Alana Wiesing, Principal Timpanist of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, sits down with Dan to discuss her methods for preparing for high stakes auditions, how she broke through a majority male industry and her work as the President for the Network for Diversity in Concert Percussion
Read the transcript of the podcast below.
Dan Schack (00:00:09):
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Dan Schack (00:01:40):
And we are rolling. Hey everybody. Welcome back. This is that Dan ban show. I’m your host Dan shack. If you didn’t already know great to see you, great to meet you. Thank you for all the listeners out there. You know, giving us your time. I’m very excited for our guest today has a different background than my own, which is exactly why I wanted to ask this person on here, because always interesting to get into the conversations with individuals who just have different experiences. So it is my pleasure to have Alana. We sing on how are we doing today? I’m doing great. Dan,
Alana Wiesing (00:02:15):
How are you?
Dan Schack (00:02:16):
I’m good. I’m in Philly. So it’s now winter, all of a sudden so overnight we skipped an entire season and you’re in Arizona, correct? I am.
Alana Wiesing (00:02:27):
And we also happen to basically skip winter. So
Dan Schack (00:02:31):
Perfect. So we’re just basically on two different sides of the earth. Oh, you could consider. But before we jump in, I’d love to just hear a little bit about your background and your training in the percussion world. Where are you coming from? How were you developed through this unknown sort of lack of framework world, you set to figure it out and then what are you doing these days? Yeah,
Alana Wiesing (00:02:57):
So my musical background is rooted in piano. That was the first instrument that I learned to play and started taking lessons on. Did that for about two and a half years. I think I started when I was about five or six ironically enough quit piano because it, it getting too hard and I didn’t wanna practice anymore. So there’s that, it’s kind of funny now, but my parents really saw that I, I took well to it that I really enjoyed music and wanted me to stick with it and encouraged me to pick a different instrument. And the reason I chose the drums was actually because they had a lot of classic rock playing in the house as I was growing up. And so I was listening particularly to a lot of led Zeppelin. And to this day, John bottom is still my all time favorite drummer and was just amazed by what I heard and, and wanted to do that.
Alana Wiesing (00:03:58):
And so my, for first percussion instrument was actually drum set. Started taking lessons on drum set when I was about eight or so stuck with that for a handful of years. And then I’m not sure how my mom found out about it, but she had heard about my city’s youth orchestra program encouraged me to audition because I wasn’t really getting enough attention, encouragement, really just not feeling totally engaged in my school’s band program and just wanted to find other outlets for me to play. And so I auditioned and got in when I was in sixth grade. And once I was in that program, I was encouraged to have an orchestral percussion teacher so that I could improve my performance on those instruments that I’d be playing in that context. And that’s when I started studying with the principal percussionist of the Phoenix symphony at the time, his name is bill Monza.
Alana Wiesing (00:05:02):
And side note, just really grateful that I can still call him a friend at this point. We still keep in touch very often really grateful for my work with him. And so at that point I was balancing both for a little bit and obviously the orchestral lessons ended up winning over, studied with him through middle school and high school ended up at Arizona state for the first two years of my undergrad. And then for my junior year, I transferred to Indiana university in Bloomington and was really compelled to study there of John to FOIA. He at the time was coming out to Phoenix, to Scottsdale, to play in a festival called Arizona music Fest. And so when he was out here in the winters, he would come to ASU and give master classes. And so I had the opportunity to play for him and take some lessons with him.
Alana Wiesing (00:06:03):
I think the first time I met him was when I was a student at interlock in back in 2010, he was the Tempe presenter at the Institute that summer. And so through those experiences is I just knew that I really wanted to study with him. And so I finished my undergrad at IU. I ended up staying there and did my masters there as well. Shortly after my masters, I ended up winning my first two regional orchestra jobs with the Terra Haute symphony orchestra and the Columbus Phil harmonic. So I stayed in Bloomington because it’s fairly centrally located to both of those groups and actively freelanced and took auditions with Bloomington as my home base which was a really busy and wonderful time. Actually. I was really great that basically right out of school, I had made connections and made good enough impressions with the players in the area that they were contacting me for gigs.
Alana Wiesing (00:07:07):
And so I was subbing with a lot of major symphony orchestras right out of school, and even when I was still in school. And so that took up my time for those three years, but was still auditioning for my own full-time job. And so that brings us to what I’m doing now which is my current position as principal symphony with the Tucson symphony orchestra in Arizona, back in my home state, which is so cool and so humbling. And I won that in back in 2019. So this is my third season with the orchestra and starting in 2020 in the spring, I began my position as adjunct professor of percussion at the university of Arizona, Fred Fox school of music. And COVID was certainly in interesting time for all of us. But I actually kind of view it as a blessing in that way in regards to my educational portfolio, just because with performing being essentially completely shut down in the way that I’ve been so used to it over the years, I really got to shift all of my energy and all of my attention and focus to education and to teaching and realize that I really have a huge passion and interest in it.
