Monday, August 11, 2014
Where are the Ladies?
I’ve been on a personal campaign for several months focusing on one subject in particular but not limited to that one subject exclusively. It’s a common topic of discussion that I have with my students and friends which concerns an issue that plagues the music, not necessarily from the perspective of the performers (but then, again, perhaps it does…) and sometimes influences the choices that the musicians make in performance and programming. However, unlike many issues that are of importance to the music community at large, this one has a simple and clear solution.
On a few occasions, I’ve openly vented from the bandstand at a few of my shows about how difficult it sometimes can be for me and my mostly male band to play for rooms that are exclusively populated by males. One of the most startling images that I’ve ever had while performing was one time when I was playing a ballad, attempting my best to be transparent, honest and expressive – only to finish my solo and open my eyes to witness a room full of beards, hairy legs, unclipped toenails and several pairs of old-ass Birkenstocks and sandals worn by a room full of dudes. With the exception of the wait staff, there wasn’t a single woman to be seen anywhere in the place. The images AND the moment were equal parts startling, horrifying and overwhelmingly discouraging. And, as this had happened so frequently in the past, I felt obligated to take action and address it right then.
I was so thrown off by the hairy visuals that I ended the tune early and picked up the microphone and half-jokingly asked, to no one in particular, “We sincerely appreciate your patronage and support, but does anyone in the house have any females in their lives who would also enjoy an evening of live, improvised music? Are there any women that you know whom you could POSSIBLY have asked to accompany yourselves here in an effort to bring some balance to this gender-disproportionate audience? Perhaps a landlady, Mother, sister, female cousin, bag lady, roomate, friend – with or without benefits, maybe even an ex, ANYONE would suffice! We’re trying our best up here, but this boy’s club mentality has to end now! It’s a tall order for anyone to expect us to perform non-testosterone- infused music for a room full of scruffy guys all night”.
In short, I’ve spoken to a number of friends, most of whom are all in accord that the one-sided gender imbalance (where patronage is concerned) is one condition that has helped to prevent the music from moving forward. Many male musicians are hopelessly preoccupied with “flexing and profiling for their boys” instead of engaging in artful storytelling or attempting to reveal the less testosterone-driven aspects of their character. During performances, some musicians proceed as if it is not considered masculine to be fragile, sensitive or to employ a broader palette of dynamics in their work. This type of thinking and performing, along with the lack of a strong female presence at concerts (or in most bands), has done a great deal of harm to the general perception of the music at large and is detrimental to it’s image and it’s ability to be more universally accepted.
Of course I'll graciously perform for anyone who is kind enough to support my work. This is not an orientation issue either, but instead one of perhaps better patron/audience stability which would yield a more honest artistic output. For what it's worth, I can say with complete certainty and conviction that I perform my best to an audience of couples and when the genders are mixed.
So guys, please bring a date, friend or paid escort to accompany you during your live music outings. Go Dutch, if necessary. Just bring SOMEONE sometimes other than your “bud”. Of course we have no problem playing for whomever will support us, but our ability to express ourselves would be fully realized if we had the balanced support of both sexes.
Then again, I certainly wouldn't gripe about playing for an all-female audience at all either. So, on second thought, guys please just send your female associates instead to recommended live shows. You can all stand outside and greet them as they leave. That'll work just fine.