Looking around her freshman engineering seminar, Nina Young found herself surrounded by a sea of men. Of the thousands of people enrolled in her major, she graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the only woman in the ocean engineering program.
Even still, Young, now an internationally acclaimed composer, will join the Jacobs School of Music’s Unapologetically Female three-part series this week to talk about how she has felt more discrimination in the world of music composition than she ever felt in that engineering seminar.
“In this career we need to know we will be included,” she said. “We’re not the other — we’re important.”
The series begins at 2:30 p.m. today in Merrill 011 and will continue with further discussions at 3 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday.
Each day, different female music students will moderate discussion between invited female musicians, music school faculty and audience members on the topics of music composition, academia and jazz.
The event is an initiative of Project Jumpstart, a partnership between the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and the Jacobs School of Music to provide students with entrepreneurial and innovative programming, according to Project Jumpstart’s website.
Kathryn Sherman, a Project Jumpstart team member and Friday’s moderator, said she was inspired to spearhead the event because of her own experiences with sexism within the jazz community.
“A lot of times men in the jazz world in general tend to not play with female musicians as often because they think they’re not as strong or maybe they’re in a band because they’re dating someone in it,” Sherman said. “Luckily, the IU jazz department has been very supportive of female musicians, but I’ve definitely experienced it out in the world, so it’s great to have the opportunity to change that.”
While each of the selected female speakers has accomplished much in their respective careers, many have their own stories of unfair treatment.
Young said her motivation to speak on such issues comes from a particular comment by a professor who was critiquing her compositional work.
“And he said, ‘Well, you know, Nina, I don’t really understand this form of your piece, but I guess that’s because it’s feminine.’ That totally shook my system because that was the first time my work was being associated with my gender,” she said. “It was like, I don’t understand why my entire life no one has said ever said anything to me about being a girl and not being able to do something and here in my master’s, I was just called out on my piece because it was feminine.”
Separating that limiting association between a female musician’s gender and her work is exactly what Sherman said the series hopes to accomplish.
“Obviously being a woman has influenced their musicianship, but it’s not the only thing that’s influenced them. We want to give them a platform to talk about all of their influences and all of their experiences because sometimes it’s connected to being a woman and sometimes it isn’t.”
In the next three days, Sherman said speakers will have the opportunity to talk about their influences, including their mentors, defining career moments and resources they’ve used to get there.
By the end of the week, Sherman said this series should have shown attendees that being feminine and being musical doesn’t have to be a talking point.
“Yes, we’re women, and we’re not sorry about it, and we’re still musicians,” she said. “Why should it matter? Why should there be a difference?”
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