MeToo in the Flute Community. By Mara Miller and The Flute View

Dec 1, 2017 by

MeToo in the Flute Community.  By Mara Miller and The Flute View

Call to Action

 

Many have recently become familiar with the social media movement called, “Me too.” Initially, its’ origins stem from activist, Tarana Burke, who created the movement in the late 90’s to support women of color that have experienced sexual abuse or assault. In October of 2017, actress Alyssa Milano called attention to the movement once more, spurring the viral Twitter hashtag #MeToo.

 

Women began using the hashtag on social media to openly share their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Despite the heart-breakingly wide breadth of sensitive stories shared, many people found the movement empowering and transformative. Though originally created for exclusively women, men took part in expanding the movement during this reprise as well, sharing their sexual assault and harassment experiences.

 

Making Things Known

 

The sheer number of personal stories that were told was overwhelming and powerful. So powerful, that the ladies of The Flute View and myself felt compelled to analyze how “Me too” manifests in our own communities, specifically the flute community, and what could be done to help change that.

 

We asked a group of flutists to share, if they felt comfortable, any experiences they may have come across within the music community regarding sexual harassment or assault. Below are their stories. Names will remain anonymous.

 

Take the Train Home

 

“I rarely, if ever, did something strategic for my career, like taking a lesson with someone who I thought could help me. Somehow I always wanted to do it myself, perhaps looking back, it's a foolish approach. Anyway, I noticed that someone's students always seemed to win a certain big competition and thought, "I'll take a lesson with him and let him know that I'm interested in the competition.” I had been invited to the competition based on someone hearing me at a master class and this person was one of the judges. I went to the lesson - taking the train to another city, had the lesson, and then it was time for dinner. The teacher got very drunk, so drunk that he needed to be brought back to his hotel room, which I did, with the teacher needing to be held up by me (LOL).  Next, the teacher needed help getting into bed, and then he needed me to stay the night to "help" him.  At that point I said - "you know, I think I'll take the train home". It was quite late and I think he was counting on me not being willing to travel alone that late, but it didn't bother me as it was time to leave.  Needless to say I didn't win the competition!  The teacher called a few days later and offered to write me a recommendation.

 

I write about this because I wonder how many of us were silenced into not competing and not thinking that our work was deserving of a place in the winners circle, how many creative voices are left out of the discussion, who gets the major career?  I do think that many female flutists have achieved prominence but given the percentages of women to men in our world, things look a bit skewed to me.”

 

A Lesson in Professionalism

 

“Once while sitting in a partner lesson, instead of teaching, my former professor (who is also male) thought it would be smart to ask my colleague about her sex life. Throughout the lesson, he blatantly continued to make crude comments and ask inappropriate questions. It made me wonder, ‘why was this relevant in a flute lesson?’ So disgusting and beyond unprofessional.

 

As an educator and lifelong learner, it is my duty to be aware of inequality in terms of heteronormative, white, male power in our education system. Having attended a very reputable conservatory, it became quite clear how men can use and define power. I don’t want to categorize every heteronormative male into this statement, but it is of great concern that we as a society must continue to witness these acts of stupidity and carelessness toward others. In an education system, it is the teachers’ role to TEACH, not to verbalize or show power over another. In fact, power should lend a helping hand in terms artistic development and growth, correct? It is beyond unfortunate that I have seen acts of harassment toward colleagues of mine in the education system. I am so fortunate that myself, and others, have been able to speak out in terms of equality — to break down these heteronormative power barriers, and to show that we, as the voices of the future, will not tolerate abuse in ANY form.”

 

Uncomfortable Commentary

 

“The first experience I had that really stands out in my mind was when I was working on my master’s degree on a grad assistantship and I was principal flute of the orchestra. The orchestral director made a comment about my physical attractiveness in front of the orchestra and it was embarrassing. He was the conductor of the local symphony as well. Later on, however, he did apologize to me.

 

Another experience was when I was working on my doctoral degree and I had a male professor email me really late on a Saturday night and told me he needed me to come to his office. I proceeded to go the next wk. I took my son with me. He told me I was behind in the class. He actually told me that I was not where I should be in regards to my knowledge, etc. I ended up being one of the top students in the class and he later apologized to me. I still ended up with a B in the class, because he didn’t like my “final paper”. My flute professor at the thought he had developed a “fascination” with me as more than a professor to a student.

 

As an undergrad, my male professor asked me if I was dating and told me I was attractive, and I think that was probably stepping over the line.”

 

Important Ultimatum

 

“There's a chain of local music stores where I grew up, and one of the managers became acquainted with my family through the years. I saw this manager intermittently, possibly starting in late elementary school, then all through junior high and high school. He was a nice, funny, guy, with the whole "rocker" vibe going on, and played guitar very well. He was also plenty old enough to be my dad.

