Gina Moore (she/her) is a bassoonist, educator, and diversity advocate. Ms. Moore's passion for diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in the bassoon world resulted in the collaborative panel, "Decentering Whiteness in Bassoon Pedagogy, Performance, and Community Engagement" at the 2021 Meg Quigley Vivaldi Competition and Symposium. Ms. Moore maintains conversations with professors, performers, teaching artists, private instructors, and students across the world. Her current projects include a CD project of new bassoon works by black women composers and a beginner to intermediate level etude book inspired by gospel, r&b, and hip-hop influences. While working on these projects Ms.Moore also maintains an active private studio in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in Texas. She completed her MM with Dr. Eric Stomberg at The University of Kansas and BM in Music Education at James Madison University with Dr. Susan Barber.
What is something about yourself that not many people may know?
I really enjoy dancing. I taught a little bit of hip hop to at-reach youth when I was at JMU and a little in Kansas but have not done much in Dallas yet. There is something nice about moving around and it really forces you to think, “Am I in time?” and, “Can I do this with my body in time?”
What are you currently working on?
I have a residency at San Angelo State in April. I will be doing a masterclass, presenting a decentering whiteness lecture to music history, and also presenting a virtual recital. Me and the DEI crew from Meg Quigley will be doing a call to action. We are going to make a digital community for everyone to come in throughout the year from our bassoon community and do a check-in throughout the year with events every few months to help keep everyone engaged. We will be publishing the results in the International Double Reed Society journal as we keep everyone engaged over the next couple of years.
What inspires and/or motivates you?
It honestly has to be my students. I have been thinking about this over the past couple of months and since lockdown. It has been challenging to go into the work and realize, “what is going to motivate me?” “Is it all my past things and past traumas that I have been through in the field?” but it has been all about making it better for my kids. They are such little bright spots. Watching them get something classically in a non-Western context is incredible. They continuously challenge me to be more interactive and more creative. They are the ones who have been getting me through this pandemic.
What led you to do what you are currently doing?
I grew up in a poor, urban city in Virginia called Petersburg. It is majority African-American. Because the school situation was so rough, I got an opportunity after playing bassoon for one year in middle band to audition and get into the magnet school. It was always really interesting because the magnet school was always a juxtaposition of “You need to learn to play in orchestra, and you’ve never had an instructor before” and also “You need to learn how to produce music and how to work GarageBand, and how to make movies.”
So it was this juxtaposition of how to be a classical musician but how to be a good musician in general and produce other things. I noticed the school was a good mix of kids, but there weren't a lot of African-Americans in my orchestra, and I always thought that was weird. Then I went to my undergrad and it became more obvious that it was weird. I had a few experiences where people did not expect me to be successful and put that expectation on me and ever since I thought, “no, I’m not going to stand for that.” It all solidified in my masters because I was the only African American woman in my band department. And that was really hard, that was really hard to deal with. It wasn’t any fault of the administration, it was just the way the hirings went that year with the people who applied. I remember getting to know the other African-Americans on staff, and there were only a few of them too, so it was like, “this isn’t great. We’re glad you’re here but this isn’t great.”
Ever since then, I've been on a mission to make this world better for my kids when they want to play in whatever capacity they want to be a professional. Just because you are a bassoon player doesn’t mean that the only expectation or the only evaluation of your success is winning an orchestra job or winning a professorship somewhere. There are so many other ways to be successful in music now and I just want my kids to see that and be a representation to them of “you can do this. You are not alone, there is a community of people who want you to be successful and will not put that set of expectations and stereotypes on you the moment you decide to go after what you want.
What are you looking forward to doing (with/or without bassoon) as your career progresses?
With bassoon, I would love to be a full-time professor at a historically black college university. Because there’s a gap between a conservatory and public education but then there’s also an additional bigger gap between public education and historically black universities. I would love to be someone stepping forward to bridge the gap saying that good education doesn’t mean that you have to go to a major university to be successful at the bassoon.
