My lucky black dress is what made me realize they weren’t listening anyway. Well, that is when it actually started to click that I wasn’t (completely) crazy. This dress was one I wore for many auditions, back to back to back. Though after this specific audition I never wore it again. After exiting the room, someone pulled me aside and said “Don’t take this the wrong way but you look much more professional this year.” If this was a movie or tv show, this is where the record scratch would be placed. Full stop.
Did they know I have worn this dress for every audition? Did they know that the only difference was that this year I pulled back my big Afro curls into a slick bun? Did they know their comment was exposing a truth that my inner self already knew? That they weren’t listening to me, anyway, because they were too busy digesting the way I chose to present myself as a black woman.
Yeah, the “race talk”. I can’t see you if you choose to leave after realizing what kind of blog post this is but if you feel the need to move on, it might benefit you to unpack why these conversations make you uncomfortable or “bore you”. And maybe think about how uncomfortable it might be for me to have heard and felt the weight of words like these, on multiple occasions.
When you are in the classical world, they tell you to dress the part. That part never made sense to me because being a musician was a part of me as soon as I was brought into this world. So when I show up as myself and it is policed, it is confusing. I mean, I guess I get it. We listen with our eyes first. But serious question: Which part of my identity is not musical? That day, the previous year, it was my hair. Other times it was how my body fit into clothing, about how I smiled too big during my rests, how having interests or a full life outside of flute made me less serious than my peers, whatever.
This isn’t to say I have played all the right notes at every lesson, audition, performance (because I definitely didn’t). But it is me asking, how could I possibly focus on the music when I have the added weight of fitting a mold that is nearly impossible for me to fit in? Really, for many of us to fit in.
How can I play with more expression when the people listening prefer me to suppress big parts of my identity under the guise of “professionalism”?
My musical expression is dependent on me showing up as my most authentic self.
If something that should be so innate is an obstacle, like standing in the truth of who I am at a surface level, how could I possibly gather the confidence to do something as skilled as play an instrument?
Yeah, sure. Many people have done it. Many people will do it. I admire people who will do what is needed to “get in the door” first. It just has not worked for me, mentally, emotionally, or physically . Showing up as (someone else’s understanding of) a musician was too mentally exhausting for me. “Wear your hair back”, “look more serious”, “don’t play this kind of music or you wont be taken seriously”, blah blah blah blah.
So since they are busy digesting my appearance and are not listening anyway, I am going to show up as whoever I decide to be that day so I can direct my mental energy towards where the work must go: the music.
Maybe not looking the part will get the door slammed in my face but spending my mental energy trying to fit a mold I will never fit in was doing that anyway. That’s my point of view from the practice room this morning, anyway.