Once a year, the students of University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire put on a full production called Cabaret. The entire show – set, dancing, music, lights, costuming, etc. – is all planned, rehearsed, and executed by students. Mikayla Rolling, a current senior music major, has been a part of the large production for four years and was one student who had a particularly interesting role this year. In the past, she played trumpet, but this year she took the title of orchestra director. Her duties included picking orchestra members, helping arrange music, conducting the orchestra, and leading rehearsals. Rolling sums up the job into communication and coordination with all musicians related to everything Cabaret.
Rolling is involved in other ensembles on and off campus. She says that the Cabaret orchestra provides a different type of performing that is not very common. The musicians are set up like a studio orchestra where there is only one person on a part and they all have their own microphone. This forces everybody to perform at a high level. She also says the set up poses different challenges. The orchestra is not in the same room as the singers on stage which makes it difficult to stay together and even harder to get back on if the singers and players get off from each other. Rolling said this about her favorite part, “I love the opportunity to play this style of music (pop/funk/jazz/rock) in a studio orchestra setting, getting it on a high level in just a few days before the performances start. And doing that with your friends is just the best.” She goes on to say that she never saw herself taking on this role, but now, she would conduct this style again if given the chance.
Unfortunately, it is not necessarily shocking that Mikayla Rolling did not see herself as the director. The music industry is dominated by men worldwide. It is especially revealing when looking at professional orchestra directors – almost all male. In fact, until this past year (2020), there have only been male directors involved in Cabaret. When asked if she knew she was the first female director Rolling said that was crazy to think about, but not very surprising and acknowledged the gender inequality in the industry. She went on to talk about her hopes for women in music, “Hopefully this is a great sign that things are turning around for women in music. And I genuinely hope that women musicians at this school (and everywhere) feel like they can conquer and accomplish anything they want to, because I firmly believe that is the case for all of us.”
This year’s show has already concluded, but the next show is already in the works. Come winter of 2021 we hope to see another phenomenal show. Maybe next year there will be even more women in leadership positions.