Under-Representation in CC’s Music Scene

“I’d rather just be seen as a musician rather than a girl musician,” said sophomore Lena Farr-Morrissey, bassist of the upcoming Llamapalooza performers, Despairagus. Morrissey’s words speak to the systemic issue of disproportionate gender representation in the music world, to which Colorado College is no exception. As the flurry of music activity accelerates this block and the B-Side Collective announces exciting plans for their new space next year, musicians take a critical look at CC’s flawed music scene.

Gwen Wolfenbarger, aka Seal Eggs, plays the harp at Battle oof the Bands. Photo courtesy of Catalyst Archives

It’s clear that the issue is not that women are not interested in the music scene. In fact, there are more female declared music majors at CC than men. “We’re pretty balanced, ” said Professor Michael Grace, holding the file of declared music majors and minors in hand and counting them off.  “The [ratio of] students have always been average; the faculty we had to work at,” said Grace, considering the department over the years.

“The women in the music department have amazing opportunities, equal to those of men. Everyone has opportunities to preform on the Packard Hall stage,” said music major and artist known as Seal Eggs, Gwen Wolfenbarger. CC has a strong history of female interest in music and commitment to the department, despite what the on-campus music scene would lead one to believe. Although there is an equal gender representation considering the a capella groups and the bluegrass ensembles, the history of Llamapalooza selections illustrates that the CC student band community tends to be gendered.

Looking at the Llamapalooza selections in the last five years, 2017 is the first year in which all the battle of the bands winners has a least one female artist. Since 2013, excluding 2014 due to the lack of a sufficient head count, the ratio of male to female has been approximately 23 to 2 or 11.5 to 1. Furthermore, many of the females included were brought in exclusively for Llama as back up or lead vocals; only two females have been instrumental musicians.

The gender unbalance appears to be a dilemma. “People don’t really talk about it because it’s everywhere,” said Morrissey. Despite the complacency some appear to have with the popular music scene, many are attempting to equalize it. “I think B-Side collective is doing a lot to counteract that, said Wolfenbarger, “I think what its doing is incredible and every campus should have something like B-Side. I think the main problem mostly has to do with privilege, who gets to have lessons and access to technology and its usually men who are encouraged in those areas.”

The new B-Side Collective space next year will give opportunities to many unrepresented musicians. It will offer workshops and collaborative spaces for those who have trouble breaking into CC’s student music scene.

Yet it is still more difficult for females than males to integrate into the popular student band community. “It is hard to break in; I feel the inhibition and hesitation,” said sophomore Ariannis Hines, trombonist for student band Promiscuous Stepsister. Becoming a part of the scene involves more than solely musical skill. “Get an edge somehow. Know your worth and make everyone else know it to,” said Hines on advice to aspiring female musicians.

This issue goes beyond CC: “In the over all music world there is still a lot of discrimination. There are all these small things where you don’t see women in certain areas,” said Wolfenbarger. The lack of diversity in music is representative of the history of music, yet it is also reflective of CC’s own intersection of privilege and lack of diversity.

“It’s like who they accept here. They accept white jam-band kind of guys,” said Hines. There is no dispute that all the past Llama selections are extremely talented and great performers, yet there is a certain tendency towards similar genres and people included.

“I’ve become a little disheartened with the music scene here,” said Wolfenbarger, “I think it’s mostly because there’s not that much interest with experimental music on this campus.” The lack of musical genre diversity in student bands correlates to the lack of diversity of gender identity and race. “It inherently brings in more types of music when you have all sorts of different people playing,” added Morrissey.

The B-Side Collective is opening doors for people of all identities, yet these issues of inclusion and gender should be more familiar discussions. “Music is sitting down and practicing so anyone can do it if you’re a man or woman or non-gender conforming,” said Hines, citing the core commonality of music. The fact that the CC student band scene is reflective of a larger, international issue does not justify its silence and lack of progress.

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