In 1998, Berklee professor Lucy Holstedt was part of a team that arranged the Women Musicians Network, an eclectic event featuring female-led musical acts in a wide range of styles. On November 9th, WMN will hold its 20th annual concert at the Berklee Performance Center. ProArts interviewed Holstedt in honor of the event.
How does this year's program contrast with the original event?
The first year, there was an open night at the Berklee Performance Center; a friend of mine (now retired), who was head of Student Activities asked me to co-direct a concert made up of a group of women students. They had had put on a successful show at a much smaller venue.
After a couple of years, we developed an "open submissions" process, so we could put together a very different, diverse concert every year. Every year, we work to get as many submissions as possible--in any and all styles. This year, the acts range from Solo Jazz and Contemporary Classical, to Poetry and what I'd call "Neo-Soul."
I understand that several Berklee students are on the acceptance committee every year. Are you ever surprised by the music they're drawn to for the program?
Very seldom, honestly. We sit down as a group, and listen to all the submissions over the course of a weekend. There can be spirited discussions about our final selections, but I almost always agree with students as to what's interesting and compelling--even when we decide that something will need a little more work to really "shine" onstage.
In the past 20 years of WMN, could you tell us about one performance that stands out in your memory?
Really, it's impossible for me to come up with only one standout performance in any ONE year! I've had the pleasure of seeing over 200 first-rate acts, including any number of astounding pianists, and many great songwriters. Plenty of people have become rather famous.
But OK, here's one I'm recalling now: Zili Misik, an all-female roots/fusion band, focussing on music of the African Diaspora. Very exciting and powerful. They were actually in the concert three times. The first time was soon after I happened to hear them in a practice room at Berklee, and encouraged them to make a submission. They were unknown. It didn't take long before they won big awards and were playing around the country. I loved seeing that happen. A wonderful band.
Has WMN accomplished its original mission? Has the mission changed over the years, and if so, do you think it will continue to evolve?
That's a great question, and it really goes back to your first question. The first year or so. we were working essentially with a "self-selected" group of female students. The "diversity" element--this was when women were a fairly small minority at Berklee--was that these were female students. That in itself was very significant. The styles of music they were playing didn't necessarily have a broad range.
Now, as my husband likes to say, "this is a women's concert that's so diverse, it includes men." And it's true: you'll always see some fine, woman-led bands that include guys. Also, we make a major effort to reach out to the community, to bring in a really diverse audience--not just people from the college. For example, we give free tickets to the Cambridge Mayor's office, Fenway Health and others, and they distribute them to people who might not otherwise know about the show, but are very excited to go.
High quality, across-the-board diversity, and providing new opportunities for Berklee women as leaders; these elements have come to comprise our "DNA," you might say. I don't think that will change.