2: Conduct Your Life with Maria A. Ellis, the GirlConductor

Show Notes:

In this episode, I sit down with the diversity-championing, women-supporting, globally-impacting Maria A. Ellis, the girl conductor to chat about entrepreneurship, parenthood, being a minority in the profession and how to change the lens and look at things from a different perspective to have a positive mindset. 

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Maria: 0:49
I’m the kind of person where I honestly believe I can do whatever I put my mind. And I told my husband, I said “I really want to go back to school and study music,” and he was like, “We got three kids honey, that’s not gonna happen.” And sometimes it can be discouraging because you can like, well, you know, can I really do this? Or can I really do that? But then I have to go back and tell myself that this is a mind game, and Maria, your mind is powerful, you can do it.

Chaowen: 2:08
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast, I’m your host Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups, and vocalist, I’m also founder of Girls Who Conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you, while I interview conductors, musicians and business grows from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student, musicians and non-musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 2:53
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth, and the roller coaster of conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you a simple, actionable, step by step strategy to help you take action on your big dream, move through the fear that’s holding you back, and have a real impact. Now, pull up a seat, make sure you’re cozy, and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 3:25
Welcome to the show. Maria, I’m so thrilled to welcome you to the show, and I can’t wait for you to share your story and experiences with my audience. Thank you so much.

Maria: 3:35
No, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be with you today. Thank you.

Certainly, here are the time stamps with 49 seconds added to each of them:

Chaowen: 3:40
So before we get started, though, will you give everybody a brief intro, just a little bit about your background and how you get to where you are now?

Maria: 3:48
Sure. My name is Maria A. Ellis, I go by the girl conductor. I am from St. Louis, Missouri. I am a K through 12 vocal music educator. I serve as the high school choir teacher at Sumner High School. I also conduct the Sheldons’ City of Music All-Star Chor Bach and Beyonc on Classic 107.3. And I also have a new Symphony job hosting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra live broadcast on Saturday nights along with my good friend, Alicia. So that’s that just happened. I’m a person who loves music, conducting and educating, and I am a champion for the girls. So everything I do is about girls and diversity and you know, just changing the game so that all of us have the same playing field. So yeah, that’s me.

Chaowen: 4:41
I think that is so exciting because this profession has been so imbalanced in so many ways. And it’s our common shared goals to have more girls, women, and even non-binary folks on the podium that we are seen as we deserved, and we get all the opportunities just as all the other folks. So I’m so glad to see that you have influenced so many people through your social media posts and your work and also your… can I call it an initiative or is like a service, the girl conductor? It’s not a company, right? How should I?

Maria: 5:21
Actually, it is a company; it’s an LLC. And the company provides diverse music education resources for educators, and it also provides professional development and voice lessons and things like that — just helping everybody try to get to their best self musically via the choral music. I’m not an instrumentalist, so I don’t get into things I don’t know nothing about. I’m all choral music.

Chaowen: 5:53
That is great. I think that’s so important because a lot of the instrumentalists do not learn to sing or do not learn to make music or make sound with their bodies. They just get an instrument and start playing, while this is the most natural and that, like the first thing is like, we make sound, we make noises. And you have to really understand how that is affecting our bodies, and it’s the same as you play an instrument. While we just don’t realize it as much, or like we kind of, we tend to ignore it when it’s really affecting your body, like how your mindset is affecting your playing. We just don’t want to think or talk about that. So I’m so glad that you brought up the idea of diversity. And I understood that you didn’t start as a choral conductor right away, just fresh out of college, right? You actually had a little detour coming to the podium? Can you talk a little bit about your journey and how you kind of overcome the objections you might have in your head, like the mini dramas telling you that you can’t do it, this is not something for you, or other people looking at you — how do you get here?

