The Culture Bar No.8: Under the Spotlight - LGBTQ+ Awareness & representation in the arts
The Culture Bar No.8: Under the Spotlight — LGBTQ+ Awareness & representation in the arts
Under the spotlight mini-series episode
In this special podcast episode, we celebrate LGBTQ+ awareness month (February 2021) and discuss LGBTQ+ awareness and representation in the arts.
In this lively conversation, we are thrilled to be joined by three wonderful panellists:
Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton who, in 2019, lit up the Last Night of the Proms as well as being named Personality of the Year by the BBC Music Magazine Awards. Jamie has also received the Richard Tucker Award, and won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition (both main and song prizes).
Edwin Outwater is a conductor, curator, producer, and all-around polymath. Edwin is Music Director at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has collaborated with the likes of celebrated drag artist Peaches Christ, and heavy metal bands, such as Metallica.
Christina Scheppelmann is one of only two women heading up a major opera company in the United States. She is currently General Director of Seattle Opera. Christina has worked in Milan, San Francisco and Washington, and was the first General Director at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman.
This is the first episode in our ‘Under the Spotlight’ podcast mini-series where we shine a light on ‘challenging’ topics in the arts, and focus on guests living these experiences and who are working to create change in the sector.
A special thank you to Robert Cochrane as the composer of the theme tune music, and Merlyn Thomas our editor.
Henry Southern 00:04
Welcome to The Culture Bar, a panel discussion podcast exploring, dissecting and shedding light on important topics in the arts and music world, which matter to you. Hello, I’m Henry Southern, and today on The Culture Bar, we will be discussing LGBTQ+ awareness and representation in the arts for the first of ‘Under the Spotlight’ series. And in order to discuss this important topic, we are delighted to be joined by three wonderful panellists. First up, mezzo soprano Jamie Barton. Among many other accolades, Jamie has received the Richard Tucker award, and won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, but she was the only second person in history to win both the main and song prizes. And of course, in 2019, Jamie lit up the Last Night of the Proms as well as last year, being named Personality of the Year for the BBC music magazine awards. Next, we have Edwin Outwater, conductor, curator, producer, and all around polymath. Edwin has worked with many of the world’s finest ensembles, and is music director at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has collaborated with the likes of the celebrated drag artists Peaches Christ, and the equally celebrated heavy metal bands. You may have heard of them, Metallica. And last, but by no means least, Christina Scheppelmann. Christina is a German arts administrator, and one of only two women heading up a major opera company in the United States. She is general director of Seattle opera, and prior to that was artistic director of the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. She has worked in Milan, San Francisco and Washington, and was the first general director at the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman. What’s a panel! Welcome, everyone.
Henry Southern 01:47
Now for the purpose of this podcast, we are going to use the language of LGBTQ+ or queer community. We recognise that isn’t necessarily a consensus on this, but we hope it is clear that our intentions are respectful. So turning to our panel, as a starting point to act as a foundation for discussion, it’ll be great to know how you feel about these labels what for a better word. So would anyone like to kick us off? Jamie?
Jamie Barton 01:47
Well, quite honestly, I know that there are a lot of opinions in terms of labels, I personally actually really like being able to, to claim some identity under the queer label. I didn’t come out to the world or to myself, quite honestly, until 2014. It was a bit of a later in life understanding about myself. And before that, I would have absolutely considered myself a straight ally. I, the queer family, the queer community was absolutely a part of my life. But there was something very inclusive about finding a family to turn to when I was understanding this bit about myself. And so I proudly love the label of queer or bisexual or whatever, pansexual whatever one may want to refer to me, as, but I know that a lot of people can feel boxed in by it or pigeon holed by that, but for me personally, it’s something that I identify with, it’s something that I love. And, yeah, that’s, that’s just my personal take. Thank you.
Christina Scheppelmann 03:31
That makes perfect sense, Jamie, I mean, I think that’s, that’s, to an extent, also, that’s necessary and good that we do have those labels. Personally, I, I don’t like to be labelled, maybe I’m a little stubborn, which is actually true. But I think the non label gives me more freedom, I mean, I am who I am, like it or not. And that’s, that’s not something I need to put a label on that, to some extent labels also can then become also conventions, and then they defeat the purpose of this wide variety of labels. So it goes I mean, obviously, the arguments for both directions. Personally, I, I don’t like a label so much. I like the free spirit.