Without bassoon, I really want a dog. I had a dog the last few months of my masters because my roommate got one. It was the most humbling thing to have a corgi just remind me constantly with howling that I’m not playing in tune. If I made a good reed he would just sit there all snuggled up but the moment I made a bad reed that dog was gone out of my office. I would be like, “Okay! Bye, floofer! I’ll make a better reed tomorrow!”
I really admire your advocacy work! I was really impressed with your lead on the panels you did for the Meg Quigley Symposium this year. I also looked into and love the work you did with JMUke. Could you elaborate more about your previous work?
I spent a little bit of extra time in undergrad because I wanted to be a saxophone player so badly. That was my first year and I thought, “I don’t know why I’m doing this.” Then I met Dr. Barber and she just reminded me that this is something you can do. You’re going to have to work your butt off, but this is something you can do. I remember, there were a few different times where I was questioning things, but in the music ed department they were all focused on “You’re going to be a band director, Ms. Gina,” or “You are going to be an elementary teacher so that’s all you need to worry about.”
Then, my last two years we got this professor named Dr. Rathgeber, and I remember the first course that I took with him which was an elementary methods class. I remember him being so amazed at the fact that I had all these folk songs that I wanted to sing that were more gospel-based or more R&B based and looking at the database that I made for my elementary school kids versus the databases from everyone else and he went, “This is important, but don’t feel isolated.” It was all about validating everyone’s music-making experience for him. He grew up in Illinois and went all over for his degrees and ended up in Harrisonburg. Harrisonburg was the sanctuary city in the state for a lot of immigrants. I remember when he said that we were going to do JMUke as a part of a secondary general music class I was a little confused because I thought, “My kids really like hip-hop, they’re not really into ukulele.” Then when we were building up the project with my other classmates, since that was the first year of the class and for the program, it ended up being this big step forward because we built all the instruments ourselves. We 3D printed on all the plywood and built them from scratch by hand, tuned them and played them, and built the fretboard. So we built all these instruments for these kids but then we also had a jam session. We had this half and half where the kids got to learn to play ukulele for thirty minutes but then they got to play their favorite songs for thirty minutes.
I remembered this one little girl who was in tears because I picked this Nigerian folk song that she just loved and that her mom sang to her. She was in choir in elementary school and she just never got to sing it because it wasn’t something that the teacher understood, and it was a lot of language stuff and they didn’t want to worry about that. Her being so touched was like, “I heard my music today Ms. Moore, that was cool.” Can you imagine if you had a kid who played something on bassoon and it was something that was actually meaningful to them, and you were able to provide that validation for them that it has a place and a space?
That has been super inspirational since then. I always have moments with my kids where they don’t understand something then I get creative. My high schooler now, we’re working on backing tracks and R&B harmonies to work on how she blends different pitches with whatever part of the chord she’s in and she’s having a blast. She’s at that point where she’s doing advanced ensemble stuff and it is so helpful to her to have a different perspective.
I always think that if I can be that person that validates someone else’s music experience then we’re going to bridge the gap between classical music and popular music and make it less of a class-based system.
There’s a voice for you in this field and there are voices that match your style of contemporary, modern, R&B, pop, or Brazilian music, whatever you’re into.
Are there any advocacy projects you are currently working on?
In addition to a CD commission project of all black women writing music for the bassoon, I am currently on the committee to edit the Prescribed Music List for the state of Texas which sets the standard for the whole U.S. in terms of solo and ensemble repertoire. I happen to be the only African-American on the whole panel. I’ve become the person for, “we want to integrate the bassoon music by womxn list, can you help us?” And I go, “Ok, I know the list super well!” We’re going to present the edits of that in April which will be exciting.
I have also been making an R&B etude book for my kids and building it with them. I have a DJ friend in New York City who I am paying to make some backing tracks for me for that. I’m reorganizing a curriculum for beginners with all the different walks but also giving them a beat to do the walks with and to tune with as well. I am hoping to get that done eventually, before, I want to get my doctorate since that's the big thing that I want to do. In the meantime, it’s nice to spread my wings and get a little experience working with real-life kiddos.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to become a better advocate for underrepresented voices and what steps/tips would you recommend?