Maria: 7:04
Yeah, well, let’s talk about it. So I’ve been a choir director since I was 12 years old. So I’ve directed church choirs since I was 12. And I remember in high school, being a part of the Concert Choir, and telling my teacher at the time — I said I want to do something with choir and conducting for a living, but I don’t want to be a classroom teacher. And she kind of said, like, I don’t know what to tell you. Like I don’t know what you could be. So I didn’t know the path to be a conductor right away, or I would have gone and studied that straight out of high school. But I didn’t know that path. So I studied business and worked for AT&T, so telephone services and internet and all that kind of stuff, and I just wasn’t happy. I mean, I was happy with my paycheck. But like, overall, I wasn’t happy with the job. My pastor at my church asked me to conduct our children’s choir; we were starting to revamp the Children’s Choir. And I was like, yeah, I’ll do it, and immediately I fell in love with it. And it was consuming. Like every day I was trying to find new activities for the students to learn about choir, and I told my husband, I said, I really want to go back to school and study music and he was like, we got three kids honey, that’s not gonna happen.

Chaowen: 8:34
I know.

Maria: 8:38
We got all these kids and we can’t do that right now. We can’t afford a house like oh, okay, so I stayed another your AT&T but they had — my job was laid off and if you got laid off than, they were paying for two years for you to go back to school. I had seniority but I asked my husband again, I was like, um, if they don’t lay me off and pay, can I go back and he was like, yeah, you can go back. And so I took a layoff and went back to University of Missouri, St. Louis and studied music education, and I loved it. I was so console with learning because I felt like — here’s something I felt like I didn’t know a lot because everything was being taught via the Western European culture. And I was like, wow, I don’t know any of this. Even though I’m a gospel musician and I’ve studied music for as long as I can remember, I just felt like I didn’t have a connection to it, until my theory III class when we were — he was playing a series of notes and I was like, that’s gospel, and I know that! And then I had to tell myself, “Maria, stop looking at it through the lens that you don’t know. This, look through the lens of — they’re just speaking, they’re just teaching it to you in a different way. They’re just giving you the language, you already know chords and stuff. Now you have the language to match what those chords are.” So after that, I just started like, coming up with other ways to teach the same concepts. So if we would learning, let’s say we’re learning rhythms, instead of learning — like I didn’t learn Thai, you know, it’s good in my Thai, Thai, TT Thai, I didn’t learn it. But I was a stepper. So by doing body steps, like that’s something I’ve done, like forever. So I was like, Okay, well, that’s 1234. You know, and I will put in my body I put this one up, like, Well, I know what other people like me, who have a different upbringing, who may not be able to get past the Western European lens, but maybe I just do it in a different way. I can show others how to do it. And that’s kind of what birth girl conductor — again, celebrating girls on the podium because I didn’t see women on the podium back then. I actually didn’t see my first black woman on a podium until 2020, the first time I’ve ever seen a black lady conducting on a podium. So my job I guess is just to be this, like, yep, we’re girls we are here we do this we conduct, we teach, we are an entrepreneurs, we create, we do it all. And that’s not easy. Because like you mentioned earlier, you are constantly fighting yourself, like, “Am I the one that should be doing this? If I put myself out there, you know, somebody’s going to say, she’s not qualified, she shouldn’t be doing this.” I remember in college, where they were talking about, you know, when you walk on the podium, you have to be dressed a certain way, you shouldn’t wear high heeled shoes, and you shouldn’t wear this, you shouldn’t wear that. And I was like, “That sounds nice, but I feel more powerful in high heeled shoes, I feel like I have a better like, I feel like my confidence goes up when I’m in my heels.” So when I walk on stage, I’m walking out in three, four or five inch heels. And I’m going to conduct and I want to do a good job. Because that’s how I feel confident, it makes me feel confident. So I’m like to the point now where you can say whatever you want to say, that’s fine. If you don’t feel I’m the right person for your venue, that’s fine, I understand that. But your venue is not the only venue. There are millions of other venues out here. And I’m gonna go work for the one that is right for me.