Edwin Outwater 04:18
Yeah, I think, for me, I’m a little I’m actually kind of moved into different labels at different parts of my life, you know, identifying as gay or, or, you know, coming to understand what queerness is and how, you know, that can mean various things. So labels are part of who you are perhaps but not everything and you know, maybe if you’re presenting a concert or trying to welcome people in that might be something really to think about when you’re an institution, which I’m sure we’re gonna get into, but I think it’s it’s a wonderful tent to be under. And I’m happy to be part of that this family and as Armistead Maupin, said, You know, he wrote his memoir is called logical family. I think for many queer people, you know, you have a biological family with whom you may or may not be close to through this process. And then you also find your what Armistead said logical family, which is people, you know, people who support you as a queer person. And you and you could identify with, you know, maybe because you shared a similar journey?
Christina Scheppelmann 05:25
Well, I think family I mean, the biological family you have, your friends you choose. And that that is the greatest circle of family that, that I think applies. Especially also in the arts, in opera, you have such a wide spectrum of characters and and people. And I believe that there is a sense of family, just within the business also. I mean, I, we include everybody, we want all sorts of types of characters, because that’s what enriches our art form. That’s what enriches what you put on stage, how you connect to the audience. If we were all cookie cutters one way, I don’t think we were as exciting as we are.
Henry Southern 06:13
Well, absolutely. And thank you for sharing your personal experiences, I would say and you agree Christina also in the arts administration, as well as on stage, you need different types of people with different roles, if you’re cutting the same cloth, that would be quite prohibiting.
Christina Scheppelmann 06:27
It will be boring. I mean, I love variety. I, I love people, you know, they are always people that you don’t like and you do like, I mean, you don’t have to really go out and have dinner with absolutely everybody, but I love people, I have the curiosity for what I don’t know. And that goes for places, for things and for people. And that’s incredibly enriching. And if you cut out based on some criteria that you don’t want this or that, I think you’re making your life, your horizons poorer. I think that the variety, variety we have, especially in the arts, and an opera is fabulous from the, from your stage crew, to the, to the singer, and everything in between. I think it’s fun. I mean, I find this so enriching and so interesting to deal with all sorts of characters, preferences, types of people. And that’s what I think that’s what makes us interesting, also, artistically.
Jamie Barton 07:32
I’ve got to agree. And I just wanted to say that I, especially coming from where I come from, the artistic people in my community were the Misfits, we were kind of the outcasts in a way, you know. So there is something unifying about being in a, an entire industry that is made up of a whole bunch of people who came from similar experiences. And just back to what Edwin was saying, Edwin I love, thank you so much for giving the original reference point of logical family. I’ve been using that term for years, thanks to Dan Savage, but I actually didn’t know the original origin point. So thank you.
Edwin Outwater 08:12
I’m not sure if Armisen came up with it. But yeah, maybe.
Jamie Barton 08:16
Christina Scheppelmann 08:19
It’s a good quote, and a good reference, so say it was Armisen. So that’s, I think it’ll work.
Henry Southern 08:26
We’ll stick with that. Thank you. Or if I could just move on, to maybe, perhaps more art specific topic with this regard: the role and responsibilities which arch arts institutions have in mind, perhaps a greater variety of narrative. And perhaps we can discuss this more broadly, but specifically for the queer community? I mean, Christina, I come to you first, because I know that Seattle opera recently published a racial equity and social impact plan was this, a long term initiative?
Christina Scheppelmann 08:57
It has been about two years over two years in the making. So I mean, that that plan was being defined and worked on before I came to Seattle Opera, and I, and I’m very happy that we are one of the first ones to actually have published such such plan. It’s a three year plan in order and has various steps within inside the company, which includes also the board. And we’re working with the board and with the staff on equity training. And I think it’s important to in the US, and in the present climate, I think it’s very important to make it very clear where you stand on those subjects, because they’re not obvious and not just, you know, given. And so I think having this plan, and we’ve also published it it’s on our website, it’s we’ve shared it with America, nothing is very important to be clear that the company stands for something very specific. But it also is working on implementing it and not just putting it on the, on the website and say here that sounds good. But it takes some work also, and the board works with us. And of course, there are some that are more inclined to work with you on the subject, and also has it’s a generational issue sometimes. And often it’s a philosophical topic, but it’s important to talk about it. And our board has been at least very cooperative in participating, also in equity training, and then engaging in this dialogue. So I think we need these type of plans in order to move forward as an industry, and really be clear and obvious and actually implement equity.
Henry Southern 10:50
And does that also influence what we see on the stage as well, within the plan?
