It’s 2020 and I just received yet another comment on a post: “I didn’t know females could play guitar!”
Believe it or not this happens all the time. As my company, Guitar Mastery Intensive, has grown, so have the number of mind-boggling comments on our ads, specifically the ones that have pictures of me: a female… who plays guitar.
There have been flat out fights in threads about whether women play guitar or not, including picture evidence backing up arguments against the accusers, proving that women indeed have been known to play guitar.
I’ve been a professional guitarist my entire adult life, and while gender balance in music is getting better, there is still a surprising amount of ignorance around what women can and cannot do.
As a young teen performing in jazz clubs, I quickly got used to the disparaging comments. I endured countless conversations ranging from “You sound great, for a girl!” to “That wasn’t you playing, was it?” and “Aren’t you the singer?” Once there was straight up confusion from a man approaching me with, “You sound really good!” and before I could fully enjoy his compliment he followed with a perplexed look, “But you’re… a woman…”
Even band members and renowned music leaders would introduce me in offensive ways, vulgar comments, including blatant lies to the audience about whose girlfriend I was, or why or how I happened to be on stage.
I felt more like a circus act than a musician, which was extremely disheartening because anyone who knows me knows about by intimate relationship with music. I experience music like my own fingerprint: the music that comes from my guitar is a vivid representation of my inner world. My guitar practice is the cultivation of my very essence. And the language of music is the canvas for my soul to play.
So as a seventeen-year old girl excited to share this expression with the world, full of potential, talent, ambition and a deep passion for music, it was confusing to be met by an audience who was threatened, offended, or fascinated by my body parts.
For years I fought through the cultural dissonance, to prove myself worthy, working insanely hard so that I could be seen for who I am on the inside, respected and acknowledged for my passion, my love for my art, my creativity, my artistic integrity, NOT for my body.
It was exhausting. I burned out by twenty-seven. I, who had identified as a guitarist and had been destined a musical child prodigy, quit music.
It took a few years to admit and understand what had happened and why. I retreated into a healthier life-style, minimizing the touring and performing, to focus on teaching, inspiring others, and playing in environments that were truly supportive for audiences who were truly grateful. Eventually, I reunited with my guitar, this time with a vow: to consider music as a sacred expression, a dialog between myself and life. I vowed to protect this sacred expression with strong boundaries around what I am willing to do for work and who I am willing to interact with.
Since this shift, my musical expression has blossomed into a delightful secret from me to me, and I’m no longer distraught by what others think. I love sharing my music, playing for others, and recording and releasing music, but there is no angst to prove anything or fight for my right to be who I am.
It has taken years of inquiry, growth, cultivation and contemplation to respect and value who I am in a world stunted by societal expectations. While challenging, the lessons have been invaluable. At a certain point when you feel out of place in society yet true to yourself and strong in spirit, the conflict becomes nothing more than a theme in the background.
At this point, as I sift through comments on my social media posts about whether girls should be playing guitar or not, I’m of course disappointed by the continued ignorance. But I’m also strengthened with ambition to pioneer more acceptance for women guitar players as I mature in relation to my instrument. I have learned to value and respect my evolution as a musician, as a teacher, and yes, as a woman whose passion for the guitar, for my art and the craft of creating and making music allows me to be my most expressive, most authentic self regardless of others’ opinions.