Chaowen: 12:20
That is so true. It’s like we sometimes get buried under all the parts that we didn’t know before, where we forgot to differentiate — okay, there are things we don’t know, or we didn’t know how this was called in a certain cultural or like you say, like the Western tradition or the notation. You can’t read music written in that way doesn’t mean that you can’t do a good job singing. And the others can’t see you but I was seeing you like moving with your body; that is so natural. Because we see little kids, they just hum and move their body and shake their head and clap and like it. Let’s stomp on the floor with the music. Wow, this is this is just kind of basic things we do as human beings, when now we are taught that you can’t do it just because you can’t read the music the way someone else’s does. It doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of doing it. But can you talk a bit about how you change mindsets, okay, now, like you said, you have to look at things that you’re capable of. How do you encourage others, especially women, or people of color like us to really see your value? And when you’re in this really unfriendly society sometimes, when everybody’s kind of looking down on us and say, hey, you don’t know a thing? Well, deep down, we know, but we just don’t know how to show it in your way.

Maria: 13:47
Yeah. So I’m the kind of person where I honestly believe I can do whatever I put my mind to; I believe that with everything in me. Sometimes it can be discouraging, because you can like, “well, you know, can I? Can I really do this? Or can I really do that?” But then I have to go back and tell myself that this is a mind game. And Maria, your mind is powerful, you can do it. And then I make a plan. So I’m a person who jots down, I just find stuff. And I just write down what I want to do. So I remember in college writing down, I don’t want to teach in a classroom, I want to travel the world, conducting and providing professional development. I wrote that down. And I remember my teacher who was a man who I love dearly, I love him, love him like a father. He was like, “Maria, I don’t know anybody else who does that.” And I said, “that’s fine that you don’t know anybody else who does it, but this is what I’m going to do.” So I wrote it down. And then I started making moves to do that. So my first year out of college, I presented at our State Conference, our state choral directors conference, I presented two sessions. One session was about things that I should have learned in college, it was called “Somebody Should Have Told Me,” and it was all the things that I should have learned in school but didn’t learn. And it wasn’t a shady, like I wasn’t being shady or anything like that. But it’s just things that they don’t teach us what we need to know. The second was a gospel session, because I didn’t see gospel music being presented. And I know that that’s what I know how to do. Now I may not know Bach and Beethoven all that, but I know gospel. This is what I’ve done all my life. So I presented a gospel session. And that session blew up. And I said, well, if all of these people who are in this room enjoyed this session, then other people will enjoy it as well. So I posted a clip of it on social media. And social media has been like, it can be a blessing and a curse. The blessing is, we as women, we can create our own platforms, the days of waiting for somebody to do something for you — those days are over. Because we can create our own platforms, we can create our own lines, we can sell our own products. I’m not waiting for the next publishing company to create a hand signs that are different colors like black, white. I’m not waiting for you to do that; I already did it. Now if you want to jump on the bandwagon and do it after me, that’s fine. But in my classroom, you don’t get that firsthand sense. In my classroom, if I’m teaching vocal music, I may not teach you what a diphthong is. But I’m gonna teach you how we do it. So we say, hey, that’s natural and black culture. So when we’re dancing, I won’t be giving each other hype. So on my board, when I’m presenting that symbol for a, which is a diphthong. I’m going to teach it like we do it a Like we say, hey, so I’ll just add it so that everybody understands. I’m meeting people where they are, and I’m not waiting for permission. So if I tell my other girls out here, don’t wait for somebody else’s permission to do it. Whatever you want to do, do it, the sky is the limit. And the only person that’s stopping you, is you.