Alana Wiesing (00:08:33):
And it was also during COVID that I was contacted by who are now dear friends and colleagues of mine about working with the network for diversity and concert percussion, which is an outstanding nonprofit organization that I now serve as president and chair for. And we seek to be a resource and support system for underrepresented and underserved groups within the concert percussion community. And so I was really able to throw myself fully into both of those elements of my music making and my my educational and sort of outreach type of work. And so I’m actually really grateful for that time, because I think if I was performing full time, I wouldn’t have been able to lay the groundwork in the foundation that I had during this past year and a half or so. And so at this point, thankfully, the TSO is, is back we’re performing. And my teaching and the, the network are also full steam ahead. And it’s an incredibly busy, but very fruitful time for me. And I’m just really, really excited and also really grateful just to continue to, to build from here.
Dan Schack (00:10:00):
Wow. So many experiences in there. I I’ve gotta think we probably have some you know, common friends or a couple degrees away, you know, just from my experience in the Midwest and IU is such a hot bed. I know a lot of P people who have gone through the music program, both graduate and undergraduate. So that’s very cool and where you’ve landed is unusual. This is not just an easy life to, to land in or to achieve. And, you know, people listening. It’s like you hear the, the incremental steps in your narrative and then arriving as a principal percussionist today, a principal Tempus rather I’ve gotta think like question one is how many principal Tempest are there in America? How many jobs are even out there for people to win? Gosh,
Alana Wiesing (00:10:48):
I mean, if we’re talking major symphony orchestra you know, any IAM RPA, major groups, maybe 70, 80 in the country, somewhere in there. And it, so it’s, it’s like tuba or harp, you know, there’s, there’s only one of us in, in the orchestra. So when there is a vacancy, it’s a pretty huge deal, you know, and, and people come out and drove through these auditions.
Dan Schack (00:11:21):
That’s a great segue to something I, I wanted to ask you about in hearing about your background and your upbringing is about the performance and the pressure aspect of what we are talking about. So, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m driven to almost go technical and start you about, you know, ear training versus technique and the way that you got to the point that you’re at in terms of your proficiency as an individual player. But I think to zoom out slightly is I, I wanna ask you about the way that you encounter both auditions and performances, cause we’re talking about large stages and there’s, these is the different mindsets, which is the big performance kind of attitude when you’re on the stage, when you’re with the orchestra, when you’re in the ensemble, you’re playing and you’re live. And you’re very much like with the individuals, there’s always that aspect of flexibility where things are gonna change because music is malleable.
Dan Schack (00:12:17):
And that’s what we love out of music is the expressive and flexible qualities about it. That being said, it requires a certain type of person to be able to step into that and, and actually enjoy and thrive in that situation. And then of course, I think a different type of mindset, but maybe relatedly or one off is that audition perspective where, and I have this with students all the time where, you know, they kind of come into the, that individual audition and it’s, it’s a little nervous and some of their like social cues maybe break down or they’re not able to present themselves to the best of their ability because of nerves and kind of within that is it tells you something about how they’re gonna deal maybe with some of those high pressure situations in the ensemble. So have you ever been strong at auditioning as an individual player and then of course, like related is, do you thrive in these high pressure, performance environments? Do you enjoy that high pressure?
Alana Wiesing (00:13:13):
Wow, that is, there’s a lot to unpack in that question, I think. So, and it’s a really good one. I think the first place where I could start is that I think there are sort of two separate, but related mentalities. One can bring to this one is the mentality that people bring to the practice room, where you spend so much time re like repeating ad nausea, the same small chunks of music over and over and over again, until you basically build up the quantity that equates to that level of confidence so that when you get to the audition, you can trust that because you’ve put in X amount of hours, Y amount of repetitions, theoretically, one of them is going to be in that high level that you’ve achieved in the practice room. But I think where a lot of people get that disconnect is not giving themselves or not finding other ways to engage in those sort of quote, high stakes performance situations.
Alana Wiesing (00:14:26):
And so I think where a lot of people tend to suffer is in the mental because they’re not giving themselves enough opportunity of these to make that pivot from the practice room either to the audition or to the stage. Yeah. Having experiences performing in front of other people and in different environments, because even outside of a practice room sonically, it’s, it’s kind of a wake up call when you walk on stage sort of the sound that you’re sort of hearing resonate in the space is very different than a, than a little like 10 by 10 cubicle. And so I think there are quite a few ways to, to make this manageable. I always engage in a mock audition process whenever I am in my audition preparation process, meaning I would say about two to three weeks out, I start asking people to come, listen to me play.
Alana Wiesing (00:15:27):
Mm. And I try and recreate that situation, I as accurate to the audition as possible. And so I’ll try and get in a bigger space, whether that’s a rehearsal hall or an actual performance hall or stage I’ll try and get people sitting at a distance that I think is approximate to where they would actually be in said space. Listening to me. I have them select excerpts or pieces in a similar fashion to what they would in an audition. I do my very best from top to bottom to recreate that experience. Even the little details of me walking into the room with my stick bag, you know, setting up and comporting myself across either if it’s Timoni, you know, getting, getting that space situated, or if it’s a percussion audition having my, my sticks and my other little accessories ready to go set in a very specific way as I’m walking in the room and as I’m scoping things out and then just trying to treat it as much like that situation as possible.
