Q: Can you tell me a bit about your background?
So in my undergrad I was a dual degree student at University of Michigan. So I got a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance from SMTD, and a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from LSA. Now I'm a grad student at University of Michigan, getting an M.M. in Violin Performance, and an M.M. in improvisation. I'm also doing the Graduate Certificate of Women's Studies, through the Women's Studies Department in Rackham.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you first began becoming involved with music?
Sure. My dad is a musician so when I was really little, my mom and I would go see him play at his different gigs. He used to play with this jazz violinist, and every time we would go see her play when I was like two years old, I would tell my parents, “I want to play violin”. And they were kind of like, “you don't know what you want, you're two years old!”, but I just kept asking, and eventually, they put me in lessons. And it just kind of stuck. I really liked it, and was really committed to it at a young age. But I will say that having parents who knew what it was like to be a musician, and how important it was to stick with it, kept me motivated and committed. I'm really grateful for that.
A huge growing experience throughout my years in college has been learning how to create the music and the art that I want to create—creating the music and the art that is satisfying to me—and also will hopefully result in a job in performance. I think that every artist goes through a lot of self doubt and soul-searching in terms of the kind of art they're making, and who they’re making it for. I think that artists grapple a lot with perception (self-perception, other people's perception of them, etc.), because everything in art is so subjective. Another huge aspect of what's hard about being a musician and an artist is that there are so many great people out there, and when you're in an environment where you're surrounded by such talented people all the time, it can be hard to feel that you're qualified or that you have a future in this. But I think, once you find yourself doing what you want to be doing and creating what you want to create, you're able to find your path a lot easier. And that's something I'm still figuring out.
Q: Can you talk about how art can be a platform for social justice issues?
I think art is the best platform for social justice issues. Art allows us to convey social justice issues and invoke change through experience in a way that can be personal, private, subtle, and not subtle at all—all at the same time. It can be confronting, but not attacking, because oftentimes, art allows people to feel like they're engaged in a conversation, but not have to respond right away. It can just leave people with something to think about, and leave people with a new way to think about issues that are relevant and imperative. I think that's the best way to invoke change right now: to cause people to look inside themselves and think about how they personally approach and react to issues in society. Social justice activism within art is unique in that everyone in the audience has a collective experience, and every individual has their own experience within that collective. That's why art means so many different things to so many different people, and you never know how something is going to affect somebody. Another thing is that it really provides a platform for conversation. If you go see a performance with a group of friends, chances are you're going to talk about it after, or you're going to want to explain it to somebody else. And through that explanation, whether you liked what you saw or not, you're able to express how you reacted and how you felt, and how the art made you feel. A lot of times, I think the issue is that people actually don't voice what's going on inside themselves, and don't hear it out loud, so it just brews inside them and then doesn't develop in a way that's productive. And I think art gives you the opportunity to do that—whether you're creating it, or watching it.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as a performing artist as a student?
As an artist, it has definitely been difficult because all live performances have stopped. All in-person instruction has come to a halt, all gigs that were contracted or planned for anytime in the near future have essentially been canceled. So, in a lot of ways, it can feel sometimes that we're at a standstill as artists, especially for someone my age, who is just trying to start their career and at the peak of my educational journey. I mean, actually, scratch that, because we're always learning throughout our lives. I just mean that I'm about to graduate from my Master’s, and about to start taking auditions, and this kind of has just put the brakes on that. So there are definitely a lot of reasons that COVID-19 has made the idea of wanting to be a performer scary, because we don't know how or if or when it's going to go back to the normal that we know. That being said, it’s also an exciting opportunity to re-evaluate, which may not have happened without it being forced upon me. I think that we can try to find a silver lining in this, in that it has caused people to find new ways to share art, and communicate through art, and commit themselves in different ways to their art. It’s an opportunity to test ourselves on whether we really want to do this, or how we really want to do this. And it also gives people time to reflect on what they've been doing, reflect on what they want to do, and think to themselves, “well, if I have another year where I don't have any contracted commitments for performances, what can I do within this year to better myself as an artist or to better the art world that I want to be part of?”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about when the US initially started to shut down and what that looked like for you as a performing art student, and if your classes moved online and kind of your initial reactions.
Yeah, so, I don't remember what day of the week it was when the University of Michigan went completely online, but I remember that I was in orchestra, and we all got notification that Michigan State had gone online, and it was going to be effective at 12:30pm which was when orchestra usually ends. There was a little bit of a buzz among us saying like, “oh my gosh I think this is gonna be the last day of orchestra for the entire year”. And we had huge concert plans. We were going to do Beethoven 9 with the voice department and it was going to be epic. We were in the midst of rehearsals, totally full steam ahead for this really exciting performance. Not to mention that individually, everyone had really important and exciting performances coming up. People had recitals and graduation, and I think that when everything went online, no one really knew what was going to happen, except that it might have been the last time we all had a shared experience like that. And then, one by one, different things were canceled. They were canceling showcases. They were canceling recitals. They were canceling graduation. I think every single person really felt the hit individually. I was supposed to be in the National Repertory Orchestra in Colorado, but that season was canceled as well.