Chaowen: 17:17
What you said was just so inspiring. It’s like meet people where they are. I felt sometimes especially the western classical musicians have this pride in a way that’s “okay, you should come to our concert hall, you should dress up, this is such an special thing that you’re treated as like a celebrity,” while that’s really not how you engage people. You need to meet people where they are, both physically — you need to go out to where they are, and mentally — say things in a way that they can relate. And understand, instead of having to teach them, like you said, this is called a dipthong and we have a schwa like I was telling my kids when A is pronounced as a is a schwa. They looked like me as I was crazy. And I said, yeah, it actually has a term. They were like, Why? I was like, Yeah, why? Why are we creating all this unnecessary barriers. And I love that you said about the social media, it’s like, yes, we now have a platform, we don’t need to be waiting to be picked to be stamped by a big publisher or like a record label. Okay, now you’re worthy, we are worthy. Yes, also, I think it’s so great that you say, I just want to summarize for my audience, because I know, things could be kind of running around when you were just listening. But as Maria just say, really, 1) look at things through a different lens. Don’t let your inner voice talk you down. Because you know, deep down you’re worth it. 2) just find things that you know, even just a little more than others, like Maria with her gospel, that’s something that she owns it. If you know a little more about Bach than others, then you have full rights to go up there and conduct and do anything. Or you know a little more about Beyonce, like her show, you have full rights to talk about it. You don’t need 1000 followers or someone like a good music school degree to just verify you, “Okay, now you’re an expert.” We don’t make that. And the last thing I found was so good. Maria said, write down things that you can do, break into steps. That is just so good. So do you want to tell us a little more about like being an entrepreneur, how was that like, and also like being an entrepreneur, and mom, and a music educator, when we are wearing so many hats?

Maria: 19:54
Yeah, well, I think being a mom, being a woman ,we have we are always wearing many hats. If you think about it, especially those of us who have children, and we’re married and we have careers. We have on all these different hats, and we manage all of it well, so I just do all of that. As an entrepreneur, I decided that I didn’t want to work for any particular company full time. And so I have a lot of like most positions, we got lots of gigs and at the end of the year, we got a million tax forms because we’d got gigs all over. But I use a planner, and I try to plan out my days so that I’m not away from my children all the time. I tried to do a lot during the school hours when they’re not at home, so I can get through that. I talked to them about my career. So I tell them that your mom doesn’t have a regular nine to five job. So Sundays mommy has to go here and mommy has to travel there and things like that. But I write it down. I’m a big person about writing things down. Because that’s what keeps me sane. I also put things in my phone. So I keep my calendar in my phone, and I keep a physical calendar because I guess I’m getting old, honey. And as I’m getting older, if I don’t write it down, I don’t remember [laughter]

Chaowen: 21:20
I totally understand that. [laughter]

Maria: 21:24
So I do that. I also try to find ways to see what’s missing in music education. So that’s, that’s really what girl conductor really does; I try to find what’s missing. So let’s go back to the diverse hand sign. I remember going to people’s classrooms and s the solfege posters, do re mi fa sol la ti do, you know, seeing those posters, right? And all the posters had white hands. And I was like, black hands do this, too. And so I was like, well, let me create black hands that do this. And then so I created a set of black hands. And I said, well, Maria, not only do black hands, do this, my skin tone I said, but lighter skin tones, this darker skin tones. So then I created a set that just had multiple skin tones. And I did that because I said all kids need to see that they do this because if people who are not in minority cultures, what they are, they are considered the norm, and everybody else is an other. But music is a mindset. Music is really for everybody. So everybody should see themselves doing it. If If we as girls had seen other girls on the podium, we wouldn’t have to have platforms now about girl conductors or girls who conduct because it would have been the norm versus just seeing a man on a podium all the time. You know I mean? so I try to find ways to see things that I didn’t mainstream and try to create. Or I may take a spin off something somebody else did. And I might just add some Marias to it and kind of make it my own and just show it a different way and I’m not taking away from the person who originally did it but here’s just a different spin on what you did like my moose song. [singing] There was a great big moose who drank a lot of juice. That’s a camp song, right? But I added a little jazz to it. So instead of doing way oh way oh [singing], we do way oh way oh way oh way oh [singing jazz]. Oh, let’s just add a little jazz, solo jazz runs toward it, and now that appeals to a different culture. My culture, me Maria, a little black kid might not adapt with the camps — why? I haven’t been camping. That’s not my background. I’ve never been camping. But, Jazz I’m good with that. You see what I’m saying? So the camp sounds to me like corny because I haven’t been camping. But now it’s adding a little jazz with a flavor to it the sauce to it, I can get with it. Because now that’s more like my culture. Same song. Just add some more sauce to it. Just like we talked about notes. Yeah, we still could do ta ta TITI TA 123 and four, but maybe if I’m doing a to a rap beat I can get with that better because that’s what my culture. Yeah, does that make sense?