Alana Wiesing (00:16:37):
And I think where a lot of people tend to lose their focus is just getting so caught up in the moment that they actually lose focus. If that makes sense. It does. And sort of getting caught up in what I like to call a sort of practice mentality as they’re performing. And so there has to be that mental fortitude that is developed and confidence that is developed through the preparation process so that when you do get to either the actual audition or performance, or when you’re doing these mock run throughs of these auditions or performances that you can keep going and that you can trust the work that has been put in, in the practice room, because I think most people tend to get themselves into a sort of snowball effect if they really hone in on analyzing what is happening in real time, instead of just focusing purely on execution at that point, because I think if you’re too privy to those things about individual performance, it could really come back to bite you now adjusting to things like the resonance of the hall or the responsiveness of instruments, volume touch, things like that.
Alana Wiesing (00:18:01):
Absolutely. Those should be consistent on the fly adjustments. And that’s why mock auditions are helpful too, so that you get practice adjusting to different spaces, different instruments, et cetera. More often than not, we always bring our own mallet sticks, beaters, et cetera, to have that consistency. But what’s really unique about percussion and symphony auditions too, is that we are more often than not performing on instruments that we have never touched before. Yeah. You know, tho they’re usually the orchestra or the bands, the schools, you name it instruments. And so there’s also that sort of mental hurdle of, you know, getting over the fact that you just have to make do with what’s there. The way that I try to approach that is I like to think of it kind of as an equalizer because everyone has to deal with that hurdle. Yeah. And so the best way to, to deal with it is to try and seek out cuz most, most places, most organ organizations, orchestra schools will let you know ahead of time what equipment is going to be present at the audition.
Alana Wiesing (00:19:18):
And so what we can do is do our best to try and seek out equivalent or comparable gear wherever we are to practice on. And that sort of takes away a little bit of that foreign element when you, when you get on stage and it’s one less sort of mental barrier to, to break through. Right. But the best thing, just to sort of recap what, what I’ve been saying is just trying to work on that pivot from a practice mentality to a performance one. And it was not an easy process for me when it comes to auditions. I think it really, it really was a long winding road for me to get over. And I think for me it was mostly mental because of the things that I just sort of outlined to, to develop that inner strength of, yes, I know, I know this music, this is what I have to say.
Alana Wiesing (00:20:18):
This is how I’m going to say it, take it or leave it, you know and not trying to think too hard about what you think the committee’s gonna want to hear, or, you know, any other little things that could really mentally derail and translate into a less than ideal performance. But what I will say, what I’ve always been proud of about myself is I’ve always somehow had that natural translation from preparation and practice to performance. I would say that in the context of the orchestra, I rarely make mistakes and can just really have that laser focus in the moment and just really enjoy what’s happening on stage and just be in the moment. And so trying to translate that sort of energy to the audition process was a little bit of a struggle. And I think context helps in the sense that when you’re actually performing with the orchestra, you can open your ears and you can have a sort of dialogue with your colleagues around you, and you also are being informed by what is being played around you and how you can contribute.
Alana Wiesing (00:21:40):
And so being on that stage by yourself can be really, really disorienting and trying to create that context, especially in percussion auditions, because, you know, the committee is trying to hear an entire symphony or an entire piece from a triangle, you know, and so just really creating that sense of confidence and assuredness that this is how this part goes. And you can create that atmosphere around it, particularly for non pitch instruments is, is more difficult. And so that sort of mental work around was really interesting for me. But I think at this point I’m at a, I’m at a pretty good place with both, but the best advice that I have to give is to perform often and perform early, especially in taking auditions because you don’t wanna get to an audition and have that be the first time that you have a similar to that. Yeah,
Dan Schack (00:22:51):
Nailed it. I, so it’s two sides to a coin and I think you’ve expressed this really well. And it’s, it’s different than I think the conventional marching arts approach. So, you know, for me, I, I came up, I had actually a similar background with you or a drum set was really like my thing. And then instead of branching into more of an orchestral direction, I really kind of staked out, you know, marching snare drum and ended up, you know, marching competitively all the way through the DCI level. And now I’m very lucky to, to teach and design at, at that level. But it’s, it’s such a different path because the messaging out of the marching arts world is just like consistency, consistency, consistency, practice, like you perform. And, and what you described at the early part of your response was you’ve gotta practice in that like micro consistent way where your average ends ends up being of, of high quality.
Dan Schack (00:23:50):
You, you’re not allowing yourself to be capable of making an error. That’s like outside of a very thin margin, even one that’s maybe decipherable by the, the eye or ear. And, and that takes the repetition. It takes to work on the individual level. I think in the March arts world, there’s not much of a conversation of how you have to be at once a person that is building consistency individually through repetition. And thus you are capable of stepping into live decision making with flexibility, because as what you’re eventually saying is saying, I’m not stepping in the concert hall and doing exactly what I did when the metronome was on. And I was by myself, you are very much aware that the environment is changing. The tempo is fluctuating. The temperature of the room is gonna affect the tuning, the instrument you’re playing on and affect the tuning.
Dan Schack (00:24:46):
Your stick might break. You might all of a sudden go flat over here and sharp over here. And you’re having to retune the drums. I mean, it’s all about live response. So it’s, it’s not just, I need to be flexible and be like present in a performance. And that means I’m not working with the consistency up to that point. It’s you have to build the consistency. So you are able to arrive to those moments and sort of zoom out and have a perspective a little bit greater, a little less granular than just on your own. And I love what you’re talking about in that individual audition, where I see this all the time with students is one it’s and you’re gonna love this. Like, they don’t even touch the drum. The drum is too high, they’ve gotta lower it. And all of a sudden it like, or like the drum falls, or like, or like literally like falls over because all the marching hardware is like, kind of not, not all of it is totally like engineered perfectly.
