Five Things to Consider (What to Wear and how to Decide: Owning our Choices)

This week’s Five Things Friday is by trumpeter and educator Sandy Coffin. I have known Sandy through freelancing in NYC and my recital at the International Women’s Brass Conference was right around the same time as her presentation so it is great to feature Sandy’s presentation with the Brass Chicks community in this format.

Sandy - Version 2 – Version 3

Sandy Coffin is trumpet player who has performed all around the US and Europe, premiered several new pieces written especially for her, presented lecture-recitals on original 19thC instruments in both the UK and NYC this past year, is working on a recording project of ‘lost’ cornet solos, teaches Brass Band at a private school in NYC, tutors with the National Youth Brass Bands of Scotland Summer Course, has won a bunch of awards, created a successful concert series, just signed an arranging contract with a music publisher, has degrees from Oberlin and MSM—and still isn’t sure what to wear.



Based on my presentation at the IWBC June 2017 at Rowan University and my interview with Christine Chapman, published in the Fall 2015 IWBC Newsletter.

As women, we do not have a ‘default’ dress code; we do not have a standard equivalent to the ‘suit and tie.’ Women have a particularly wide range of fashion options when the dress code says ‘formal,’ but each option carries certain connotations. The choices have become increasingly complicated for everyone, both women and men, so how do we go about making informed and appropriate choices?

[Note: this is not really about orchestra attire – when given specific guidelines, follow them!]

I think it is important, especially in these complex times, to talk about some of these issues, and particularly about how we choose to physically present ourselves in our performances, photos, and social media / publicity materials.  I don’t believe there are any definitive answers, but hopefully talking about these things can help us all make educated choices – and allow us to excel in our performances.

  1. Can I actually play my best in this outfit?
  • Whatever you choose to wear, be sure you can breathe easily and fully, and can move as needed – to get on and off stage, for mute changes, instrument switches, page turns, choreography, managing interactive electronics, etc.
  • If you choose to wear a cocktail dress and heels, be sure you feel grounded and balanced in your heels! (Low incline platform shoes are great for that.)
  • Practice often in the outfit to be sure. Video record yourself from various audience perspectives to be sure you are really presenting the image you want to project.
  • Be informed about the performance space and audience sight lines. You don’t want to be surprised by the angles people are looking from – and what they can see. Keep them focused on your performance, not your wardrobe.


  1. How do our clothing, hair, make-up choices impact how others perceive us (the individual and/or ensemble)?
  • Be aware of the story you want the audience to experience during your performance. You are not anonymous while producing sound on a stage. Wearing a cocktail dress and heels just because it seems to be the female equivalent of a man’s suit (performance uniform) without being aware of the cultural signals such an outfit projects can be inappropriate on stage.
  • Be aware that different regions bring different cultural norms to the table. You don’t have to change yourself to fit, but you always need to be as aware as possible of the context others will have as they interact with you.


  1. How do they impact how we perceive ourselves?
  • Self-perception is an integral part of performance presentation. Do you feel comfortable? Exposed? Powerful? Vulnerable? You don’t want to be focused on what you are wearing – you want your energy to go into your performance.
  • Learn what styles make you feel most in control of the situation, strong, and secure.
  • Determine what brings you closest to your own self-image of a successful performer.


  1. What factors can we use to determine what the consequences of our clothing/appearance decisions might be?
  • Stay aware of the signals that some clothing was designed to project. Educate yourself. Talk with theater costume designers or fashion professionals.
  • Choose the cocktail dress and heels if they make you feel good as a performer. But own the fact that a formal or sexy cocktail dress was designed to send signals about different things than a man’s business suit was. (Their names say it all…)
  • Aim for PERFORMANCE POWERFUL. It is great when a performer is aware of how an outfit can be perceived, including the hidden signals that may have little to do with the music, and intentionally chooses to present themselves in that framework because it makes them feel strong. Clothing choices that seem to be made in the hopes of distracting from performance difficulties are less great.
  • Get feedback from others about your performance presence, but reflect on what makes you feel good on stage. You need to feel solid and grounded, strong and powerful, so spend time reflecting on what makes you feel best.


  1. Are you prepared to deal with the full range of consequences of those decisions, including comments and unsolicited behaviors from others, and success or failure that has little or nothing to do with the actual performance
  • When you feel solid, grounded, strong and powerful, the audience will join you in feeling that.
  • You must own the story that you are presenting to the audience. Tell that story as powerfully as you can. Clothing and makeup choices should serve as backdrops or props in the telling of that story, not simply a costume for yourself. Keep it all integrated.
  • Remember that others are going to bring their own agendas and interpretations to that story. Plan in advance for what those might be, based on cultural allusions, your own experiences, and research into the experiences of others. You can’t control other people’s responses or behavior, but you can prepare yourself in advance on how you would deal with a variety of responses.

Additional reading:

“What’s Up With That Anyways?: Conversations with Christine Chapman” by Sandy Coffin
NoteWorthy, Official Newsletter of the IWBC, Vol. 22, No. 2, Fall 2015, page 5.

