June was a busy month, but it was the good kind of busy—the life-changing, inspiring, experience-filled kind of busy, so I'm not complaining. June started out with a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I represented the US Army Field Band at the International Women's Brass Conference. Sergeant Major Ginger Turner, trumpet player, and Concert Band NCOIC, also attended the conference. SGM Turner has been heavily involved with IWBC for many years, and it was nice to have her as my "guide" and mentor while there. Almost as soon as we got off the airplane, the two of us jumped right into helping with the competitions. We organized music, selected excerpts, did a little photocopying, and most importantly, adjudicated the competitions themselves. I tried to make myself as useful as possible, and had a good time watching, learning, and experiencing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into pulling off an event like this.
People who aren't familiar with IWBC usually have lots of questions about the organization. Is it for women only? No, definitely not. There are attendees of both genders, and although part of the purpose is to feature professional female artists, there were plenty of males performing and giving presentations. I'm often asked if a conference featuring women is even necessary anymore? Haven't we broken the glass ceiling by now? Well, yes, there have been many strides toward equality for women in the music field. I'm proud to say that the military has been at the forefront of pushing for neutral, impartial auditions. But women are still heavily under-represented in the field of brass music. There are many reasons for this, but the bottom line is that IWBC remains relevant, and will be until it is no longer an anomoly to see a woman holding a tuba in an orchestra or band.
In the picture below, Chief Master Sergeant Jan Duga, tubist with the US Air Force Band is on the far left. She was hired thirty years ago, and was the first female tuba player to ever win a job with one of the premier military bands. She remains the only female tubist to ever serve with the USAFB. Next to Jan is Chief Musician Kelly Watkins of the US Coast Guard Band. Again, she was the first female trumpet player to be hired with the USCGB. SGM Turner was the first and only female trumpet player to perform with the Field Band, until we just recently hired Sergeant First Class Liesl Whitaker on lead trumpet with the Jazz Ambassadors. Believe it or not, I am the first and only female euphoniumist to play with the Field band, and I came into the job in 2008. Okay, you say, but there aren't that many euphonium players anyway, right? True, but in the 65 year history of the Field Band, I'd say that one female in the trumpet and euphonium section is a pretty low number, statistically.
Is IWBC about male-bashing? No way! The great thing about this organization is that it's all about celebrating those who have done groundbreaking work and acheived extraordinary things on their instruments. The organization also raises awareness about the the history of women in brass music. It's not something that shows up in Music History texts, but it is important to be aware of our roots. Not everyone experiences discrimation on their professional journey. I count myself fortunate that I have had very few negative experiences related to my gender. But I do notice how few of us there are, and I am often asked to speak with young female students who are looking for my perspective on making it in a "man's world." This conference made me feel very connected. It is a unique opportunity for fellowship with people who share lots of common ground.
In addition to organizing mock band auditions, SGM Turner put together a military career panel and invited several of us to speak about opportunities in the military band field. It was nice to hear from colleagues in sister organizations. The time flew by, and there were lots of questions. A woman attending the conference from Mexico City came up to me afterward and mentioned how amazing it was for her to see female military musicians. In some parts of the world, it is even more of a rarity than it is in the United States. That underscored for me the importance of our presence at this event.
One of my favorite presentations at the conference was by Chief Jan Duga. She is retiring this year after thirty years of service. Jan spoke at length about the adventures of her amazing career, sharing priceless pictures and recordings with the audience. There are two reasons this presentation was particularly poignant for me. First, Jan was the first female brass player in the military that I ever met. I traveled to Washington D.C. when I was 16 to compete in the Colonel George S. Howard Young Artist Competition. I was told to look out for Jan and make sure to say hello. She was so warm and friendly, and I was awestruck by the Air Force Band. She was an early role model for me, and it was very meaningful to hear some of her personal recollections and stories.