Dan Schack (00:25:44):
So a drum will just fall and they can’t recover. They haven’t even touched the instrument. And that’s definitely what you’re talking about with having your sticks in an order, in your bag in a way that you’ve like, you just know, like, these are the mallets for this piece. Then here are my concert snare sticks. Then I’m gonna bring out my Tiffany mallets. And then I’m gonna switch over to these beaters for this, like, those little decisions become big decisions when you’re in those moments, they just go, they become, they become massive. So I, I feel like that is we need a lot more of that in the marching world, because that’s the, the real professionalism embedded in your response is yes. And both it’s, it’s building the consistency on the individual level, then stepping into the context and being able to be a museum and, and flex with the ensemble.
Dan Schack (00:26:30):
And I feel like that is needed because all that happens is music live music specifically, is it ebbs and flows and there’s unpredictable things that pop up in the live performance, but to go back to the audition process, you know, for me, when I’m at Carolina crown or wherever George Mason, I’m auditioning, we’re, we’re very much like in like educator mode, you know, trying to send students out, knowing exactly what we want them to work on so that they can come back and we can see the improvement between auditions. Cause we, you know, we audition over three or four different session. You stepped into education now heavily, and you’ve been educated to a very high level. So you have a perspective on this in terms of per the professional side of auditioning, is this an educational endeavor? Is this cutthroat? What does it feel like from the perspective of the performer to step in and have that committee watching you? Are they, you know, fleeing you alive? Like what’s the vibe like doing that?
Alana Wiesing (00:27:29):
Hmm. I think I’ll, I’ll answer this question in a cliff notes version and then sort of dive in. Sure. I think at a certain point it can be an educational endeavor on behalf of teachers sort of taking students through how to have their agency in this process. But I think the most interesting part of musicianship and developing as a player and a professional is one’s own agency of themselves, meaning that that person has to want to put in the work. Right. And so for me, it was interesting because I was always pretty internally self-motivated. And so I wanted to try and find ways of making sense of this process for myself, because there are some baseline steps and processes that do need to be taught and do, do need to be sort of adhered to throughout any sort of audition process. But I think it really comes down to how the individual can best make sense of and wants to traverse that process that they really feel comfortable with.
Alana Wiesing (00:28:51):
And so if that work and that desire isn’t present on an individual level, then it just becomes really difficult for the educator to meet them where they’re at and to continue to push them. And so I think that’s just an important and point to put out there from, to jump. But yes, I think in the educational context, there are things about that process that should be taken care of from an educational perspective. The current methodology in, in our side of the end of history is the philosophy of, well, you should just take ’em and then you’ll know how the process works. And then just as you take them, you’ll get better at them. And I have kind of conflicting feelings on that approach because on the one hand, yes, I agree the experience of traveling to auditions and taking them and just experiencing that process firsthand is valuable.
Alana Wiesing (00:29:56):
But I also think that given certain people’s backgrounds, financial situations, other experiences, auditions just I’ll put it flatly are expensive, right? And so these orchestras with these bands, aren’t really helping to contribute to any travel costs, any, you know, hotel or lodging costs, any, you know, food and just any sort of element of the experience of staying in a place for a particular duration of time as the audition is being held. Right. And so there’s also, I a financial which translates to mental barrier for some people of, well, if I don’t have the money or if I’m going to have to spend all of this money to go to wherever for this audition, then I better feel really good about my chances of winning. Yeah. Or I better not care if I don’t win that. I just spent all of this money to get there.
Alana Wiesing (00:31:10):
Right. And that’s a really difficult position to put people in, right. Or it’s, it’s a, it’s a consideration that is really difficult for people to, to come to terms with. And understandably, I mean, there were several auditions throughout my undergrad and my masters. And even when I was out of school that unfortunately I had to back out of because of financial considerations. And it’s really unfortunate because those were auditions. I think for the most part that if I had taken them, I’m not so sure at that juncture, I would’ve won, but felt that I at least could have advanced that or done well at. And so my main mentality at this juncture is I’m only gonna take an audition if I feel so strongly about the, the fact that I can go there and win. And that’s a sort of other long game process.
Alana Wiesing (00:32:11):
I think that can be better cultivated on the educational end of that mental fortitude and stamina. And it’s sort of this dialogue between one’s own capabilities and agency over the material and that, that mental side in the preparation process and this kind of cycles back to what you were saying about the consistency in the performance as well, is that there, there are always these two lines that are sort of trying to meet each other one being your best performance and the other being your most consistent performance. And the goal in the practice room and in performing is to try and get those two lines as close to each other and narrow the gap between the two yeah. As much as possible. So that way, if you happen to play a quote, bad performance or your worst performance, that if it’s still in that window of consist, see, it’s still a quote, good performance in your eyes.
Alana Wiesing (00:33:24):
And so it’s about, you know, closing that gap between what you feel your personal worst and your personal best is. And then the consistency line that sort of lies somewhere in between those two and trying to get the consistency and the worst performance line higher in relation to the best performance line. Obviously the best performance line is gonna continue to push as well. And so they’re always kind of trying to meet each other somewhere, but that window closing I think is, is really important. And I think that can translate to the mental fortitude and the confidence. But I think that that side of things is criminally underdressed in, in, in that, in our industry. And so I think that in order to do so, it requires a good knowledge of this student and how they learn, how they respond to external stimuli and, and factors and working with the, the student on that individual basis to best address that issue.
