Black female players in the brass world

Black Female Players in the Brass World

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Black female players in the 1.8 percent

The year 2020 will be remembered as the year of #BLM and Covid-19. While we certainly can’t do much about the latter but follow safety measures, we sure can do a lot to support #BLM in our own communities and professional fields. It’s no secret that women and all those who identify as such are among the underrepresented minorities (particularly on the classical side), but Black female players in the brass world continue to be a rare sight, even when compared to their Black male colleagues.

Across the country, black musicians, males included, make up only 1.8 percent of orchestra members according to a 2016 study.

More and more often we see online master panels for interviews or workshops with successful brass musicians, especially now that everyone has been forced to get acquainted with Zoom, and these panels are still mostly made up of men. Sometimes we see one or two women, usually white and very well-known. We may also see a woman pictured doing something unrelated to hand-on brass playing, like yoga or managerial duties.

Although there is nothing wrong with the representation of white women in the brass world, and by all means keep them coming, why aren’t there more Black women?

Well, history surely isn’t helping us today. We are fighting decades of institutionalized racial bias to keep orchestras and symphonic bands white.

When raising this topic in conversation, of why Black women are deeply underrepresented in masterclass panels, I was met with “there just aren’t very many choices for Black female musicians.”

This. Is. Not. True.

Black females in the brass world are abundant! They are experienced, professional, talented and ready to share their knowledge with others.

This underrepresentation is easily solved as long we continuously chip away at the gap, because the problem, I hope, is not that moderators and employers are actively avoiding Black female players. The problem is that they are not actively looking for them.

Which brings me to talk about one of the most fulfilling teaching experiences of my life.

Boost them, boost the kids, boost the future

As the #BLM movement continued I sat in my office in early July asking myself what can I do? What is my role in this?

Then it hit me.

I remembered one of the most influential people in my early years of playing the trumpet; my middle school band teacher. What he did for me was life-changing. He provided me with the belief that 1) I was no different than the other kids and 2) This consequently meant that I could do anything.

I believe that is the core ingredient in changing lives and influencing future generations. First the child must believe they are not at a disadvantage, this triggers empowerment which turns into boldness. Fast forward 15 years and you’ve got a Black female principal trumpet player in a major symphony. It’s about the exposure, it’s about seeing someone that shares your skin color and gender standing in the spotlight you want to be under one day.

As a result, I decided to find and hire five successful and immensely talented Black female brass musicians to come into my private face-to-face trumpet studio. I tasked them with leading private master classes and welcomed each individual’s approach. My students loved the lessons and pro tips, and they also got to ask some deep questions from the guests. It was a treat see the student ask questions about race and college expectations.

It was such a great week of teaching music and seeing my students grow.

The guest artists

The guests all brought something a little different to the table. They each had their own approach to teaching music and reaching the students. From classical to jazz, they were truly excellent at their craft. I’ve included information on each artist below and I encourage you contact them and invite them to your studios and band classes. Maybe even ask for a private lesson!

Probably the best part about having these artists work with my students was witnessing their teaching styles and how they challenged each student. Some jumped right into the material we had prepared, while others took some time to tackle fundamentals before moving on to repertoire. All of them displayed the level of professionalism you’d expect from leaders in the field as well as clearly honed skills on their respective instruments. Here they are!

Feel free to get in touch

  • ZOE MURPHY graduated from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music with a degree in jazz studies, and now attends the well-known New England Conservatory in pursuit of a Masters degree in Jazz Performance. She is a composer and skilled performer.
  • SHANYSE STRICKLAND received her Bachelor of Music degree from Youngstown State University and her Master of Music degree from Duquesne University. She is a jazz horn player and a flutist, blurring the lines between jazz and classical.
  • CHLOE SWINDLER is a classical and jazz trumpeter, with a great voice. She received her Bachelor’s in Music Performance degree from Boston University and continued on to study at the Yale School of Music for a Master’s degree.
  • THERESA MAY received her Master’s degree in trumpet performance from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and her Bachelor of Music from the University of Dayton. She keeps a vigorous teaching and performance schedule as adjunct faculty at Cuyahoga Community College, where she teaches Applied Trumpet and World Music. She is also adjunct faculty at John Carroll University where she teaches World Music.
  • BRIANNA NUNLEY is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education at Florida State University. She is also the orchestra director at First Baptist Church of Tallahassee. You may contact Brianna at brianna.nunley @ icloud dot com.

Final thoughts

I am honored to have had the opportunity to bring these musicians to my studio, and to have seen their wide array of talents first hand. Honestly, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more Black female brass players, covering the full spectrum of musical demand from classical, to jazz, composition and more. It is our duty as musicians to collectively point the spotlight where it is deserved, to inspire young Black women, to help them see the possibilities, so that in due time we may stand together as one.

“It’s up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own.” — Michelle Obama

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