- Kasahara and Iwaasa in Conversation
The "Race-ing Queer Music Scholarship 2016" symposium featured a concert by soprano Teiya Kasahara and pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa. The program included "Solana's Song" from Canada's first lesbian opera, When the Sun Comes Out, with music by Leslie Uyeda and words by Rachel Rose; "And so I killed a man tonight" from The Laurels, by Jeffrey Ryan; and Cursor 7, by Hiroki Tsurumoto. Videos of their performance can be viewed at http://ams-lgbtq.org/raceing-queer-music-scholarship/.
For this special issue of the journal, Women & Music asked Teiya and Rachel to share some thoughts on race, queerness, and their experiences of navigating the performance world. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the reflections they shared.
My name is Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa. I am a contemporary music pianist. My pronoun is she. I am half-white. And I am queer. If you see me, you probably read me as a woman before I say a word. And if my features don't give away my Japanese ancestry, my name does. But queers are often an invisible minority. And as a bi femme, I often feel doubly invisible. For you to know I'm queer, you probably have to see me with my very butch partner—or somebody has to tell you.
Now that someone will probably be me, because I'm professionally queer. Which admittedly sounds like gay for pay but just means that I work as director of development for the Queer Arts Festival, an artist-run transdisciplinary summer festival in Vancouver. Since 2006 I've been a passionate promoter of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, and intersex artists, that alphabet soup we pronounce "queer." But as a performer, I find it's not as straightforward a task. To quote Trinh Minh-ha: "How do you inscribe difference without bursting into a series of euphoric [End Page 141] narcissistic accounts of yourself and your own kind? Without indulging in a marketable romanticism or a naïve whining about your condition?… Between the twin chasms of navel gazing and navel erasing, the ground is narrow and slippery, and none of us can pride ourselves on being sure-footed there."1
I want to see a wide range of types of people onstage who reflect all of our communities, especially those who are marginalized and underrepresented in society. It is vital we celebrate and bring to the forefront those who have been continually marginalized and underrepresented. There needs to be more awareness: education and ethical practices cultivated across all levels of the industry, not just administrations. Saying "Well, there aren't any good ones" or "I don't know any" isn't a valid excuse anymore. We are here. We exist. You're just not trying hard enough to find us. And there are many. Many of them have just found a way to blend into the rest of the classist, white, heteronormative, and able-bodied circles in order to have a career, or they have left the field and changed professions in order to survive.
The arts are honeycombed with homosexuals. As SD Holman, artistic director of the Queer Arts Festival (QAF), says, "If you love art, you love queer art." From Sappho to Leonardo, Frida Kahlo to Van Cliburn, queers are ubiquitous in all the genres; people used to say, "She's artistic" or "Is he musical?" as code words for "queer."
Take Wikipedia's list of LGBT composers. For all it lacks in rigor, what Wikipedia does best is to offer a snapshot of public perception. The 137 composers it lists include some of history's most illustrious names—in some periods and places, queer artists arguably are the mainstream. Yet media coverage, biographies, or obituaries all too often elide queer lives, even if the individuals lived out and proud.
Composers whose identities place them at multiple jeopardy are less likely to be out in their practice. Less than 14 percent of Wikipedia's LGBT composers list are women, even fewer are people of color, and only one self-identifies as trans...