Are You Really Playing?

The trumpet. Typically thought of as a “Man’s” instrument.  I always thought that was funny, as I’ve seen countless images of female angels blowin’ the trumpet up in the skies.

I’ve been used to being one of the only girls in the section for quite a while now; well, since I was 12.  Growing up in the trumpet section will definitely condition young ears to not be offended by anything, especially during the college years.  Just last night a colleague at a gig was telling a story and then looked at me uncomfortably.  I knew what he was thinking.  I graciously spared him the awkwardness and said, “Don’t worry, I grew up in the trumpet section.  Nothing you say can or will offend me.”   He continued his story, much more relaxed.  I’ve heard it all over the years, and nothing fazes me.  Well, that’s not true.  There is ONE thing that irks me, and that has to do with people’s skeptical view of my (or anyone’s) ability to play the trumpet professionally as a female.  That definitely gets under my skin.

I was in a Broadway show for 5 years called “Blast!”   I’ve found this is the best way to describe it:  What Riverdance did for Irish dancing on the stage, Blast! did for marching band on the stage.  Brass, Percussion, and a Visual Ensemble.  Those were some amazing times.  A huge cast weaving intricately through each other while playing music as if they were seated in a concert hall.   A small group of girls existed in the sea of all those brass players.  We were the Brass Girls.  We have an amazing bond that will last forever, that’s for sure.  We dealt with comments here and there, but there was one comment from an audience member after the show that was so asinine, we just had to laugh.  One of our male colleagues passed it along.  “Wow I can’t believe all that movement onstage and you all are playing live!  But tell me something, are the girls really playing?”

I am currently the trumpet player for Michael Bolton.  This summer we did a two-night concert with a big-time Symphony Orchestra.  I have a solo onstage while MB is doing a quick-change.   On the second night, I forgot to remove my practice mute before I went out.  The first few notes were silent until I could pull the mute out, put it down, and continue with my solo. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08sBe5Z0SAM) After the show, one of the trumpet players came up and said, “Wow you sound great.  We were all wondering if you were really playing last night, but your mute just answered that question.  Great job!”   *Sigh*  I just smiled and said thank you.  Something I’ve gotten quite used to over the years, and many other women before me I’m sure.  What I wanted to say was, “Really dude?  I’ve been playing this thing for 20 years and it’s how I make my living.  I have a degree in music performance.  Let’s go play duets and ask me if I’m really playing after I throw down on some sight-reading.”   All that goes through my head, but I play the game and act like a nice proper lady should.

On occasion, when I’m on a gig for the first time and don’t know the other guys, there is a weird, unspoken cloud of judgment and an “oh boy what is she doing here?” feeling before the gig.  After the gig, we seem to be equals.  Why can’t it be like that from the start?  On the flip side, there are plenty of guys who are happy to be playing with a lady.   I’m the only female instrumentalist in The Charleston Jazz Orchestra, and feel embraced.   Way to go, CJO!  In fact, all the Chucktown bands that I’ve played with have been great.

Sometimes, it’s other females who are worse than men.  The females in the audience giving me a “what does she think she’s doing up there” look are vicious.  Afterward, its a different story.  Again with the preconceptions!   We ladies need to stick together.  Empower other women who are up there working in a man’s world.   Know that they are already getting judged by a lot of the men in the room.  Don’t add to that!  From the start, I try to make eye contact with the ladies in the audience and smile, because the ones who are judgmental and stare me down with daggers make me the most uncomfortable.   I’ve been dealing with the occasional man that judges for years, but this horrible female competition thing is much newer for me.  A simple, “Yes girl, do yo’ thang!” from one woman in the audience can cause the other women to soften.  I’ve seen it happen!

I’m teaching more girls than ever, and that’s a great sign!   There are tons of professional female bad-ass musicians out there right now.  Hopefully the tide will continue to change and the next generations won’t have so much to prove.  I can’t imagine what the female greats of yesteryear went through.   Valaida Snow and Clora Bryant (pictured below), for example, probably dealt with it every waking hour. Talk about bad-asses, I hope to someday be half the jazz trumpeter they were!. They helped pave the way and I’m so thankful to them for that!   In a world where sexuality is celebrated much more than intellect or talent, women have to work much harder to be taken seriously.  Have you ever noticed how high-ranking ladies in politics get torn to bits by the media?   “Hilary Clinton looks haggard.  Condoleezza Rice is dressed like a dominatrix. Did Sarah Palin get a boob job?!”

To the men that see no gender barrier- thank you!   To the ladies who hate on other ladies- let’s help turn this tide and lift each other up, not tear each other down!

valaida-snow_young_1_t0f15

Clora+Bryant+Bryant

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2 Responses to “Are You Really Playing?”

  1. Stephan Berry Says:

    U go girl!

  2. Amy Sanchez Says:

    Well-stated thoughts from a very talented and hard-working musician. Thank you, Cameron!

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