Christina Scheppelmann 10:54
Yes, but to me, that was already before. I mean, I’ve worked for the last 20 years, all my career, I’ve worked with all types of singers, I mean, white, black, Latino, Asian, to me, the mix on stage is in a way natural, if you have quality singers, you will have automatically a mix, if you’re honest with yourself, and you don’t fall into habits and traps of going always for the same people. And the same type of people. If you’re honest with yourself as an Artistic Director or General Director, and you pick who’s best, you will have a variety in your casting. Bu t it goes further because it’s not just on stage, the bigger hurdle is the production teams, you know, stage director, designer, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, the stage managers, that’s where it takes work to really create variety, because it’s in also attract the variety, but also make it very clear that you are looking for it, that you will hire it that you’re open to anybody. And that, that takes work. And that takes active initiative and not just sitting there and waiting until you have diverse candidates for these jobs show up, you have to seek them out. You have to establish and make it clear that you want them that you’re hiring them that you’re looking for this diversity, and you have to actively also attract these this diversity early on so that you train them in into the business because they’re not going to appear just by you know, some magic?
Henry Southern 12:35
Well, I think it’s really encouraging to hear that, as you say, it’s not just a plan, it’s been implemented. And there’s some active actions, which in order to realise it.
Christina Scheppelmann 12:44
It’ll take time. I mean, the truth is, it will take time, because in some places, the mindset is there and it’s open and cosmopolitan and diverse. And, and but even where the mindset is already there, there’s still work that needs to be done to really make it part of your thinking and not just occasional thinking. But there are also parts of the US where it really takes more work, where it’s just the traditional and historic trajectory of a society is different in that sense, and is not as open, cosmopolitan, international and and just broad in its vision and that that takes time. It doesn’t come overnight. It’s not about making a plan and then you push the button and it’s implemented. Changing people’s minds is much harder than implementing or publishing a plan or making a law.
Henry Southern 13:47
Jamie, I see you nodding a lot. You want to pick up on this?
Jamie Barton 13:51
Well, I just, Christina is already saying a lot of things that I’ve thought and granted, I’m coming from the the performer side of things, much less the administration side of things, but we have to become a part of what nurtures the future of administrators, people in the background, the costume designers, the the, the directors, all of this. That’s similar to what she was saying this, this is where I see a lot of that inequality just in terms of representation of who was hired. And yeah, I think I was nodding so furiously because the the nurturing of these people opening our industry up and welcoming people in and attracting people from all walks of life is such a it’s a monumental task, but it’s 1,000% worth it and we’ve got to do it. You know, so, so much in agreeance, very, very that.
Henry Southern 14:59
I wonder if Jamie, specifically, you could tell us more I know you’re a volunteer for Turn the Spotlight. Because I think it’s great to also hear about institutions on movements which are doing this well. So am I right in thinking it aims for more equitable future in the arts? And it would be great to hear more about your role in that.
Jamie Barton 15:16
Yeah, yeah. So I’m a mentor, with this group called Turn the Spotlight that is a micro mentoring group, the entire focus of it is to identify and nurture and kind of help, help the the rise of these genius, genius people at earlier ages into the arts. I’ve mentored one mezzo, so I’m actually mentoring another mezzo who is this brilliant producer. Both of them are women of colour, this entire group actually very much targets women of colour and other marginalised communities, to help hopefully create more equity within the business. But it’s, I’ll be so very honest, I am the one, I am the one and I think any of the mentors that work with this group would say that we’re the ones who get the greatest benefit. Because we get to know these people who are so inspiring, that have such incredible ideas. And I at this point, especially with this wonderful woman that I’m mentoring, now, Morgan Middleton, I’m honestly just sitting back and trying to make connections and you know, trying to get her in conversation with people who know about what she’s trying to pursue in in what she’s doing. And so it’s, it’s, sometimes I feel very much like, I have no idea what to do. I have no idea, I don’t have experience in how to raise money to produce a piece of art, that’s just something that I don’t, you know, have the lived experience for. But you know what, I know at least five people who do, and I can get her in conversation with those. And so that that’s really what we do. But it’s if you go on the website and take a look at who’s been on the list, it’s just incredible. I mean, literally top down, it’s just a really inspiring organisation to work with. And it’s just been, it’s been a real pleasure point in the last couple of years for me to be able to do something like this.
Henry Southern 17:26
Well, that’s wonderful to hear. And thank you for sharing those experiences. Edwin, I know, we’ve spoken in the past about other artists use more generally, and their civic responsibility, and also how that influences what appears on the stage. It would be great to get your, your thoughts on that.
