The Power of Ensemble

by | Mar 28, 2021 | 0 comments

Letter from the Editor

There’s something liberating about Jazz. I am by no means a jazz clarinetist. With advanced studies in classical clarinet, I tend to like the box that is classical music. That being said, Jazz has it’s own set of rules. There is a structure in place with guidelines for success in a jazz solo. 

While it may look like a soloist has a touch of the divine in them to produce such melodies, the behind the scenes is the formation of such magic. The hours of practice of scales & patterns, legendary solos excruciatingly dictated to perfection, rehearsals galore, multiple takes on your favorite album etc, leads to that moment with you in the audience adoring in complete wonder and reverie. Spellbound. 

The practice is critical so when that decisive moment comes, you have the tools to elevate the extraordinary to the iconic. But no man or woman is an island. It takes a team to improvise with on stage or studio. It takes an ensemble to improvise magic.

The Power of ENSEMBLE:
How we can build communities through music.

by Kevin Krumenauer

I was a lonely kid. I remember in the early 80s turning the key to my mom’s front door and wishing I’d open it to find a house full of people. But it was just me in the afternoons. I had no siblings, my parents were divorced, and my mom worked a corporate job to support us. I spent after school watching cartoons or playing video games alone.

In the 4th grade, I went to a school that offered instrumental music, and it got me out of the general music class where we sang Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land practically every day. I got put on the trombone by the band director (despite my initial preference for the clarinet). This is when things started to turn around for me. Music very quickly became my lifeline. It enabled me to escape and cope with the huge underlying forces that were at play in my home and social life. And I’m sure there are many kids, and frankly people of all ages, who find themselves at odds with their lives and not having much agency or control. Into this music can come and give an opening and a respite.

When I walked into that band ensemble room in the afternoons, I was no longer just an awkward, husky teen who moved so often that each year was a new school and the experience of being the new kid. I was a trombone player. And I now had a place and a purpose, and people around me who needed me to reach a common goal. For the first time, maybe ever, in my life, I had a sense of community and agency in my life. This is what resided in the power of the ensemble.

Large ensemble participation, such as a band or an orchestra, has the ability to create communal space. This might seem like a simple thing, and it is, but it is also enormously powerful. Sometimes the greatest power lies in the simplest acts. I’ve seen first hand too in my work as a composer, how rehearsal and performance of music creates a regular structured space where community can flourish. The lived music experience does more than produce a finished work of art, as powerful as that is, it creates a goal and the satisfaction in having achieved such a creation. This is the true power of the ensemble performance experience, creating and holding space for growth, both musically and personally by allowing us to reconnect with our humanity. Currently, there is a significant lack of space in society where people can physically come together as a community and engage in a common activity like participating in a live music ensemble. And the pandemic has exacerbated this and underlined the real need for it.

Music is happening right now, but it’s happening without groups coming together to share direct human interaction between the performers. There are limits in teleconferencing technology that do not allow for live music to be made in real time—there’s simply too much delay in the signal.  There is a sort-of music that is going forward, but it has no communal element to it. It is individuals recording their portion against a pre-recorded track. This can result in a useful performance of a piece, but the communal aspect of creating something together; the exchange of energies and of emotions that occur through the creative process is lost. This work of community is vital and must be preserved. Societies function better when people feel connected. Creating these connections is vital for good mental well-being.

I see the future of the ensemble as a place that provides a grounded, centered space for music making. Where people of multiple backgrounds can come together to join in the common activity of making sound together. (Let’s face it, the reality is that it gives us a place where we can meet together for a common activity and forget all of our societal trappings.) This is what we need, a space where different people can come together and do so in a non-threatening way. Engaging in music does this because it levels the playing field. Everyone is united by their ability on an instrument, regardless of their background, sexuality, race, gender or socioeconomic status. The ensemble is what we need if society is to survive and thrive.

