When Trying To Break Boundaries Threatens To Break Your Spirit

Last week on the Association of Performing Arts Professional’s (APAP) podcast, Emily Isaacson of Classical Uprising talked about some of the frustrating experiences she has had trying to advance her goal of changing the context through which classical music is viewed and experienced.

One of the biggest impediments she has experienced was the view that she isn’t a serious artists because she is a woman and a mother. She shared, apparently for the first time publicly, that a family friend whom she had known since she was a child asked her to partner on creating a music festival, but when they got together to plan their second season, he dismissed her efforts and professionalism.

“He started to call me randomly to tell me that I would never be taken seriously as a musician that because I was a mom, I was distracted that if I thought that my degrees were worth anything, I was kidding myself because real musicians don’t care about degrees,. That I made, I was making a fool of myself on the podium.”

She said the conversation got a lot worse from there. She said she has run up against similar sentiments regarding other programming she has done:

So people wanna label me as a woman conductor, and that’s my whole soapbox. The other thing is they say, “Oh, well, the fact that she wants to do, you know, Hayden’s creation in a park must mean that she’s really not that sophisticated a musician. She’s doing it differently because she can’t hang with the big boys and the old club and you know, this, that, and the other thing.”

Or like, “Oh, isn’t it cute that she wants to do things that are not just four kids, but intergenerational because she’s a mom and so focused on being a mommy and mommy music”, …

I’m advocating for a different way of presenting and producing classical music, so that it is more social and more interactive and more casual, in the way that actually it was originally conceived.

The other thing she says she runs into is the echo chamber type thinking among different organizations. She talks about how when she attended the 2023 APAP conference, she struck up a conversation with the representative of an organization promoting a Breaking Boundaries series. She was somewhat disappointed to learn that their concept of breaking boundaries was presenting works by female composers one year and works by minority composers the next year. This essentially mirrored what so many other orchestra organizations were doing.

I’m good quick on my feet, so I pivoted and I was like, “Another way that you could think about like pushing boundaries, is by thinking about like who we’re performing for, how we’re performing and what, what are the things that we include in the performance that make people feel either included to be there or more connected to the music than they did before?” And I start giving examples from my programs about, doing Flight of the Bumble Beer where you do music flights alongside five-ounce pours of beer or doing Bach Bends Yoga.

Like really, here’s some like con this is not lofty ideas. Here’s some concrete ideas and this person could just not understand what I was talking about. That was so frustrating for me because it made me realize that the national conversation and the conversation that I’m trying to have is just ships passing in the night…

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript to learn more. Isaacson starts the episode so her story is easy to find.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment