American Public Media does a great job of keeping up with its 500 employees by requiring annual goal assessments and self reviews. I spent enough time on my self review this year to justify sharing it with you, so here it is - tell me what you think!
This time last year I was thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish at my new job with American Public Media. I set the bar high for myself, and I’m very proud to say that I’ve achieved each of the goals I set out for myself over these past 13 months.
The first thing that I’d like to acknowledge is the maintenance of my sleep schedule. Working overnight isn’t easy, and adding an “office day” to my schedule makes it even tougher. I’m not yet able to really “live life” the way I’d like working four overnight shifts a week, but I’m very proud that the staying awake part is no longer a concern. Over the next year, I hope to feel more comfortable spending less time trying to sleep while away from work, and more time participating in the culture and activities of the cities I live in (local concerts/events/etc.).
As National Host/Producer of “Music Through the Night”, my first big goal was to continue to develop my own unique voice as a radio host. This was a process that ended up being more involved than I anticipated, and while I consider this a career-long project, I’ve definitely connected with listeners with my hosting style. Through lots of feedback, audience members have categorized me as a host that exudes passion and expertise in a light-hearted, young, and relatable way. I hope to continue, and even to grow in this regard, by offering listeners my own, very unique perspective on the music and the stories I present each night.
My second big goal was to gain the courage to go off-script. While I do still use a script, it’s become a tool, and not a crutch. What I write and prepare for each air shift is a guide for me – I use each night’s “script” as the basis for what I’m going to say, instead of what I plan to read. District breaks have become completely off-script for me at this point, and (due to an unforeseen technical difficulty) I managed to execute an entire shift off-script this year! Looking ahead, I do plan to continue script-writing, but I plan to write scripts that mirror my normal speech, as opposed to the “professional radio voice” I tend to fall back into when I’m not paying attention.
Impacting the programming on C24 was something I wanted to do this year, and something I did in bigger ways than I’d planned. After learning about some of the more programmed pieces of music/composers, I compiled song lists that highlight the aural diversity of classical music. Showcasing music by women and people of color fueled this part of my annual goals, and through a Black History Month feature many listeners heard music they’d never heard before! I was also very proud to spearhead what I understand was APM’s very first Juneteenth celebration – that, in particular, is what I think I’m most proud of accomplishing this year. It should also be noted that a recording featuring myself was added to the library, in addition to a number of web features to the online library, including a profile on the Sphinx Virtuosi Ensemble, a Black History Month special, and a rare feature of the Illharmonic Orchestra.
In addition to meeting, and even exceeding my goals for this year, I achieved things I hadn’t planned on. In the opening weeks of my being a member of the team, I recorded the flamenco-inspired episode of Class Notes, which was used in countless meetings, focus groups, and pitches over the course of the year. My participation in this project led me to Capitol Hill, where I testified before a committee in an effort to continue the state’s funding of classicalMPR. Reaching out to both seasoned listeners, and potential new listeners was also a huge part of my year, through my facilitation of pre-concert talks for both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (two each), and my guest appearance on the New York-based podcast, “Need to Know”. The more I become familiar with the local culture of the Twin Cities and the national listening audience, the more comfortable I feel engaging the listeners, and it’s work I plan to continue over this next year.
Joining the team hasn’t been without its challenges. In my opening weeks on the job I received an incredibly rude e-mail from Steven John concerning a miscommunication about weather recording, followed by questions from Jim Noone concerning my Black Lives Matter paraphernalia. In response to these events, and others in my personal life, I decided that people outside of the “norm” who work in classical music deserve a spotlight, and a means of validation. What came of this was the idea of a podcast, originally titled “Crossover”, and eventually named “Trilloquy”. With the help of Scott Blankenship and other colleagues, I’ve brought to life some of the “true and real stories from the fringes of classical music” in a way that hasn’t been done before! I’m incredibly proud of what Trilloquy has become, and that, coupled with my personal dedication to being my most true and authentic self, has helped MPR/APM become a more equitable and affirming organization. Over the next year, I hope to see Trilloquy’s website develop, along with more integrated in-house promotion (Trilloquy logo on main lobby panels, etc.).
While I’ve set a number of new goals for the following year, the biggest of them is to continue to impact the culture of APM. Every time I’ve met a black person outside of APM, they’re shocked and surprised that I work here. The organization, in my Twin Cities experience so far, is still seen as one that doesn’t directly address local people of color. In my opinion, this culture is perpetuated through a very rigid definition of “classical music”, and an unequitable focus on composers and aesthetics mirroring the traditions of western Europe. It’s not lost on me that we regularly showcase composers who had relationships with the Nazis, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and other dark eras of world history. I want to be a part of dismantling these aspects of classical music by forsaking the catalogues of Frederick Delius, George Frederic Handel, Richard Strauss, and others, and replacing them with composers who speak to more contemporary sonic aesthetics and social/cultural sensibilities. With a weekly podcast, and 24 hours’ worth of weekly on-air shifts, my schedule is tight, but I consider this work, specifically, part of my life’s purpose, and I’ll do everything I can to move both myself and the organization into more culturally competent, socially (and artistically) equitable spaces.
It’s an honor to work here, and I look forward to everything to come in the future.
I spent last week away from the air waves and on the stage. The annual Artosphere Festival in Fayetteville, AR was lots of fun, as it's been for me the past 5 years, but this year it felt a little different, still.
Since moving to Minnesota I've been fully dedicated to racial/gender equity in classical music. In my opinion, there's no reason to not have something by a woman or POC on any program, and unfortunately the festival stuck to the tradition of programs filled with music by dead (or really old) white men. During the rehearsal process for the first concert, I kept thinking to myself, "Damn, I'm glad I left this performance world officially". The music is great, don't get me wrong, but again, why NOT program something that showcases classical music's diversity? This, coupled with being the only black person in the orchestra for concert 1 left me with the feeling that I'm in the wrong space - I felt like I wasn't speaking to my experiences, or to anyone with a similar experience.
During the applause following the first concert, the maestro asked the winds to stand, and I could clearly see a black guy near the front row doing everything he could to grab my attention. When I finally looked down, he was raising his fist in full black power, and I returned the gesture. The following morning, I was walking down the street and was stopped by a black woman who was also at the concert, and she thanked me for my presence there. I can't even tell you how excited I was by those two exchanges. It felt like my being there actually mattered. It felt like I was doing a part of the work I feel is so important, even though I was doing it by way of old, dead, white composers.
Me and my friend Aaron ended up meeting the black guy I exchanged a black power first with at a local food truck a few days later. His name is Dennis, and he talked about how he enjoys seeing classical music to diversify his experiences. Seeing me on stage added to his experience, and him seeing me validated the work I continue to do. There are days when classical music definitely feels like "white people music" to me, but even if I'm able to impact the life of just one POC in live performances I feel like I've done my job. I'm still glad that I left the stage officially, though - there are countless more POCs for me to reach over the airwaves. When orchestras start programming more equitably the performance bug may bite again, but for now I'm happy with where I am.
Thoughts of black power, equity, and liberation actually inspired my newest tattoo - this makes 11 tattoos for me so far! What do you think?