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Finding Kesha’s Rainbow

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Most of us are familiar with Ke$ha, the pop star whose voice was drowned in auto-tuned songs like “Tik Tok”, “Your Love Is My Drug”, and “Die Young”. In more recent years, Kesha has had very public legal battles with her producer, Dr. Luke, beginning in October 2014 when she filed a civil suit against Dr. Luke for infliction of emotional distress and gender-based hate crimes. The dispute ended in August 2016 when Kesha dropped her case after a judge in April dismissed all of her abuse claims. Kesha is now back to making music, fulfilling her contract under Dr. Luke, but it is unlike anything she has done before.

In Rainbow, each song “has a new, distinct Kesha style.” Credit: Amazon

Rainbow was released this past August, following its singles: “Praying”, “Woman, Learn to Let Go”, and “Hymn”. Each song holds its own form of power, and actually showcases Kesha’s voice instead of hiding it. “Praying”, the first single to be released, was the perfect introduction to this album for a number of reasons, primarily because it introduces the listener to Kesha’s new and individual style. The song starts out with simple piano chords, and Kesha’s natural voice carries narrative lyrics over them. The acoustic sound is a stark contrast to the techno beats and autotune that categorized a Ke$ha song. More instruments and harmonies are added throughout the chorus and the second verse, allowing for this organic slow build that pays off in the bridge, which she ends with a killer high note. Ignoring the lyrics, it’s in and of itself a beautiful song with an intense amount of passion. The lyrics are, however, what makes this song the perfect premier single for this album, as opposed to simply being a good song.

There are plenty of articles that address the hidden meanings throughout Kesha’s whole album, and “Praying” in particular, but it’s hard to say that the meanings are hidden in any sense. All throughout “Praying”, Kesha appears to make repeated references to her struggles against Dr. Luke throughout the past 2-3 years, singing “you brought the flames, and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself, and we both know all the truth I could tell.” While it’d be very easy and more than justifiable for Kesha to use this song to curse out Dr. Luke, she doesn’t. Instead, she uses this song to explore redemption. Throughout the chorus she repeatedly sings “I hope you’re somewhere praying… I hope your soul is changing,” and she ends the chilling bridge with the line “some say, ‘in life you’re gonna get what you give,’ but some things only God can forgive.” These lines don’t support a song of forgiveness, but a song about moving on, gaining strength in your own redemption and asking others to do the same while not depending on that action.

This theme of redemption and rebirth is recurrent throughout the album. A good chunk of the songs do not directly address this theme; however, every few songs bring the listener back to the call for self-love. “Learn to Let Go” goes through the process of deciding to “choose redemption” and be “done reliving bad decisions.” “Bastards” and “Let ‘Em Talk”, the first two songs on the album, all encourage ignoring others hurtful, unimportant opinions. Finally, “Rainbow”, the title song and my personal favorite on the album, takes all of these overlapping themes— redemption, letting go, acceptance, and self-love— and addresses them using beautiful piano and string instruments. The song asks the listener to temporarily cast off the hurt of the past, to “put those [rainbow] colors on, girl; come and paint the world with me tonight.” It’s soft and simple in message, but I tear up every time I listen to it.

Rainbow as a full album may not be for everyone. Each song has a new, distinct Kesha style, experimenting with genre, ranging from pop ballads to more hardcore country. Overall, Rainbow has a beautiful commentary on the nature of redemption and rebirth while also bringing forth the incredible and renewed voice of Kesha Sebert.

Step into S-Town

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Mental illness, suicide, sexuality, and clock making all feature frequently in the Podcast S-Town. Photo Credit: This American Life

