What on earth shall I wear? (of leggings and mansplaining)

” ‘Mansplaining”–I hate that word.” (Ryan)

“Stop doing it, and we’ll stop saying it.” (Vikki)

The question of what to wear when conducting, when you are a woman, is a fraught one. The levels of “how dressy is this particular event” have layers and sublayers to a level men just don’t have to deal with: You have your tux, your dark suit, your other-colored suit, your coat without tie, your shirtsleeves with tie, your shirtsleeves without tie. For women there are infinitely more layers of “how dressy” between each of those, and they change by the season and city…it’s a mess, and it’s difficult. That’s before you even talk about how you want to look from behind, and how to work that into the “how dressy” question–the more tailored your look, the less likely your jacket will cover your rear, at least these days (may fashion change quickly!), and the more fitted your top is the more likely it will do unfortunate things when you raise and move your arms…it’s all sort of awful. The 9 years I spent in a church where I wore an alb every Sunday morning were among the happiest in my conducting life; I didn’t have to worry at all, and it was glorious. Now I fret for an hour before every gig.

But there seems to be one unwritten but absolutely followed rule for women conductors. It’s not about leggings; no, it’s this: when we want to know what is appropriate, we ask one another. We don’t generally ask men.

Sometimes they offer their opinions nonetheless.

There’s this Facebook group, “Women Choral Conductors.” Nice bunch. Not terribly active, presumably because we’re all out there making music and living our lives, but when we show up there’s good stuff to say.  There’s another called “I’m a choir director”–much more active, lots of educators, a great place to crowdsource.

Then there’s this guy Ryan Guth, who has a blog and podcast, very outwardly glitzy, and occasionally with some decent content. And he posted a fairly incendiary thing entitled “Leggings as pants, and other ways to make choir all about you.” It went up on the choir director facebook page and ACDA’s ChoralNet blog site.

I can only speak for myself, and I came to this party apparently a bit late, but…the original “clickbait” headline only made me raise my eyebrows and decide I had no interest in listening to it. (In my experience, people who so openly resort to clickbait usually do it because they are unconvinced people will listen to what they have to say unless they do, and I rather expected the leggings themselves would be fairly peripheral to the overall conversation, as in fact they were.)

However, Facebook being Facebook, and the Internet being the Internet, everything sort of blew up as women all over the choral world took offense at this whole mansplainy line of inquiry, and let him know in no uncertain terms (from what I could tell, always courteously, but at the same time sparing no words and engaging in direct criticism and confrontation) how completely unacceptable it is for anyone, especially a young white man, to be telling women what we ought to be wearing. (ChoralNet, to their credit, removed his post.)

I’m willing to give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to grow without letting their youthful poor choices dog them forever, but it was his words in the various comments that caused me to lose any respect I might have possibly gained for him (and I was very willing to give him the chance–he’s young, he has a lot to learn yet, and this could have been a real teachable moment for him). It was things like, ” By making the assumptions above, you made it all about you and your feminist agenda. I don’t know where you learned to hate men, but it’ll certainly hinder your career…” and “Being critical of my word choice (to get listens – which worked brilliantly by the way) is just as bad as me being allegedly critical of women’s clothing” and “Let’s not fight human nature with ridiculous feminist jargon that vilifies men who think ALL should be conscious of their appearance as a professional” …

My favorite (not) was probably his response to one commenter who mentioned the similarity and evolution of the tunic/legging from the salwar kameez suit from India (she–incorrectly, but it’s a hair-split–identified it as a traditional Muslim garment; it’s actually mostly just Indian, worn by Muslims and Hindus and women of many religions), to which he responded “Leave it to a feminist to make my episode about men dictating women’s clothing and Muslim traditional garb.” All this put together–not the original post, but his unprofessional, ad hominem, patronizing, and childish responses to courteous criticism– have made me pretty much lose all respect for this guy and write him off as a lost cause, and officially Part of the Problem. Because, despite my original dismissal of the incendiary headline, I now read it and can only conclude that he meant exactly what many women thought he meant when they first saw it, whether he consciously realizes it or not.

