Staying Healthy at Brass Chix 2020

It’s that time of year again. The mid winter shuffle of Fellow Female identifying Brass Players to the once a year event we like to call, Brass Chix.

The theme this year was Women’s Health as it pertains to brass playing. This year was a bit different for me as well because I got to help plan it!

Before I yammer on about the event, if you are wondering what the heck Brass Chix is and why the fish would woman Brass players gather for this seemingly “girls only” club, please refer to last years blog Post , where I explain it all.

When Sarah Schmalenberger and I met to begin planning this a few months prior, we realized that there were many facets to women’s health that go beyond just the obvious physical aspects. We could include spiritual health, emotional well being, instrument health, and go well beyond the usual advice of exercise, eat and sleep well.

The day started out with a Mindful Start, led by Sarah where we focused on breathing together without a conductor and thinking about our awareness as musicians. She led us in another mindfulness exercise where we assembled into two circles and were instructed to face one another. Upon the resonant cue of Tibetan singing bowls, we were to introduce ourselves on one tone, and silently looked each other in the eyes for a brief moment, before rotating the circle to introduce yourself to the next person on the next tone. It was an effective way to make each other aware of the other’s energy and existence as well as help break the ice among these multi generational women.

We then broke into our usual instrumental groups. The low brass session was led by my Colleague, Lara Dietrich. She led the low brass in some warm-ups, talked about preventing injury, and thoughtfully ended with a reminder that, for emotional well being, it is ok to say NO to things.

After concluding the session, we scuttled down to the presentation room where Sarah shared a fascinating lecture which featured her and Dr. Patricia Maddox’s research on Women’s Health and brass playing- The Brass Bodies Study. She and all of us had a candid discussion about how our bodies at different stages of life- down to years weeks, and days, can and do effect our brass playing due to our unique physiology. Rather than complain that “the men just don’t understand”, she opened up the discussion to encourage women to help each other and shed light on the realities that exist. An article featuring her research can be found here and is well worth the read regardless of how you identify.

Lunch was a fun bit of show and tell.

(a bit of backstory……During our planning session, we came up with an idea to showcase both Brass chix Business owners, who run their own repair shops on opposite sides of the cities; Laurel Chapman and Melanie Ditter. In order to do this, the suggestion came up to make a video that they could also use beyond this and would give them a chance to show off their shops, skills, and teach the Brass Chix how to better care for their instruments. Thanks to my coordination skills (learned in Toastmasters), my friend and talented Filmmaker Jason Shumacher’s assistance (ok, he shot and edited the whole thing 🙂 ), and the amicable agreement of Laurel and Melanie to allow us into their shops and interview them, two videos were produced and shown at lunch. ) People now know about the crud that lies in their instruments if you don’t clean them regularly or eat a hamburger before playing- tee hee.

The after lunch session was a split of two types of networking events. We had the younger (high-school and college aged) group, talk about healthy networking -led by Emily Green and the “Mature/ Experienced” group speed dating activity where we mentioned what we needed and what we could offer. It was fairly helpful and I even met a fellow SAI sister.

The penultimate event was a talk led by a panel of Women- who also had a part in planning this event, and of which I was invited to be a part of as well. This consisted of Me, Lara Dietrich, Allysin Partin, and Tina Cavitt, and each of us talked about an aspect of life that we overcame – or at least learned how to better manage. The subject that I was requested to speak about was…being different. I will admit, while I was humbled yet excited to be asked in the first place, the topic left me initially taken aback. After all, other than being a composer, how am I different enough to justify speaking about this?

My approach was to talk about how I, like everyone else, took my own path, and how due to my circumstances and personality which does not quite fit in with the norm of my chosen field (I’ve always been a paradoxical free spirited introvert, too humble for their own good at times), I had to find other ways to get to where I am today and learn to accept myself just the way I am. I tried to help my audience realize that everyone has things that make them unique which is a beautiful thing in and of itself, and that they should love themselves just the way they are, akin to what Mr. Rogers tried to teach in his lifetime. It must have worked because several of the young (high school aged) girls surprisingly opened up after this. This was the highlight of my day.

Lastly, we ended the day with a good ol’ session of brass choir experience and the Brass chix salute. Overall, it was a good year and I feel that a lot of good will be carried out beyond this day.