I started listening to podcasts my senior year of high school, partially because I started driving to school, but also because an English teacher insisted I listen to Serial. Immediately, I was hooked. When I heard that This American Life (another great podcast) and Serial were bringing S-Town to the public, I knew it was going to be my next favorite podcast.
Narrated by Brian Reed, S-Town follows the story of an antique clockmaker named John B. McLemore who lives in Woodstock, Alabama (which McLemore dubs Shittown, Alabama). When McLemore emailed This American Life about a potential murder cover up he believed existed in Shittown, Reed took on the case, only to find that the dead body he was looking for was not the one he anticipated. The show explores what it means to be an outsider in the already isolated small towns of the South, both due to external and internal factors. Mental illness, suicide, sexuality, and clock making have the largest presence on the podcast. Oh, and one chapter solely focuses on a treasure hunt.
Although the podcast is certainly non-fiction, it feels like a well-crafted story. Certain aspects of the story that resurface throughout the podcast— like mental illness, time, and Shittown itself— help to form the feel of a real narrative as opposed to an objective report. These themes also work together to paint a vivid picture of John B. McLemore and wrap the reader up in what it means to have known him. Occasionally, Reed will go into explanations about the various ways one can fix a clock, similar to author describing a setting or bringing attention to a symbol that will reappear in the future. These asides, though initially a bit jarring, work to show the beauty of clock-making in the way that John B. McLemore might have seen it and connects the listener to him by sharing one of his few key passions.
Although the narrative was incredibly engaging and well-crafted, there were many times during S-Town where I had to stop the podcast. It wasn’t the fault of the podcast; it dealt very well with the sensitive material they had. S-Town hit remarkably close to home for me, as I saw a friend of mine in John’s story. While I cannot speak directly about the representation throughout the narrative, I recognized so many aspects of Reed’s story, and the stories of John’s friends, to be one that I have seen myself.
The reason S-Town succeeds as a show is not the same reason that Serial succeeded. Serial’s previous success was due to the meticulous analyzing of each piece of evidence and the lack of acceptance for one specific answer as the truth. S-Town certainly builds off of a similar model, but it explores the bonds that we create with one another and how suicide in particular affects those bonds. S-Town has the emotion, the humanity, and the evasiveness of a narrative that Serial can’t capture in quite the same way. That doesn’t necessarily make S-Town the better podcast; the narrative quality instead increases the emotional impact that it has on a listener because it allows for a stronger focus on emotion as a whole.
If you’re looking for a new podcast, something to listen to on the go, or just a good excuse to cry, look no further than S-Town. I just listened to it through a podcast app, but they have an absolutely beautiful website where you can listen to all of the episodes (stownpodcast.com).

Streaming is the New Network: Disney Leaves Netflix

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Disney leaves Netflix. Photo Credit: Google Images.

In August 2017, Disney announced that it would be pulling all of it’s content off of Netflix and launching it’s own streaming platform in 2019. Netflix secured the licenses to stream Disney’s content in 2012, but Disney’s content has only been available on Netflix since September of 2016, meaning that Netflix will not get to see much of the rewards from this deal. The Verge reports Netflix will be able stream Disney’s content until 2019, meaning they will have access to the next two Star Wars films and other new content that Disney comes out with in the next year.
In addition to a streaming service for their movies and short films, Disney is developing a sports streaming service. Disney has acquired the majority shares of the company BAMTech, an internet video provider developed by Major League Baseball for online streaming and content. Disney will help expand BAMTech and partner with ESPN to launch an online sports streaming service. The infrastructure of the sports streaming service will provide the model for the streaming of Disney’s other content. In Disney’s official announcement, CEO Robert A. Iger stated, “The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers…This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands.” Disney plans to launch the sequel to Frozen and Toy Story 4 on this new service, along with other original movies and shows.
Although losing the rights to stream Disney’s content will certainly be a blow to Netflix, and add another competitor to a market Netflix previously had a monopoly on, Netflix has proven its ability to successfully reinvent itself in the past few years. Despite losing approximately 50% of it’s library since 2012, Netflix still proved successful. Previously, Netflix had been the largest streaming service after it transitioned from being mainly a service which mailed DVDs. However, since 2012 they have been producing incredibly successful original content. Producing more in-house content means that Netflix doesn’t have to negotiate licensing and streaming deals that could fall through, such as their deal with Disney.
Netflix’s original shows such as House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Sense8 have captivated audiences and received much critical praise. Following Netflix’s success at creating original content, other streaming services have branched into creating original content as well. This past year, Hulu released The Handmaid’s Tale to intense critical acclaim, and Amazon has produced Transparent which has remained consistently praised. Viewers and critics alike have come to see content from streaming services as having similar or better quality than network equivalents. The 2017 Emmy nominees for best drama reflect this, with four out of the seven being original content from streaming services. In fact, almost every category had a nominee that was original content from a streaming service.
Disney’s announcement just marks another step in an already present trend. Audiences are highly receptive to streaming services, and brands have noticed. Companies are realizing that streaming services are not just a fad, and original content released on them has been wildly successful. In the next few years, we can most likely expect to see an increase in streaming services, with more companies creating their own platforms. Similar to paying more for a larger cable package with more channels, audiences may need to expect to pay for multiple online providers, since streaming services have now become networks in their own right.