 

I went away for several years without seeing him, to complete my undergraduate degree. After graduating, I happened to visit the music store. The manager sees me walk in with my dad. Whilst my dad is over by the guitars, this manager comes up to me and hugs me, then asks me excitedly about what I'm up to. I didn't think much of it, but did find the hug slightly inappropriate.

 

Another year passes, and had I moved to a major US city. I visit my hometown for a few weeks. I stop by the store on a sunny afternoon in June, for an organized jam session, with my flute in tow. That is when this dude starts making serious moves for me. He grabs at my hips various times, and tells the other workers how sweet I am, etc. It was completely inappropriate.

 

Several weeks later, he adds me on Facebook. He sends me a few messages, which were typically private responses to my Facebook statuses. On one occasion, I considered taking a hiatus on shaving my armpits, and I posted about it, looking for advice from my feminist/progressive type friends. The manager messaged me to say that I should stop shaving, with a winky face written next to the response. Yeah, I know that my shaving idea could be gross to some of you readers, but if you know anything about me, you'd know that I'm rather rambunctious and experimental. Anyways, yet again, I found his remark weird.

 

I graduated and moved back home, where I needed a job. In the interest of my career, I knew this guy was a creep, but I also wanted a music job, and this was one of the few stores in the area that wasn't an hour's drive away. So I started coming around the store again, in spurts. Of course, the demands for hugs, and private Facebook messages continued. It died down for a few months after I casually mentioned I had a boyfriend.

 

A couple of months later, I moved to another major city and broke up with said boyfriend. The private messages from the store manager came back. One night in early October of this year, he logs on, admits he is drunk, and asks me all kinds of inappropriate questions. He wants me to drive down to a major music convention later this year (not happening!) so we can "grab drinks." I'm sure he wants more than drinks that night. A week ago, he messaged me just to "say hi" and I pretty much ignored it, partly because I'm too busy, but partly because I don't want to get involved in another weird conversation. This manager has a girlfriend, but she is really busy with her studies as a nursing school student.

 

I have no doubt that this saga will be continued, but I am stuck in an ultimatum of either telling off this manager and burning that bridge, or keeping quiet and possibly getting a job in the future. I can't read the future, but I can certainly reflect on the past and learn from it. I've learned that even the most 'reasonable' of adult men can "wait around" for a female child to mature into a "dateable" adult. I'll think of that one day when I raise my own daughters and children.

 

In case that any of you are curious, I did start shaving my armpits again after about six weeks. It got mighty musty down there.”

 

Unwarranted Invitations

 

“I could probably share a few stories, but the one I feel the most strongly about and the most comfortable sharing is regarding a music professor in my bachelor's degree.

 

He had been at the school for a very long time, was tenured, and made me and numerous other women very uncomfortable. However, because of his relationship with administration and his long tenure there, he was virtually impossible to fire. Over the course of my degree, I had to take several classes with him.

 

I caught his eye as a student that he liked, and he went out of his way to talk to me and give me extra attention. I always sensed that he had ulterior motives. One time, as I was walking down the hall, he walked up beside me, put his arm around me uninvited, and walked the rest of the way down the hall that way. I was incredibly uncomfortable but did not know what to do. All I knew was that I did not want him to touch me.

 

Another time, I needed to borrow some scores from him for an assignment. Rather than bring them to class, he made me set up an outside time to come to his office. When I got there, he insisted that I come inside. He shut the door and kept me there talking for a long period of time--much longer than my short errand warranted. He would often step out of his office when I walked by in the hall and insist that I come in and chat.

 

In my final class, he called me out in front of the whole class and asked me to step outside. He again put his arm around me, told me how wonderful and special he thought I was, and gave me a handwritten thank you note telling me that he was there for me if I ever needed anything. While this seems like a kind gesture, given his history and demeanor, it again made me uncomfortable and crossed a line.

 

While he never did anything beyond this, I always felt uncomfortable. Because of his role as my professor and powerful position in the school, however, I did not feel that I could upset him. I regularly downplayed just how gross he made me feel and how inappropriate his interactions with me were. It was not until I became much older that I began to realize how wrong he was.”

 

Convention Culture

 

“A few years ago, I can remember traveling as a young, college student to an exciting flute convention. I loved having the opportunity to socialize with flutists from all over, catching up with old friends and networking with new faces. Over dinner one night, a group of fellow flute students (some whom I recognized, some I did not---one makes new friends easily at these types of conventions) and I gabbed over drinks about the previous days’ events.

 

Naturally, the members in our party that hadn’t properly met each other began introductions, offering insight as to where they studied and with which professor they took lessons. One student mentioned their teacher, an excellent performer with a reputation of inappropriate interactions with students. The group quieted down. A few provided anecdotes of awkward and uncomfortable experiences with this particular teacher, myself included. Others chimed in as well, recounting stories they had heard from close friends of this teacher making inappropriate requests and unsolicited, suggestive comments to students.