Alana Wiesing (00:34:35):
Because I, I think it’s really difficult to have a catch all solution to that process because I know for sure that I responded to praise and criticism seemingly a little bit differently than, than my peers did. Sure. And, and everyone’s gonna be really different. You know, when I was, when I was younger, I used to take constructive criticism fairly personally. Like I was like very upset by it and was just like, oh, they don’t like my music making. They must not like me. Like, what am I doing wrong? Like, I can’t believe that I made, and I would be really hard on myself too, you know? And so compound that with just hearing the criticism, it was kind of like a double dagger to the heart. And so it took a long time for me to get to a place where I could separate, you know, my own feelings and my own emotional reactions to things from the sort of ego that comes into the music making process and just realizing like, look, it’s not about you personally, it’s just about trying to make this music and the composer’s intention and this sort of expressive notion emotion of this music, trying to create that as best as possible, you know, and, and just trying to separate one’s self personally from that process it’s difficult to do.
Alana Wiesing (00:36:07):
And I think that there should still be personal investment in music, you know, in personal connection to music. So I’m not saying that there should be a separation in terms of one’s involvement or connection to music, but I’m, but what I am trying to say is that in terms of the, the improvement process, in terms of that sort of fortitude, there has to be a little bit more separation of self from that element of it. But the emotional, I still think we need to be like fully engaged and connected and find a way that we can relate to it or at least make sense of it to translate what the, what the intention of the piece and the character and emotion of the piece is. So it’s kind of an interesting balance on, on all fronts, how to get there, I think, but from an educational, I think it has to start on an individual level and having educators be more privy and sensitive and willing to accommodate the needs of the individual student and sort of meet where they are on that level a little bit more that the, the pedagogy for the mental side of music making is kind of lacking and needs further, further development from really storied, really effective pedagogical methods that have been in use across different instruments or different facets of our industry.
Alana Wiesing (00:37:36):
But I definitely strongly believe that that is a good place to start as far that
Dan Schack (00:37:44):
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Dan Schack (00:39:26):
I love how much you are demonstrating the way that percussion can train. One’s critical thinking. I feel like that is a, a major nucleus of, of what you’re saying and that, to me, that, that phrase critical thinking is that that idea of holding two ideas in your head that feel like they’re opposite and you believe them both equally. I, I hear that a lot in a, in much of what you’re talking about and something that I wanted to go back to. I is about the work you’re doing with the, the network for diversity and the concert percussion. Mm. Cuz I’ve been hearing just different things that are happening in the professional percussion world about, you know, blind auditions versus not blind auditions. And it’s very complicated. I don’t have a fully formed opinion or, or any hot a on that honestly. But what I am interested in is this idea and I’ve, I’ve felt this as a teacher and I’ve, I’ve been teaching for, I mean more than 10 years now, even as like a younger person.
Dan Schack (00:40:28):
And I, I honestly feel like they’re like, it’s, it’s almost as if these, we, we see, so of these organizations, whether it be a symphony orchestra, whether it be a marching arts organization or even a college program and in certain ways, like we see them and they’re, they, they lack certain resources. I think many people who have been on that inside of an org, it’s like they need certain resources, whether it’s financial, whether on a personnel level, I, I feel like that is something I see out there. You know, when I, when I look at marching arts, it’s like we’re criminally under resourced in various ways that don’t allow us to service our students to the extent that we really should. And like I’m not trained in, in certain fields and certain ideas, even as a, a professional cuss you’re trained in this way.
Dan Schack (00:41:20):
And as you know, as you get to graduate school, the thing you focus on becomes like this big kind of my question and what I’m, I guess trying to articulate is through this work you’re doing with the network for diversity and Sion through your experience, it’s like, how can we equip individuals on the receiving end of an audition or on the receiving end of a student, how do we provide them with what they need? Because there are students that are clearly underrepresented that are marginalized and that aren’t being given the opportunities that others are based on their identity category, whether it be race, gender class is a big one. Sex is a big one. So I just, for me, it’s about actionable items and it’s like, how can we equip the, you know the idiom or the, the paradigm with the tools to make change?
Alana Wiesing (00:42:13):
Hmm. Yeah. This is also a, a really excellent and, and very deep dive question. I think the answer I’ll start with is fostering. A culture of belonging is really where it has to start, right? Because if people don’t feel that they are welcomed in a space, if people don’t see some parts of themselves in a space yeah. Then they will not feel comfortable or safe in that space. And that can be a deterrent for some people to even consider entering that space. It be comes an, an act of bravery or courage then at that point, because the, the subconscious logic there is that they are walking into an uncertain situation. Right. and that was certainly a way that I felt for a lot of my training was for me. I knew that my love of music and my desire to achieve my goals outweighed the potential lack of support or lack of understanding that I realized might meet me in those spaces because I was predominantly at least surrounded by white men.
