PROFILE: Emilia Schnall

We spoke to local jazz musician and all-round superstar, Emilia Schnall, about performance, music, and feminism.

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you get involved in music, and how has your style evolved over time?
I guess in the grand scheme of things, I got into music when I was really, really little, as I was lucky enough to grow up in a musical household. My mum is a musician herself, so I started playing piano when I was 3, composing since about 10, and apparently was singing as soon as I could talk! If we’re talking professionally getting involved though, when I was around 15/16 I started entering the PUSH composition showcases, joined the Victorian State School’s Spectacular as a lead vocalist, and was part of the New York Jazz Symposium Winter School, lead by the heads of music over at the Juilliard School in NYC. I got bitten by the Jazz bug and fell in love with it around that age, and ever since then I’ve been exploring improvised music and everything to do with Jazz, Soul, Funk and general groove/improv music. 

You’re a composer and a performer – how do you think music, performance, and feminism relate to each other? 
I think in this day and age, me being a female composer and performer is a feminist statement in itself. For so long in most art history, women were completely erased or not recognised for their work. Even now there is a huge imbalance of female artists releasing work, and in the music industry it is still very male dominated. It’s been an interesting experience being in the finals for composition prizes, as every time I have been the sole female composer. The same goes for lineups in festivals or gigs – but recently that’s been getting a lot better in seeing representation in live music lineups. Generally, with the music I write and perform I try to portray strong positive messages, and just by being on stage I hope other incredible female/non-binary musicians feel like they can follow the same path, and eventually we can even out the playing field. 

How does your work as a teacher/band leader relate to your practice as a musician and performer?
Being a music teacher, band leader/manager and performer feels like an extension of being a musician to me. I fell very naturally into teaching and managing bands, as once you know the ropes a bit, the next natural step is to teach others and start musical projects of your own! Like most freelance artists, I found that you have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, as this definitely falls under that idea of dabbling in a lot of different, but related, industries. Performing, composing, teaching, managing, band leading all relate back to music, so for me it’s all in the same realm of work. 

What barriers exist in the music industry for women and women’s participation – specifically in the Australian jazz scene (if you’re willing to talk about that)?
A big one is role models, it’s so important when you’re growing up that you have female teachers, composers and performers that you can look up to. Currently there are a lot of singers kids can look up to, but not much in terms of instrumentalists and writers. It’s so vital for kids to have someone to look up to and say ‘I want to be like them!’. Currently, there is a lot of work being put in place in the Australian music scene to give grants, opportunities, young musician courses and prizes that are focused especially on women. Though that’s a great start, we still have a long way until there is a balance of all the music teachers in faculties, music being released by female composers, women participating, being accepted and feeling like they’re welcome into music courses and the live music scene. We need to work towards a future where if a woman doesn’t feel like her voice, talents and work is valid or good enough compared to her male peers, that there are people who pave way to make her feel more confident in her musicality.

What has been a highlight of your career so far? 
In the past 8 or so years that I have been in the music industry, I’ve been fortunate to be apart of many incredible shows, festivals, played in some wild venues and have had incredible musical experiences. As a band leader and manager, and huge feat was curating an interstate tour with one of my bands, which ended up having sell out shows across the country, which was absolutely surreal. As a composer, winning an Australian jazz prize that sent me overseas to play an international jazz festival, was probably one of my biggest career highlights. As a performer, there are too many special moments shared on stage to count, whether that be playing alongside renowned names, playing a stadium to pumping festival stages, they all have a special place in my heart!

Where can people listen to/buy/see your work?
If you want to come see a gig, listen to past performances or keep up to date with up-and-coming music, the easiest place to keep up to date is through my Facebook – otherwise you can find me on all other platforms under @emiliaschnallmusic !

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