me at my college orientation, you would have encountered a girl feeling the keen edge of homesickness, shielding herself with a smile and throwing herself into social life in an effort to find some friends—any friends—to fill the gap between her and those she’d left behind. You would have met a girl who had a lot to say to the right people but who found that there weren’t many of those individuals cloistered within the walls of her fancy new dorm. So she remained quiet, because that was what she could do with who she had.
That girl didn’t last long; though she made the occasional reappearance, the woman she became found it far easier present the world with honesty and attitude in the hope of inciting genuine responses. And to a degree, that’s worked pretty well.
Continue reading Who I Am and Who I’ve Been (I Won’t Apologize For Either)
This couldn’t wait.
The news crossed my desk earlier today, but I admit I’ve only just gotten to spend some quality time on the internet reading about the allegations against Austin Jones, YouTuber and musician. (Check out his page if you want, but I’d think twice about watching his videos.) Jones has had a turbulent and controversial history of inappropriate interactions with fans—in 2015, he admitted to and apologized for asking fans to send him videos of them twerking. Read Alternative Press’ coverage of Jones’ apology here. At the time, there was lots of speculation as to whether fans were just on a witch hunt or if there was something of a darker substance at work.
Continue reading Dear Teenage Girls, You Deserve Better
I don’t know how to start this post.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already heard about the attack at Manchester Arena. You know nineteen people are dead, fifty-plus are injured, Ariana Grande might be suspending her world tour, and the internet is in an uproar. You know everyone’s already speculating about who did it and why. Maybe you’ve ventured into the comments section of an article posted by a major newspaper or TV station and beheld the vitriol being hurled. I certainly have. And it sucks. It really, really sucks.
Continue reading When Your Best Dress Isn’t Enough