A seminar focusing on women in music and the challenges they face in search of success.

October 7, 2018
Connie Moses Ballroom, Carolina Theatre

On October 7, 2018, The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle presented a seminar by accomplished women musicians, addressing the challenges they have faced in their careers. The goal of the seminar was to heighten awareness of these challenges for all who are interested in music and also to provide guidance for young musicians. Special thanks to the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, for providing grant support for the seminar.

The seminar was attended by 48 people: 25% were students; the youngest participant was 13 and the oldest, 92; 40% were men and 60%, women.

Margaret DeMott, Director of Artist Services for Durham Arts Council, served as moderator of the seminar. Three outstanding women musicians were panelists who shared their experience and insights. The panelists were Winnifred Garrett, Lenora Zenzalai Helm and Tasi Matthews, three women musicians of different ages, with different backgrounds and life experiences. Please see Attachment A for their biographies.

Margaret DeMott framed the seminar in her opening remarks, stating:

“This is a big topic and there are many ways to approach it. You can look at it as a subset of the challenges women face in most public sectors. You can look at it through the #MeToo lens. You can approach it by looking at particular roles-performer, composer, conductor, teacher, historian, librarian, producer, sound engineer. You can look at the differences between the genre industries---classical, jazz, hip hop, blues, pop, country and the ever popular “fusion”. Happily the training and experience of our panelists encompasses multiple genres and multiple roles, including performer, conductor, composer, teacher, mentor, recording artist and director. I am looking forward to their insights.

We are asking each panelist to share how they first entered the field of music, the challenges they have faced, how they dealt with those challenges and what advice they have for women musicians today. After we have heard each panelist respond to these questions, you, the audience and the panelists will help to compile strategies to create change.”

Each panelist presented a brief, historical perspective, outlining early challenges and how each decided to “stay the course” and pursue a career in music. And then each panelist moved to discussing continuing, ongoing problems of being a woman in a field mostly dominated by men. After each presentation, there was active involvement by the audience, posing questions and seeking advice. Several of the questions were posed by the younger members of the audience, the students.

The moderator summarized the advice on a flip chart, as efforts to be taken that can help emerging musicians, as follows:

  • See beyond what you know and frame the future for emerging musicians

  • Be willing to be a role model

  • Provide opportunities for young musicians

  • Draw courage from your own experiences

  • Always look for what is missing and address those issues

  • Multiple irons in the fire make for multiple opportunities

  • Stand up for what is right

  • Keep working on advancement and keep networking

  • Consider the impact of blind auditions—helpful or not?

  • Always be prepared; consider what might go wrong and be prepared for it

  • Find ways to practice all aspects of your craft

  • Allow students to shadow professionals

  • Be the Serena Williams of the moment

  • Persevere and ask for help; show that this is a strength

  • Promote music lessons in the schools

  • Create a kids’ track so that kids can accompany parents to live music events

    to increase their exposure to music.

Overall, the seminar seemed very well received by the audience. The findings and recommendations seem expansive and provide a summary of insights that should be helpful to emerging musicians.

Margaret DeMott provided a list of resources, printed in the program for the seminar, as follows:

There are already several resources for women in music. Some are informational and can support someone wanting to make change. Some are directed to organizing the efforts to make change. encourages women to submit resumes to be placed as panelists, be mentors, share experience. International Alliance for Women in Music, membership organization with conferences, etc. Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy—particularly composer awareness is a database of diverse composers, originating as women, and then expanding to include racial and ethnic identity. Allows users to find works for the right orchestration, length, etc. allows young film composers to apply to be selected to create scores.


Margaret Demott

Margaret DeMott, Durham Arts Council Director of Artist Services with 35 years of arts experience, oversees major grant and exhibit programs, arts festivals and technical assistance for arts organizations and artists. She is a poet and one of the forces behind the development of Mallarme Chamber Players. She has served on many artist selection panels, and production for Public Art Dialogue Southeast, a national public art conference in collaboration with the NC Arts Council. She currently serves on the Durham County Library Art Committee, Durham Cultural Advisory Board, the Public Art Committee and the board of Arts North Carolina.