Chaowen: 24:14
Yeah, totally.

Maria: 24:15
That’s what I try to do as entrepreneur. As entrepreneur I’m trying to find ways to keep creating, to keep changing music education, to keep saying okay, this is what we’ve done for 100 years. Now let’s remix this. Let’s remix it and come up with something new. And I try to like I said, I try to keep my schedule so that I’m not away from home all the time. I try to make sure that I’m always uplifting whenever I go out I want to be uplifting, I want to be inspiring. I want people to know that the sky is the limit and it’s not something that we say. It truly is the limit and that we can go out and do it. So that’s that’s my life as an entrepreneur. And then, I had to learn all the legal stuff about it, so that my my company is registered. Girl conductor is trademarked, making sure that I’m taking care of my taxes and all that kind of stuff. And also things that were kind of not taught in the music world, how to do all of it. So I had to hire somebody because I want to be legal. But I want to be able to tell them, the next girl who wants to start her business, “Hey sweetheart, this is all the stuff that we got to do to make sure that we’re in compliance, so that we’re legal.” And you know, we handle in our business, we’re handling copyrights, we’re handling and making sure our stuff is registered, but all these various. Companies are not so that we get our coins cuz when I look at coins I think money. So you know that, I feel like that’s our job. Like as you get older, you’re supposed to help the people that’s coming behind you and pull them up, so they can be even better than what you are?

Chaowen: 25:53
Yeah, I think that’s that’s definitely so true is like all the things I wish I was there at your session of like all the things that you wish you had been taught in college because I’m sure that there are so many. But there are so many thoughts that’s going in my mind now but I just want to say I really love your idea about seeing the diversity in a different way. Because a lot of time when we don’t look into it, we didn’t question it — because that’s how things were always done. Just like you say all the white hands — as an Asian, I don’t ever question that, because that’s how I always see in textbooks, like everything is kind of white. Because we thought okay, they are the experts, they started this then it must be right. And just a couple months ago, I stopped on to the cartoonist Instagram account. I think that was someone who drew the cartoons for classical FM. And like, I look at the drawing — it was all funny about musician’s lives. And I was so mad because all the women in the drawings were a supportive role. It was the mom sitting next to the musician Dad playing with the kid, or it’s the wife needing to go somewhere while the husband is gigging, doing important and serious other things. [Or] is like the assistant checking with the maestro “hey we have to go there” while the maestro was doing something like kind of more official, more important. And I wrote to the cartoonist and I said “hey, I appreciate you including women. But can we normalize seeing women, or seeing parenting moms as professionals.” Because sometimes we kind of discount your professionalism when we learned — okay you have kids, you must be not serious about your job. You must be tied with your family so you can’t travel. We don’t want to trust you with a gig, and all that. It’s just really important that we need to be seen as professionals. And like you said, we are wearing so many jobs and we’re good at doing what we are.

Maria: 28:09
We are great at doing these things. And not only that, a lot of times we are better than a man at doing these things. What? We kill it! When girls hit the stage, we kill it! And we kill it because we know that there’s people who’s already doubting us. So we come in knowing, we come in knowing everything above and beyond because we’ve rehearsed it over and over and over and over and over again to make sure that we are perfect. Again, as minority women we do it over and over again. Do it 10 more times, because I have to be three times as good as my white counterpart. And then two times as good as my white male counterpart for me to even be seen. Back in the day if I was waiting for somebody to put me on a platform, but now I’m not waiting. Now, I’m coming out saying this is what I’m doing. I’m not waiting for — I would love it if the St Louis Symphony Orchestra was to hire me to come conduct a piece. But if they don’t, I can go find some other musicians and I can conduct them and then put it out there, and host a concert, and have people pay. Because we can do that now. Have people pay and just watch me conduct, if that’s what I want to do. We don’t have to wait anymore. Those days are over. Women, those days of waiting are over. We can do it on our own.

