This week’s headlines have been tough, and they’re only going to get tougher. To recap: millions of Americans soon might not be able to afford to, you know, stay alive; and thousands of brave U.S. military personnel are set to lose their right to serve their country and, accordingly, receive veterans’ pay, medical care, and honorable discharge. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, all I see is outrage — rightfully — and there’s a prevailing sense of hopelessness. Like, all we can do is watch the headlines roll in and post diatribes of caps-lock FURY, because the system is broken and we are angry and we are hurting, but we are also small.
And, at the end of the day, we are comfortable. It’s hard to admit. But while people who are transgender or queer or people of color face wildly unjust and dangerous systems, I can quietly write a blog post about it, sip my chai latte, and stroll out the door without a care in the world. I can proclaim myself to be an ally and petition my senators not to repeal the ACA — but Trump is still president and people are literally dying, and all I have to offer is an oboe and a bleeding-heart blog post.
As the Facebook rants deluge and the helplessness mounts, there’s a question that’s been haunting me. We’re musicians, my Facebook friends and I. We’ve dedicated decades and degrees to a craft that is highly competitive and woefully underfunded — there must be a reason for it. What can we do — music performers, composers, educators, administrators — what can we do to make the many terrible things that are happening, slightly less terrible?
A beautifully written call to action by queer trans non-binary Filipinx-American artist Angela Dumlao asks cisgender people to consider how to engage privilege with genuine, impactful allyship. “You likely won’t get Trump to stop being terrible,” they write. “But you can look in the mirror and be better.”
One of the questions for reflection on Dumlao’s list: “Do you intake media by trans people? TV? Books? Articles? Art? Music?”
For those of us in classical music, the answer is, Probably not. Programming and visibility of trans composers is virtually nonexistent in major concert halls — unsurprising, in a world where an opera house can program literally one work by a woman in an entire century and be applauded as “making progress” — while trans soloists have been systematically silenced and oppressed. “In the United States, once I came out as Sara, I couldn’t get bookings with the top orchestras anymore, nor would any university employ me,” trans pianist Sara Davis Buechner wrote in an article for the New York Times.