In a Heartbeat: An Animated Heartwarmer

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In a Heartbeat, an animated short about a crush between two middle school boys, will make your heart flutter. Photo Credit: Cultura Inquieta

In a Heartbeat, a short animated film about a crush between two middle school boys, is four minutes and five seconds of audio-visual delight, complete with adorable animation and relatable representation. The film was created for a senior thesis by Beth David and Esteban Bravo, who recently graduated from Ringling College.
In a Heartbeat tells the story of a closeted boy, Sherman, who tries to keep his heart from outing him at school as it chases after his crush, Jonathon. A greater appreciation for all of the thought put into the film can be found by looking at the details, such as the contrast between light and dark in the animation or Jonathon reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. The music complements the tone of the animation style remarkably well, as the high melody that continues throughout the piece matches the beat of Sherman’s heart. The film is made stronger from its lack of dialogue, as the emotions and relationship of these two characters are highlighted simply through the sharp animated movements and accompanying music.
The film gained a following about seven months before its release when David and Bravo started a Kickstarter campaign asking for $3,000 to hire a composer and sound designer for the film. Within one month (from November 15, 2016-December 15, 2016), they raised $14,191. On July 31st, they posted their end product to YouTube, complete with adorable animation and a gorgeous score, composed by Arturo Cardelús, to go with it. When The New York Times reported on the short film four days later, it had already surpassed 14 million views.
Part of the reason this film gained so much attention, especially from the LGBTQ+ community, is because it gives quality representation for young people within the community. It’s not that there isn’t any media targeted at young adults, middle schoolers, or children that also has LGBTQ+ representation. Some animated shows, like Steven Universe, and books, like much of Rick Riordan’s recent work, have wonderful representation. However, it’s certainly not the norm, and it can be difficult to find media with any LGBTQ+ representation, let alone quality representation. In a Heartbeat provides that representation and adds to it the universal feeling of having a first crush.
Additionally, the short film normalizes the idea of kids being gay. Straight tendencies are often seen as cute and adorable in kids— think about the idea of kindergarten boyfriends and girlfriends or parents joking about how their two month old boy is going to be a womanizer. While the general attitude towards homosexuality has progressed in the past few years, there are plenty of people who still believe gay relationships are an unacceptable conversation topic for children, as well as refusing to allow them to question their own sexual orientations. This story is not revolutionary in and of itself, but it allows for young gay kids to see themselves in a form of media when the majority of the media made for them focuses on straight relationships.
In a Heartbeat, whether or not you care about the representation aspect, is a cute short film with a good score to match, and it is sure to make your own heart flutter. It’s just a sweet film about two boys with crushes. What could be more adorable than that?

Book Review: The Sun Is Also A Star

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The Sun is Also a Star is appealing to scientists and poets and everyone in between. Photo credit: Google images