Alana Wiesing (00:43:38):
And I love white men, you know, all white men helped me train me to get me to where I am today. Right. You know? And so I’m incredibly grateful for the support and the knowledge that that I received, but in doing so, you know, I didn’t see myself in, in any of the spaces really that, that I was in. Yep. And so there would be, you know, cliques that would sort of form of friends and colleagues in that way. And it was interesting for me because I, I didn’t really belong on a few different fronts, you know as, as a woman in the industry or as a person of color in the industry, you know as far as I’m concerned, I think I’m, I’m the only African American female principal Tenpin in the country, which is something that I, I feel very conflicted about.
Alana Wiesing (00:44:37):
I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to achieve that, but I’m also very sad that I’m sort of standing on my own little hill. Totally. You know, and, and that’s the whole point of the network. And what we’re we’re trying to do is we’re trying to create a space where people can feel seen and valued and understood and appreciated because they will be in a space with others who have similar backgrounds, similar experiences, and can really O open up to and connect with each other. And so I think the best way that we can at least start to address this on a more holistic level is by adjusting the way we view the culture and adjusting the ways that even, even if those who have similar backgrounds and experiences are not present in a current organization activity, et cetera at least creating the culture at where they feel comfortable expressing themselves being themselves.
Alana Wiesing (00:45:53):
Because I didn’t necessarily have that. And I know countless others who, who did, who also felt the same way as they were going through their respective programs. And don’t get me wrong. I mean, I absolutely loved and cherished my musical experiences and my train. It really hugely got me to where I am today. But on a personal level, there were several different areas in, in many different points of my development as a musician where I just did not feel understood at all or seen at all. And it was just sort of a case of like, we don’t even know what to do because I, it was sort of a, a, a dark horse situation with me coming through a program, you know, or any respective program. But the best teachers and mentors that I had, you know, N never, it never really phased them, you know, and I think not othering me was also a helpful strategy, you know, where they just treated me like I was, was anyone, you know, it, it, wasn’t a matter of, you know, this person has an X, Y, and Z identities.
Alana Wiesing (00:47:16):
It should necessarily be a concentrated effort to treat them any differently. On those accounts you know, on an interpersonal level, I think just being treated and like I was saying, creating that culture where everyone just feels like they belong is really, really helpful on the flip side of that coin though. I think back to sort of what I was saying about the mental side of a student’s development and in audition taking, I think this is also a context where an awareness of that particular student’s background and experience is incredibly beneficial and it doesn’t necessarily require relatability, but it does require a great of empathy and a willingness to learn and a willingness to understand. And that’s not even just on the, on behalf of the educator to the student, but it’s a two way street, you know, any, any working relationship like that.
Alana Wiesing (00:48:26):
The student also has to, you know, be willing to being vulnerable in that way. But I think what I’m also trying to say is that can be a difficult act to do in, in spaces where they have traditionally either not been welcomed either overtly or subconsciously have felt that way. And so creating that culture I think is in beneficial. And that’s why I’m so passionate about the work that the network is doing because on, on a smaller scale and in, in our way, we’re gonna continue to grow it in time. You know, we’re, we’re creating that culture and we’re doing our best to understand and get to know our students on an individual level, what their individual needs are both musically and in terms of mentorship interpersonally, because developing again, that sense of confidence and that agency does translate because music is so inherent personal, and the connections that we make in this industry, I was, I was always intrigued by and still intrigued by this, this notion that our mentors and our teachers eventually become our colleagues.
Alana Wiesing (00:49:47):
Right. And so another part of it too, I think that would help that contribute to the culture of being welcomed and feeling like they belong is understanding that dynamic and understanding that as our students get older and they start working alongside us in the industry, you know, that there’s not this sort of power dynamic or imbalance there that there’s that respect and that understanding. And not to say that there shouldn’t be a respect for, for those who have instructed you. Absolutely not. That should not go away, but just this notion that there’s a sort of holier than vow complex has always kind of bothered me a little bit in the industry. And so I think, I think on that level too, just being a good human being, just leveling with students on a compassionate and just general baseline interpersonal level, I think will also go a really long way into breaking down more of those interpersonal barriers that also exist. And so, yeah, it ultimately comes down to being welcoming and creating a culture of feeling that everyone can have their place and be valued and appreciated and ultimately belong in it.
Dan Schack (00:51:15):
I think an educator’s ability to show their own flaws is such an important thing. I remember starting out teaching, you know, I did the, the, an age out thing with drum core and immediately you start teaching and you feel like as a student, when you see an educator, at least as of, you know, maybe this generation of students, but you, what you’re seeing is like, oh, this person knows everything. And this person, the answer to everything, and it almost like you get the interpret, you get the sense you interpret that that person like is without flaw. And I remember like being in like high school and stuff, and like finding it out about like all the weird interpersonal stuff going on between my like high school teachers and being like, oh my God, this is weird. Like, you know, people getting divorced and having, you know, affairs and this, it was like all this drama, like with my like teachers.
Dan Schack (00:52:04):
And you’re like, so their people outside of this, this is like one thing they, you, and I’ve, I’ve felt like as I’ve gotten older as a teacher, I have gotten I’ve, I’ve cultivated much better relationships with my students across the board when I can just kind of be authentic in that I am not perfect. And I will slip up and say something dumb or say the wrong, you know, letter of music, or, you know, interpret this rhythm wrong. Like I’m flawed too. And I feel like that is a, a human quality needed from an educator, from a leader anyone that is in a position of power and influence. And, and that’s really a lot of us that’s anyone that, you know, anyone you talk to, you’re gonna influence that person. And I feel like that, that vulnerability is important as a teacher is that you’re not trying to be a robot.