Edwin Outwater 17:41
Yeah, I mean, I’m hearing from my friends here, about equity about who’s onstage. And also, I’m sure we think about who’s in the audience. And orchestras are a little different than opera, I think, to say the least, because I think you can take these kind of older works and put a spin on it through directing or updating or revisioning, kind of like you do in drama. In orchestra, it’s a little harder to do that, without it seeming gimmicky to a certain extent. And I, you know, with a Beethoven symphony, for instance, you know, you can have everyone wearing colourful clothes or so it just doesn’t work the same way that it does with opera. So I mean, the way I’ve gotten my head around this idea is that orchestras specifically are, art can be two things on the way I think about is yes, we are the guardians of this 1400 year old tradition of, you know, art music that’s been written for these large groups of people that are, and by keeping and performing a Beethoven symphony, again, to a large audience. We’re doing something really important by keeping this music alive and in contact with people and in fact, teaching people how to play it over generations. And also just by repetition of these great masterpieces, just the refinement and the and the kind of interpretive kind of standards to which we have to rise are incredibly high. So that in itself is valuable, I think. But then the other way, I think of it is orchestras are two things at once. We are this guardian of this tradition, but we are also a civic institution, we’re a stage of a large collective group of musicians who represent a city in a way that a sports team might or something like that. And, and we can, our job as well as being a tradition, carrier or torchbearer is to, is to serve our community in all its diversity and for whatever it is, and so I think orchestras are just starting to do that a little bit. My work at the San Francisco Symphony particularly was about creating space for various people who don’t normally come in the halls or don’t gather in the halls as, for instance, queer people, and or, and so it’s, it’s fun and amazing to see that work. And I think it’s just, it’s just a way people think it’s really hard for people to think of both. Like, if we do this, then we’re not, you know, carrying on this important tradition or job that we have. Yes, you are, you can do two things at once it is possible, you know, to be many things, especially if you’re a gigantic, multi gazillion dollar arts institution, it makes it even more pressing, that you serve more people. And so that is beginning to happen. I think it’s just the tiniest baby steps, though. I certainly feel like I’m on the forefront of this in the orchestra world less so then, perhaps opera has failed to do it. But I think again, I use the word narratives a lot in my mind, which again, is a theatre or literature word, less than perhaps a symphony word, but my English teacher whom I adore, said, you know, the reason I read is to experience someone’s life who’s not my own. And I kind of think what experiences or what variety of experiences can we create on stage and orchestral setting, which can kind of go along these lines and to expose our audiences or to get you know, two experiences which are different, and unique and wonderful.
Christina Scheppelmann 21:15
Edwin, as you were referring to tradition, and, and and, you know, maintaining certain musical traditions, I also think we have to create new traditions and, and and look into the future. There has to be an organic evolution of what we do and not just take the old pieces and do them again and again. And I think in that sense, we all have a responsibility because as when we do this, we have to look beyond our usual circle of composers and librettists. And just look for other stories. Also, stories that are I mean, it’s stories for opera and Symphony, you only can tell so many stories, but the inclusion of other composers and and mixing styles way more, will also maybe appeal to other people that we’re not reaching right now, that just don’t care about hearing Beethoven, because they don’t even know what it is that nor do I have to I mean, in Oman, they the audience there had no idea you know, if Beethoven is a chocolate or if it’s a, or if it’s a composer, and it didn’t matter, what was important is to get them through the door and actually enjoy it and, and I think we in the US could potentially get more people through the door by having other type of composers and librettists also involved in what we do. And in the symphony, symphonic world, of course, composers. And I mean, the Seattle, San Francisco Symphony under MTT has done a lot by expanding the repertoire with American composers. But I think we all need to push forward. Otherwise, what are we leaving to do in 20 years, we want the repertoire to look the same and the audience look the same. And to change both, we have to do the uncomfortable work of introducing new things and taking risks, calculated risks, but risks, otherwise, we will not have diversity neither onstage nor on our staff, nor on the administration, and certainly not in the orchestra. And for some, this is all going to slow and I understand that and I respect that. But things just are take time, if you want to convince people and really come with you. And maybe we don’t really have time to be slow. So we’re all some of us, and Jamie is also a great example by mentoring. And by being actively involved. And I think some of us are doing a lot in pushing the agenda. And hopefully we get somewhere. I’ll, I will be excited if we can, in a few years achieve a variety of diversity that is different for where we are now. It’ll be fantastic to be able to feel it, to see it.
Edwin Outwater 24:08
I really had a revelation in this COVID time and reflecting and all the social change. You know, that’s happening in the States. You know, I could say, you know, I’ve never been in an institution that hasn’t become more diverse or has, you know, widene its umbrella in my career, and that was from the very beginning, it was something I thought about, but I feel a really, more of a sense of urgency now or a wake up call, just maybe because we’re on pause and re evaluating. And so the question is speed. I would advocate for that, you know, you know, and doing more, even though I don’t feel bad about what I did before. It just there’s so much more we can do as institutions and individuals and I’m feeling that from colleagues as well. But I think time is of the essence and in fact, one of my biggest fears you know about this pause in performing arts and, and all that reflection we’re doing is that we will just slide back into our old routines when we, when we come back, that, you know, a year from now things will be back to normal, the economies of arts will be working in the ways they had before, there’ll be this great demand and then okay, let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. And I think this is an opportunity, you know, to move faster.
