IU senior Louise Kern-Kensler was one of four winners of the 2023-24 Jacobs School of Music Innovation Grant Competition. Kensler was awarded a grant for her in-progress documentary entitled “Breaking the Brass Ceiling.” The project combines her passion for film with her passion for the trombone, exploring the lives, struggles and triumphs of female brass musicians from all walks of life.
The 2023-24 winners of the Jacobs School of Music Innovation Grant Competition were announced in early November by the Office of Entrepreneurship and Career Development.
The winners included Jacobs School of Music professor of practice, Austin Hartman, as well as IU students Robert Hurley, Wes Taylor and Kensler. A full description of each student and their grant initiative can be found on the Jacobs School of Music Innovation website.
In a press release, the dean of the Jacobs School of Music, Abra Bush, expressed support for students and faculty of the music school who were dedicated towards expanding the world of the arts in performing and academic ways.
“Innovation is at the core of what makes good enterprises great ones,” Bush said.
Originally enrolled at the Jacobs School of Music to study the trombone, Kensler found herself yearning for the possibilities of a film education and decided to enroll in the Media School — ultimately pursuing a dual-degree in film and trombone performance.
As a female brass musician herself, Kensler had always been interested in exploring what other successful female brass musicians had gone through, their struggles, their wins and their stories. She’d even written her college admissions essay about the topic, giving it the same name as her future documentary. The issue was close to her heart and at the front of her mind, and during her time at the Media School, a new idea began to take shape.
“As I got more interested in documentary filmmaking throughout my studies, I started to think — maybe I wanted to make my own project outside of school that meant a lot and where I also felt a story needed to be told,” Kensler said.
Waiting until school started up again to fully begin planning the project, Kensler consulted with professors about the best approach to take, fleshing out ideas and seeing how feasible the actual film was.
With Jacobs School of Music faculty to assist her in research, Kensler will also be using resources made available in her advanced documentary filmmaking class, Face in the Façade, at the Media School for the more technical aspects of the project.
While the path to creating a documentary is arduous, Kensler’s personal connection to the subject at the center of the film drives her forward. Kensler said her personal experiences are part of what inspired her to make the documentary.
“I know firsthand how hard it is to be a woman in brass, how difficult it is to break into the industry,” Kensler said. “I know my stories, I know my friends’ stories, I know people who are close to me, people who aren’t.”
Her love for the classical performing arts was also a driving factor. She said she wanted everyone to feel as if they could be involved in the world and celebrate its beauty, regardless of their gender identity.
“It’s important to me that we see change in the future,” Kensler said. “It’s also important to tell peoples stories and give a more nuanced perspective on what it’s like to be a woman in classical music.”
While the documentary is currently in the research phase, Kensler has been in contact with established women in the music industry to hear about their work. She said that they shared studies and papers they had published about being women in the music industry as well as personal anecdotes.
“A lot of them have had experiences in their own careers and ensembles that provide a broader framework for the story I’m trying to tell,” Kensler said. “It’s been very valuable and I’m very lucky to have such a large network.”
Kensler also credited her trombone professor, assistant professor of music Brittany Lasch, for helping her make connections and informing her of the Innovation Grant Competition in early October to help Kensler obtain funding for the documentary.
Through her musical career, Kensler has felt pressure to succeed in ways she felt her male peers were not experiencing. Moving forward through the storm of internalized misogyny, Kensler said this documentary was an almost cathartic experience for her, giving her a shared unity with other women which she’d also found in all female or non-binary music communities at IU.
Inspired by others who had come before her and those who currently perform in the field like Lasch — whom she cited as a large inspiration — Kensler said she hoped the documentary would help remind other female brass musicians of the strength they had, in their skill and in their perseverance to succeed.
“You’re not alone, and there are other people dealing with this issue. We’re all trying to overcome that together,” Kensler said. “I wish I’d had something like this as a young trombonist.”