Reflections on Risk: by Ashley Fure,



Seraph Brass Indiegogo has 1 day and 2% left to go!

The incredible all-female brass quintet, Seraph Brass, has almost reached its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo. The group aims to raise $25,000 in order to fund their first album, which they will release in early 2018. It will only take a few more donations to push them past the $25,000 mark — could some generous Brass Chicks make the difference?

From the fundraiser page:

“Seraph Brass began in 2014 and is in high demand, presenting over 50 domestic and international concerts in the 2016-17 season. We are a dynamic brass quintet drawing from a roster of America’s top brass players. Committed to engaging audiences with captivating programming, we present a diverse body of repertoire that includes original transcriptions, newly commissioned works, and well-known classics. Recently, we commissioned and premiered “Wolf” for solo soprano and brass quintet from Philadelphia-based composer, Joseph Hallman and have had several arrangements made by Utah Symphony trumpeter Jeff Luke and composer Thomas Oltarzewski. Through our mission to commission and premiere new works by American women composers, we hope to continue to encourage women of all ages to study and love brass music. We have performed a number of masterclasses at universities, high schools, and middle schools. Seraph Brass is on the Allied Concert Services roster, performing tours throughout the United States. Seraph is managed by Manhattan Music Ensemble.”

Introducing Nicole Abissi – Guest Brass Chicks Blogger

I am so excited to present Nicole Abissi – our next featured guest Brass Chick blogger, who also performed at IWBC. We have played together in NYC and I was really interested to hear her responses to our interview questions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the Brass Chicks community!

Nicole Abissi is a member of the renowned Stiletto Brass Quintet since 2013. She frequently plays with many of the country’s fine orchestras, as well as on Broadway. Nicole received her Bachelor of Music degree from The Juilliard School and Master of Music degree from Stony Brook University.

In 2007, Nicole began a fellowship with The New World Symphony in Miami, Florida. There, she had the opportunity to work with the premier conductors of our time, as well as receive lessons and coaching from many of the finest brass players in the world today. Nicole won her first professional position as the Second Trombonist of the Alabama Symphony in 2009. In September of 2012 she joined the Colorado Symphony as acting Principal trombonist for the 2012-2013 season. In addition to her performance experience, Nicole is a passionate teacher. She has given clinics at many universities as well as music festivals, such as, Georgia State University, University of Alabama, Interlochen Arts Camp, and Youngstown State University. Her students have gone on to study trombone performance at such schools as The Juilliard School, Northwestern University, New England Conservatory and Lynn University.

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Reflections on the International Women’s Brass Conference – July 2017 theme

We are extremely excited to present a series of posts about the recent June 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference.  We will also feature a mini -interview with each post to provide more background about each guest.

Jennifer Wharton and Nikki Abissi will be this month’s guest Brass Chick bloggers, sharing their insights from attending and performing at IWBC and more! Our first main interview will feature Joanna Hersey – who is the current President of the International Women’s Brass Conference. We are so fortunate they are sharing their thoughts and stories with the Brass Chick family.
We have already had some requests and suggestions for future themes, posts, and more but please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any great ideas! Brass Chicks is a community and we would love to create the best possible content for our readers 🙂


Meet the Bloggers

This blog is run by Kate Amrine and Rebecca Epstein-Boley. A trumpet player and a horn player, we are based in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, respectively. We are both extremely excited about brass playing, the incredible women in the industry, and the role we hope Brass Chicks can play in publicizing the best of those things! The blog will be seeing some changes and a more steady flow of new content in the next few months, so we thought we might introduce ourselves to get things started.

Kate Amrine, TrumpetKate, whose multifaceted career includes Broadway, off-Broadway, commercial, big-band, and orchestral playing, also maintains an active teaching studio and recently gave a recital and led a warm-up at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference. This fall, she will release her debut album featuring works for solo trumpet by female composers.

Rebecca, meanwhile, is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. She enjoys playing with student and professional ensembles such as Chamber Music Michigan, the Huron River Ensemble, the Ann Arbor Camerata, and the Dearborn Symphony, as well as maintaining an active private studio. She looks forward to further pursuing her love of chamber music after graduation. When not playing the horn, Rebecca enjoys drawing comics about music history.

The world of women in brass is vibrant, powerful, and growing fast. We aim for Brass Chicks to be a rich centralized source of information about everything happening in the women’s brass community. We want to showcase various perspectives and share exciting news and narratives.

Stay tuned for cool things soon to come!

Brass Chicks is Moving to WordPress!


Although it’s had a great run at its old Tumblr home, Brass Chicks has grown up and now seems better suited to the WordPress format.  The new Brass Chicks will be less a collection of profiles of female brass musicians (“musician baseball cards”), and will have more interviews with musicians, reviews of and reports on concerts,  and articles about what it’s like to be a woman in the brass world.

We hope you share our excitement for the future of this blog in its new incarnation!  You can look forward to some sweet new content headed your way in the next few months.