It took me a while to write about last week’s workshop because there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to let simmer…Here at Ingesund, we were lucky enough to work with nine talented musicians that are based in Sweden and have a huge range of musical experiences and backgrounds. This project we did is called Borderless Musical Encounter, in which we worked with musicians from Sweden with Swedish/Scandinavian folk, Western European classical, Greek and Haitian musical backgrounds, as well as musicians from Senegal, Canada, and Mexico. The whole idea behind the project was to break down the parallel lives we lead as musicians from various genres to explore what we can create when we put our creativity and various backgrounds together. An acronym often referred to by the project leader, Ale Möller, is PLM: Prestigelöst Lustfyllt Nyfikenhet:  Prestige-less, Pleasurable/Enthusiastic Curiosity. Essentially, have fun and make mistakes! Throughout this project we played/sang a lot of interesting music in a few languages (Swedish, Greek, Creole and Wolof) with awesome melodies, scales and rhythms. We had workshops in percussion, choir, improvisation, Swedish folk music and Greek dance, all leading up to a final big performance.

During this project, we had two large chunks of time in which each guest musician was able to speak about their experiences and how they ended up where they are today. They each had about 20-30 minutes to tell their stories. I loved this! It reminded me of how within each person is a depth we never could have imagined, and also that within each person is a whole, complex world. I learned an important lesson from each of them. Mamadou spoke about having the courage to show yourself…i.e. vulnerability! Such a hard thing to do, but also the essence of being a performing musician, in some ways. Maria, who is born to Greek parents but raised in Sweden, quoted another Swedish-Greek journalist in saying that she is 100% Greek and 100% Swedish–no need to choose! I love this, because I feel that my Swedish identity and US identity are not separate from each other, but instead together make me. I am not more one than the other, but rather both. Rafael reminded me that when making music, each and every note is very important and must have energy and feeling in it. Jonas spoke about the focus on process rather than result, self-value and being enthusiastic for one’s own ideas. Ale spoke about how we all live parallel lives with such interesting people and that we need to reach out more to people! He also spoke about having courage. Just courage. Magnus spoke about the journey to discovering and realizing self truth; trial and error. Sebastien assured us that by seeking what we most enjoy, everything will fall into place. Sten spoke about his love for choral singing. Listening to each of these musicians made me think of the concept of storytelling and how important it is for us to understand one another and to learn the complexities that each of us carry inside. It is important for relationships and connections, and also for role models and to see the creativity in our every day lives and where it can take us. It reminded me, too, that we have just as much to learn as we have to teach, and even these professionals who are so successful are also only human.

The biggest question that this left me with, though, is where are all of the female professional musicians? Out of the nine guest teachers visiting, eight were men and one was a woman. Why was there just one woman in this group to act as my professional role model? When I presented the question to the guests (explaining also how inspired I felt by each of their stories), pointing out all of the female students in the room and then the lack of female professionals in the group, I received an answer that left me disappointed. I heard from them that I was wrong and that there ARE indeed many female professionals in the classical world, but also that women need to catch up, and that there are fewer since women drop out of music on a professional level because they have babies instead. I would like to ask, can men who blame women for not becoming professional musicians make room for women to be their colleagues and stop valuing and defining their worlds by patriarchal masculine standards? Can they then also take on half of taking care of kids so women can too establish themselves professionally?

I am thankful for the discussions I have had with some of the students after the workshop about gender inequalities in the professional music world. A friend mentioned the concept of blind auditions in philharmonic/symphony auditions (and Sebastien did too when he answered my question asking where the women were). I found an (outdated) article from 1997, but it still has some good statistics on the introduction of blind auditions: “Using blind auditions increases by 50 percent the chances that a woman will advance from the preliminary round and nearly triples her chances of being selected from among the finalists, Goldin and Rouse find. The move to ‘blind’ auditions, they figure, explains anywhere from a quarter to nearly a half of the growing share of women in America’s top orchestras from 1970 to 1990.” Click here to read all of it. Here’s a less formal blog that addresses the fact that blind auditions also affect racial discrimination in hiring, another huge factor since gender and race oppression cannot be separated so cleanly. So if large orchestras and philharmonics have adopted this method that is causing positive shifts, how do freelance musicians who work primarily based on networking and connections work to end the discrimination that is so apparent in the bands we see? If our natural tendency is to gravitate towards networking with male musicians, I think we all (men and women alike) must make conscious efforts to network with women and reevaluate the value we give to female musicians on an everyday basis.

For me, examining gender and music continues here at Ingesund with questions of who becomes professional and who is encouraged to continue professionally. This is, of course, gendered and racialized. At Oxy I was focused on which composers are performed and most well-known, and now that I am on a clearer path of performing music as a profession, the gender divide is staring me in the face even more intensely. This workshop inspired me to go for what makes me happiest and to seek joy and pleasure, but also gave me a fresh kick of frustration with this system and a need to continue active resistance. So here we go!

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