Winifred Garret

Winifred Garrett holds a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of the North Carolina School of the Arts.  Winifred Garrett is the harp instructor for North Carolina State University, Guilford College, and the Duke Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

 With a career that spans over thirty years, Winifred Garrett has had the privilege of being the first African American harpist to grace the stage in countless performance venues and settings. The Founder/Artistic Director of “The Harp Studio” based in Durham, North Carolina, highlights from her extensive and diverse performance career include appearances with Stevie Wonder at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, performing with Marvin Gaye at Radio City Music Hall, playing the wedding of singer/actress Whitney Houston, and performing with the Boys Choir of Harlem and for the Dance Theater of Harlem.

 Principal Harpist for the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Garrett also  has served as Principal Harpist for Long Leaf Opera in addition to Principal Harpist for Durham Symphony’s 2008-09 season and Substitute Principal Harpist for the Western Piedmont Symphony.

 Ms. Garrett has served as Conductor/Music Director for North Carolina Central University’s musical production of “Once On This Island” and was the Project Coordinator/Grantwriter for the now international “Gateways Music Festival”. Chosen by the Broadway team of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt to play the first Japan tour of the acclaimed show, “The Fantasticks”, Ms. Garrett has performed for both Broadway and Off Broadway houses and is presently harpist for the North Carolina Theater in Raleigh, NC.


Lenora Zenzalai Helm

Lenora Zenzalai Helm is a Jazz Vocal Musician specializing in Classic, Traditional jazz standard and original repertoire. She has 6 solo recordings and a touring and performance discography with the biggest names in jazz. A Former U.S. Jazz Ambassador, Fulbright Music Specialist and the inaugural recipient of the 2018 International Javett Music Award given to jazz scholars assigned to University of Pretoria, South Africa, she mentors emerging musicians and vocalists. Since 2005, she teaches vocal performance and directs the NCCU Vocal Jazz Ensemble as a professor in the music department at North Carolina Central University. Helm is a UNC Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, NCCU-Duke University John Hope Franklin Institute Digital Humanities Fellow, a GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year quarter-finalist and 2018 Who’s Who Lifetime Achievement recipient. A native of Chicago, Illinois she now makes her home in Durham, NC. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Berklee College of Music with a B.M. in Film Music Scoring/Voice. Helm also studied Indian classical voice at the Jazz India Vocal Institute in Mumbai, India. She earned a Master of Music in Jazz Performance/Voice from East Carolina University where she was inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda music honor society, and is ABD for Doctor of Musical Arts, Music Education degree, Boston University (2019).

 Since 1987, Ms. Helm has led her own group, The Zenzalai Project and owns the publishing company Zenzalai Music. Jazz composer career highlights: MacDowell Composer Fellow; Chamber Music America’s Doris Duke New Jazz Works Composer award; Composing the full musical score for the children's play, Indigo Blue: A Reimagining of the Pied Piper for Walltown Children's Theater, Durham, NC and composer of several Black History Month promo campaigns on the ESPN network. As a lyricist, she has collaborated with Wayne ShorterAndrew Hill and Branford Marsalis. she also has touring, recording and performing credits in many genres -- including R&B, Neo-Soul, and Pop, Theater and Opera, including being a featured vocalist with Freddie Jackson, Michael Franks and performing with the Durham Symphony Orchestra.

 Ms. Helm is the former Artistic Director and cofounder of the nonprofit youth music program HARMONY Program Inc. and is a past president of International Women in Jazz, an advocacy and presenting organization supporting women in music.


Tasi Matthews

 Tasi Matthews is a violinist originally from Charlotte, NC, and has been active as a chamber, orchestral, and freelance musician in the Triangle area since 1997. She is currently the Concertmaster of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and also plays frequently as a pit musician for the Broadway Series at the Durham Performing Arts Center. In the past, she has performed with the Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh Symphonies. She served as the concertmaster of the Raleigh Symphony for 15 years. Other groups she has performed with include the Chapel Hill Chamber Orchestra, Oleander Chamber Orchestra, Opera Company of NC and Capital Opera.  In addition to classical music, she has had the opportunity to perform with some well-known artists including Josh Groban, Clay Aiken, Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick Jr., Mannheim Steamroller and the Tran Siberian Orchestra.

 Ms. Matthews has served on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and now teaches violin lessons for all ages at her private studio in Apex.  She earned her Bachelor of Music degree while studying at UNC with Richard Luby.  She also earned her Master’s of Music from the NC School of the Arts in Winston Salem, where she studied with Kevin Lawrence.