5 Questions to Hollyn Slykhuis (trumpeter)

Hollyn Slykhuis is an undergraduate trumpeter and composer pursuing a music education degree at Louisiana State University. Her studies have taken her to Concepción, Chile for the LSU Teach in Chile program and Los Angeles for the LA Phil’s YOLA National Festival. Hollyn’s passion for social justice inspired her two recent commissioning projects that seek to support women in fields where they have been historically underrepresented: brass performance and composition. Her December 2019 recital featured three works commissioned through an LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation grant, and her Honors Thesis recital in May 2020 will feature new works for trumpet by LSU women composers. We asked Hollyn five questions about her commissioning process, her role models, and her experience with finding resources for projects at the undergraduate level.

How did you select the composers involved in your current project, and what do you hope their new works will illuminate about the underrepresentation of women in brass and composition, specific issues of social justice, or the ability of music to bring about social change?

I couldn’t have selected the composers involved in this project without the help of LSU composition professor, Dr. Mara Gibson. She aided me immensely in many areas of this project, including connecting me with several fantastic young composers. It was important to me to illuminate the works of emerging women composers, as this will hopefully pave the way for them to enter into different spheres of opportunity. This also allows for the audience to see new, fresh names on the program and, hopefully, broadens their perspective of composition. I am keenly aware from my own experience that it is difficult for most, even those studying music at renowned institutions, to name as many women composers as they can male composers. Part of this is certainly due to historic oppression of women, but even when speaking exclusively of composers from the last few decades, the names that come to mind are overwhelmingly male. In a society where women have fought for so long (and are still fighting) to achieve equality, this needs to change.

In December, I premiered commissioned works by Samara Rice, Lara Poe, and Anne McAninch (sponsored by the LSU Tiger Athletic Foundation). In May, I will be performing works by Dr. Mara Gibson, Morgan Easterday, Alana Scott, Mikeila McQueston, Hannah Rice, and Niloufar Iravani. The May recital is comprised entirely of works by LSU composers at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels.

While the awareness of the lack of female representation in composition became more clear to me fairly recently, I have been keenly aware of the lack of female representation in brass since my own trumpet journey began over a decade ago. I was frequently the only female member of my section in various honor bands, orchestras, camps, etc. It is comforting and inspirational to be able to look to examples of female excellence in your field, and I am grateful to the women brass players who have blazed a path ahead of me. I look forward to the (hopefully not too distant) future in which instrument stereotypes are lessened and more and more women enter into the brass arena. By commissioning works for trumpet by female composers, I hope I have made even the smallest step forward on that trailblazing journey. I want the musicians that come after me to realize that there is a place for them here, and that these are spaces they are welcome to occupy and excel in.

Hollyn Slykhuis--Photo by Fil Starostka

Hollyn Slykhuis–Photo by Fil Starostka

Are there any areas in your education or musical upbringing where you feel that you could have been offered more support or better resources? If so, how did you overcome these challenges and what changes do you think could be implemented for future students?

Overall, I am incredibly thankful for my education and musical upbringing. My high school was extremely diverse, and I think that alone shaped my experience positively. However, I think more could have been done to reflect that diversity in our programming and coursework. I was largely exposed to straight white male perspectives. Which brings me to another point about this project–while I am happy to be championing the cause of women in brass and composition, I wish I had been more cognizant of including and promoting a more intersectional diversity, considering factors such as race and sexual orientation. I am of course always still learning (as we all are), and this project has given me even more ideas about how to improve for my next undertaking.

Who are some of the individuals, musicians or otherwise, who you look to as examples or role models?

My biggest musical role model is Tine Thing Helseth. It is so easy for me to see myself in her, and I think that is a big reason why she is so inspiring to me. It is another example of representation really playing a critical role–not only is she just a fantastic trumpet player in any regard, but I can also look to her and think “If she can do it, so can I.” I was fortunate enough to be able to play in a masterclass for her and to have heard her perform live multiple times, and she continues to astound me with her musicianship and welcoming, personable energy.

I am so thankful for the role models I can look to in my own family. My mom has always encouraged me to challenge the status quo and hold myself to the highest standard. My grandmothers set inspiring examples for me by entering into spaces where women weren’t always welcomed when they were young, and always striving toward their goals. Listening to stories of their youth reminds me how far we have already come while encouraging me to continue the journey started long before me.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t name my music teachers among my inspirations, especially Dr. Christine Carrillo, Dr. Brian Shaw, and Dr. Matthew Vangjel. Thankfully, the educators in my life have always encouraged me to strive to the best of my ability and pursue my passions vigorously. They have been examples of excellence in music, as well as excellence in treating others with respect and working towards a better future for all.

Hollyn Slykhuis with Tine Thing Helselth--Photo by Matthew Vangjel

Hollyn Slykhuis with Tine Thing Helseth–Photo by Matthew Vangjel

Throughout your musical education, and specifically your undergraduate experience, what resources did you find to be most valuable or crucial to your development as a musician, performer, and educator?

Working in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system through my music education degree at LSU offered me invaluable insight into the realities of the public schools in many parts of the country. This further ignited an already-growing passion for social justice. Organizations such as the International Women’s Brass Conference, YOLA National Institute, and sessions on diversity at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic helped show me that there is a way to address these injustices through music, and I began to see how my passions could intersect. There is no better resource than experience, and I am thankful to LSU for all the fieldwork opportunities, as well as the chance to study abroad and teach music in Chile as part of a summer program. The wider you can make your perspective, the better off you are as not only a musician/performer/educator, but also as a person.

How do you hope to bring together your passions for music and social change as you move forward in your professional life?

I am so excited about all the opportunities that I know are awaiting me, whether they involve working with existing projects and programs or forming my own. I have absolutely loved my work with El Sistema-inspired programs (such as YOLA National and Kid’s Orchestra of Baton Rouge), and I could certainly see myself pursuing further work down that path. However, I know that there are countless ways to use music as a driving force for social change, and I don’t want to limit myself to one set career goal. I am still young, and I know that imagining I know exactly what my future holds is ludicrous at this point. All I can be completely sure of is that I will continue to work hard, meet inspiring people, and pursue these passions to the fullest extent possible. I hope the next step in my educational journey will prepare me to enter the workforce as a multifaceted, creative, flexible, and passionate musician and educator.