My biggest piece of advice is to be yourself and a part of being yourself is acknowledging who you are and the space that you exist in. Also, taking the time to understand where you are coming from. A lot of times, I’ve been finding that a couple friends who are very comfortable asking me for things such as, “is this right?” “is this dicey?” Sometimes there's a fine line between doing the work for the work itself or doing it as a white savior complex which gets really dangerous over time. So just being yourself and being genuine with why you want to pursue the work is important.
Also, accepting that you are going to do something wrong and that’s ok. I’ve been doing this a few years and as a person of color in the community I exist in, there is still a lot of, “you're damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” It is super important to be open and remember that not everything you bring to the table is going to be comfortable with someone else. All perspectives at the proverbial table are different and it is important to have that articulated in yourself when you decide to step up and do that.
Know that there is a community of BIPOC individuals in the world that you’re advocating for that want to have a voice and want you to be successful. In the long run, it makes us successful. It’s the same concept agency where there is no “us” without “us.”
The last thing is being empathetic because we’re not going to get this right all the time and we’re not going to be the sage one person in the room who knows everything. Being empathetic and not bashing other colleagues who are trying to understand the work but continuing to engage in that conversation and understanding that there is a hierarchy to making change. This issue has been more grassroots than it has ever been before it is really important to learn the systems that you will be operating in. For example, if you wanted to change something at Iowa, you wouldn't go to the chancellor of the entire school saying, “Every undergraduate needs to play a work by a marginalized person.” You can’t do that! Some of your first steps could be, within your school or college of music, is there a committee for diversity? Excellent, let's email that committee or the head of that committee, and let’s have a conversation. Cool, they want to do stuff, is there another person ahead of them before the dean of the school? And building a hierarchy in your brain of how you can incite one aspect of change because you are not going to be able to fundamentally change the entirety of a program in a year. That’s not how administration works. Being insistent and consistent about the hierarchy that you’re traveling to make a change will make all the difference.
What would you like to see differently in music? How do you hope to see music education change in the next few years?
I would like to see orchestras that are more involved with some of their community things. That can be as simple as a community engagement branch that is active in every major orchestra and even in regional orchestras where they are rebuilding connections with their communities. I know the orchestra in my hometown didn’t always do that and that was something I always wanted them to do. Also seeing public schools, instead of going all conservatory based in the long run, it would be so very excellent if they had more classes where students could engage with music that is meaningful to them and aspects of their career that they may not have considered. Some schools have entrepreneurship tracks for their music students and some schools have a production track. It would be nice for music students to have more opportunities to engage in other aspects of their music-making besides being in a large ensemble, or being in a jazz band, or being in a chamber group. Also, reinvigorating chamber music so it is more inclusive. There has to be a bridge in chamber music of being more accepting that you can create excellent musicians with a combination of standards and something new. Over time that would be incredible.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
I would tell her you are not alone and to take up space. The last few months in particular, it has been really tough to feel like I have a space to exist. Knowing that I am allowed to take up space would have been so helpful when I started my career at JMU allowing yourself to take up space because you deserve to take up space.
What are your hobbies?
Mine is dancing around. I actually really like singing and I have a little bit of synesthesia so pitch and color are in collaboration. My favorite is that I can sing a melody from my phone and harmonize to it so that is one of my favorite things to do is picking up the third in a melody and harmonize to it because harmonies are fun! I also like to craft. I knit so I made all my friends their Christmas presents this year. I also really like to bake. I just did a round of souffle making for a group of friends and they said, “Oh, for Valentine’s Day, Gina is going to make us souffle!” and I went, “Ok! Sure!”
Is there anything you would like to promote/plug?
The only thing I can think of is that if they need someone to bounce ideas off of I am so happy for them to just send an email. I love project building with people. It’s my way of feeling like I am helping but also for me to challenge myself because I don’t know everything about this work. If you need a fellow BIPOC person to bounce ideas off of I am just an email away!