Natasha and her family will be deported by the end of the day, unless Natasha succeeds in her final efforts to delay their return to Jamaica. On the same day, Daniel reluctantly makes his way to his interview with a Yale alumn to satisfy his Korean parents. In a serendipitous twist of fate, their paths cross, and in Daniel’s desire to live one day on his own terms instead of his parents’, he convinces Natasha to participate in a science experiment, hypothesis: When two people share their answers to a certain set of questions with one another, they will fall in love.
The novel takes place over the course of a single day, and is narrated by Natasha, Daniel, and the universe, which shares the perspectives of those that the untimely duo come into contact with throughout their day together—people whose lives shift in unpredictable ways after crossing paths with the protagonists. It’s a simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking story about love and fate, and also about racism and identity.
What about this book made it a Finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, 2017 Coretta Scott King New Talent Award Winner, and one of the top ten best books of 2016 according to Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, and a variety of other publications? Its inspiring characters and innovative form.
The protagonists are dynamic, smart, and incredible role models of diverse identities. Natasha is a strong Jamaican teenager interested in math and science. Daniel is a sensitive Korean-American with dreams of writing poetry for a living. And these characteristics are not just on the surface-level. They’re essential aspects of the characters’ values that inform their decisions, making their identities crucial aspects of the plot and their developing relationship.
The form develops the theme of how one’s actions cause a ripple effect that alters the paths of even those who are many degrees removed from the individual. The alternating perspectives also allow internal access into both protagonists and a variety of characters that would otherwise appear as inconsequential to the plot. Doing so allows the reader to interpret many of the scenes with a variety of perceptions.
The form would’ve been even more effective if the chapters narrated by the universe were always in the same point of view. Even some that are from the perspective of the same character—such as all the chapters from the POV of Daniel’s Dad—alternate between first and third person. Being consistent would better develop the secondary characters whose voices are heard in such chapters, although I was still in love with the novel without this consistency.
While a film adaptation of The Sun Is Also A Star is in the script writing stages, the film adaptation of Yoon’s first novel, Everything, Everything (which is also told with an effective unconventional form from the perspective of a protagonist of color), will be released on May 19th.
The multifaceted nature of the novel makes it appealing to scientists and poets and everyone in between. YA and romance readers will enjoy the unconventional way Yoon tells the young love story, while the larger theme of fate versus free-will will leave philosophers and dreamers pondering beyond the pages of the novel. If you haven’t started to read it yet, you are truly missing out on a wonderfully written, touching story!

Hasbro V. DC Comics: Battle for the Bumblebee

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A legal showdown begins over the merchandising rights of toys that are named “Bumblebee.” Photo Credit: Google Images

Warner Bros. and Hasbro are getting ready for a legal showdown over the merchandising rights of toys that are named “Bumblebee.” Back on August 28th, Hasbro filed a lawsuit accusing DC Comics and Warner Bros. of trademark infringement for their use of the name “Bumblebee” for the toys of the DC Superhero Girls character, Bumblebee, and the potential confusion that could arise due to her sharing the name with the Transformers’ Bumblebee. One is an African-American teen superhero who, dressed as a bumblebee, is a tech genius, has the ability to shrink and has super strength, while the other is a sentient alien-robot that can transform into a bright yellow sports car.
While it may seem silly to argue that people could get these two confused, it’s more complicated than it seems. Quick backstory: the DC Comics character, Bumblebee, was created back in 1977 in the pages of Teen Titans (although she didn’t get the hero name until a couple years later) while the Transformers’ Bumblebee didn’t show up until 1984.
Seems simple, right? It should be, but then comes 2015. In April 2015, DC announced a female-focused line of comics and TV shows aimed at young girls called DC Superhero Girls. Then, in July of 2015, Hasbro filed for a trademark on the name “Bumblebee” in relation to “toy action figures, toy vehicles and toy robots convertible into other visual toy forms,” according to the trademark. It is officially registered in December of 2015.
Back to DC, they launched the Superhero Girls TV show in October of 2015 and since then has spun them off into a variety of toys, comics, dolls, and even Legos. It’s an interesting situation to say the least, since Hasbro does have the trademark on all toy action figures that contain the word “Bumblebee,” of which the DC Bumblebee toys, produced by Mattel, are a form of.
Part of the suit, as published in Variety, states, “defendants’ and/or their licensees’ use of the Accused Mark is likely to cause consumers mistakenly to believe that the Accused Goods emanate from or are otherwise associated with Hasbro. Such improper use of the Accused Mark by Defendants and/or their licensees is likely to cause confusion, mistake and/or deception among the public as to the source of the Accused.”
In easier to understand language, Hasbro is alleging that their Bumblebee is significantly more popular than the DC Comics character and that, as such, any toys featuring her with the name Bumblebee, would cause confusion to the general public. To prove this, according to the same Variety article, Hasbro is using an IGN listicle of “The Top 25 Transformers,” of which Bumblebee is #4.
It is obvious that Hasbro wants to prevent DC from selling toys with Bumblebee on it, possibly because of the upcoming Bumblebee standalone movie, which is set to release in 2018, but what is less obvious is why they filed the trademark when they did. There was plenty of time for Hasbro to file a trademark for their fourth favorite transformer if, as Hasbro alleges, they have been selling Bumblebee toys since 1983. It was only after the announcement of DC Superhero Girls and popular reaction to it that they filed for a trademark.
Was it just an obstructionist move or was it truly in anticipation of their movie? Only time, and the court case, will tell.

