Indiana Daily Student

Meet Erik Wakar, a transgender student aiming to bring representation to IU’s music community

<p>Erik Wakar sits next to a piano March 2 in the Jacobs School of Music East Studio Building. Waker began taking piano lessons with her older brother at age six.</p>

Erik Wakar sits next to a piano March 2 in the Jacobs School of Music East Studio Building. Waker began taking piano lessons with her older brother at age six.

Four days into Women’s History Month, freshman Erik Wakar’s involvement in the IU music community is growing, along with the pressure to come out as trans and present more feminine, she said. Wakar, who identifies as trans and genderqueer and primarily uses she/her pronouns,  is met with the difficulty of not knowing trans musicians and overcoming the gender dividing expectations for performers. 

Wakar, a piano performance and math major, came out as trans in late December, and she is still in the process of introducing her gender identity and pronouns to members of the IU music community. 

She said there’s no one in the music community who currently knows she’s trans.

“I’ve gotten enough experience here in the choir program to know that that would be a safe and comfortable, supportive space,” Wakar said. 

But Wakar said there is little trans representation in classical music. She does not know of any trans musicians at IU, or in general. 

Jennifer Neumann, 44, was Wakar’s choir teacher at Canton High School in Michigan. Neumann said she believes the choir and theater communities are safe spaces for trans performers to express their identities. 

“I think performing arts is a natural place where accepting people is critical,” Neumann said. “I think it might be easier to do that than in other places like sports teams.”

Wakar also said she feels the expectations of dress and etiquette in classical music performances create a conflict with musicians who are genderqueer. She hopes to break down these gender-dividing expectations when she becomes a more successful musician, Wakar said.

“One of the realms that I was starting to address myself as a trans person was in considering the dress of performing,” Wakar said. “There have been periods of time that I’ve considered the possibility of when or if I become a successful performer, I could challenge that by wearing something ‘ridiculous’ or ‘outlandish’ to perform.”

Wakar began taking piano lessons with her older brother at the age of six. Her career as a pianist began in musical theater at the age of 13 with a local adult theater company in “The Producers.” 

“After that, it never stopped,” Wakar said. “It really snowballed super fast. I did that show when I was 13 and on that last night, I was in the theater for that show and I got a text offering me my next job. With a totally different company.”

Throughout the end of her middle and high school years, she acted in about 25 shows and played as a pianist in about 25 more.

John Oatney, 19, met Wakar through acting in the musical “The Beauty and the Beast” in middle school. He has supported Wakar as a trans person, musician, actor and singer.

“She’s the most accomplished pianist I’ve ever met in my life,” Oatney said. “It’s impressive to be able to say that your best friend, who is younger than you, is already a professional pianist.”

Wakar also sang in class and club choirs in high school. In her junior year of high school, she began playing the piano for the choir and founded a barbershop quartet with a group of friends called Mark IV. 

Wakar is in the campus choir at IU and also recently joined the Full Frontal Comedy troupe to express her enjoyment of acting and music, she said.

Neumann said Wakar was one the most hardworking and talented students she’s had. 

“Nothing was above or beyond her reach,” Neumann said.

As a pianist, Wakar has played several musical styles and hopes to continue her career in musical theater piano performance. Early in her musical career, she said she was not a fan of classical music. Now, she prefers to focus on performing classical music by lesser known composers as opposed to commonly known and easily identifiable works. 

“I feel like as long as I can find stuff that does interest me, and I’m still studying and gaining a full, well-rounded skill set, I don't think that it’s necessary for me to be playing those things that are standard,” Wakar said.

Wakar has most recently been playing music from Latin American composers, and she said she is grateful to have freedom to choose part of her repertoire for her studies.

“You’re not gonna make good music if you don’t love the music you’re playing,” Wakar said.

CORRECTION: Jennifer Neumann's name was misspelled in a previous version of this article.

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