Fashion Education:
Instilling marginalized communities in the classroom.

by Jeff Karly

Do you remember when cabin fever had set in for you last year, and the weight of the world felt so heavy? I do that was June 2020, at least three months into a pandemic, sitting home, witnessing the unnecessary murder of George Floyd. This moment of reckoning sparked one of the largest civil rights movements in recent times. And in that time, I started to see many major companies and brands publicly began putting out messages of solidarity, “We stand with you,” “BLM,” “End systemic racism,” etc. Did you notice that? It was hard not to look at those statements as cap and performative, especially when no real change was happening in the workplace for Black staff or in the classroom for Black students. The industry often uses buzzwords to describe the future, sustainability, authenticity, and currently, its favorite one is inclusivity. But inclusive for who, and where should it begin? Education and the fashion curriculum. However, the industry, which includes fashion schools, continues to perpetuate the eurocentric standard of beauty and design. Black students often find it more challenging to succeed in places where they aren’t heard, seen, or supported. And for many Black children, social inequities and structural barriers beginning early and continue throughout their life. How can education create real long-lasting and provide a space where more students of color can succeed?

Change in fashion can happen. To start is to cut out the fancy buzzwords and look at real systemic change through the curriculum. Fashion education is a space where students should be allowed to reflect more on different thoughts and designs. Fashion influences body, agency, and identity. It’s a space where social inequities are unpacked in many creatives ways through design. However, the industry still holds a narrow view trapped in the on European beauty standards. In turn, the curriculum is biased while Black history and contributions continue to be diminished. Black students may see it as they aren’t important while other students may have missed a learning lesson. Schools and educators should focus on adding more elements of African American/Indigenous studies.  The next-gen creatives and innovators are the future of the industry, what they’re learning and who is teaching have long terms impacts.

Our current fashion curriculum further exacerbates barriers for students of color, which ultimately stagnates the industry. What’s crucial here is how schools teach the next generation. Do we give them a space to dream, a space to explore their culture or do we rigidly tell them the expectation based on the industry-standard? Who we allow teaching is an important factor as well, if your professor doesn’t see the importance of the contributions from people like Jay Jaxon, students will leave with the same narrow teachings. There are few classes in some design schools that provide classes where race is explored within Fashion, Kimberly Jenkins is doing great work in that space. 

For the next generation of fashion leaders, school ideally should be the place students get to cultivate new ideas. A space to gain a  new perspective, feel supported in their work, and take what the past has done and create something new and fresh. You shouldn’t choose to set aside Black creators while many of their innovations have truly impacted the industry. Their history is well worth knowing.  For “inclusivity” to not just be a word used in lectures because it’s the IT word all stakeholders need to be considered, especially students and faculty for marginalized backgrounds. 

Embedding into the curriculum should be center on communities of color and more African American studies. It is a moment where white students can be engaged with racial inequity at an early age. When curriculum explicitly leaves out Black contributions it can prevent expansive learning while missing out on a moment to create a new stream of thought, change. Simply put the curriculum is outdated and needs review. Although it won’t make up for the financial realities many Black students face when pursuing higher education. However, students need to be seen, heard and, supported, altering the curriculum to create a worldview inclusive to all communities, where contributions are celebrated, and schools hire more professors of color. Inclusive education isn’t only race, its body, its fabric, its accessible design.

You Were Never Safe:
Broadway needs to put on its big boy pants.

with Nate Patten

Hello everyone. Shhh…quiet please. I’m writing this from my “Safe Space” and I don’t like a lot of outside noise and I’m already feeling triggered. My “safe space” is a secret, magical, hypothetical place where nobody questions me or my values, uses “problematic language”, or tells me no. Back on earth, the organization Advocates for Youth states on their website that a safe space is “a place where anyone can relax and be fully self-expressed, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged.” In short: a place that doesn’t actually exist. In recent years, college students have been welcomed into safe spaces like Hillary Clinton’s welcomed at CNN. But it raises the question:  what actually is safe and, more importantly, what are we safe from?  The ideals of this can’t be qualified, let alone quantified. They’re endless. While the original intent of a safe space probably grew out of a desire to give marginalized communities an opportunity to share their experiences–something I find as an LGBT person both necessary and moving–creating a space where “no one is made to feel uncomfortable” creates a utopian nightmare. In fact, for us to learn about these marginalized people and situations, shouldn’t we need to feel some sort of discomfort? No pain no gain, or does fear not exist in this dojo? Here is where the paradox begins.