I even listened to his podcast today, in which he sat down with a woman conductor who had been about to drop her patronage of his website and podcast over this, and it didn’t help in my estimation of him– he went on at length about how “nasty” people were in the comments  (I observed only strong but courteous confrontation from strong women, though I might have missed something) (come to think of it, other famous types have used the word “nasty” to refer to strong women fairly publicly and recently), and he dismissed the traditional Indian wear question on the podcast by dismissively referring to the conversation in terms of the “burka,” thus indicating he not only knows nothing about the tradition but could not even be bothered to Google it to see where the writer was coming from…Admittedly, the person giving the comment did it with that impeccably practiced tone we all know how to use on the undergrad senior who thinks they know everything and who needs to be taken down a peg (you know the one), so no doubt his knee-jerk to was to rebel against it as most know-everything undergrad seniors do before they go out into the world and eventually realize, oops…He somewhere else denigrated the offhanded (and yes, kinda snarky) comment someone made about his dismissal of the importance of degrees and schooling, where a conductor said something to the effect of, “Well, guess my DMA means nothing, since I wear leggings.” (I thought she was funny. He did not share my humor, apparently.)

The original podcast, the one that caused all the brouhaha, was honestly not terribly offensive in its overall content, but also not very positive or helpful, disorganized and stream-of-consciousness-like, full of sweeping generalizations boiling down to this particular conductor’s assertion of what he likes and does as being the solution to whatever grand difficulty he thinks all these other conductors he’s witnessed are facing and perpetuating onto their students–everyone’s problem appears to be that they don’t do it the way he does it. I could pick apart literally every single one of them with a counter-argument. (Except the one about giving yourself a vocal solo in the middle of a school choral piece. That’s kind of inexcusable. Unless the kid who was supposed to sing it got sick and no one else was able to do it on no notice at all, I can’t think of a single instance where that would be a good idea–though he harped on it way more than necessary.) His condescending tone throughout didn’t help either.

No, the DMA is not an automatic marker that one is superior to or smarter than someone with a Bachelor’s degree. It is, however, a sign that someone has been around the block a few times, and maybe has learned some things along the way.

And, well, leggings. The fact that I agree that leggings are rarely a good idea in performance, though I would never dream of telling another conductor she should not wear them unless she asked me my honest opinion, still stands and honestly has nothing to do with any of this. My honest opinion is beautifully reflected in this elegant contralto aria of Anita Renfroe:

Ladies…wear what you want. Connect with your singers, connect with your audiences, connect with your repertoire, and be awesome, however it works for you. It’s not having a DMA, or a highly-listened-to podcast, or any of that that makes you a great musician or teacher or conductor. Know your people, know the culture in which you are making music. Try everything, learn everything, examine everything, listen to everyone, and take what works for you. It’s not that complicated.

(And stop calling your singers “kids.” It belittles them. They are singers, they are musicians, they are young men and women. Stop calling them “kids.”)

Alice Parker and her Melodious Accord

On Being, with Krista Tippett:

A beautiful piece on and with Alice Parker, one of the few conductors of high stature who is not even remotely afraid to speak about music primarily in the context of life, connection, emotion, and connection with humanity.
It’s worth taking the time to listen, whether on the website or by downloading the “On Being” podcast. There is a transcription here, but Alice Parker’s words and voice give it much more life…
(Probably one of my favorite compliments ever–a non-musician friend of mine heard this on the radio driving in to work, and said she thought it was really cool and it reminded her of me and the way I approach music and singing…:-))

Time to start blogging again…

I sort of disappeared.

Fortunately, this is the kind of blog with the kind of readership where I suspect pretty much no one noticed, which is fine with me…but I’ve decided if I’m going to hang onto this domain, I’d like to re-engage with it.

So…since I last posted…the doctorate is won. It made very little difference in my overall life, except that there is now a different box I can check in forms I fill out, and occasionally when I check into a hotel, they say, “Enjoy your stay, Dr. Budziak.” Fairly low-impact. I kind of knew that going in, so it’s no surprise. Nothing’s all that different.

I am now working several different jobs, which is better than it sounds.  I am an editor for a publishing company, which lets me wallow in words and music and how they are all put together. I am directing at a large church which, while it’s not a choral or art-music kind of situation, lets me stretch my theological and liturgical chops a bit and work with some very fine musicians and dedicated. I’m still singing with the symphony chorus. And best of all, I am an adjunct choral conductor at a university, which gives me my own ensemble, and the chance to do what I love, with a minimum of administrivia or faculty meetings. So…it’s all good.

Hopefully I’ll be able to come up with some interesting things to say…

 

Maestro Salonen Making Sense (Ten Tips for Conductors)

"talk to the hand."

“talk to the hand.”

I freely admit, this is me posting something primarily so I won’t lose track of it for myself.

