Hard4the$ is a piece for solo flute and pre-recorded track that explores the current gender and racial pay gap in the United States, a pay gap that became particularly glaring in COVID days, because so many black and/or female workers have been both essential and underpaid.
The piece is a set of four abstractions of the 1983 classic Donna Summer/Michael Omartian tune “She Works Hard for the Money” played simultaneously. Each layer has been given the name of a universally known public figure who represents the race and gender of that layer: Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh.
Michelle’s variation is the only one that is the full length of the four minute piece: the others are shorter (and faster in tempo) in proportion to how much more quickly people of that gender and race are statistically likely to earn the same amount of money. Thus, Brett’s variation is only 2:28.
On the other hand, Brett’s multi-layer variation is played fortissimo on piccolo while Michelle’s is played pianissimo on alto flute, so Michelle is only actually heard when Brett and the others successively finish playing. (Hillary is mezzo forte, and John is mezzo piano.)
It is suggested that the player take on a different role each time he/she/they play the piece. Depending on the role the live player chooses to take, the piece will be a very different experience for both player and listeners.
Hard4the$ is 31 March in my ongoing project A Book of Days, because 31 March was Equal Pay Day 2020 in the United States; that is, how far into the year women had to work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In 2022, Equal Pay Day has moved up to March 15th, seemingly good news that is complicated by the fact that women of color actually lost pay compared to their white male counterparts.
Statistically, the Bretts of America are doing just fine, while the Michelles continue to clean up all our messes. Something is wrong with this picture.
Hard4the$ was commissioned by Hal Ide for Claudia Anderson’s solo show Glass Ceilings, and premiered online at the 2021 National Flute Association convention. Many thanks to Allison Loggins-Hull, Eric Lamb, Claudia Anderson, and Tim Munro, who recorded Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh (respectively) for the pre-recorded track.
TO THE PERFORMER
In any given performance, the player can choose which role to play. Brett is piccolo; Hillary is C flute; Michelle is alto flute; John is bass flute. The pre-recorded track will function as an enlarger of your live role, but the overall balances should stay the same. So, for example, Michelle — both live and pre-recorded — will be drowned out until the very end. That’s pretty much true of John as well. Hillary will obscure John and Michelle, but Brett completely takes up all the air in the room as long as he’s around.
I suggest you practice the role you’ve chosen to take on by playing your solo part with the pre-recorded track for JUST your character first: e.g. if you’re doing Hillary live, practice with only the pre-recorded Hillary tracks until you are satisfied with your pitch, timing, and blend.
You should aim to be equal to (NOT louder than) the pre-recorded tracks of your character: the reality is even if you are softer than the pre-recorded tracks, we will hear you better because we are watching you play.
In live performance, you may want to have an in-ear monitor mix of your live character’s pre-recorded tracks and click (set to the correct tempo for your live character’s part, of course.) The total mix then can be routed to the speakers in the hall, but you won’t have to listen to the entire blend, which is kind of overwhelming if you’re not playing Brett.
Depending on what space you are playing in, you may want to add reverb to your playing: you want to match the pre-recorded track of your character: Brett has the least and shortest reverb, and Michelle has the most and longest reverb. (If you haven’t yet decided which role to play and/or you don’t want to process your sound, you should choose the role that best matches the natural sound of your concert space.)
On any given concert, you are welcome to play the piece up to four times, taking on different roles each time.
I’m not sure any individual performance of the piece is actually satisfying, which is kind of the point.
There might be a better way forward?
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