Christina Scheppelmann 25:24
But Edwin, don’t you think that in order to get restarted again, we need to push the diversity and the change very quickly, because otherwise, the audience might not come back, some of our usual audience might come back, but not all, so if we don’t go out there loud and and with, with confidence about what we do, and also implement changes, I think we’re missing an opportunity, a fabulous moment of pause, to restart with, with another energy, with a slightly different paradigm also.
Edwin Outwater 26:03
Jamie Barton 26:05
I was just gonna say, I came from a place and a childhood where classical music wasn’t a part of the landscape at all. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, there still is no cell reception, no Wi Fi, they just got running water two years ago. That’s where I’m from. So all of that is to say that classical music really had no, it just didn’t reach that far. But I found my way to loving classical music, through through many things, through through schools, through NPR, honestly, was a huge selling point. But I found my place in it as a kid who came from nothing that resembled classical music. And because of that, I have a very, very strong belief that there is a place for all of us. What I think, what I’m hearing, and I totally agree with and what I am personally setting for my goals going forward, is to start not only choosing to highlight perspectives that haven’t been highlighted, you know, if when I was going through college, basically, every composer I learned about was a dead white guy, right. And there is some really incredible music written by dead white guys. But there are so many perspectives that can be given voice. And we are in the time right now. And we have been in the time for so long, where there are composers from so many different perspectives that just haven’t been given the leg up. And I do think that we are in a time right now, where arts institutions are really starting to, well, the ones I should say the ones that I want to work with, are the ones who are really starting to make that a part of their mission. I, in my own work, and for any younger singers who might be listening to this, I just want to encourage people to take the steps where they can. I think as singers, very often we feel like we are just, we’re not the people who plan what gets done. But that’s not the case when it comes to recitals. And in my own recital work, I get to choose whose stories I tell, and what settings of you know, different poems, I tell and so I’m starting to try and reach outside of the box, it is difficult, especially if you’re talking about women composers, any historical women composers, identifying queer composers, it’s, it is difficult, you have to do a lot of extra legwork. But the response that I’ve gotten from the recitals that I’ve done that have been with that focus has been overwhelming. Now, most of the most, most of the responses have been like, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you so much. Holy crap, I’ve never, you know, heard this piece by by, you know, this brilliant composer who happens to be a woman.’ Some of the responses have been very, I literally had one audience member write on social media that I needed to get my bigoted butt out of their town. But you know, I look at situations like that, and I go, you know what, then my message is coming through. And that message of coming from different perspectives is something that I am dedicated to, and it’s just something that I really want to encourage people to consider how they can do in their own walks, even if they’re not the administrators of a wonderful opera company or an orchestra or something. We all have steps that we can take as artists that help open the doors for different perspectives. And at the end of the day, that is what I think is really going to be bringing in some new audience members, some new perspectives onstage, it just makes it all better, it makes it all worth it.
Edwin Outwater 30:11
Jamie I was I was really resonating with what you were saying about how you found classical music on the farm. Similarly to me, I mean, I grew up in West Los Angeles, so not really the same, but I wasn’t exposed to classical music, I was, my parents tried to get me into it, but I was listening to other kinds of music. And then at some point, I found it. And I found people who loved it, who are like me, and, and, you know, they became my best friends and we spurred each other on. And so, you know, there’s this funny thing about classical music, which is we’re such a long and entrenched tradition, and we’re have these huge buildings in the middle of the cities. But the truth is, you know, we are kind of a subculture at this point in, in, in, in the bigger world of entertainment, and media and all of that. And, and so it is kind of like you find your logical classical family, you know, going back to the beginning, that become, and for me working with young musicians at the SF Conservatory, new world, you know, various places over the years, you know, these kids kind of find each other in this world, which is very special, and not like everything else. And there’s a sense of almost a queerness about that whole journey in its own, in its own right. And I think rather than, you know, the stance of classical music, institutions being like, we’re these great, you know, important things and you’re lucky to, you know, step in our, in our doors, perhaps they should see, the reality of what being a classical musician is like, is it’s a very small, you know, group of the population who really care about beauty and depth, and, you know, all these wonderful traditions, and I mean, if even the institution’s rethought about, who are we, in what, you know, what’s the journey to us? It’s not what they might think it is. And we’re still kind of in our own illusion of what we thought we were, you know, maybe in the 1930s or 40s, or, you know, when, you know, the rate, you know, the five voices of Firestone and all these kind of things, were on TV all the time and Bernstein young people’s concerts, it’s getting more into a, into a subculture experience, and maybe that’s an advantage.