None of these are brain surgery, but all make really good sense. Probably my favorite is #4, “Accept that you are just a waiter.” He says, “The composer is the chef and the conductor is the waiter. Both are totally honourable professions, but we have to accept that if I conduct a piece by Beethoven, I’m just a waiter. I might be head waiter, but waiter none the less and I am there to make sure the food comes to the table on time and intact.”  I love this.

And of course, #10, “Be a boy or a girl.” Hah.

So check it out: Esa-Pekka Salonen: 10 tips to becoming a conductor.

Don’t stiff the musicians (The Internet explodes)

Ludwig say, "Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!"

Ludwig say, “Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!”

Usually when the Internet explodes, it’s over something fairly innocuous, or at least overblown.

Musicians quietly going unpaid 9 months after a large festival gig—not so innocuous. Those same musicians being thanked for their patience and willingness to not trumpet the organization’s financial woes on social media, and being promised the next year would not be planned until all debts from the previous year were made good, and then learning that the 2014 installment was planned and announced (and apparently musicians booked as well)—pretty explosion-worthy, in my opinion.

For anyone who hasn’t already seen and followed this story, I’d recommend getting caught up via the following links: The International Beethoven Project looks like a really fascinating and amazing program, to be honest—I’ve never attended, but at least in print it appears to be exactly the kind of event the classical music world needs to attract new listeners. (The originators of other, clumsier attempts at same would do well to pay attention.) Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog picked up on the story, as did the Chicago Reader. Andrew Patner, one of Chicago’s primary voices on Things Musical (and, to my mind, one of the few music critics to whom I generally pay attention due to his tendency to make intelligent and straightforward assessments of what’s going on musically in any given moment, even if that assessment is aimed at performances in which I have taken part. I don’t love it, of course, but I usually have to shrug and say, “yeah, okay, that’s fair.”), speaks out on his WFMT blog and is proving to be a powerful voice for these unpaid musicians—he speaks, and people notice, because he’s, well, Andrew Patner.  Ellen McSweeney’s elegant essay on the New Music Box, entitled “Chicago: The Deafening Silence of the Beethoven Festival Musicians,” is beautifully written and suggests at least to me that she might consider writing as a secondary career; one wouldn’t normally consider this a more secure and lucrative job avenue than classical music freelancing, but recent events might make one reconsider…

The articles are interesting and informative, but I especially would invite people to check out the comments, where rumors (which, being rumors, are by definition unsubstantiated, but I would very much like further information on them because they certainly aren’t ridiculous-sounding) fly: that early on one of the orchestra members suggested union involvement and was promptly fired, that the allegedly impartial logic of which of the unpaid musicians got paid first may not be too impartial at all,  that none of the 2012 musicians were invited back for 2013 and none of the 2013 musicians (including the unpaid ones) were invited back for 2014 (this one should be easy to track down the veracity of), and so on. If anyone finds their way here who can shed more light on the above, I’d welcome it.

(I also find myself shaking my head in “is this for real?” incredulity at the commenters who, with an apparently straight face, castigate Patner and the musician silence-breakers for calling the situation out, usually in the name of “passion” and not “punishing well-intentioned and ambitious arts programs for their mistakes.” Fortunately as the days pass more commenters are calling BS on these apologists, and hopefully they will dissipate into silence.)

The bigger conversation to which this has given rise is the climate of discomfort in which many musicians find themselves regarding Talking About Money. Ellen McSweeney’s essay in fact starts with a story she recounts about a mentor-contractor who chides her for asking the compensation for a gig up front, suggesting such a question might result in her not getting asked again. I find this attitude appalling in the extreme, and I hope if nothing else this whole IBF explosion results in rooting it out to some degree and alerting especially young freelancers that it is not cool and the norm of freelancing should be the exact opposite.  The comments on Ellen’s post and at least one new one that has arisen from it (Andrew Lee’s post eloquently titled “F*ck You, Pay Me: Some Thoughts on Musicians and Money” is a solid piece and covers most of the necessary ground) present a pretty overwhelming groundswell in this direction, one which I hope continues to roll.

(I will offer a small disagreement in some cases on the necessity for always having written contracts, especially for smaller jobs, now that so many gigs are offered and accepted via email—even without an official contract, if you have an email from the hiring party saying “here are the details and this is what you will get paid,” shouldn’t that stand as a fairly firm in writing commitment? Does anyone really hire over the phone any more? God, I hope not…and if they did, I’d always ask at the end of the conversation, “can you please send me all these details in an email, so I have them in writing and won’t lose track of them”?)