Dan Schack (00:52:56):
And I, I remember kind of breaking that down and just feeling the positive effects of that in the outcome of, of my teaching. You know, related to what you’re talking about, at least in the drum core space, there’s just barriers everywhere. There’s barrier years, all over the place. And it’s hard because I think we live in this situation. We live in this moment, whatever you wanna call it, where it’s so symptom level, it’s like all the symptoms up here, and it’s all the, like the reposting memes. And it’s, it’s the stories and it’s social media. And it’s kind of like, that’s the level of activism that people are engaging with where it’s just pointing out things that are, are kind of wrong on the symptomatic present level. And I feel like what really needs to be happening is, is finding out root causes for why these barriers exist.
Dan Schack (00:53:42):
So we can actually get to the issue in, and we could sip the cancer out rather than just like removing, like the thing that we see out on the outside. Because that’s the easy thing to do is surface level, but getting to the root of it is hard. And it, it requires some of that like personal archeological, digging and introspection that it’s not very comfortable, right. Especially for, for people that are at those cross sections of let’s say privilege, right. Whether they know it or not, doesn’t doesn’t matter. So you look at drum court and there’s, there’s barriers built into it, you know, to over like, you nailed it. Like auditions are expensive, you have to fly to a different state. In most cases. A lot of people can’t afford flights. You have to pay a registration fee, right. And you have to like pay just a, like get there.
Dan Schack (00:54:26):
And the flip side of that, that a lot of the staffs are being underpaid, at least in our world. Like we’re not really paid fairly because it’s a nonprofit org. We’re not like generating massive incomes. There’s not like large marketing and promotional partnerships in, in the music space. And the way there are, let’s say in athletics. So it’s like, it’s this like weird thing, because like, we want to pay the staff more, but the students are be overpaying. It’s creating a major barrier, which is at this first step would be a socioeconomic barrier. And the reality is that trickles down into different barriers, including things like race, for example, or even geography, for example, and that’s all tied up. It’s not like I can parse this versus this or this. It’s like, we all have in intersectional identities. Right. So there’s just barriers all over the place.
Dan Schack (00:55:11):
You know, there’s such an absence of, of, of women in marching, percussion, and there’s so many different reasons why, and, you know, I’m at the point where I’m at this like high competitive level and people are like, why doesn’t DCI, like take more women, you need more women in your drum line. I’m like, I want that only two women show up on average every year. How can I take more than one or two of them when you already know how hard is it to even land the gig in the first place? It’s very difficult. And it requires so such a combination of experiences and preparation and all these things that you’ve reflected on. So to kind of, you know, sum it up, like, what are the barriers, what are the major barriers that you see if you could like pinpoint one or two, you’re like, these are the things that we need to work through in order to put the orchestral and professional percussion world in a better place, on a better route. Like, what are those barriers? And like, from your perspective, how do we kind of get through that all to together and in a way that we feel like is, is possible.
Alana Wiesing (00:56:11):
Mm. So on a percussion specific level, I think a huge barrier and consideration for us is accessibility. Most percussionists until they win a job end up staying in school, or whether it’s, you know, continuing on degrees bachelor’s master’s doctorate or staying on to do some sort of, you know, performance diploma or performance certificate type of program, purely because it’s so expensive to acquire all of the gear that is required and asked for performance on an audition. Right. Yeah. And so purely from that standpoint, it makes sense to, to, to stay in school just so that you have access to the gear. But that, that is a huge part problem. And that is also again, another financial barrier for a lot of people. And, you know, like we, we acquire these things over the course of our careers. Yeah. And we continue to collect and acquire over the course of our careers.
Alana Wiesing (00:57:19):
But it’s a process, you know, $50 here, a couple hundred dollars here, couple thousand dollars there, another a hundred dollars here, you know, just every few months or so every year or so, you know, to get the things that we want and need to be able to execute our musical vision. Right. and just have access to instruments or own the instruments in general. And it took me a literal decade to 15 years. Yeah. At least to, to get to a place where I feel good about my current mallet and instrument collection. And it doesn’t happen overnight. And I think with some people there’s that overwhelming notion of I’ve gotta have everything now, or I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I graduate, what can I do? And so I think one of the biggest goals of the network is to improve that access be able to raise the funds require so that we can help students acquire the and sticks and beers that they need, or fill the gaps in their existing collections, be able to network them with individuals in their area that have instruments that they need, or practice spaces where they can go, or they can have instruments loan in their home so that they can be able to practice appropriately if, if they’re not currently enrolled in a program that has those spaces or those pieces of equipment for them.
Alana Wiesing (00:58:55):
And then just having the funds to be able to disperse and allocate those things appropriately. Right. That’s, that’s a, that’s a huge step is just having that access. And it was certainly something that I had to, to pace and manage during the years that I was freelancing, it was very difficult. I could rarely get on a set of Tim during those years, you know? And, and when I did you, you better believe that I was making the most of that time when I could get in the room. And so that’s that step one is, is improving accessibility. Yep. On a holistic level, I think the best thing that we can do is start at culture of welcoming and belonging that I was discussing before encouraging that, and being cognizant of that at younger ages, I really strongly believe that the stereotypes that sort of run rampant in our industry are cultivated and perpetuated at much younger ages than what we would like to believe.