Movie Review: I Am Not Your Negro

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Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Jessica Snouwaert, Staff Writer

March 5th, 2017

The film I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck, opened in theaters this February and is composed of James Baldwin’s writing from nearly 40 years ago. Baldwin wrote about race in the US during the mid-1970’s, yet his words ring far too clear for a 2017 viewer. The film is constructed around an unfinished book Baldwin wrote about the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr. It is truly a cinematic masterpiece, moving seamlessly between voice-over narration read by Samuel L. Jackson (which draws entirely from Baldwin’s writing), television interviews with Baldwin, historical photographs and clips, and snippets from past Hollywood movies and shows.

Baldwin’s voice and thoughts are two-fold through Jackson’s narration and Baldwin’s television interviews. At first it is difficult to connect the two as being one in the same, but it is easy for the viewer to jump into the rhythm of the film. During the film, the viewer clings to each and every one of Baldwin’s words. He is perceptive and critical, as if able to look directly into the viewer’s consciousness, asking questions about race that require deep introspection and should not go unanswered.

This film does what few others can, even at the best of times: it challenges white viewers with the rawest of truths, making them question the very core of society and themselves. Peck uses a multitude of techniques to accomplish this. Some of which include stark contrasts of cheerful visuals and audio with moments of the utter brutality, which highlight some of the deepest hypocrisy within the United States. The stark reality of the images the film uses forces a white viewer to acknowledge privilege that may have previously been avoided, evoking profound emotion and thought. It goes beyond what  we see in our grade school history books. It is harsh and it is real. But it is not despairing, for Baldwin says in the film, “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. I’m forced to be an optimist.”

I cannot walk away from this film unchanged, returning to daily life the same way. I first wanted to see the film because beyond it being an incredible piece of art, I felt that it was my responsibility. The moment the lights came up in the theater I was struck with frustrated tears and anger. I was angry with the past. I was angry with my country. I was angry with myself. This film woke me up to the true responsibility. This film will evoke emotions and thoughts with which some people rarely dare to engage, but it is time we do so, it has always been time.

Goucher Style: Nashalia Ferrara

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Annie Schwartz, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Who: Nashalia Ferrara, Senior, Communications Major

AS: Nashalia, the first time we met in Zurawick’s COM 242 class you were wearing these really cool booties that had zippers on the edges. Do you still have these boots and where did you get them?

Nashalia Ferrara: Haha, thanks! They are Lucky Brand booties. I took them abroad with me and the cobblestone streets of Europe completely ruined them so I don’t wear them much anymore.

AS: What is your favorite trend on Goucher’s campus?

NF: I love and wish I could pull off boyfriend jeans.

AS: What Goucher fad really makes you cringe?

NF: Don’t kill me; I hate Birkenstocks.

AS: How would you describe your style?

NF: It’s very classic, a little sporty, and maybe a little boring? I love black, clean lines, and capped sleeves.

AS: What will you do with yourself if you have to start wearing pantsuits to your new job post-graduation?

NF: Cry. This girl does not look good in a blazer.

AS: Has your style changed at all during your four years at Goucher? If so, how?

NF: When I arrived at Goucher, I was fresh out of prep school, wearing riding boots and obsessed with Tory Burch. By sophomore year, I stopped dressing like a suburban housewife and started leaning towards a street style look.

AS: Where did you go abroad and how did that impact your fashion sense?

NF: I went to Copenhagen, DK where there is no shame in wearing all black. The Danes taught me that head-to-toe black is very chic and not just for mourning. It was almost always below freezing there, so most of my thick, layering scarves are from Denmark or Sweden.

