Fall 2020 Special: The Women of Purchase's Music Scene

By Marcia Hunt

April Gloom (left) pictured with Calder Mansfield during a performance at Pianos in New York City (via Kaitlin Balfe)


April Gloom is like any other Purchase based singer/songwriter and studio composition major. She is passionate about her music, works hard to develop her style, and always knew that she wanted to pursue music.


“I was only looking to go to music school because I knew there was nothing else I’d rather be doing,” she said. “Purchase has a lot of cool people and it’s the most diverse music scene I’ve been a part of.”


But unlike some of her peers, April’s experience making music has been challenged by the disenchanting sexism she’s experienced both on and off campus.


“A lot of the time a person who is not a cisgender man who sings but doesn’t play an instrument will be perceived as not talented,” she said. “Both on and off campus, sometimes men will ask me if I need help setting up my gear. It's my gear.”


The biggest challenge she has faced on campus is finding spaces that want her to perform.

“There’s sort of a presence of white boy musicians only wanting to make music with other white men. Sometimes when people book bills, they’re only booking their friends, which means that a lot of the time people who aren’t cis men are excluded,” she said.


To make sure the Purchase music scene is as inclusive as it can be, April suggested not only booking more women, but also making sure musicians know who they’re working with.


“There are a lot of people in the music program that are awful people and they’re still being worked with. Like, don’t give chances to people you know have sexually assaulted someone,” she said.


Her hopes for the music industry are to see influential positions get taken over by people who aren’t men. She thinks that by diversifying record label heads, producers, managers, and other positions of power, the industry itself with become more inclusive.


And of course, April will continue to make music that resonates with her, combining her personal experience and social commentary into her ever-evolving style.


Calder Mansfield, a screenwriting and history major, plays bass in Purchase-based band Dumpster. Her journey in applying her feminism to her music began in her childhood when she had to dissect her preconceived patriarchal notions about music.

Dumpster performing at Whistons on Feb. 1st, 2020. Mansfield (right) is pictured with bandmate Claire Parcells. (via Jordan Meiland)


“A lot of my problem growing up was wanting to seem like I wasn’t affected by misogyny but really I was just internalizing it,” she said.


Now at Purchase, she has time to introspectively think about her music.


“I think that because of how society has treated us, we view ourselves as inherently replaceable,” she said. “You have the few select women who are defining artists and then you’re either the next her or you’re not anybody.”


Like April, Mansfield believes the best thing cisgender men can do to uplift woman and nonbinary musicians is to offer their support.


According to Mansfield, buying merch and music, attending livestreams and concerts, sharing a band’s projects on social media, and sending positive messages are small things that could drastically make the music scene more inviting.


She also believes women should be making efforts to actively support each other.


“This idea of being replaceable feeds into women hating on each other,” she explained. “There’s room for everybody in music. You are not replaceable.”


Dumpster’s already taking strides to make the Purchase music scene a more inclusive and safe space for women and nonbinary people.


“Dumpster concerts are a place that’s just fun,” she said. “At first, I grappled with it because I wanted it to be taken seriously like other, cis man fronted bands were. But then I realized fun includes feeling safe and happy and I really like that.”


Ash McMillian, a Studio Production and Composition major, is determined to persist. She is one of the few women enrolled in Purchase’s Studio Production program and also one of the few female engineers on campus.

McMillan performing at Purchase’s 2/28/20 Night of Originals. (via Jordan Meiland)


“It took a while for all my classmates to warm up to me,” McMillan said. “It took a while for all the guys to get used to the fact that I was there. Now it isn’t that big of a deal anymore. But I had to work to get to the point where the musicians that I work with are used to me being the engineer.”


According to McMillan, it’s a common occurrence to be second guessed by the male musicians she works with. She finds the range of microaggressions to upfront sexist comments frustrating.


“There’s quite a lot of men telling me how I should mic something or how a microphone works and I’m like ‘cool this is what I go to school for’. You just play your instrument and I just learn about microphones,’” she said with a chuckle.


The experience of a woman engineer is far worse outside of Purchase, according to McMillan. She recalled an incident freshman year where she tried to get an internship with a studio in New York City but was turned away because they supposedly had no room for her.


Afterwards, the studio hired three male interns.


But McMillan said these experiences have made her work harder. She is determined to push the envelope as to what is expected of an engineer, all while doing it her own way.


