This I Believe

Shannon - Fairfax, Virginia
Entered on August 14, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
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This, I Believe

Sociologically speaking, women are a minority. This may seem strange because when we hear that word we think of a group that is comprised of less than half of a certain population. At least 50% of the people in the world are women, right? Yes, but “minority” describes a group that is at a social disadvantage. For thousands of years women across many cultures have struggled to be seen as equal to men. Although we have the right to vote, be in the military and own property, we are still a “minority”. A new generation of young women has the power to start changing minds and influencing the world in a new way. That’s where I come in.

All I’ve ever wanted to do was play music, upright and electric basses specifically. Luckily, I was brought up thinking that if this is what I desired, I could most certainly do it. I never knew that I was at a disadvantage going into the music industry. I didn’t know that I was a girl playing a “masculine” instrument. I also didn’t know that as a female jazz bassist, I was going to be looked down upon. These things never occurred to me because when I play, I don’t see myself as a woman. I don’t see myself as anything but a musician. I just…play. Maybe that’s why I was daring enough to venture into the world of professional musicianship.

When I first walked into the performance area on my first real gig for Carnival Cruise Lines, I knew that I had to prove myself more than anyone else on the ship. It’s the same as with any other job really, but this time I would be seen and heard by thousands of people every day. The audience, however, would not be my most skeptical critic. Not even close. I was (and will continue to be) the only woman in the band. The men who surrounded me judged me performance after performance. Some of them were jealous. Some of them were a little too nice (and condescending). Some of them were downright mean. I didn’t care. In my eyes, I was their musical and social equivalent. The fact is women are only at a disadvantage when they believe that they are. Through playing music, I want to instill the belief in the girls who come after me that they don’t have to play it safe. They can and should do whatever they want, even if what they want seems beyond their reach.

In my eyes, the people who are most likely to succeed are the ones who have been scorned, shunned and knocked down. I like to think of all of the early black jazz musicians. They weren’t allowed to eat at the places where they performed. Sometimes they would go unpaid. They were verbally, physically and emotionally abused. Even so, they managed to create the only music that America can call its own. It was because of those bumps in the road that those incredible musicians became so successful and well known. It only makes sense. People who are kicked down are the ones who have the drive and perseverance to keep going because they have been challenged. What I’ve learned in the short time that I’ve been a professional musician is that if you go into a situation at a disadvantage, it’s a blessing in disguise.

I believe that facing adversity is the best way to strengthen your spirit. In music, we say that the only way to crescendo is to start softly. You can’t go any higher if you’re already at the top. I’m glad I started at the bottom.