If you are a fellow brass Chick , I hope to see you next year where we meet at Schmitt Music in Brooklyn center to focus on……..Gear!

The art of Improvisation at Brass Chix 2019

Every year since 2014, Woman Brass players from the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro have been gathering at the end of January for this annual one day conference.

I have been attending this amazing shindig since 2016 (having moved here in March of 2015) and have had the opportunity to see it grow. This year was easily the best program that I’ve attended.

So, What is Brass Chix?

It is a once a year event where woman brass players of all abilities from High School age all the way to Seniors come together to learn from presentations by professionals in the field, and by talking to each other about issues ranging from performance on their particular instrument of choice, to the social aspects of being a woman in what traditionally has been a male dominated area.

Why do we, a group of Women from multiple generations who just happen to play brass instruments, gather for this event every year?

Sarah Schmalenberger puts it best when she says that what makes us unique is that “We as women, never have a straight path”. Because of how most of us are conditioned by society , we are more prone to sacrifice for others before our own needs and desires, and are expected to take a back seat instead of fighting for what we want, whether that be to stay home and take care of the family, or back down and compromise in order to keep peace when faced with conflict.

Men (in general) tend to plow through obstacles hard nosed while women, tend to go around these obstacles. It takes a bit longer for most of us to get where we are aiming to go as a result.

It helps to have this event to discuss these issues and remind ourselves that we handle things differently and are all very capable and powerful in our own ways. Empowerment builds confidence to work towards success. Also, there is just something very special and healing about getting together with others TO MAKE  MUSIC!

My own journey has been a roundabout way of getting to where I am and continues to be this way- but that is a topic for a future blog post or possibly a book someday. For now though LETS GET TO THE BLOG ENTRY OF THE DAY OF BRASS CHIX 2019!!

The day started at St Thomas Student center where I Got to help at the check in table with Sue ( a trumpet player) and noticed a few new faces. When someone asked Where the Horns were rehearsing, without a beat, Sue Responded, “OUTSIDE!!”- the lol moment of the day. (Note: remember, this was in the middle of MN winter, where the temperature outside is easily below zero).

We soon gathered in our respective brass subgroups; Horns, Trumpets, and Low Brass (aka the coolest chix who play Trombone and tuba respectively*).

*This is my opinion that may be a more than a little bit biased

Becky Haines, trombone superstar,  led us in a warmup and reading session, providing excellent advice on breathing exercises and focus techniques.

Lunch was filed with more conversations and LEGOS, meant to be a part of the improvisation theme.( Or maybe a ploy for advertising the then new Lego Movie ha ha). Some lunch conversations ranged from trying to figure out how Legos fit into the music theme to how our every day lives tend to be improvised, especially when trying to fit our passion of music into everything else that goes on around us. Our path around life obstacles tends to be improvised after all.

After LEGO LUNCH,  we gathered in a group and were treated to a Masterclass workshop on practical improvisation advice, led by Local Brass Superstars .

We talked about how jazz improvisation actually works, ways to do it effectively, and learned a little about Judy Gaunt’s (trumpet) experience going through University among some crazy analytical, genius jazz cats. When the presentation was over, several volunteers attempted to do a group improvisation with Oh when the Saints Go Marching In- with some live coaching of course.

After this we separated into our respective subgroups to put this advice into practice. Lauren Husting led the low brass session and introduced us to easy backing tracks with chord changes on YouTube.

ALL of us tried our hand at improvisation and by the end we were all sounding fairly competent. I even managed to “improv” Smoke on the Water when it was my turn during the Dorian chord changes. Thankfully, this got a laugh.

Then it was picture time for our annual group photo.  Heidi, Laurel, and I shared a special moment when we reprised the Oh When the Saints improv. exercise while riding on the elevator on the way down to this part of the shindig.

Our Grand Finale of every year is where we play pieces in a massive brass choir, and share the experience of Making this Music Together. This happened once again, but with the most amount of vigor I’d heard coming from this group since first attending. We always break from the day by reaffirming our bond as Musicians and Women, by doing the Brass Chix Salute.

Next year, the topic of focus will be….WOMEN’S HEALTH as it relates to brass playing. If you are or know a Woman who plays a brass instrument, please spread the word about this event. We learn something new every year, it’s a ton of Fun,  and we have a great time experiencing it together. I Hope to see you in 2020!