“The most important thing as a young musician is to find your voice”

MEET EMiLY, a freshman at Smith College and longtime student at JAZZ HOUSE KiDS. This is the essay that brough her across the college finish line

Her figure was short, but she radiated confidence as she stood tall, center stage.“The most important thing as a young musician is to find your voice,” said Shamie Royston, a musical mentor of mine. Even though she spoke to a recital hall full of aspiring jazz musicians, I felt like her

 words were meant especially for me. I wondered silently, “How could she be so sure of herself?”

Once outspoken and questioning, I was now a quiet fourteen-year-old trumpet player and one of just two girls in my band. To become a part of this music I had to be myself, but that made me anxious—I was intimidated by the abundance of boys and constantly worried they were judging me by the sound of my horn. The number of boys around me made me feel like an outsider. I thought reaching the same level as them and becoming a member of the ensemble was impossible, but that wasn’t a reason to stop playing.

Then Jazz House Kids, a jazz education organization, created a program called “Chica Power,” which focuses on empowering girls in jazz. It’s a program desperately needed for girls who feel out of place in a community rooted in self-expression. For the first time, I was surrounded by female role models and girls who loved to make music. “Chica Power” was a safe space where I could express myself without fearing judgement and be reassured of my importance as a musician and my capability. The community of women and girls made it easier to be confident and accepting of where I was as a musician.

In “Chica Power,” I helped teach a blues tune to a few students after class. A young trumpet student, Ella, asked me if I could teach her more songs. I realized my position as a potential role model and seized the opportunity. The number of female role models in jazz is extremely low and the stigma around being a female musician is high. This year when I saw Ella again she told me how much I inspired her. Just seeing me perform, she said, made her want to improve. That moment was shocking, and made me realize how much I impacted her. In me she saw a love for jazz, and my determination to share that with other girls.