So, I think we can we agree, as gigging musicians, that being informed up front and in writing what the compensation plan is for a given job should be the absolute norm for any engagement, right?

Here’s my real question, though, a further call-out: Can we agree, as those who sometimes are the contractors who hire musicians for jobs, that we will make a point of stating up front the compensation for any given engagement, before the musician needs to ask—before, in fact, the musician even agrees to the job?  That we will not send out all the information about a gig but leave out this one detail, so the musician has to decide whether to come back and ask? Can we agree to transparency and clarity whenever we offer work to another musician, so this never comes up?

I offer this challenge for myself as well, and an offering of public repentance for the times I have slipped up in this area in years past–and I have definitely slipped. I’ve had decades to make mistakes on both sides of the problem, as both the hirer and the hiree, and I can only hope I’m learning, and that I have managed to make it right when I have done damage to an individual or a relationship*.

So I suppose I have some small sympathy for George Lepauw in the mistakes he has made.

But part of making mistakes is making them right—acknowledging them,  making reparation for them, and not making them again.

And that is where sympathy shrinks and dies.

[UPDATE: The President of the Chicago musicians’ union has written letters to both George Lepauw and the general Chicago musical community…all I can say is bravo, and this is why we have unions.]

 

 

*If anyone reads this with whom I haven’t made it right, at any point in the past, please let me know even now. Seriously.

This is so very very…sad.

I’m all for trying to make classical music relevant to a new generation.

But I’m not sure this is the way:

In fact, I’m pretty sure this is not the way. (Don’t even bother to watch it all–skip ahead to maybe 2:50 or so, watch for a few seconds till your eyeballs begin to bleed and your lunch threatens to backtrack its way to a simpler time, pour a stiff bourbon, and come back.) (Are you back now? I told you it would not be pleasant.)

The friend who posted this on his Facebook page said, “If this is what it takes to get a particular demographic to attend an orchestral concert, then it’s time to shutter the hall.” And I absolutely share his horror.

The thing is, I don’t think this IS what it will take to bring a new demographic in–I mean, they may come for this concert, but is there anything about this–this display–(imagine that word spoken by Judi Dench or Maggie Smith in the haughtiest tone possible) that would make anyone go, “Hey, this symphony stuff is cool, if I liked this, I bet I’d love the Beethoven 7th they are doing next week!” No, they’ll go, “Hey! Sir Mix-a-lot! And dig the chick twerking like crazy up there!” If anything, the symphonic players in the background look even more stilted, jaded, stiff, and old-fashioned than they do in a more typical concert.

I’m not sure what the answer is.

But as I say, I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

 

Progess is being made. In case you’re wondering.

headdesk

(image credit: Microsoft clipart)

I want to go on record as saying that I have, as of now, completed 5 chapters equalling about 65 pages of writing on The Paper, despite breaking my “Seinfeld Chain” more times than I care to admit. (It’s a DMA thesis, so it doesn’t have to be the Massive Intimidating Tome a PhD document would have to be.) And now I’m getting to the fun part, where I get to actually start analyzing my pieces, since I spent the first 5 chapters setting up the theoretical stuff that makes the analysis possible. I’m now at that awkward point of waiting for my adviser to get back to me to say, “Great work, it’s absolutely perfect and revolutionary and will change everything in musical scholarship as we know it, you rock, girlfriend!” so I can keep writing.

(No. He won’t say that. In fact, I’m fully expecting heavy revision, which is why I’d love to hear something before I head into heavy analysis, because if the foundation of the first half of the paper doesn’t stand, there’s no point in building on it.)

I continuously am blown away by how much longer academic writing takes than anything else I’ve ever written. There is no flow, no stream of consciousness, because  every damn thing you say has to be backed up and cited, and I’ve more than once spent probably 40 minutes researching something that in the end boiled down to a single dependent clause in the paper. But I had to do it, because I needed the dependent clause(s), and without the research and citation I couldn’t say what I needed to. Slow. Slow like snail. Fiction writers with writers block can move faster than this. Ugh. It’s frustrating.

But…It’s coming along.

Mozart in the Jungle–worth the read?

mozart-in-jungle-sex-drugs-classical-music-blair-tindall-paperback-cover-artI just finished reading Mozart in the Jungle, a salacious and often tabloid-like book by oboist and journalist Blair Tindall about her years trying to make it in the classical orchestral world of New York City in the eighties and nineties.