AS: What’s your favorite go-to piece in your closet?

NF: I love my Stan Smith Adidas! And yes, I know that Stan Smith is an actual person.

AS: Who is your Goucher style icon?

NF: Molly Kincaid McFall.

Garrison Keillor Visits Goucher

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Keillor-Headshot-2.jpgErika DiPasquale, Associate Editor

March 5th, 2017

On Monday, February 20th, Kraushaar Auditorium was filled to capacity for the sold out Garrison Keillor Event. The master storyteller was the first performer of “The Power of Storytelling” themed-semester event series, which strives to encourage “learning to gather stories, learning to craft stories, listening to one another’s stories, hearing master storytellers, and community reflection on stories,” according to Emily Perl, Assistant Vice President for Student Success, and leader of the themed-semester committee. The event was funded entirely by the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professorship fund.

Garrison Keillor hosted his very popular radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, from 1974 through July 2016 when he retired. His career earned him 3.5 million listeners on 700 public radio stations and Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, the National Humanities Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He’s also an author of many books and editor of poetry anthologies. According to Emily Perl, Mr. Robert Meyerhoff and Ms. Rheda Becker “were instrumental in the decision to bring Garrison Keillor to campus this semester.”

Keillor entertained the crowd for 2 hours and 45 minutes straight—without stopping. Even during a ten minute intermission about an hour and a half in, he remained on stage and sang nostalgic songs with anyone in the audience willing to join in, expressing more than once how blessed he was to be in the same room as people who know the words to the same songs he knew—something he expects to not experience again in the coming years.

As for the content of his performance, his stories were certainly tailored to the audience, which consisted of more people with gray and white hair than Goucher College students. The age demographics of the audience shouldn’t come as a shock, being that a goal of the themed-semester is “to have a variety of speakers who appeal to different audiences and achieve a number of different goals,” according to Perl. Keillor started with stories about his brother-in-law’s hip replacement and his prostate, and then jumped backwards in time to share stories about college and his childhood. The audience heard stories about his first kiss, childhood punishments, and a couple funerals he’s recently attended. None of the stories he told took place during his impressive radio career. This organizational decision contributed to the development of the theme that “We strive to go far and then we end up back in the same place.”

Another theme he kept circling around to—one that is very relevant to the goals of the storytelling theme semester—is the act of writing things down and being remembered. After his longer stories, he would repeat the statement, “And I thought…I should write about this. But I haven’t written it down because I haven’t figured it out yet.” The first time he thought this, he was six years old. He wished to preserve the memory and prevent himself from simply disappearing from this earth. He wanted to write “to make sense of it.” The “strongest impulse of a writer,” according to Keillor, is “to hold onto the past and not let it vanish.” In his more recent reflections on his own mortality, as his performance illustrated, he’s felt this impulse even more so, in part because of a desire to be quoted posthumously like the greatest writers of all time—something he perceives as more meaningful than if he were to have a building named after him.

Because he told ordinary, relatable stories about his pre- and post- career life, the most resounding take-away from his performance is that anyone can tell their stories and be remembered in any form and style that comes naturally to them. Keillor’s style was one that evoked consistent waves of laughter and involved the audience in song at the beginning, middle, and end. Perl said, “The audience thoroughly enjoyed their evening with Garrison Keillor—I would call it a rousing success!”

A list of the remaining events in the series is below. Reserve your free tickets in advance at http://www.goucher.edu/tickets .

Queen Nur: Monday, February 27th, 7pm

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy: Wednesday, March 1, 7pm

Alec Dun: Thursday, March 23rd, 4:30pm

Ann Hamilton: Thursday, March 30, 6:30pm

Curtis Sittenfeld: Monday, April 3, 7pm

Peter L. Borst: Wednesday, April 5, 7pm

Anna Deveare Smith: Wednesday, April 12, 7pm

Participate in various Story Circle Sessions throughout the semester to listen and share stories in the ATH.

