No glass ceiling for SAMRO scholarships hopefuls

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Siyasanga Charles
Siyasanga Charles

Confident, committed and socially engaged: that sums up the ethos of the female instrumentalists in the 2016 SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition.

The semi-finals of this prestigious music competition take place on 18 August 2016 at Johannesburg’s Linder Auditorium, where 12 instrumentalists will compete for four spots in the final round on 20 August 2016.

As they prepare for the semi-finals, Siya Charles, Sally Minter and Tatiana Thaele have reflected on what it means to be young, female and breaking into the music industry this Women’s Month.

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Siya, a bass trombonist, says it’s entirely up to women to have faith in themselves and their musical ability: “The way I deal with being female in a male-dominated industry is to see myself first and foremost as a musician. I think women become intimidated and have a perception of themselves as inferior.

“We should realise that we’ve got where we are through hard work and dedication, and we deserve to be there. I think that inner confidence has earned me the respect of my male counterparts.”

Siya is enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by South Africa’s burgeoning jazz culture and believes in persisting in doing what you love, despite the perceived roadblocks along the way: “I love the bass trombone so much. Even though I’m very short and asthmatic, I love the instrument profoundly and am passionate about playing it. I’d like to think I’m breaking gender stereotypes – that women don’t have the skill to play such a big and powerful instrument, that we are the fairer and weaker sex.”

Sally Minter, who plays the flute, says training for a classical music career has taught her how to empower herself as a young woman. “The ability to form your own informed opinion and express your creativity is imperative to a successful career, as is the confidence and strength one has to find within oneself to battle the various disappointments a career like this can entail. It makes you strong, it makes you independent and it makes you work hard for what you really want.”

Sally is excited about the opportunities open to her as an instrumentalist – “the freedom to carve out my own career path and the flexibility to participate in various facets of the music world”.

And she’s paying it forward, too: “My duo partner and I recently commissioned a work from SAMRO from a young female South African composer, Amy Luyendijk, as part of a bigger goal for ourselves, which is to create more opportunities for young women in classical music in South Africa.”

Tatiana Thaele, also a flautist, says female musicians are “actually very lucky in South Africa” as sexism is not really entrenched in our music culture: “For many years the music world in Europe was plagued by strong gender roles and prejudices. The first woman only joined the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1990s! I remember, while studying in Europe, being asked if I had ever experienced any sexism in orchestras. I was honestly a bit shocked, because until that moment it was not something I had even considered to be problematic.”

However, she acknowledges that there are still great challenges facing South African women in general. “So perhaps my outlook is one that sees the creation of opportunities for women in its greater context, and I believe this context needs to include all people who have been disadvantaged by the systems we have lived in.

“We need to be assessing how we can be growing and developing a high quality and sustainable culture of music that is truly all-inclusive, and I believe education plays an incredibly important role: educating and inspiring young woman to want to pursue a career in music; giving them the tools to make a viable career out of it.”

However, Tatiana says that first social inequalities must be addressed: “Most children do not have any access to instruments or music lessons. And if they do, many children are unable to further their studies because the school education they are receiving is not sufficient to get them through Matric.”

By looking at the picture holistically and creating opportunities for young women from the ground up, we can help them pursue a sustainable career in music, she believes.

To find out more about attending the finals of the SAMRO Overseas Scholarships Competition at the Linder Auditorium on Saturday, 20 August 2016, emailnaseema.yusuf@samro.org.za. For tickets to the finals, visit https://www.webtickets.co.za/event.aspx?itemid=1464205541.

Visit www.samrofoundation.org.za for more information on the SAMRO Foundation’s programmes and projects, or follow @SAMROFoundation on Twitter and Facebook.

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