Jamie Barton 32:14
Edwin I think you just coined a phrase that I think I’m gonna identify with for the rest of my life, which is classical queer, like, I love that. That’s fantastic.
Christina Scheppelmann 32:25
We are a bit of a subculture. But this is also the fun, I mean, some, my, one of my best friends, we met at the opera when we were 16. And, and were fanatically going 3, 4, 5 times a week, a week to the opera and kept meeting there, and he is still one of my best friends. I’m not going to say how many years later, but anyway, and, and it does create this community and we are a little subculture creates our, our, our family, our fan group. But I think what you were saying Edwin also about, you know, the big institution and rethinking who we are, starts also with those of us who run those institutions. I mean, a little humble attitude wouldn’t hurt, because we, we are not, we’re not soccer with, soccer here in this country is you know, we’re not football, we’re not baseball. We’re not this automatic, huge big attraction for the masses. So I think we need to be occasionally a little or maybe all the time, a little humble and really reflect who we are, I believe, we all think that we’re giving a lot to the community that music is, to me essential to the community to the, to the human being. But that doesn’t mean that we are irreplaceable, doesn’t mean we can act with an arrogance as if we are, you know, God’s gift to the world. We have to consistently bring our message to the community and and really display how engaging and exciting and riveting, but also intellectually stimulating it is, how it can stimulate curiosity, broaden your horizon, stimulate your curiosity about your community, about history, when you read about those white composers, because it’s in, the classical music comes from Europe so of course, they were all white in the 17th, 18th, 19th century. But this now needs to change. And mainly really, also because of the American situation. They’re so diverse. Let’s broaden our spectrum of composers and music and bring in more, we we add to our business if we bring them all in. And this is the chance I mean, the 20th century could have done more, or we’re in the 21st century now and we need to really take this as a great opportunity. And not as a not as an obligation or a work only, it will be work. But it’s an opportunity that is enriching to all of us. And to those who so far have not come to this great world of opera and classical music. And you don’t have to even include exclusive that I love rock I like pop, I like jazz, but come on in and add to your repertoire as an audience and listen to us and and find yourself also. And if we want the audience to find themselves, then we have to do the work and bring in more people and different and really bring the diversity into all levels of our institutions.
Henry Southern 35:41
Christine, I think you you summarised it very succinctly by saying it’s tradition, versus new traditions, if you agree with that. And and, and Edwin, I just wanted to pick up on something with you is that I might be fairly ignorant here, but I think you’re one of the few classical musicians or certainly orchestral musicians that celebrates your sexuality and your artistic content. And could you just talk a little bit more about that with that tradition versus new tradition? What maybe challenges you’ve come across and has a diversity of on the audience, as well as on stage how audiences versus institutions have reacted to that? And what’s to unpack there?
Edwin Outwater 36:13
Yeah, I mean, that’s been one of my little pet projects is holiday gaiety, I was asked by by the San Francisco Symphony, actually to create a gay holiday show, which was so fun. And we do it every year. And it’s, it’s basically the idea from the symphony as well, you know, they’re like, you know, all of these concerts, in, in the holidays are, you know, kind of bring your kids and do all this. But what if you’re like, you know, in a, you know, adult who wants to go out and have cocktails and have a holiday party. So it was pretty fun. And we, we kind of modelled it with comedy. I am kind of a co host with the SF drag legend called Peaches Christ and we kind of write a script. And it’s kind of like an Andy Williams or Judy Garland variety show is that we have a, you know, a living room set, and people ring the doorbell and come in, everyone from Jane Lynch to Cheyenne Jackson to you know, whoever, and, and it’s full of jokes. And it’s really, it’s been an interesting journey. I think the biggest challenge is not the show, the show really works. And we’re always seeing how far we can go. One of my colleagues at the symphony wanted our show to be edgier next year, and I said, ‘Do you really? Okay, we’re happy to.’ But I think the biggest challenge we’ve had with that show is is marketing actually, even though we’ve been on buses, and on, on, on, on street lights and things like that, then somebody has definitely invested in it, I think, getting the word out, you know, to the, to the whatever the community here in the Castro here in San Francisco, you know, a lot of marketing for drag events is on, is like flyers on a, on a telephone pole, you know, and, and the symphony just is so used to this kind of high level marketing that, you know, getting down on the streets, is as far as time and resources and strategy is not something they’re used to doing. So when you’re reaching out to a new community and want to draw them into this fortress, like, you know, Hall across from City Hall, you know, which is not inherently welcoming to a queer person, or to someone who hasn’t been in there. You have to kind of go out and make contact. And I think we’re learning how to do that, bit by bit, to kind of reach communities kind of not directly, because even things like typeface or font, like there’s the San Francisco Symphony house style in things that go out. And is the symphony house style of visual marketing blurbs the way, best way to reach the new audiences? Probably not. So that’s, that’s definitely one challenge. And the other challenge is the wait to be inclusive. And this kind of a fun challenge. The wait to be inclusive is so dramatic. So we’re, like you said in charge of LGBTQIA +, we have one night a year. And so like to get lesbian representation, to get trans representation, to get you know, into one half hour comedy concert is it’s an overwhelming, you know, kind of responsibility in a certain sense, because we can easily go, you know, the RuPaul drag show kind of popular culture, you know, intersection right now, but there are a lot of people, we want to welcome into this, into this, into the zone. And I wish we could have five concerts. You know, we had, you know, the first trans woman singer on our stage singing sad songs, you know. And it was a huge moment, it was a relatively serious moment in a rather silly show, but those things are really important to us and I would say they’re immense challenges. And, you know, we always end our programming of these concerts, leaving someone out or feeling we didn’t do justice. You know to every single thing of course, that’s impossible, but we do okay. But those are, you know, we’re, there’s so many people left to include in orchestral music that we haven’t brought in yet. It’s like, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Henry Southern 40:14
Does anyone else resonate with those experiences at all?
Jamie Barton 40:16
I was gonna say, I don’t know if I resonate with those experiences. But I did want to volunteer as tribute if you need a bisexual singer for that, because I love Peaches Christ. And that sounds like such a fun evening… Symphony. I would.
Edwin Outwater 40:31
Yeah. All right, your next year, we got you. We had, we had Pat Rosette and Beth Clayton on stage last year. So the opera, opera stars are kind of making their way into our into our little party every every holidays.
Jamie Barton 40:46
There are men in the opera world.
Edwin Outwater 40:48
And if you have a queer opera gala, I’m very happy to help plan.
Christina Scheppelmann 40:53
I mean, San Francisco is the right place to do it, or to start something. I mean, I lived I lived seven years in San Francisco. And if that’s not the place to do that type of gala, to start the type of gala, there is no good place to start. It’s, it sounds fabulous.
Edwin Outwater 41:09
And as we’re going around, I mean, you know, we’re trying to bring it on the road and cities like Melbourne or places in Europe and other cities in the US. So there’s actually and I think a lot of it is, I think the drag race and RuPaul is a huge part of it. Like there’s this huge queer presence in media that there wasn’t until 10 years ago or so. It’s ramped things up and made it more understandable and, and also in the movies and lots of different things. It’s an opportunity for sure, that we can bring to other places, besides of course, San Francisco, obviously San Francisco. All right.
Henry Southern 41:43
Awesome. Well, I look forward to seeing it in London sometime soon hopefully. You guys have all mentioned a lot about repertoire. And so I just wanted to pick up on that towards the end of this. So particularly, when you look at, we talked about the dead white guys, the historical context of the, musicological context of some of these composers, whether that’s something which is important to highlight. So for example, in the fine arts, the likes of from Da Vinci to Hockney, it’s quite well celebrated and with Da Vinci in particular his presumed homosexuality is mentioned about how it’s influenced his art but that’s not from unless was my misunderstanding, not been done so much with composers from the classical music, unless I’m wrong, but I’d be interested get your insights on that. As well as the ideas of commissioning more queer composers as well.
Christina Scheppelmann 42:37
Tchaikovsky as an example, he had to hide his homosexuality all his life and his failed relationship with a woman that his mentor will never met because they, you know, they were not supposed to, to, to meet and that was part of the deal. And I mean, they are strange, I’d say suppression or just not being as open about it, like some painters have been over the course of history. But on the other hand, there are many gay composers. And it was also known, just talked about in a different way about the Renaissance painters up to the modern painters, but there are plenty of examples and wonderful examples, obviously.
Henry Southern 43:26
I would also just add the present popular culture, the likes of Freddie Mercury, George, Michael, Elton John, their sexuality is celebrated and and within their art form, but perhaps is it not so much in classical music?