Q: What are you doing with your time now, what the days or the weeks look like for you. And do you have any sort of plans?
So right now, in light of the fact that our country is in this insane place where we have the COVID-19 pandemic and a racism pandemic, there are difficult conversations and events that are taking place that are forcing people to pay attention, and engage in a conversation that it was easier for people to ignore before. I am hoping to create an online symposium, where we get different speakers and panels and have a number of online zoom events over the course of two days to discuss issues within race and gender in music, and have a platform for education and discussion. I have the time to plan it now. I am using time to educate myself because there's so much that I don't know and so much I want to learn, and so many people and books and experiences I can learn from. So, I think that it has been a productive time. I'm hoping to really get that event going because people have time now, whether it's big artists that might be willing to speak at the event, or students and audiences who are willing to attend an online event, because they are at home and have time to tune into an event like that. So that's one thing that I'm working on.
I'm also trying to keep my chops up as a violinist and as a singer as much as I can. I will admit that, at times, it is hard to stay motivated and inspired, especially being home. Any time I come home, even if it's for vacation or just for a few days, I kind of revert into a little hermit, and I just go into my shell, and I'm on vacation mode. I've been here for over three months now, so I am forcing myself not to just become complacent and unmotivated and lazy, which is really easy to do because there's not much to do outside of the house. It's kind of a weird paradox: I’m home all the time, so you'd think I would be practicing all the time, but because I'm home all the time, laziness breeds laziness. And I know that we're in the middle of a global pandemic and so many people are saying “hey, don't be so hard on yourself. We're literally living in a pandemic.” So I've been trying to keep myself on top of things. It’s also really nice being home because I'm very lucky in that I really get along with my family, and we are all musicians. So we all play together and write music together, and are able to grow as artists together. Having the opportunity to play with other people is a luxury these days. That's really something I miss most about being at school—being surrounded by other artists that are inspiring, and having the opportunity to grow from my peers. So I'm trying to channel that through my family, and through other online and zoom opportunities that present themselves, which is why I want to create one.
Q: Have you gotten any word on what that will look like for you next semester?
Not really. I'm interested to see what they decide, because even if they follow the university guidelines for the semester (which I'm pretty sure they have to do), and go completely remote starting November 20, and start again onJanuary 20, that's two months of no orchestra, no chamber music, and no in person private lessons. That's best case scenario. However, an orchestra has more than 100 people, and they're saying that all large classes will be online. So, I'm really curious to see how they're going to navigate orchestra, whether they're going to do it in person or not, because it really can't be done online. I'm also a little nervous that things will get worse before they'll get better. I worry that if the numbers get bad enough, they'll just basically tell everybody not to come back for the second semester, and they'll put everything online, even if you stay on campus. So, if that happens, people who are in studio based and lab based programs, like the music school is, will be at a great disadvantage. There is no replica for orchestra online. There is no replica for performing with other people and feeding off of people in a live performance environment. It'll be a learning curve for everybody.
Q: What would you like to see change after this pandemic ends in terms of mostly diversity, equity inclusion, within the arts just because like you said we're not going to go back to the same world, I mean it's going to be kind of a new, I guess, reality for us and so yeah what are some things you'd like to see change or shift?
I’d like to see people write letters to the institutions that we are a part of, and/or present new material to our conductors and Dean's, and demand that there is diversity in the music that is played and in the classes that are taken. If you're part of a jazz or improvisation department, there should be a larger emphasis on the history of the music and the history of the people that created this music. We have a huge Department of African American and African Studies (DAAS). I think SMTD should partner with DAAS to offer a more complete, contextual education in terms of the history of the music. Same with Asian Music, or even European music. I think there should be a more comprehensive musicology and music history aspect of the curriculum, and I definitely think there should be more of an emphasis on BIPOC and womxn composers, performers, and educators. I think it's our responsibility to educate ourselves on artists who are often looked over. I would like to see more conversation and collaboration within the departments at SMTD. The different departments would really benefit from working together. I think that there needs to be more cohesion and love within SMTD to make each student feel loved and appreciated and accepted. And in general, I think it would be fantastic if students had more say in the kind of music or the kind of art they performed, so they can represent themselves as artists in a truer form, and they can represent the generation of artists in a truer form. I think that would lead to a lot more diversity and equity in SMTD.