I was raised on classical music. When everyone else my age was arguing Beatlesv. Stones, Jan and I were discussing Bernstein v. Ormandy. So, when I reached the fifth grade and my teachers asked if I was interested in joining the band, taking up the clarinet seemed like the obvious thing to do.
I loved it. Learning new skills kept me from getting bored in our rural school, and gave me the chance to learn one of the main themes from my favorite symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 4th. I took group lessons on Saturdays, and later private lessons with my band director after school. And I began to dream. Maybe, some day, I would become a professional musician, and get to play with the New York Philharmonic!
I shared my dream with my band director. He shot it down. “Girls don’t play in professional orchestras,” he told me.
This was 1969, and the women’s movement hadn’t made it to small town Missouri. I was still young enough to believe things would always be the way they were at that moment. My interest in band began to decline. Why should I work all those extra hours, if the boys were the only ones who could make a career of it? By eighth grade, when they told me my final grade depended on getting up very early every morning, all summer long, and marching, I was done. I dropped out of band and switched my allegiance back the theatre, where night owls who can’t tell left from right were more appreciated.
In the decades since, strong, wonderful women with more pioneering spirit than I, have broken the gender barrier in professional orchestras. Blind auditions became the standard, concealing any gender cues and placing the auditioner behind a screen, so all the conductor could evaluate was the musician’s tone, musicality, and playing ability. A whole generation of rigidly sexist artistic directors has died off, and about half the musicians in today’s New York Philharmonic are female.
But the hurt, and outrage I felt back in 1969 lingers.It flares up again every time I hear a teacher shoot down a young person’s dream. And I say, no matter what your creative field, feed the flame.
If someone comes to you with an impossible dream, remind yourself that it may simply not be possible yet.
The child with the shining face, who stands before you alight with the glory of her dream, may be the one who makes it possible, sometime in the future.
Nurture those dreams. We need them. They are the agents of change.
ABOUT GIGI: In addition to being my much-admired sister, Gigi Sherrell Norwood is the Director of Education and Concert Operations for the Dallas Winds (formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony), having used her BFA in Directing, her prodigious writing skills, and her lifelong love of music to become involved with a highly-esteemed professional musical group after all. Widow of the science fiction writer Warren C. Norwood, with whom she sometimes collaborated on projects under his byline, Gigi is also a talented writer herself. She is currently working on several urban fantasy stories set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, TX.
NOTE: for a similar post about a young woman’s creativity shot down, you might be interested in my post Death of a Purple Elephant, from 2011.
IMAGES: Many thanks to Lark in the Morning’s “Clarinets” page for the photo of the clarinet. Many thanks to Amazon, for the photo of the vintage NY Philharmonic album cover, featuring the all-male-except-the-harpist photo of the orchestra’s musicians. I am indebted to the Madison.com website for the image of the MSO blind audition. The photo is by Amber Arnold of the State Journal. Many thanks to Bidding for Good, for the photo of a more recent New York Philharmonic, complete with roughly half female musicians. Gigi provided the photo of herself. It is used with her permission.
Sometimes there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty and learning from the ground up.
This little video gives a glimpse of the massive potential for tying lessons to life experiences with the Teaching Garden at a Fairfax, VA elementary school.
Oak Hill is clearly a fairly upscale neighborhood (note: they still have the Teaching Garden in the 2016-2017 school year), but schools from all different parts of the country, and all different socio-economic levels, have adopted similar programs in the last two decades.
Unless they grow up on a farm, nearly all children lack understanding about where their food comes from. This goes double for children who live in food deserts.
Food deserts, as you may know, are areas where healthy, affordable food is far away and hard to come by, especially if residents do not have convenient transportation. Food deserts all-too-frequently occur in minority communities, and can happen in both rural and urban environments. Food insecurity is everywhere.
Educators favor teaching gardens for other reasons, too. There’s much emphasis right now on the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, and yes–there are guides for teaching STEM in learning gardens. Personally, I think STEM is incomplete without STEAM (add the arts), but that’s a topic for another post.
“We must break the long-held expectation that schools exist to mold and manage kids,” he said in a CNN interview. “In today’s world, expecting every child’s education to be the same, progress at the same rate and be measured against the same narrow standards of performances is not just outdated, it’s a disservice to young people and the educators who dedicate their lives to helping them.”
This month we’ll look at some of the ways innovative schools and educators are trying to break out of that old-fashioned paradigm.
Wander through the museum’s website for more fun and inspiration. Better yet–if you’re ever in Madison, WI, wander through their museum. Many of the areas are marked “All Ages.” I hope they mean that! 🙂