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Celebrating Women's History Month

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

This March as we celebrate Women's History Month we would like to celebrate our all-female directors here at BMP. Throughout the month, we chatted with the general music director of Mozart Orchestra, Patrice Monahan, director of Sibelius Orchestra, Deborah Apple, and the director of Villa-Lobos Orchestra, Celia Zhang.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ms. Apple: I grew up in Virginia and Georgia playing violin and viola in school and youth orchestra. I attended the University of South Carolina and came to Boston to get my Masters of Music degree at Boston Conservatory. I love seeing the leaves change in the fall and the snow in the winter.

Ms. Zhang: I grew up in the Midwest where classical music wasn’t common. Being “the girl who’s good at violin” helped me to become self-confident and taught me so much about perseverance and ambition, and embrace my own uniqueness.

Debbie Apple during rehearsal with Sibelius Orchestra

How and when did you become interested in music?

Ms. Apple: I started violin at the age of 8, late compared to our Mozart students! My brother played piano, so I wanted to do a different instrument. I always loved classical music. My grandfather would take me to the Cleveland Symphony every time I visited him.

Ms. Monahan: I became interested in music at a very young age. My mother played piano and my father loved to have music parties and my parents would stay up all night with friends singing around the piano. Classical and big band music were the sounds from the big old stereo system.

What is your favorite thing of being a conductor?

Ms. Monahan: Making moves with your hands and having musicians follow crescendo, decrescendo, accents, it is like a dance.

Ms. Zhang: I love seeing the students grow in excitement and enthusiasm with a piece as they gain familiarity and learning how fun it is to play as a team! Nothing makes me happier than hearing “can we do that again??”

Patrice Monahan with the Mozart Orchestra

What is the most rewarding part of being a musician?

Ms. Monahan: I love the social aspect. It is an instant connection with people.

Ms. Zhang: Being able to share the emotions and passion that music has to offer with an audience. It’s so much fun introducing a new piece to a person and leading them to a whole new array of exciting sounds.

What is your favorite piece to play?

Ms. Apple: I find solo Bach very expressive and satisfying. No matter how I’m feeling, I can pick a movement to fit my mood.

What do you want students to get out from your classroom?

Ms. Monahan: Experience the energy and peacefulness of music, as they begin the tools to take on their musical journey.

Ms. Zhang: I’d like them to understand how lucky they are to be able to have this alternate mode of expression and communication, and to enjoy it!

What are some of the challenges you face as a female musician/conductor in the music industry?

Ms. Monahan: I think it is very male dominated. I have heard that women don’t have the chops.

Ms. Zhang: Often, I find that others expect me to be compliant and docile in a rehearsal or regarding some negotiation, whether over a logistical or musical topic. I don’t aim to deliberately contradict, but if I need to speak my mind, I will!

Celia Zhang conducting the Villa-Lobos Orchestra at Symphony Hall

What change would you like to see in the music world?

Ms. Zhang: Programs like BMP do a fantastic job of sharing and educating classical music to everyone in their grasp. In many other less culturally diverse places, I’d love to see the stigma of classical music being for the old/elite/wealthy/college-application-resume-oriented eliminated and truly appreciated for what it is - great music!

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