a lot of updates, a lot of questions
“Do the inner work so you can be the truth in your artistry, performance, writing…”
~ Nathalie Joachim, Grammy-nominated flutist, composer, & vocalist. From her keynote address at the New Music Gathering, June 2020.
Nathalie Joachim's keynote address was stunningly meaningful to me. She offered thoughtful, incisive answers to many uncertainties I've had. I can’t believe it took so long for me to discover another flutist of color who does everything I want to do as an artist.
It's been a while since I wrote, so here's a bit of what has been swirling in my head over the past month:
Inspired by Hilary Hahn's activism on her Instagram account, @violincase (where I first encountered Nathalie Joachim’s work), I'll open each post with a quote from a Black artist, writer, and/or thinker.
The past month has felt like three months. Finishing college. A road trip across the country. A week in California with my family. Flying back to Pittsburgh. Moving into a new neighborhood. Ten days of self-isolation. Storms for social justice, both on the streets & on social media. Then, a girl I knew at CMU passed away from leukemia. In between the deaths of Oluwatoyin Salau and Na’Kia Crawford in the news.
I'm learning how Pittsburgh — a city I've grown to love — is steeped in histories of anti-Black racism (last week I watched Raymond Henderson's & Tony Buba's documentary "Struggles in Steel" (1996), presented by City of Asylum and the Sabira Cole Film Festival).
This is an especially tense moment in the Philippines as well, given the recent Anti-Terrorism Bill (here's a feature of an acquaintance who's protesting the bill, and here's a longer article on Filipino migrant domestic workers).
The world of Western classical music is under intense scrutiny. Two weeks ago, CMU’s School of Music held a forum for BIPOC students & alumni to voice their experiences, after which my film-version of “Poems in Practice Rooms” was viewed by the Diversity & Inclusion Committee (thanks Veronica!). To follow up, I advocated for the creation of a support group for BIPOC students & students from low-income backgrounds.
Social media is a loud, loud place. Yet it’s one I feel drawn to anyway, as I’m learning a lot from following Black women and women of color — many of whom share my Christian faith alongside a commitment to anti-racist change.
Here is a list — mostly for myself, as I’ve been impulsively hitting “follow” and haven’t taken stock of whose content I’m now exposed to — of women whose Instagram accounts I’ve started following over the past month:
Austin Channing Brown (@austinchanning), Patricia Taylor (@patricia_a_taylor), Chika Anyanwu (@chikasworld), Ogechi Adaku (@gechmeifyoucan), Shavonne (@thegoandgrowfamily), Karianna Frey (@kariannafrey), Leticia Ochoa Adams (@leticiaoadams), Alissa Molina (@alissarmolina), Cecilia Marie (@ciaflow), Maryann (@thefilipinomom), Cessilye R. Smith (@cessilyersmith), Alexandria Glaudé (@maczandria), Christina Marie Bennett (@blackprolifewoman), Ria Barretto Aquino (@pinayreligiousity)
With the amount of content on my feed virtually doubled, social media is an incredibly overwhelming place right now. That’s partly why I haven't written here, unwilling to add to the noise by insisting that people read yet another wall of text.
These days, instead of writing, what centers me is Daily Mass. A lot of silence. Prayer. In my sophomore year of college, a group of friends and I started going to church every day. Since then, my Catholic faith has become the source of the deepest strength I know, the one place I have when bitterly lost.
A few days ago, it finally sank in — the freelancing career I’d excitedly begun to piece together over the past year won’t be a reality, not until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. As a result, I'm left holding a lot of loose ends.
There's a sense of urgency for artists to orient our creative practice towards anti-racist cultural change. For classical musicians, this typically means programming music by BIPOC composers. As someone who straddles creative fields, I have yet to define what this means to me.
In the meantime, I’ve started reading again — Ntozake Shange’s For Colored girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf (at the recommendation of a friend & one of my favorite writers, Cinelle Barnes); Glory Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves (both ordered from MahoganyBooks, a Black-owned online bookstore); and Thomas Chatterton Williams’ Self-Portrait in Black and White (at the recommendation of Catholic writer Emily Stimpson Chapman).
These days, I feel as if I am living in uncertainty up to my neck, and I can only breathe by straining my face towards the sky — a sky that's overcast and disheartening. But I know I’m not alone in this — I'm not the only college graduate whose plans have fallen apart, not the only artist who feels compelled to re-center her creative practice around anti-racism, yet doesn't know how — and not the only non-Black person who's unearthing how her own apathy & prejudices have been complicit in sociocultural violence.
This is a dreary post! But somehow, talking about uncertainty makes it more bearable. To end, here are several questions that I've felt paralyzed by over the past month (many of which will translate to future posts):
What does it mean to be brown in the United States? Does this matter in a moment when being Black is at the center of a national crisis?
What does being brown mean to me? Why does it matter to me?
How will a book on unlearning race (Williams’ Self-Portrait in Black and White) affect my deeply-held convictions about the construct of race and its impact on lived experience?
As someone raised on model minority narratives of achieving success in the USA, what if I want to use my talents & skills as an artist to serve the needs of the communities I’m part of?
What are the histories of the Black communities in the city I live in? What are my available means of supporting, listening to, and uplifting them? To what extent must I orient my creative work towards this end?
To what extent am I implicated in the social injustice within my parents' homeland, the Philippines?
What does a girl do when she graduates, and the performance opportunities she banked on are gone?
As a classically-trained flutist fresh out of college, what am I practicing for? Who wants to listen to a girl like me play the flute?
For someone like me, is filling the world with more noise (as in, cultural content) a responsible thing to do right now?
Where do I believe that this field we call “Western classical music” must go, in order to create spaces of equity rather than white supremacy?
Is there a place for me in this field, whether in its fractured reality or in the realities so many musicians are advocating for?
Am I hurt that members of my mostly-white flute studio did not attend the School of Music’s forum for BIPOC students & alumni? (Yes. But they are my friends, and I realize their absence may not mean the complete dismissal/"I don’t care about how brown/Black students struggle in ways I never have to think about” that it felt like to me.)
If I write & publish blog entries that do not directly address the crisis of racism — even if I'm educating myself offline to listen to & support the Black communities around me — will it ring as irresponsible? A misuse of the power of my platform?
All I can say with certainty is, I no longer feel so overwhelmed that I can't write. Slowly, this space is waking up.