Today we are hearing from the wonderful young percussionist Sana Abu-Jabir. I first met Sana when we worked on a National Children's Orchestra course and was immediately impressed by her passion, maturity, and palpable aura she had with the children who really looked up to her. We were thrilled when Sana then joined us on our GALSI 2-day course last autumn and we knew we had to know more about her as she is really the next generation of percussionists.
Letty: Thanks for taking the time to chat to us for our Large and Shiny blog! Could you tell us how you came to play percussion and what attracted you to choose it in the first place?
Sana: I first came to play percussion after being introduced to it by my drum kit teacher at the time. I had been learning kit for a while after seeing my brother play and wanted lessons. In one of my kit lessons he showed me a vibraphone and I was immediately keen to find out more about percussion. I loved how many different instruments there were and all the weird and wonderful ways they could be played. I started regular lessons and then didn’t look back and have loved percussion ever since.
L: Tell us a bit about where you are in your career at present.
S: I am currently taking a gap year and have spent the last few months working at my old school as a music assistant. I have also been trying to take on as many opportunities as possible to play and work with many different musicians and some amazing organisations. Last year I was invited to perform as a guest artist with the National Children’s Orchestra alongside Jess Gillam which was an incredible experience. I am also currently joint principal percussion of NYO and was previously a junior artist with the LPO. In September I will be starting my undergraduate degree at the Royal Academy of Music, studying orchestral percussion and timpani and I am really excited for the next few years there.
L: Do you have any thoughts about how you would like the music industry to look within the next 5 years?
S: I hope that within the next 5 years the music industry continues to develop as it already has done. I hope that the conversations surrounding supporting and funding the arts continue so that in a few years time when myself and fellow musicians enter our professional music careers, there are opportunities for everyone to follow their passion for music. I also hope that the music industry continues to change in terms of diversity and inclusivity and that it becomes the norm to see equal representation across all genders and ethnicities, especially in classical music.
L: Have you ever faced any discrimination or felt like and outsider due to your gender?
S: There have been a number of occasions where I have felt like an outsider due to my gender as a percussionist. I often find myself in settings where I am the only girl in a group of male percussionists and although the majority of my experiences are positive, there have been situations where it has felt quite intimidating and it is obvious that I was being treated differently. I have had my ability to play certain instruments questioned before anyone has even heard me play, when the other guys in the section have just been left with no questions asked even in situations where myself and other girls have been the more experienced players. Even over my short musical career so far I have seen things improve and most of the time I don’t have any issues but sometimes it can feel quite isolating even if peoples’ actions are subconscious.
L: What advice would you give to young female and non-binary brass or percussion players?
S: The main thing I would say that has always helped me is to try to always keep in the back of your mind why you started in the first place and the passion you have for music because it always motivates me to keep going even when it feels hard to. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes it will be challenging, especially being a minority gender playing percussion or brass. Have confidence in yourself and know that you deserve to be where you are. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or know something isn’t right, speak up about it, even though it can be hard to say anything when you feel outnumbered.
L: What would be your dream job in the future?
S: I hope to work as a professional musician in the future. I would like to have a varied career as I enjoy playing lots of different genres and also hope to work in music education as well. I think my dream job would be to play in a professional orchestra but I guess I’ll see what happens!
L: What attracted you to our GALSI autumn 2022 course, and what were you hoping to gain from it?
S: I was attracted to the GALSI course last autumn as I liked the idea of a course where everyone can relate to the same thing and be able to meet other musicians who have had similar experiences. I like taking on any opportunities I can so when I saw the course being advertised I was keen to find out more about the organisation as I am passionate about brining awareness to issues surrounding gender equality in music.
L: What did you most enjoy about the course?
S: I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people and it was great to work with musicians from a wide range of backgrounds and abilities, especially seeing some really young musicians right at the start of their musical journey. I particularly enjoyed working with our tutor for the senior percussion group, Elsa Bradley. We worked on some fun pieces and she made the course really enjoyable and was inspiring as always. It was also great when everyone taking part in the course played together in the concert; it was so nice to see so many people working together and making music. As well as playing, I really appreciated that we had the opportunity to discuss gender equality in music and our experiences of being in the minority compared to the usually higher proportion of men playing percussion or brass.
L: How can we help and support you further?
S: I would love for there to be more GALSI courses so we can continue to raise the profile of gender equality in brass and percussion. I think having the kind of environment there was on the last course creates a space where everyone can learn and feel comfortable expressing their opinions. It also gave me confidence in the future of the music industry and I feel supported by having a network of people I can learn from and get advice from.
L: That's so brilliant to hear, thank you Sana. Best wishes for your big year ahead and thank you again for your time today!
Sana is the Joint-Principal Percussionist of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and will be starting her undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music in September.