Edwin Outwater 43:39
I don’t know. I mean, yes and no. Benjamin Britten is a great example of an out queer composer, that who has as queer sensibility, I would say to a lot of his work, among other sensibilities, and then there are other composers like Copeland, you know, who if you know Copeland’s music, you can, you know, maybe understand what he was all about. And, but I think, you know, I was telling you earlier, Henry, like, you know, when Ronald Reagan used his music and his morning in America ad, I wonder if he knew, you know, that that Copeland was a, you know, gay Jewish socialist from Brooklyn. Probably not, and Copeland was essentially out and people knew what he was all about, but it and then there are composers, you know, who have that idea of expressing themselves in their music, like Britten, I think did really quite amazingly and ahead of his time. And for instance, composer, you know, we were just doing a Julius Eastman project at San Francisco conservatory and his agenda as a composer to a certain extent was, was what we might say queering the space and he would even take you know confront other you know, gay out composers like John Cage and make them feel uncomfortable by making you know, a John Cage songbook performance more overtly sexual than Cage himself wanted or thought it could be. So there’s all sorts at play. I think with other composers, but I think, you know, ideally, to Christina’s point earlier, is we want all these narratives and spaces and varieties of experience, like, you know, on the stage singers, productioners, but we also want to create an environment in which a composer can feel free to be themselves and to express whatever they want to express, especially if it’s, you know, some sort of narrative that’s not a narrative, it’s been kind of privileged over a long amount of time.
Jamie Barton 45:28
I was gonna say I am, the last time I was in college was in 2007. So I don’t quite know what the curriculum is these days up, and you know, 2021. That being said, the vast majority of queer history that I learned in my own art form came after college, none of this was put into the music history lessons that I went through. And so I hope that’s changing. I really hope that’s changing, I’m hoping that we begin to get a broader sense of not only who the composers that we study in school are, but the other composers that were around them, you know, how Clara Schumann influenced Robert Schumann, you know, how, how, you know, the queer history that we’re talking about right here, I just, I hope that there’s more access to that information. Because I think that music is better performed with an idea of who the people were, that were writing that stuff, you know, when when I figured out, you know, that there was a, you know, clear line of queer, you know, in in the 20.. well, specifically, like 20th century, classical music, I start starting to feel a little more in touch with the music that I was singing. And clearly that, that goes back way further than the 20th century. So I really hope that that is an element that institutions, academic institutions are going to be paying a bit more attention to, and putting in the history books, I think it’s really, really relevant.
Henry Southern 47:10
Could you help start my education right here? Could you recommend some contemporary perhaps classical queer composers?
Jamie Barton 47:18
Carolyn Shaw, like, she’s the first one that comes to mind. Yeah, Ian Bell, really wonderful English guy.
Henry Southern 47:30
We won’t hold that against him, don’t worry.
Jamie Barton 47:33
He is absolutely wonderful. You guys, please, please chime in.
Christina Scheppelmann 47:38
You know, I think Ian Bell is a good example, he’s a very good composer, and a really, really, really nice guy. But back to, if I may, for a moment, I agree with what Jamie said. But also, as far as the conversation goes, about the sexuality of composers, I think it also has to do that the audiences might be a bit more bourgeois, and not willing necessarily to discuss that, you know, on the other hand, doesn’t really matter the sexuality as a sexual inclination of a composer, if you’re really, we want the quality of the music. I think, in Europe, we talk about anything with much more… And without that many inhibitions in the US, there are certain things that are just either not discussed or discussed very carefully, or are just, not people just not so much at ease to talk about certain subjects, which I think is is a mistake, because that’s what makes it kind of more obvious what is out there, if you can talk about it with a certain natural ease, and not be afraid of certain topics or subjects. And there, I think it goes for the diversity, for the racial diversity discussion as much as for sexuality, I think those are all issues that one should be happy and capable to talk about, rather than shy away from it. Just jump and discuss it. And I think that the society and in the US, depending on where you go. There’s not so openly and easily talk about certain topics, especially certain symphonic and operatic audiences, also, a section of it, not all of them, of course, and depends where you are. And I think it enriches the conversation and enriches people’s perspective and minds, to discuss the topics that maybe not are not comfortable for everybody. We’ll just talk about it, bring it up, be aware of it, enrich your horizon and see that the world is much more varied than yours alone.
Henry Southern 49:56
Well, what a fantastic message to finish on. Thank you, Christina. Many thanks again to all three of you for joining us, Jamie Edwin and Christina. Thank you also to Iarlaith Carter, Ed Milner, Ian stones, Alice Jones, Beth Stuart, Fiona Livingston, and our sound editor Merlin Thomas, all of whom have made this podcast possible. Our theme music was composed by Robert Cochrane. We hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out all the other episodes from The Culture Bar. We have topics ranging from the future of music technology to asking how can sacred music be relevant in a secular society? We’ve had guests from the BBC to the British Museum, from former pro football referees, the members of the UK Parliament’s and to get all that and more please subscribe. See you next time.
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