What does music mean to me?


Today, I was asked to talk about my most momentous experience with music, and my greatest fear. If you had asked me this question maybe 4 months ago, I'd say that the turning point of me wanting to be a musician was at the age of 16 when I got to play Pines of Rome side-by-side with my high school teacher. The feeling was overwhelming, I was dizzy when I stood up for my solo bow (and almost knocked my chair off the riser). Nothing I'd ever done in my life had felt so good, or so satisfying. I knew that music brought me together with people that I wouldn't have otherwise met, music taught me discipline, music taught me perseverance. Generally speaking, music made my life better in every way.


This moment was so important to me, as well, because I knew that I wouldn't have had such an experience without all of my teachers. So naturally, what I should do in college became obvious very quickly. I'd get two degrees. One in clarinet performance, so I could continue to be the best player EVER, and one in music education so I could pay it forward to other students.


I didn't realize how quickly I was going to start questioning everything I had been taught, and everything I thought I knew. The first thing that started changing for me was realizing that my schooling experience was certainly not that of most others. I LOVED school. My parents believe that education is crucial, and so do I. I got every opportunity I could have wanted in school, and I lapped all of them up. Never in my life did I have to worry about paying the bills, whether or not my family would eat... I just got up every day, and did my thing. I don't think I was "selfish" per-se, but I certainly wasn't worrying about anyone but me.


The summer after my freshman year of college, I joined a group of pre-service teachers, and quit the program almost immediately. I realized that scripted curriculum, strict behavioral requirements, and other such ways of teaching might have been alright for me, but it was my privilege that allowed me to make it through. After quitting the program, I realized that I was hired because I "looked like" the students of color in the program. Yes, I am a person of color, my heritage is Indian. But I haven't lived the experience that leads to BIPOC folks' marginalization in our society.


So I decided I was going to make a change. In my practicum placements, I tried to bring different cultural perspectives into teaching, more student centered teaching. Nothing I seemed to do helped very much. Sure, there were a couple students who had a good time with my methods, but for the most part, students who were set up for success in our system flourished, and students who are not didn't. No matter what I did, or worked out with my cooperating teachers, I felt like the system had already failed students. I felt like there was very little I could do to make a large scale difference. (And speaking of large scale, don't get me started on class sizes, or why we use the large ensemble to teach music to children. That's a WHOLE nother can of worms). I became super skeptical of the education system, and almost dropped my degree SEVERAL times throughout college. There were many times where I felt like I learned more about being a teacher from being an RA than I did in my degree. Teaching music in the schools began to feel really futile. I didn't feel like I was making a difference that was necessary. In fact, I wanted to be a teacher to pay my experiences forward, and I felt like all I was doing was perpetuating problems.


The whole teaching thing was starting to have a bad taste in my mouth. I therefore fueled every ounce of energy I had into my playing. I'd often get up before the sun came up to practice, and I said no to a lot of social things (that would have probably been helpful to my loneliness in hindsight). There was a semester during college where I had even written bathroom breaks in my planner so as to not waste any more time. I'd say that performance was keeping me fired up for the most part. I just wanted to be the best I could.


Throughout college, I was part of the Diverse Musicians' Alliance (DiMA) and I really felt at home there. People were always striving for justice in music. Through a phenomenal program called Persevering Legacy, I was able to play a piece by Regina Harris Baiocchi. I was excited, things were going well, I learned how to transpose from C. I went to put it on my repertoire list. And then, I realized that I had NEVER before my JUNIOR year of college, played a piece for clarinet by someone who was not a white male. WHAT?! That was ridiculous. During this project, I was able to write to Regina Harris Baiocchi, and she was kind enough to let me buy two more of her pieces. I was thrilled, and put one of them on my senior recital.


I started examining orchestral and band repertoire more closely. Why were there hardly any women of color on any of our concerts? And more importantly, whether there were or weren't, why did we never talk about it? Gosh, there were so many things to unpack.


And then, we got hit with COVID-19. I tell you all of the above information, because until 3 months ago, I was still pretty convinced that the way out for me was just to get into a good orchestra, and practice my bum off, and teach privately, and hope that I could influence young minds one on one. Now, though I'm not completely pessimistic, I feel like orchestra might be dead, and the school systems will continue to fail students. There have been several days lately where I think I should just probably drop music and "do some good in the world." But I have these degrees, I've spent the time trying to make a difference! How can I make my music career into something that will make a difference?


Well, I have no answers. I'm sad, lately, that everything I've practiced for seems like it's coming to a crashing halt. But at the same time, racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments are everywhere. If I leave my field, these things will continue to perpetuate. Maybe if I stay, I can make some change.


Maggie has given me a lifeline. My friend Maggie Greenwood was finishing up her doctoral degree in clarinet while I was finishing my undergraduate. Her project was to compile a database of solo clarinet works written by women composers during her lifetime. I got close with Maggie after we performed Nina Shekhar's piece Honk If You Love Me, a piece that used Bharatanatyam, video, electronics, and clarinet. It was an amazing experience, and I grew to learn about Maggie's project. I have never been so inspired by another person before.


Maggie is letting me help her compile more works, so that an updated version of the database can be ready before the Fall 2020 semester begins. As we were beginning work on this again, though, the Black Lives Matter movement became sort of the forefront of my life, and I again found myself questioning things in classical music,even through this progressive lens. For one thing, most of the female composers that Maggie was able to find were white. Why? Where are all the BIPOC composers? Where do we have to start to make change?


I have no idea where this whole music and being kind to people and fighting for justice thing is going to go, but I hope that my career is one of helping to make the world a better place. Music is the skill I've got, so I've got to find a way to use it. Even looking back to when I was 16, and got that rush of being on stage, it was never just all about feeling great when I played (though that was a big attraction to music.) It was about making it so that everybody could feel that good.


TL;DR: who knows what's going on with my life, but thank goodness for Maggie and her project, making me feel like I'm doing something good. We gotta make the music world a better place.


My next projects include playing another work by Regina Harris Baiocchi, for which I am SO excited, so look forward to that. It is so important to amplify Black voices now and forever. I hope that the fire that these movements have set me on will continue throughout my life and career, and we can all continue to do good by other people. Keep the good work going, folks.


~Anoushka


Maggie's website: clarinetrepertoire.com





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