During my last year of college, shortly after the James Polk administration, professors in the theatre department started putting up signs on their office doors that said, “This is an LGBT safe space”—this was before we added Q, I, A, and whatever letters are left. It was a little bumper sticker with a rainbow triangle which I suppose was to let the gay kids know that they would not be beaten up if they went into that office. This, of course, was intended to be a kind hearted gesture; a way to let the LGBT kids feel visible and heard, something I would actually like to see more of. But therein quickly arose a problem. Not every professor got the memo that the safe space stickers existed. By putting these virtue signalers on their doors, the professors then by process of elimination labeled all of the other doors in the hallways as (gasp) NOT safe spaces. When walking past the pottery teacher’s classroom and noticing the glaring omission of the sticker, the students had to ask, “Did she forget it, or is she a member of the Westboro Baptist Church?” By delineating a safe space, the faculty ironically also created an unsafe space. Not to mention, I really believe at least some of these people were definitely using safe spaces as a way to manipulate someone to have sex with them. The creepy janitor had both a rainbow bumper sticker and at least three severed heads in his freezer.

If you have been living under a rock, Broadway is still currently more shutdown than the Chernobyl power plant.. Actors Equity has been increasingly under fire from its members for not allowing theaters to reopen due to unattainable and unrealistic safety requirements–replacing ventilation systems, private transportation for all the actors, plexiglass onstage–to name a few. To be fair, the union’s job is to protect its members, but it is widely agreed upon in the industry that the protocols they have required theaters to implement create impossible scenarios that prolong the closure of the industry. They also recently released a statement saying they are intent on bringing their members back to work when it is “safe”. It must be asked though: what is this idealized version of “safe” to which Equity is referring? Let’s be optimistic and say that with vaccinations the United States is able to get the number of Covid cases to numbers resembling something like whooping cough, a virus that still exists but that no one really has to worry about. What about all of the other perils an actor faces by working on a production? No one really publicly talked about the number of deaths that the regular flu causes every year until 2020, but it’s in the tens of thousands. Are we going to shut down theatre until that’s under control too? The unions have been ok with us breathing in asbestos in all the Broadway theaters for the past 90 years and haven’t ever waited until that got taken care of. And is this the same union that didn’t close “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark”, the show that was literally dropping flying actors in the audience? Equity needs to clarify their idealized version of “safe” because, all productions pose a risk to the performer as soon as they have to leave for the theatre. 

Speaking of leaving the theatre, the new role of “intimacy director” is a creative team position being added to increasingly more productions around the United States. An “ID” is a professional trained to oversee scenes involving intimacy, nudity, or sexual content. This newly created—and seemingly required—position appears to have been a by product of the #MeToo movement during which many actors expressed ways in which they’d been made to feel uncomfortable on the set or in the rehearsal room. Until recently, scenes of intimacy were to  be left up to the director to handle, but in the theatre of today this job is left to a “trained” intimacy director. While no doubt there are for sure benefits to this, there also appears to be an apparent overcorrection which has led to many shows proudly boasting their intimacy director credit without really requiring it. Does Dorothy hugging the Scarecrow at the end of Wizard of Oz really require an extra weekly salary added to production? Articles in the New York Times and other publications have detailed the rise of the intimacy director and its necessity in order to make actors feel safe. I don’t think anyone would argue that it is of paramount importance  for delicate scenes involving any kind of intimacy to be handled with the utmost sensitivity, and for producers to reassure their casts that they will be in the hands (no pun intended) of a professional who will make them feel comfortable. But here’s the part I don’t get: what if the intimacy director makes you feel uncomfortable? Sure, the person has been trained, but who is to say that they can be responsible for everyone feeling ok? We’ve just now appointed a different person who could potentially be abusive into a position of power. It’s all fun and games until you walk into your rehearsal room and the intimacy director is John Wayne Gacy. This is just another person who has been given the title of making you feel safe. And yes, it’s definitely better than someone who has no training or protocol in how to make people feel comfortable, but since when is this a guarantee to not make you uncomfortable? You can be weirded out at any time, intimacy director or not. 

The theatre scene of 2021 is throttling art. There is no safety. When we feel we have achieved safety, that’s when we realize it was at the expense of everything we truly hold dear: expression. Safety is the suppression of emotion. Safety is the embracement of fear. Safety is truly unsafe and unsettling to our souls. And don’t you dare disagree with me because I’m in my “safe space” and confrontation triggers me. –NP

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