It was, honestly, one of those fascinating books I couldn’t stop reading but now that I’m done can’t quite decide if I liked or not. She shifted on a dime between her autobiographical memoir-like stories and some pretty heavy-on-the-statistics journalism about the whole rise of the professional symphony orchestra, where the money comes from, where it goes, and who gets it. The autobiographical portions illustrate clearly who does not get it most of the time–the players themselves.

The autobiographical bits also become like that clichéd car crash you can’t look away from–I know a lot of professional musicians, but no one I know (at least to my knowledge) does or did quite the level of drinking, drugs, and bed-hopping that seemed to be the norm for her life and that of those she hung with. I mean, she was falling into bed with a new guy on each page, it seemed for a while there. Admittedly, as one who came of age in the AIDS era, I have to acknowledge that she grew up a decade before me and leaped into that world yet another decade younger as a talented high schooler, and that the entire concept of a world where sex and drugs had the luxury of being about propriety and not you-could-die-from-one-wrong-encounter is alien to me. (And I was pretty sheltered anyway.) Still. Personally, this woman seemed to be a self-absorbed train wreck, with zero self-esteem and a whole lot of self-destructive set-in patterns. (Like when she was sleeping, sort of at the same time, with all three of the potential oboists who could contract her for the various freelance groups, and was surprised when things came to a head and she lost not only all three men but also all her employment prospects. Like she’d never seen it coming. I’m like, seriously?) This kind of thing kind of kept happening one way or the other until she up and got out of the classical music and broadway pit world.

(And when I looked her up to see what she has been up to since the book came out, I see she was apparently dating Bill Nye the Science Guy, and they sort of got married, but it turned out it wasn’t legal, and now they are broken up and he has restraining orders and lawsuits on her because she poured weedkiller on his roses. Or something. So it does not appear that career change resulted in increased life-stability or better life-partner choices.) (UPDATE: see the comments; one commenter offers a Blair-sided version of the tale which makes a lot more sense than the version you find on most websites.)

But the thing about the whole orchestral financial system–It’s a perspective I admit I hadn’t considered, enmeshed in this world as I am: cities supposedly have symphony orchestras and other arts programs to enrich the lives of the community. To get increased quality from the performers, and to manage the high levels of money that have to move around, there are soloists, conductors, and administrators who demand high levels of compensation. This compensation comes from federal funding and wealthy donors who are desperate to offset some of their income with donations for tax purposes. Meanwhile, audience interest wanes and the ticket prices required to cover all the expenses of such concerts get so high that most of the “community” the orchestra is theoretically there to serve can’t afford to purchase them. It’s this big circular mess. (I’ll be classy and not use the word I was thinking.) And meanwhile, most of the players are getting shafted, and the ones without union protection get even more shafted. And job satisfaction is low. So…it’s quite the conundrum.

But anyway, the book–I’d definitely recommend it, if only to have other people to talk with about it. There were definite moments when I wanted to stop and argue with her about her facts, figures, and the conclusions she drew from them. There were other moments when I was like, “Okay, wow. Never thought of it that way, never thought to even ask that question.”

So…let me know if you read it!

(Amazon Prime also made a pilot for a TV series “based on” it–no relationship at all except that the main character is an oboist, from what I can tell.  And the guy playing the hot young maestro is hot and young but desperately needs a conducting coach, because he looks ridiculous. Essentially it looked like Smash” but about symphony orchestras. I don’t think it’s been picked up for a season, but I enjoyed the pilot. You can watch it for free.) (another UPDATE: It has apparently been picked up for 10 episodes. Please, please get Bernal a coach…)

mozartjunglepilot

Time Curve Preludes

I was initially going to write a post about this ridiculous commercial, but I’m taking the high road and going with William Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes instead.

I love these pieces–the American Record Guide calls them the “Well-Tempered Clavier of Minimalism,” and while I’m on the fence as to how traditionally “minimalistic” they are (does anyone really know what minimalism is, honestly? Or, do any two people who know what minimalism really is actually agree with one another?), I still think they are absolutely cool. Some are more favorite-y than others, but as someone who doesn’t generally sit down and listen to solo piano music for pleasure (despite having gotten a degree in piano performance…that’ll tell you something, won’t it?), I nonetheless keep putting these on my rotation.

Enjoy!

(By the way, speaking of minimalism, Kyle McGann’s “New Music Box” articles about minimalism and Stuff Like It are a really good read, much better than most turgid academic-y articles, and fascinating. I like this stuff. If you do too, bookmark it and check it later!)

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