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In Celebration of Women's Month

This week I will use this blog to reflect on the four decades I've spent as a professional musician and educator.  I started my professional journey in 1969.  At that time, the thing I wanted most in the world was to play percussion in a symphony orchestra.  My professors at Oberlin Conservatory and Eastman School of Music  routinely told me that a woman had no chance in the performing arts. I should just quit music, they said.  Get married and have a family.  When players were selected for key concerts, I was frequently overlooked.  

At the time, I thought that I was being treated this way because there was something wrong with me.  My parents had raised me to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.  If I would only work harder, practice more diligently, be more "one of the boys" I would surely receive the recognition I was due.  

I spent the next ten years auditioning for symphony orchestras.  At that time (the early 70's) Elayne Jones was literally the only black woman playing percussion in a professional orchestra anywhere in the US (OK there may have been others, but I never saw or heard about them).  Ms Jones encountered so much prejudice and hostility when she was hired by the San Francisco Symphony that she ended up having to sue the orchestra just to keep her job.  

Lacking Jones' mental toughness and determination, I was shattered each and every time I applied for a job and was rejected.  Sometimes I'd get close - I was one of two finalists for the North Carolina Sympnony, for example.  But instead of choosing anyone, the orchestra chose to hold a second set of auditions.  Two weeks later I received a lengthy letter from a member of their audition committee assuring me that "race prejudice" had absolutely nothing to do with their decision not to hire me.  Instead, he informed me that I had not been hired because of the mallets I'd used to hit the bass drum.  

Really?

It took me ten years to finally decide I would give up on the world of classical percussion.  To learn about the next step in my journey, check out my memoir They Raised Me Up:  A Black Single Mother and the Women Who Inspired Her.

 

 

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