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Qualms about diversity, practicing

from “sing a black girl’s song” by poet, performer/director, & educator Ntozake Shange (1948-2018):

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/ no tune

2020. Photo by Theresa Abalos.
From a walk today in Squirrel Hill.

Last week, I wrote in my journal about being a flutist during COVID-19: 

Over the past few days, my commitment to practicing technique every day has exhausted itself. Drowned out by unspoken questions like, “What’s the point of practicing? Am I just bothering my neighbors with intrusive, high-pitched noises?” 

It’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to perform, that I’ve forgotten how music used to be something I felt compelled to share with others.

At the cathedral this morning, the organist played something that brought me to tears. It was so expressive, so moving, it made me miss being a musician playing within a rich tapestry of harmonies, using my breath and the collaborative, committed, & curious approach I developed in college, to create something that came from my heart.

After that slump, I started practicing again because playing flute has become too precious to let go of. At the risk of sounding cliché, it's my doorway out of this world. Below is a clip from my practice yesterday: first Manuel V. Francisco's musical version of “Ama Namin,” then Johannès Donjon’s “Elegie.”

Ama Namin” is “Our Father,” the Christian prayer in Tagalog. Recently, the organist at church played Francisco's version. That same day, I spontaneously met another Filipina who was in tears, because she recognized the music. 

"Elegie" is an etude by a French composer that I started learning, simply because it sounded pretty.

I’ve become good friends with the Filipina I met after Mass that day. Last week, I decided to play "Ama Namin" on flute for her — the first time I’ve “performed” in months (with social distancing, with my flute pointing the other direction).

Diversity in music is a tricky issue. If I were to post a recording of “Elegie" without the Tagalog “Ama Namin” to diversify this post, I would feel the weight of unspoken accusations: that I'm centering the work of white men & perpetuating white supremacy, failing to use my platform to uplift marginalized composers of color.

By this logic, the best way for me to use my musical abilities is to play music by BIPOC. But even though "Ama Namin" was composed by a Filipino, it's still a token of colonization: Christianity came with Spain's conquest of the Philippines. 

To help make sense of this, I'm deciding to believe a couple things:

One, it's possible for a tradition (like music, religion) to have been spread in a violent way, without incriminating the artists or believers who belong to this tradition.

Two, a tradition can be powerful enough to transcend its violent histories.

There’s a lot here to unpack here — so for how, here is me practicing some music that I found beautiful:

(Re: the flute-aspect of this recording:)

  • In practicing “Ama Namin,” I’ve encountered why I love being a flutist: to bring something to life in a way that's intimately akin to language, but beyond words. (Listening back, I'm also reminded to work on vibrato & intonation.)

  • In this recording of “Elegie,” I dislike how note-y it still sounds. In particular, I want the pick-up notes to sing more, so that they are melodic in addition to being rhythmical. And of course, cracking notes reveals how I'd lost a sense of how to balance airflow and vocalization with certain dynamics in certain registers.

  • In both pieces, I want to work on sustaining a stronger rhythmic impulse. It’s easy for me to wander into “recitativo” mode because I’m fixated on melodic contour, but rhythmic drive is equally crucial.


Hello there! Thank you for taking the time to read and/or listen!

If you find the content on my blog meaningful, please consider supporting my work on Patreon.

That way, I can continue to create all of this for free, while balancing part-time jobs to pay rent & student loans :)

Thank you for considering! Take care. ~ Theresa

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