The Impact of The Women's Philharmonic: Pamela Wilson

The Impact of The Women's Philharmonic: Pamela Wilson

We received this beautiful testimonial from Pamela Wilson a while — OK, over a year — ago. What a fantastic statement of the unexpected and ongoing resonances of The Women’s Philharmonic! Thank you, Pamela!

Pamela Wilson works in advancement at Connecticut College and is the founder and director of the New London Drone Orchestra. The group performed in the 24 Hour Drone in Hudson, New York, April 28-29, 2018. Pamela also takes percussion lessons and plays in the College’s New Music Ensemble. As DJ Kitty Empire, she hosts a freeform music show on Sunday nights on WCNI-FM, where she also reviews music. Around 60% of the recordings she recommended for airplay last year were by women or woman-led groups.

 

I moved to the Bay Area from New Jersey in 1998 with a friend. Going west was his dream; I was along for ride but a bit unsure about the proposition.

When I expressed concern about the dearth of opportunities in San Francisco in publishing, then my field, or journalism, his, he said, “People out there are doing all sorts of sorts of things we’ve never even heard of. I’m sure we’ll find jobs that we can’t even imagine from here.”

The Women's Philharmonic
The Women’s Philharmonic, ca. 2000

These words came to mind when, a month or so after we made it California, I saw a job listing: The Women’s Philharmonic was seeking a marketing and development coordinator. An orchestra made up of women, performing music by women, led by a woman conductor? I’d certainly never imagined that! It seemed like a perfect fit for a music-lover with experience in marketing, and I was delighted to be hired for the position. This was my introduction to a whole world of music I’d never been exposed to–contemporary music in general and, more specifically, music by women. But I never imagined starting a music group myself–or composing or conducting music.

Fast-forward to 2015, when I moved to New London, Connecticut, to work at a small liberal arts college. In February 2016, I woke up one morning with an idea fully formed in my mind: I was going to start a chamber orchestra to play drone music–minimal, gradually developing, layered, meditative sound created through group improvisation. The New London Drone Orchestra is a political and social project as well as a musical one: our focus is on listening to one another, prioritizing the group sound, and making room for every member’s creative expression. We bring together students from the college where I work, staff members, and people from the local community. Anyone can join, regardless of their level of experience or expertise, because anyone can learn to listen.

To give the group a focus, I began developing concepts for us to play and eventually wrote a graphic score for a guided improvisation called “On the Fly.” When I realized I would have to direct the group in playing the piece, I was surprised to find myself, somewhat accidentally, a composer and conductor–all these years after my experience with The Women’s Phil promoting women working in these capacities.

Last year I also began playing percussion in Connecticut College’s New Music Ensemble. In December, one night after conducting the drone orchestra’s premiere of “On the Fly” in our first concert, I was able to play it–instead of conducting it–with the New Music Ensemble. My name appeared on the list of composers on the concert poster right after Igor Stravinsky’s. Of course it  was alphabetical, but not bad for my first piece!

Imagine my surprise this weekend [Jan. 2018] to find an email in my inbox from the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, based in New London. It mentioned that their next concert would open with a piece by Hannah Lash, “This Ease,” and that their performance of this composition was funded in part by The Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy! I clicked on the link and was amazed to see that old familiar logo. I am inspired to know that the work of advocating for orchestras to play music by women continues. And that this newer organization is making itself known in small cities like New London!

Just as I never imagined an organization like The Women’s Phil from my vantage point on the East Coast in 1998, I never imagined that writing music was in my future before I moved back. What I learned working at The Women’s Philharmonic has served me well in both the fundraising world and the musical and creative realm. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the organization when I did. It seems that, on some unconscious level, The Women’s Philharmonic has continued to influence me, enabling me  to try things I never imagined possible–and to never question that my music should be heard.