A Day in My Life Abroad: Tuesday, March 7, 4pm

The Place Where I Grew Up: Wednesday, March 22, 3pm

Hair Stories: Tuesday, April 11, 4pm

Goucher Stories: Wednesday, April 19, 3pm

Immigration Stories: Tuesday, April 25, 4pm

Visit http://www.goucher.edu/storytelling for more information about the speakers/performers and the Story Circles.

Who Gets to Be a Jazz Musician?

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Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Katie Van Note, Staff Writer

March 5th, 2017

What does a stereotypical American jazz musician look like? This is the question Naomi Moon Siegel asked that prompted conversation in Jeffrey Chapell’s jazz ensemble class last Tuesday, February 21st. Siegel is a composer, trombonist, and educator who visited Goucher College to present a workshop titled “Gender Equality and The Feminine Principle in Jazz.”

Siegel received her bachelors degree in jazz trombone from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. It was through her training that she realized conversations about patriarchy, sexuality, race, and gender – very much present among students in the liberal arts college – were not present in the conservatory. The majority of her teachers and fellow students were white males. In her music history classes, she learned about men. All of the books she read were written by men. If there was ever a section in a textbook on female musicians, it was given a special label, “Women in Jazz.” Yet, as Naomi stated last Tuesday, “women have always played jazz as instrumentalists.”

So, who is a typical jazz musician in America? Who is given space to sing, play the piano, guitar, drums, flute, clarinet, trumpet, or saxophone? This is where the conversation started at Goucher.

Eight of the attending jazz student musicians were given the task to identify stereotypes of various races and genders in jazz. Siegel asked, “What images and messages does the society receive at large about these groups of people in jazz?” Students identified these stereotypes about men: “they are white, instrumentalists, intelligent, they have an expected level of know-how, they are cool cats, aloof, elitist, middle-class, most able, and most visible.” One Goucher musician added, “they can afford gigging around,” as yet another symptom of privilege and class.

Stereotypes of women in jazz included “non-instrumentalists, sometimes pianists, sex objects, vocalists, wives, and non-composers.” It is important to note that female instrumentalists, such as Lil Hardin Armstrong and Alice Coltrane, both jazz pianists in their own right, were known for their marriages to their jazz musician husbands. Within the first two sentences of their descriptions on Wikipedia, they are mentioned as wives to John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong, whereas both men are described on Wikipedia by musical style and accomplishments with no mention of marital details. This begs the question – would these female musicians have been documented and remembered in jazz history if they hadn’t married male musicians?

Students also offered stereotypes of African Americans in jazz as “natural, the best jazz musicians, best sense of rhythm, and the originators.” Furthermore, stereotypes were discussed of Asian Americans as “classically trained piano players, can’t swing, and non-existent in jazz,” while Native Americans, Arab-Americans, Latino-Americans, were all labeled as “non-existent in jazz” as well. Siegel noted that greater intersectionality between sexuality, gender identity, and cultural backgrounds were not mentioned either, as they further separated a person from the “norm” in jazz.

Yet, how have these stereotypes developed over the hundred or so years of American jazz history? Siegel identified the creation and distribution of magazines in the 1920s as a major cause – propaganda that sexualized women vocalists and prioritized white bands.

In her lecture, Siegel explained her own internalized stereotype as “socialized to believe that females are inferior jazz instrumentalists.” She gave examples by quoting her fellow female jazz musicians, Esperanza Spalding and Kate Olsen: “I’m just a jazz musician,” and “I’m just one of the guys.” In reflection, Siegel pointed to the implicit meaning behind their quotes: denial of the patriarchy “as if somehow it doesn’t exist.”

One female vocalist in the audience told an account of her own experience: “My mom has always said she sees me lying on a piano in a slinky red dress singing jazz.”

As individuals in the jazz arena, Siegel noted the importance of “telling counter-narratives.” These counter-narratives serve as challenges to the perpetual stereotypes marginalized groups face in jazz. She emphasized the development of an individual voice and sound. “My goal is for us to be fully expressive.Only in defining and challenging these stereotypes can we begin to discover our potential as musicians.”

In creating a space for dialogue of this kind, Siegel left some students with another perspective, some with a validation of experience as female and black musicians, and some with inspiration to challenge the concept of a stereotypical jazz musician.

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