In completing my Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Bard College/Longy School of Music, I have decided to write my graduate research thesis about perceived and problematic identity politics of the flute world. I’ve previously faced some less-than respectful interactions with other members of the field, so it was time that my stories be told in an academic setting. However, I knew of too many disheartening stories from other flutists, so I created a survey that would tell their stories, too. As a passionate educator, I believe that access to playing the flute should be equal to all who are interested. However, monetary and societal barriers suggest otherwise.
Here are some of my own stories. Maybe you have some of your own. I have been fat-shamed over a headshot for having a ‘fat’ face. At the age of 16, I was told by a famous male flutist that men’s bodies are better suited to be flutists than women. When it came to my playing style, I’d always been told I was “too loud,” for orchestras, but that I would excel in rock bands. As a personality, someone once said I may not be compatible to play with musical groups because I’m more outspoken. I am a woman in LA with scarlet hair and a nose ring, who is loud, fat, and prefers to play heavy metal, so some might describe me as “shrill.” Through simply being myself, I have probably sabotaged a part of my career, but I wouldn’t want to compromise my behavior, so I’ll keep doing what I want.
I didn’t come up with the term “shrill,” on my own. Writer, comedian, and activist Lindy West titled a book called Shrill, which turned into a Hulu series, starring Saturday Nigh Live cast member Aidy Bryant. West is a Seattle native, who advocates for fat-acceptance and anti-racist rhetoric among feminist and media communities. Just like a crass piccolo in a marching band, I proudly embody the characteristics of being shrill, and want others to feel comfortable in being themselves.
I choose to be louder than most, but there are many other people who have valid stories worth sharing. Thus, I created a social justice-themed questionnaire to address numerous facets of the flute community. I spent upwards of 20 hours creating over 70 questions, many of which have never been asked outside of confidential settings with close-knit colleagues. I made the survey entirely anonymous, so that the sources of the information remain largely unknown. Some of the questions are about sexual orientation, racism, mental health, and sexual harassment. Others were about flute conventions, competitions, and career satisfaction. Along the way, I provided opportunities for prose commentary and self-expression, and I encourage people to share their opinions, especially if they vary from my own.
With 175 responses in 48 hours, it’s safe to say that things have already been successful. I’ve already received some wildly contrasting responses to my thought-provoking questions. Based on previous interactions with flutists over the internet, I knew that this survey would be controversial, and I knew that not everyone would like it. However, I knew in my heart that this survey would take the community in the right direction.
You can take the survey at the link below. I look forward to making this community stronger!
Rachel Hacker is a flutist and educator living in Los Angeles, California. Having lead a colorful life of music, friendship, and travel, she draws from all of these influences in her artistic pursuits. An active improviser and creator of experimental music, Rachel has performed for a variety of musical experiences in the Southern California area. She plays on a Kingma System flute made by Lev Levit and a Robert Dick Glissando Headjoint, both of which she has used to premiere numerous new works for solo flute. Additionally, Rachel loves playing on her bass flute, the Japanese shakuhachi, and the Balinese Suling. When not “fluting,” she can be found singing and playing piano or ukulele. Rachel is also a passionate educator, having previously worked as an adjunct instructor at New York University and with the CalArts Community Arts Partnership.
A native of the Cincinnati Ohio area, Rachel has obtained an undergraduate degree from Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music. She also holds graduate degrees in performance from New York University and California institute of the Arts. Hacker is currently completing her Master of Arts in Teaching degree with Bard College/Longy School of Music in LA, an accelerated, one-year, social justice-based music education program. Hacker loves working with children of all ages and intends to pursue a career in elementary general music education. She hopes to make a difference in the world through equitable education experiences.
Hi Rachel, and thank you for the candid and courageous article! I’d like to respond to your expression that “Through simply being myself, I have probably sabotaged a part of my career…”
I’d like to warmly and supportively disagree! By being yourself in an uncompromising way, you are being true to yourself, you are building a career that is about your own artistic and social spirit, and the only thing you’ve possibly discarded is a path that isn’t where your passion and self-expression lie. For all of us in the arts, and really all of us in life, filtering the many possible paths down to those that are right for us (sometimes despite social and professional expectations from our peers and mentors), is a profound ability, and a very fulfilling one. Viva la difference, and brava on your own path!
Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful words. I do agree. I’m learning to let go.
May we all find the path we’re looking for!
Hey Rachel! Play it loud and play it proud! I’m proud of you.
Absolutely wonderful to hear from you!
So happy that you love my work and am proud of me.
I’ll keep on playing it loud!
You are so inspiring, Rachel… and I was greatly moved by you sharing your truth.
Lots of love and light to you, Jessica
What an interesting topic! I feel like we’re just on the verge of exploring it too. I look forward to hearing more from you on the subject.