Honoring Jan's rich, thirty-year career made me think about the phase I'm in of my own military service. I am coming up on four years with the Field Band. It is true that time has flown by, but imagining myself where Jan is now, looking forward to retirement, is an exciting prospect. I don't know if I will do thirty years in the military, but I do hope to have half as fulfilling and impactful a professional journey as Jan.
The Monarch Brass is a legendary group comprised of some of the top female professionals in the field. The personnel changes, depending on availability, but the ensemble has become an IWBC institution. Anyone hearing this group for the first time will be floored at the sound the group puts out. Rich, lush and HUGE. Here's a picture of SGM Turner showing off her piccolo trumpet chops.
The best part about this conference was meeting and connecting with great people. I've been to lots of Tuba-Euphonium events, and I feel like I have my own lovely, dysfunctional family in the tuba-euph community. This really got me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to new people and repertoire. It was refreshing to attend recitals with varied instrumentation and unique concepts. One of my favorite recitals was the evening jazz concert, featuring Musician 1st Class Jen Krupa of the US Navy Band. Jen plays lead trombone in the Commodores, the Navy's premier jazz group. Jen is a total bad-ass, and the whole performance rocked. She was joined by Kiku Collins, a trumpet player from NYC. It was a treat to hear soloists with combo. It brought me back to my days as a UNT Jazz groupie.
With any brass conference, you have the inevitable hang. Kalamazoo, home of Bell's Brewery, is one of the best towns in the country to host a hang, in my opinion. There were many great discussions and friendships forged over frosty beverages. There is such a wonderful amount of access to top professionals at this conference. It's a little intimidating, at first, to be so casual with legends of the brass field such as Susan Slaughter, Marie Speziale & Carole Dawn Reinhart. But the environment of IWBC is so friendly and welcoming. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging to younger players.
On the final day of the conference I performed in recital with pianist Dr. Barbara Young. I had anticipated this performance for quite some time. I premiered two pieces of new music for euphonium and piano. It is exciting to share something with an audience for the very first time.
The first piece I premiered is a very dear work called Portrait. I've mentioned my niece, Meghan, on the blog several times. For those who don't know, she died suddenly in May of 2009 of Myocarditis, at the age of 23. Meghan was a huge part of the Veronie family, and the loss of her presence is a constant hole in our hearts. I wanted to have some musical way to pay tribute to her life. I spoke with composer Sanae Kanda about writing a piece that would capture a bit of her spirit. Sanae has written a lovely piece of music that I am proud to add to the repertoire. The first movement is exciting and fanfare like, depicting Meghan's larger-than-life personality. The second movement is a simple, hauntingly beautiful melody. The piano has an extended interlude that is very hymn-like. The third movement is a happy, calypso-esque dance. This is probably my favorite movement, as it pays tribute to Meghan's love of dancing and the beach.
I also premiered a work by one of my favorite euphonium players, Matthew Murchison. Matthew is more than just a phenomenal brass player (seriously, go here and download his music, he is amazing); he is also a talented composer. His delightfully twisted sense of humor is apparent in this new work, Tales from the Road: The Sternum Buster. The piece is a through-composed, programmatic work that illustrates the fate of a hapless concertgoer who ran into some trouble, (and the stage), at a River City Brass Band concert. Matthew and his wonderful wife, Pam, were kind enough to drive up from Pittsburgh for the premier of The Sternum Buster. The audience loved his colorful program notes, and the piece was very well-received.
This recital was a great way for me to cap off an amazing week at IWBC. After my performance, SGM Turner and I jetted back to Grand Rapids to catch our evening flight to Baltimore. We had to get back for rehearsal monday morning. As fate would have it, our flight was cancelled, so we had a little adventure figuring out how to get back home in time for band. After a 3:30am wakeup, we took the earliest flight back and made it to Fort Meade just in time for Chris and I to rehearse our duet with the band. Is this hectic life what being a rockstar is like? I don't know, but I sure did take a few naps that week.