Chaowen: 29:31
Yeah, really. And if you’re in my generation or with my background, I was a little intimidated by social media because I was like “oh my god, I don’t feel comfortable putting my face out there. I don’t want to be seen and be criticized or be judged all the time.” If I posted a picture people would think okay, she doesn’t look good, or she doesn’t know what she was doing. This time has really passed. Like really, no one is really watching. But one you just need to put yourself out there. And I was wondering, I know that you offer a lot of things through the girl conductor as you said, there are voice lessons, there are coaching sessions. There are like idea brainstorming sessions and you also do professional development. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of professional development sessions that you will be including or covering, or maybe some tips that you are willing to share with the audience?

Maria: 30:25
Sure, I’ll do both. So I do professional development for school. I’ve been hired by schools to come in and maybe I’ll do a session about diversity, or I’ll do a session on gospel music or whatever they look into. A bit of elementary of work for St. Louis children’s choirs and, and taught elementary choirs. And elementary is my favorite. I’ve taught high school choirs that I’ve started, I’ve started my own choirs and things of that nature. So I get brought in to do all those types of sessions. And then I also offer my own sessions, again, putting myself out there. If somebody Okay, let’s take last year Black History Month, I didn’t wait for somebody to hire me for a Black History Month session. I’m black, know black history. And so I offered a Black History Month session, I think all people should do that. Right now we’re in the middle of Hispanic History Month, or Hispanic Heritage Month. But my Hispanic sisters, yeah, should be offering sessions to teach us about your culture. You’re the expert, you’re Hispanic, when it’s time for Asian History Month, my Asian sisters, you all again, don’t wait, you should be offering those sessions teaching us about the music and your culture. Because that’s how you grew up. That’s your culture, I’m definitely gonna do it every time there’s coming something black, because that’s my culture. So I offer those sessions. I’ll offer these tips to anybody who’s thinking about offering sessions: make sure that you are organized with whatever the topic you are going to present on. Make sure you’re organized, make sure you have all your thoughts together. Brainstorm and write down — I love writing, but write down your thoughts, your ideas, and then rehearse it so that when you’re standing up in front of a crowd, you’re not you know, like traveling off somewhere or getting lost or, you know, saying, and then we got a whole 5, 10, 22 second pause, try wait for you to get your thoughts together. Like No, come in, be professional, stick to the topic, stick to your timeframe. Take questions about it, be the expert. And things that you don’t know, don’t make up answers. Just be like, you know what, I don’t know. Let me find that out. And I’ll come back to you. Give people your email address, give people ways to contact you. Post on social media, once you did this session, if you get the session. I’m gonna use you because you’re Asian. If you did the session of Asian women and music, then post on your social media that she presented a session about Asian women in music, why? Because somebody else may be looking for that session, and they can come and get that information or hire you as expert for that. So again, just putting ourselves out there. And if you need tips, like I offer coaching sessions to help people. Like I have a Girl Conductor University, where I teach people how to have their own business. I teach them about social media, I teach about branding, I teach about all those different things. Again, so that we help the next people who want to do it, so they can get on and do it as well.

Chaowen: 33:32
So just recapping, I think it’s all great, like everything we now need to learn. Because like before, I remember when I went to music school, you were taught, “okay just be the best conductor and then you’ll get a job.” You just learn the best conducting techniques which is totally untrue, which was untrue and is still so untrue now. But as Maria said, 7 tips that she talked about when you’re offering something: 1. be organized, you want your audience or people that you were talking to be able to understand your concepts, step by step, have a sequence and organize your thoughts. 2. brainstorm and write down your ideas, and put things together so you can see visually as well how your ideas are being presented. Number 3 – it’s so important. You want to rehearse it, and possibly record yourself and listen to it both video and audio, just use your phone. Come on, everybody can do it. But you really want to pay attention to the vocalized pauses. It took me a long time to be aware of the ah, uh, um, and, you know, that kind of thing. We don’t want that because you’re not seen professional. And number 4, you want to stick to the topic and the timeframe. Just don’t go everywhere because that’s, I think that’s tied to the first one, you need to be organized. And number 5, be honest and authentic. If you don’t know something, just be honest, say okay, I’ve got to go back and do some more research before I can fully answer you. Just don’t try to make up things because people notice and you know it. You know it when you really know it deep down, that’s your thing, or it’s not your thing. And it’s okay, we don’t have to know it all. Just to present, you can say “okay, based on my limited experience, my impression would be this and that, but I’ll be able to provide you with a more thorough answer after I do some research.” And the next one (number 6,) be reachable. You want to really talk to your audience, give out your email or if you’re not comfortable, give out the website where the contact form is working. I have sent so many inquiries through the contact form with no answers because probably it’s not monitored anymore. You don’t want that; you want to be reachable. And the last one (number 7): post it on social media. Just put yourself out there. And if you’re ever in doubt, just reach out to us because we are here for you. We’ve all been there. We know how to cheer you up. You need cheerleading friends, and we are here for you. And that’s, I think that is so great.