 

After reflection, the part I found most odd out of everything was all of our nonchalant reactions to these stories. All of us were familiar with what kind of reputation this teacher had, yet we would later go on to sit nearly front row at this person’s recital, some even asking for a picture afterwards. Why is that okay? Are we conditioned to shrug of sexual harassment or potential predators in favor of talented teachers/performers? Students talk and are well aware of which notable teachers/performers/composers/conductors have a reputation for "getting a little too comfortable" with you, ‘flirting’ back and forth across hard lines and pushing past personal bubbles, or making girls/boys uncomfortable with unsolicited comments/physical contact/visual cues. Despite the awareness, often, there is very little action taken to confront these people for their actions. The normalization of this needs to stop.”

 

From the Trenches

 

"I have so many stories!  I’ll tell you about a rehearsal break at the Opera.  I had been invited by colleagues on a Sunday afternoon Dejeuner in France. At the time I had a position with the National Orchestra of this city.  One of the administrators was there with his wife.  It was a very friendly and sympathetic high level lunch, with all the wines, champagne, foie gras, fish, rôti , salade, cheese, St Honoré desert and the next day Administrateur invited me to come by his office during the rehearsal.

 

On Tuesday evening, we were doing a very long opera with many rehearsal breaks,, so I passed by his office which was a very secluded office in the Labyrinth of the Opera House where no one could find me, thinking of just a friendly greeting.  It was maybe already 10pm and the break was long…. so I knocked at the door.  He was busy with someone but when he saw me he rushed that person out.  He was very delighted to see me in a drooling sort of way.  Overly smiling which I thought bizarre, I had just been with his family 2 days before. He was coming closer and closer towards me, and then uncomfortably too close to me, and he started to grab me.  

 

He tried to kiss me and had his arms all over me.  I struggled more and more and started putting up a fight, and luckily I managed to escape running into the darkness of the corridors, breaking into a lodge inside the architectural Italien type théâtre where the people sit to listen to concerts.  Accidentally, I disturbed 2 women who were making out on the floor.  I felt very embarrassed to having barged in on them in my flight to get away, but I felt safe and relieved as one of the women was a cellist and fine colleague of mine in the orchestre.  I delicately left the lodge and the bell rang to announce the end of the rehearsal break. That was one break I’ll never forget !"

 

Epilogue

 

"I was a student at Juilliard when the (then) world’s most famous flutist was in town playing in Alice Tully Hall.  He invited me to play duets with him which was such an honor for me given his position in the classical music world.  After our session, he invited me to accompany him as he had to pick up his music that he had left in the hall.  When the security guard asked for his name, this famous flutist became irate, and barked at the guard asking him how it was possible that he not recognize him.

 

I attended the concert and afterwards he asked me to stay to the end and that we could share a cab ride.  Since it was an honor, I thought nothing of the offer.  Once inside the cab, this (what looked to me) 80 year old man completely launched himself onto me (when I was 20), forcing me, mouth to mouth.  I squirmed and told him "No!", which he respected, but when we reached my place and I got out, he started to come with me!  I gave him a very stern, “no”, which he completely did not appreciate.  And we parted ways.

 

Yes, I am speaking of Jean-Pierre Rampal.

 

I always felt so frustrated when these sorts of scenarios would play out in my life.  A person if his stature, with international connections and knowledge, could have helped place me into the stratosphere as he did launch so many male flutists.  His guidance, his endorsement, his approval of me meant everything, yet, I felt that he waved his price tag under my nose.  And because I never succumbed, he simply discarded me.

 

This was certainly not the only, famous man in the entertainment industry who flat out expected that I entertain his overtures in exchange for a lift (more than just figuratively) in my career.  Every time this sort of thing happened, I wished I had been born an Ice Queen, as I so very much wanted a higher position in the music world when I was in my 20’s.  Instead, I opted to work hard, practice diligently and I managed to stay with  my own course.  Eventually, I found my way, thankfully, never having to sell my soul in the process."

 

You Are Not Alone

 

Unfortunately, experiences like these are too common in our flute community. What we would like, is a change in this culture, one that doesn’t enable people in power to exhibit unprofessional behavior and continue to be successful/praised. If you are put in a situation that doesn’t quite feel right or you deem inappropriate, please reach out to someone, whether that be a family member, friend, teacher, an administrator in the school of music, a band director, a campus deputy, a local police officer, an HR associate, or a Title IX coordinator at your university. There are options of how to report sexual harassment or assault. Each of us, has the strength to change things by speaking up if something is wrong. Simply put, if you see something, say something and support those who have something to say.

 

For more information or to speak with someone that is trained to help, please visit online.rainn.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

 

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