By Allison Duggan
There is no better time to talk about women in music than now. With so many ways to spotlight women in the arts, including blogs, social media groups, and organizations like Women in Music, women are having more of a platform to endorse their artistic attributes.
In the instrumental world, women are slowly peeking through with their need to be seen as leaders of music, as well as composers, arrangers, and performers. This series of blogs will highlight three amazing women that work tirelessly in a male-dominated industry to not only play music, but to lead and conduct the next generation of musicians.
Laurel Stinson has co-directed Grand Street Community Band, the second largest band at Metropolitan Music Community. Her positivity, passion, and musicianship has shone throughout her time with Metropolitan Music Community, not only as an amazing clarinetist, but also as a conductor and director who emphasizes vocal methods to personify the music she wants to grasp from the music she is curating.
I had a chance to speak with Laurel, and found out such amazing things about a women enveloped in music her whole life, from Mariah Carey to enveloping music into her everyday life through thick and thin!
When did you decide to become a musician?
According to my family, I was belting Mariah Carey from my carseat when I was a toddler, so I think music chose me from the start. I sang in choirs throughout school, and picked up the clarinet for the first time as a 5th grader in Texas. My family moved to the Philadelphia suburbs a year later, and I almost stopped playing because my new school only offered band once a week before school, whereas in Texas I had band everyday. Mom made me stick with it - and I owe her everything for pushing me through. I attended a summer music institute at Northwestern University and I knew that majoring in music was the path I would choose, over engineering or biomed.
What has been your biggest success as a female performer?
I think my biggest success as a female performer is by simply being a multi-instrumentalist. I've been told repeatedly to pick choir or band, but I knew how different performing on each instrument was a different experience. Making music by leading players from the podium is an entirely different experience than playing an instrument or singing.
Why did you want to teach band?
I wanted to teach band because of the beauty of the medium of the wind band. The versatility of the ensemble - performing outside in a marching setting - or in an intimate concert hall, the beauty of the flexibility of sounds always intrigued my curiosity. I wanted to know how to make music coming from a band sound beautiful.
There was moment I was performing in the PMEA District 11 band. The last movement of Yasuhide Ito's Gloriosa brought me to tears as I was playing. I had never experienced that type of flood of a multitude of emotions - I knew I had to keep it going.
Why is it important for women to teach music?
It is important for women to teach music for the same reason women should pursue any profession that is not traditionally filled by women.
Did you feel there were extra hurdles you've had to jump over to get to where you are in your career?
There were definitely hurdles I had to jump to get to where I am today - and my career has only just begun really! When I graduated from Ithaca College with my degree in Music Education, I was completely burned out and really didn't want to even pursue music. I worked two jobs instead at Panera Bread and at a Finger Lakes vineyard while I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. It was a snowy February Wednesday when I was bored waiting for customers that probably wouldn't come to the tasting room that I decided I was missing something from my life.
It wasn't until a year later when I moved to Long Island and began playing with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony that it was music that was missing. And just as I thought I found my path, my mother passed away. Her passing broke me into so many pieces that I feel that I'm still putting them back together today. Music and the musicians of MMC helped me through the darkest time in my life.
Julie Giroux's One Life Beautiful is an aesthetically emotional, beautiful piece. What made you choose to conduct this piece? What emotions did you want out of this piece when Grand Street performed it?
One Life Beautiful was not one of the pieces I chose to conduct; Brian offered the suggestion - and I'm thankful I've been able to prepare the piece! This piece evokes a wide range of emotions that are similar to the stages of grief. The members of the Grand Street Community Band can really get the music off the page by tapping into each individual players experiences with loss.
Why do you think there aren't many female composers represented in the band world?
"Don't be afraid to fail! Growth comes from failing and discomfort, learning from your mistakes, and looking to the next step or opportunity."
I think young female musicians are not widely encouraged to write their own music.
What do you, as a band director and as a woman, want to see changed in the repertoire that bands perform?
If orchestrated correctly, the wind band medium can achieve an extremely diverse range of musical styles - delicate, aggressive, forceful, and every gradient in between. The wind band medium can speak to audience members that may be knew to "classical music" the concert setting and I think there can be more music that can be understood by people that may not know a lot about music.
If you could collaborate with one composer, alive or dead, who would it be?
Leonard Bernstein - hands down. I absolutely love his compositional style, and ability to fuse jazz and concert music. Not to mention he was a legendary conductor as well.
If you could study with one female conductor, who would it be and and why?
Early in my training, I attended Northwestern's summer conducting symposium with Dr. Mallory Thompson. I would love to return because I have progressed greatly since I worked with her in 2011.
Any additional topics you want to spread to aspiring women directors, performers, and composers?
Don't be afraid to fail! I think there are aspiring female directors/performs/composers alike that give up before they've truly started because they believe they are not good enough. Stick it out! Growth comes from failing and discomfort, learning from your mistakes, and looking to the next step or opportunity.