“During my first engineering job, I sort of picked up the habit of buying cool socks and walking around the studio without shoes on,” she said. “I also am really proud of color coding my sessions. I love recording bigger arrangements because I like when you have to sit down and think about how the sounds are really going to interact with each other.”


The best way to diversify the field of engineering is for schools to do more outreach to young women, according to McMillan. She said that Purchase has a long way to go, but it’s doing better. She also is grateful for the support of her professors, who always build her up.

“A professor told me ‘a bunch of women have come before you and made it easier for you so just you being here is going to make it easier for the girls that come after you and the girls that come after them. You just have to keep pushing,’” she said.


Her biggest inspiration is Professor Rebecca Haviland, a lecturer for the Studio Composition program. Haviland herself is an accomplished singer/songwriter who began gigging in New York City at 17 and now fronts the rock band Rebecca Haviland and Whiskey Heart.


Professor Haviland. Photo courtesy of Purchase.edu.


“50 percent of the reason I get a gig is because I’m a female, but that’s also 50 percent of the reason I won’t get the gig,” Haviland said. “But I want to get a gig because I’m good, not because I’m a girl. I worked really hard to get where I am.”


Haviland also believes the best way to get more women into engineering is to teach them that it’s a career option.


“The issue is when a woman starts singing, she’s always told she should be a singer,” she said. “We aren’t teaching women that there are other options.”


For women interested in doing more than just performing, Haviland suggests doing cowriting, learning an instrument, learning to record, and just writing. She mentioned that there are now more resources available to women who want to make it in the music industry that provide outreach. One such essential movement is She is the Music, an organization which uses its platform to educate and uplift women in the music industry.


“There’s a lot less rules now,” Haviland said. “The younger generations should take advantage of it.”


Professor Anita Brown is a former part-time Jazz Studies lecturer at Purchase. She also performs with her New York City based big band the Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra. But despite being an award-winning composer, she’s still faced many challenges in the Jazz world, on account of her gender.


“There have always been women in jazz, but it's really always been a boy’s club,” Brown said. “Whenever someone asks me what I do I never say ‘I’m in jazz’, I always say ‘music.’”

Former professor Brown. Photo courtesy of Purchase.edu.


Most notably, she’s experienced male musicians telling her during rehearsal how her pieces should be written. Those musicians don’t usually get called back in to rehearse.


“There have been interactions I’ve experienced that really made me feel like the negativity of the interaction had everything to do with my gender,” she said.


To diversify the composition world, Brown says that like with STEM programs, which encourage young women to explore careers in math and science, young girls should be encouraged to go into composition.


“Composing is a complex process that requires a lot of knowledge,” she said. “Young girls should know how to do it.”


As it is, jazz composition tends not to be very inclusive for women. For example, many grants for composing are only available to people under the age of 35, but composition only becomes a viable career for women later on in their lives, according to Brown.


However, she has witnessed encouraging progress.


“There are many female composers getting good recognition now,” she explained. “Women like the musicians of the Diva Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Maria Schneider have achieved great success.”


As for herself, Brown will continue to inspire and be inspired by her former students as she works on her own compositions.


“At Purchase, I think the faculty tries to understand who their students are,” she said. “I tell my students that we all come to music from different vantage points, but life is about chipping away at weaknesses.”


At the Purchase level, Dr. Jennifer Undercofler, Director of the Conservatory of Music, is working to diversify the music program.

Dr. Jennifer Undercofler. Photo courtesy of Purchase.edu


“When I graduated from Julliard, if you had told me I’d been having conversations with colleagues about social issues, I don’t know if I would believe you,” she said. “The weird thing about classical training is that it's such a narrow path. I feel like I’m gaining world view as I go along.”


According to Undercofler, Purchase’s admission statistics show that the college is making its way towards ending the gender imbalance in the music program.


She said, “We’ve really been thinking about how we can put more resources towards outreach, like building relationships with high schools. The other piece is taking a look at how we hire faculty and showcasing more of women’s contributions to music in our program. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”


While the industry has a long way to go, women musicians are working tirelessly to make their music heard.


This year, a record-breaking 47% of Grammy nominations were women, a 36% increase from the past 7 years, according to statistics calculated by Amplify Her Voice, another platform working to promote gender equality in the music industry.


In the meantime, the women of Purchase’s music scene will not stop making their music and demanding that the community on and beyond campus hears them.


“I know it’s going to be hard when I get out there,” said McMillan. “But I don’t care how hard it’s going to be. I really love what I do. I really love music.”

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