Alana Wiesing (01:00:05):
Right. And so at the, you know, elementary band level, you know, when kids are, are being asked to think about and choose what instrument they, they wanna play through their program, you know, you’re talking about of women’s presence in the marching arts, there’s still a pretty huge lack of women presence in the concert, percussion community as well, at least at the professional level. Yeah. And so the, the questions are the same, you know, why aren’t there more women in orchestras? You know, why aren’t there more people of color in orchestras? Well, it’s because that culture of belonging and welcoming isn’t being fostered at younger ages, you know, those students from underrepresented and underserved communities often don’t have music programs in their schools at all. Yeah. And so how do we spread the word about, you know, their potential involvement in music, if those resources aren’t even being supported at that level where there isn’t even a program and when there is a program it’s still this perpetuated culture of, you know, girls should play flute and boys should play drums.
Alana Wiesing (01:01:19):
Right. And, and if all of the boys go and wanna play the drums, but there’s a girl there that is also really interested in playing the drums, but she’s not being welcomed and she’s not being encouraged by either her peers and her friends or her band director, then that is an early and very solid deterrent for, for future development and future potential encouragement to stay in, in the field. Right. And then there are the barriers along the way of, well, you know, you know, maybe we should just stick her on a mallet percussion instrument it, or have, or play triangle or have, or, you know, there’s these sort of negative instrument associations that can occur within it. Even if a girl is given the opportunity to play in a percussion section in band they’re, they’re not being given snare Drumm parts or symbol parts or Timney parts.
Alana Wiesing (01:02:24):
And that can be harmful as well. You know, making instrument, you know, stereotypes between masculine and feminine, so to speak. Totally. You know, and so I feel like all of these barriers start to merge much earlier than we’re willing to acknowledge and working harder at earlier stages to try and dismantle those barriers and be encouraging and being welcoming at those earlier stages because by the time you get to high school and, you know, you’re starting to look into collegiate level programs by that point. I’m not saying that it’s too late in, in any respect at all. But what I am saying is that by that point in a student’s education, getting through high school, starting to apply for program to study at the collegiate level, they’re already going to be behind in their studies several months, if not several years to their male counterparts.
Alana Wiesing (01:03:32):
And so it, it makes it really difficult. And this isn’t just women. This is any underrepresented, any underserved community within marching percussion concert, percussion the percussion industry at large. And so just trying to make it so that that culture of welcoming and belonging is present as early as possible. And not to consciously or subconsciously discourage or discredit someone’s goals or ambitions, just because those underrepresented or underserved communities may not be as present. It, that can be very harmful and, and to try and avoid that and create that culture in the future. Can only be helpful moving forward. If we want to improve, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion across all facets of the industry. Absolutely.
Dan Schack (01:04:36):
I, I think as educators, as leaders, whether it’s an audition committee, whether it’s a conductor, it’s like, your job is not just the job and, and, and that might be a new concept. It certainly was something I had to sort of like awaken to, right. Is like, yes, you have your job. That is like these like bullet points on paper, but it doesn’t mean that you get to like, ignore the realities of like everything around that. I feel like that’s really a part of what you’re talking about is like, even in a competitive audition, there’s a place for empathy. There’s a place for understanding. There’s a place for forgiveness. Like I think that is that’s different, you know, like you, you look at sort of this, this really interesting and certainly polarized reaction, like Simone Biles, I think is a great example. And just the way it’s like, some people were just like, totally like, you know, we need to fully forgive everything that she is doing and the, her inability to compete because of like this insanely traumatic background.
Dan Schack (01:05:33):
And then you have like the flip side where it was like, she’s a competitive gymnast at the highest level, and there’s no place forgiveness. It’s like, well, like can’t we have this again, this place where we can agree on the way to treat situations like that because they are gonna come up and we live in a time with just more exposure to just everything. And I think this idea of, I don’t know that like, you’re like this blank slate thing that, you know, auditioning someone it’s blank slate. I mean, it’s not really where we’re at anymore. I think that’s sort of an archaic notion of, of the way that we would treat at least in a, in a percussion world in a, in a competitive space. Like I just don’t know that that’s the reality anymore. So we are at time, this has been honestly just amazing and it’s so great to, to connect with someone. And it’s just like, this is why, like, I love having a platform where I can bring individuals on like yourself to speak from their perspective, because it’s just super enlightening and it’s, it’s very, very inspiring. So Alana, I just wanna thank you for giving us your time today and where can people find you?
Alana Wiesing (01:06:36):
Yeah. So first I just wanna say thank you so much for inviting me to come on. I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to meet you and speak with you. This was an incredible conversation. You’re welcome to follow me on Instagram. My handle is at Alana dot. We sing. I’m also on Facebook also, please check out the network for dev diversity in concert percussion. Our website is percussion diversity network.org to check out all the wonderful things that we’re doing there. And also check out our websites for the Tucson symphony orchestra, as well as the university of Arizona, Fred Fox school of music DEQ, keep up with any and all activities that are happening in those two wonderful spaces as well.
Dan Schack (01:07:24):
Awesome. Thank you so much, everybody. Thanks for stopping by and we’ll see you next time. Peace.