What do you if you’ve always found a sense of community in band but the new town you moved to doesn’t have one? You could wait for someone to discover your musical talents or you could start your own band. That’s exactly what Jason Morley-Nikfar did when he founded the Triangle Pride Band. Music & Arts’ Marketing Director, Renier Fee, reached out to Jason to learn how he did it.
Give The Vault readers a breakdown of your musical background: What inspired you to first play, where you studied music, what are your primary instruments, and how long you have been playing?
I started playing saxophone by accident, actually. I was getting bullied pretty heavily in seventh grade and the guidance counselor thought band might be a good safe space for me. She pulled some strings and got me moved into band, even though we were midway through the semester. I had to really work hard to catch up with the other kids. But band was a catalyst that changed the course of my life. Not only did I love playing the saxophone, but I was pretty good at it! I continued to play in high school and college, studying four years with the late Dr. Kenneth Fischer at the University of Georgia . After college, I continued with private instruction, most recently studying jazz improvisation in the DC area.
My primary saxophone is a P. Mauriat PMXA-67RUL Alto, which I use with a Jody Jazz DV 6 mouthpiece. I also sometimes play a 1933 Selmer Super Alto with a vintage Tonalin mouthpiece (for jazz) or a Eugene Rousseau 4R (for classical). On tenor, I play a Cannonball Big-Bell Stone Series “Raven” with a Jody Jazz Jet mouthpiece. My soprano is a 1925 Buescher True Tone silver plated soprano with a Jody Jazz DV mouthpiece.
You lived in Northern Virginia for several years, playing alto sax in the Falls Church Concert Band and Washington Redskins Marching Band until 2015, when your husband’s job took you to your new home–Raleigh, North Carolina. What was your first attempt to break into the music scene there?
When we first moved to North Carolina I was excited to find there were many community bands in the area. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of musicians here and I was unable to find any that needed a saxophone player. I got added to a few sub lists, but no one ever called. In March of this year, I started playing with a local pop vocal group that was short-lived. It was there I met pianist Jess Pittard, who invited me to join the City Market Jazz Band, which has been a fantastic experience. We play most Thursday nights at C. Grace, Raleigh’s local jazz club.
But something was missing. Can you talk about that void and why was it important to you to start a LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) marching band?
Leaving the Redskins band was hard for me as I really enjoyed that marching band experience. I had also just started getting involved with DC’s Different Drummers, the DC area’s LGBTQ band program, right before we moved. So I really had hoped to find something similar to participate in when we moved. Actually, the Raleigh-Durham area had an LGBTQ band program for around 25 years, the NC Pride Band. Unfortunately, it folded several years ago and attempts to restart it never materialized. After hearing several people talk about how much they missed that group, I realized there was a great need for a new program here so I started the Triangle Pride Band. There’s something special about seeing a pride parade led by an LGBTQ marching band, and for the first time in many years, that happened at NC Pride this year. The crowds really went crazy when they saw us. It was an amazing feeling!
Let’s talk about growing the Triangle Pride Band. How did you find other LGBTQ musicians to join you? What if musicians don’t have a horn? Where do you find practice space for a group of your size? How do you line up gigs? What about funding?
Recruitment has been our biggest challenge. Most often, musicians here know about an ensemble through their friends. However, being new to the area, I didn’t have a network of musicians to share this with. So, we turned to other organizations for help, and used social media extensively. The LGBT Center of Raleigh has been so helpful in getting the word out, and we’ve had a lot of support from the organizers of North Carolina Pride. For rehearsals, we were initially using paid band rehearsal space, but Legends Nightclub Complex in Raleigh generously offered us weekly use of their theater space. So, we’ve been rehearsing there since mid-October.
Our funding comes from several different sources. Initially, my husband and I have been covering the costs. However, now that we have our federal non-profit status, we are starting fundraising efforts. Flex Nightclub in Raleigh is hosting a Karaoke & Cocktails fundraiser for us on November 15, so we’re pretty excited about that. We are also actively seeking a corporate sponsor. Part of the money we raise goes toward buying and maintaining loaner instruments for people who might not be able to afford to buy their own. We also accept donations of instruments from people who might not have use for them anymore. In fact, our sister organization, the Atlanta Freedom Bands, recently upgraded their drums and donated all or their old equipment to us. It was an exciting moment for us and we are so grateful to them!
You applied for federal nonprofit status. What is the long-term goal of the organization? Are you affiliated with the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA)?
Yes, we did receive our federal 501(c)(3) non-profit status this year and we received provisional membership in the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. We are hoping to be confirmed as full members of LGBA at their annual conference in November in Palm Springs, CA. The LGBA has been amazingly supportive and has helped us at every stage of building the band program.
One piece of advice I got early on was not to rush things and not to get discouraged when growth moved slowly. Heeding this advice, we decided to focus on a marching/pep band while we build up membership. Marching band music tends to be fun and easy to play and is less intimidating to musicians who may not have played their instruments in several years. As we continue to grow the marching band, we hope to add a concert band and a jazz band in the near future.
As the founder of the Triangle Pride Band, your leadership position inevitably led you to being the conductor too but you don’t have formal training as a conductor. What’s it like to have that responsibility?
It was intimidating at first, but I got used to it. Having played in ensembles for 30 years, I know what I like to see in a conductor. So, I just try my best to replicate that. Ultimately, my role as conductor will be short-term, though. As we grow, we intend to seek out a professional band director to conduct the concert band and an experienced drum major to lead the marching band.
Looking back on your early musical career, what advice do you have for music educators who want to create a safe and inclusive band environment for LGBTQ-identified youth?
I was lucky enough to have some amazing music teachers. My middle school band teacher, Gail Jarrell, was as much a guidance counselor as she was a band teacher. She helped me develop a source of self-confidence that continued to grow throughout my life. In band I was accepted because of my differences, not in spite of them. To me, that’s the best message a teacher can give to any student, gay or straight.
How can band directors and LGBTQ musicians connect with you if they have more questions?
We are open to all musicians, 18 years or older, regardless of gender or orientation. Whether you play every day or haven’t touched an instrument in years, come join us! And, if you don’t play an instrument, we love our non-musical volunteers, too! Interested people can email us at email@example.com, contact us by phone at (919) 390-1263 or on the web at http://www.TrianglePrideBand.com.
Want more interviews with artists and innovators? Check out the rest of our Artist Interviews.