"If I'm going to sing like someone else, then I don't need to sing at all," Billie Holiday famously said. This year at ToneDen, we're taking a cue from Lady Day and profiling inspiring Women in Tech and Music who sing (or play violin, or code, or community-organize) like only themselves. It's our way of nudging the dial of equity and inclusivity in the right direction while introducing readers to some extraordinary ladies in the process.
1. You're a violinist, a vocalist, and a songwriter. What aspect of music did you first fall in love with?
I first fell in love with the radio from my carseat and also movie music. I’ve always viscerally responded to music –– think goosebumps, tears, movement –– I could never fall asleep to a song. It straight up lights my brain up. My mom used to only listen to country music and female songwriters à la Fiona Apple, Tori Amos. My dad listened to a lot of Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, Bowie and James Brown. I have always loved all genres of music, and early on I dove into entire catalogs from every era. The best part of studying classical music is exposure to the history of music worldwide. You can hear how composers influenced one another’s sounds. The musical themes and harmonic development through centuries of evolution of tonal through atonal music.
2. You studied Violin at Cleveland Institute of Music and then the Ecole Normale de Musique, but an artist's education is ongoing. How have you continued growing as a musician?
Since college, I’ve had an enormous amount of on-the-job growth and learning. In school, I often had months to work on pieces, whereas professionally there is an expectation to sightread and record/perform perfectly the first time you play a piece. A lot of my professional experiences have boosted my confidence and taught me how to prepare smarter and more efficiently. For example, if I have to learn something difficult in a short amount of time, I make it harder for myself so that it becomes easier when I have to perform it. This leads to some goofy moments (playing standing on one leg, upside down, walking etc) but always helps and reminds me to have fun! I practice my instruments every day to keep my strength and skills up, and to prevent injury. I also work with an amazing vocal coach Katy Riggs and seek mentorship from other music professionals, when I’m working on something new and not sure how to go about it. My continued education as an artist can be summed up by thrusting myself into new experiences and actively identifying areas to improve upon.
3. Chamber music is a passion of yours. Why do you love it? Any common misconceptions about it?
I love the diverse and beautiful repertoire. I started playing chamber music in middle school and it is heavily responsible for me wanting to audition and attend classical music school. Unlike orchestral music, it is very intimate: each person has their own part to play and the piece is incomplete unless all parts are represented. There’s so much non-verbal communication and collaboration between chamber music players to perform these works, and they are very gratifying to play. I can’t think of any common misconceptions …I wish there was more classical/contemporary music funding in general and that more people could hear these pieces performed.
4. One of the many things I admire about you is your no-mountain-is-too-high attitude: in other words, you take on challenges. Why is that important as an artist?
Oh, thanks so much. I can’t speak for others, but it certainly is important to me to push myself beyond what I think is possible. That’s how I continue to grow and explore new ideas. Especially in collaboration because I’m only one person and others will have a really cool or unexpected idea to try. Maybe they’re not even a musician but they are looking at it from a unique lens and those moments can lead to a rad presentation of an idea.
5. On that note: recording the score for PlayStation's "Wattam"? Can you take us behind the scenes?
I worked closely on Wattam with the incredible composer Brad Fotsch of Funomena Games. Wattam is a super unique score because it contains different worlds with different genres of music and the gameplay associates instruments with certain characters. If a certain character is selected, that instrument jumps to the main melody of the world you are in, while the other instruments play the backup track. The algorithm for Wattam is so crazy cool and gameplay would have you jump between characters every few seconds. So you could have violin in the foreground, then sax, then keys etc. For our process, the goal was to make this jumping between instruments on the melody to background track as musically fun and seamless as possible. We did this by having a composed melody line for each world but also recording several improvised takes as well. And, we took some liberty in the background accompaniment recordings.
6. What particular challenges do women in the music industry face?
These challenges can vary greatly depending on what part of the industry you work in. We are far from having equal employment opportunity or representation in all areas of music. From the Women In Music organization who collects data from around the world, only 6% of recognized producers are women, only 12% of songwriters of the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017 were women, only 22% of all performers across the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017 were female. It’s only human, but people tend to hire people who mirror themselves. While others are truly prejudiced and discriminatory. I’d like to see a collective shift towards hiring qualified musicians who represent different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and skin colors. Let’s get real, the music would be wayyyy better for it.
7. Do you see the industry becoming more inclusive and equitable? How?
This is tough to answer. I’m part of a diverse and inclusive music community in Los Angeles. This community cares very much about creating inclusive opportunities as well. I’m hopeful and encouraged, but my sample size is small and the global data doesn’t show the needle moving much yet. That being said, in recent years I believe people are being more vocal and less afraid to share experiences of discrimination. This will surely help create a more equitable industry!
8. What advice guided you on your artistic journey? And what advice do you have for women aiming to make a life in music?
Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Pursuing a life in the arts is so different from other careers where the path and process is predetermined for how to get from graduation to a successful career. Being a freelance musician is like being responsible for building the bricks, laying the path, and following it all at the same time. You have to be your own boss, admin assistant, financial advisor, and still be an artist. A big thing that has helped me in the last few years is to be an artist first. The other aspects of running my business can consume a lot of time. It helps me to wake up and practice first thing in the morning, to get creative before my head is filled with business management. In addition to this, some of the best advice I can give is for women to work together. Find a female mentor, collaborator, fellow musician and support each other. The beauty of technology is that even if you feel isolated in your music community, you can connect and work with women in music worldwide. I’d be delighted to hear from any woman in music out there - firstname.lastname@example.org xo www.morganparos.com