Maria: 34:41
Yeah, getting you as girls, finding your team, your crew of people who got your back and you need some people that’s gonna be honest with you, not just people that just say everything is good. You need some people in your corner, that’s gonna be like, “that’s good, but change that.” Or “now there you’re tripping; don’t use that one.” You know, you got to have those people on your team that can be honest with you and say, “you know, you did a great job, let’s work on fixing this,” or “girl, pull back, let’s go back into this; let’s go back and redo some.” You know, you need those people in your life. And I am a cheerleader for everybody. I really try to be a cheerleader for everybody in general, because I really want to see everybody win, you know what I mean? I want to see people win, I want to see people blow up and be successful, because I feel like if they went in and we connected that; I went too, we’re all connected, we’re all winning.

Chaowen: 37:05
Really, and I felt when I was starting decades ago, there was always this competition and tension between women when they’re more than myself. Because you felt “okay, when they need diversity, or when they need a woman, they just want one.” So we are in competition with each other, which is so untrue. It’s not about having a smaller slice of the pie, but baking more pies, well have different types of pies: you can have raspberry, and I don’t know, like strawberry, I can have caramel, whatever. I’m going crazy with pies. [laughter] But we all have things that we know so well that we can share with everybody. And it’s really doing the world a disservice if you don’t put yourself out there and start sharing your experience, because your people need you. People need to hear about our stories. And know that we’ve all been there; it’s not a straightforward path, and we all managed to go somewhere and we are still in this together. I think it’s so important. So lastly, since I know diversity is one of your key focus areas, I do want to ask if you have any tips for people who might have been more privileged than others, like our white women colleagues or white male colleagues who want to join us. But it might be difficult for them to see through a different lens because they’ve been the norm, like what kind of things that you can be more careful to or listening more or pay attention to.

Maria: 38:46
I recently did an episode with my friend Chris Munce who has the Choralosophy Podcast, and he came to my church. Somebody challenged him to be the minority to go into a situation, he’s a white male, going into a situation where you’re the minority. And so he came to church with me a few weeks ago where he was the only white man in our all black church congregation. And he said it was eye opening for him because he’s not used to not being the majority. He’s not used to his way that being the norm. And I challenge people if you really want to learn about diversity, spend time with people who don’t look like you; spend time with other cultures. You want to learn diversity? Come spend time with my school [which] was all black, where it’s 99% free and reduced lunch, where there is poverty all around. Come spend time with us and see how we get done in our schools. That’ll give you a different perspective of why people of color do the things that they do. It’s not because we’re trying to say that white people are bad or white people. No, we just there’s different experiences that we have. I want to learn about Asian culture. So in college, I had like five friends who came — they were part of a program where they came from China and they studied music and music business at my school. So I wanted to learn their culture. So you know what I did? We hung out. We went to there was a ritual dance. I don’t know what it’s called, like what it was a 20 something dance, so I went out and I hung out with him and we went out and we partied and we had a great time. But I got to learn about them, just by hanging out with them in that sense, and then built a friendship with them. That’s how we learn: spend the time, you’re not gonna learn about black culture just with what you see on TV, and what you see on social media. Now you want to know about black culture, come spend some time with me, and I’ll teach you.

Recent Episodes