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‘A sense of belonging’: Jazz band Em’s Femmes showcases musical talent

Band aims to foster synergy, supportive space for femme artists

<p>The band was created to make space for femme artists. “I was incredibly nervous at first, but the second I stepped into the room, I instantly felt a sense of belonging,” Sophia Wotman &#x27;26, who plays trumpet in the group, wrote in an email  to The Herald.</p><p>Courtesy of Em&#x27;s Femmes</p>

The band was created to make space for femme artists. “I was incredibly nervous at first, but the second I stepped into the room, I instantly felt a sense of belonging,” Sophia Wotman '26, who plays trumpet in the group, wrote in an email to The Herald.

Courtesy of Em's Femmes

The members of all-femme funk and jazz band Em’s Femmes initially assembled due to a shared love for jamming out and a wish for more gender-inclusive jazz spaces. Em’s Femmes, now over a year old, performs regularly and its eight members continue to support each others’ creative endeavors.

Currently, Em’s Femmes is made up of Melody Trautner ’25.5 (keys), Coco Kaleel ’24 (saxophone and trumpet), Marina Benson ’24 (vocals), Addie Clark ’24 (keys), Emma Venarde ’24 (bass), Dana Lee ’23 (clarinet), Sheridan Feucht ’23 (drums) and Sophia Wotman ’26 (trumpet). 

Assembling the femmes: Getting the band together 

Trautner, who goes by “Em,” contacted several of the members in the fall of 2021 to discuss starting a band. This invitation met with enthusiastic agreement, according to Kaleel.

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The band initially set up and started practicing in the basement of North House, one of the University’s two Environmental Program Houses, and the next semester played at the University’s Orchestra Winter Ball. Lee was invited to join as clarinetist before the Winter Ball gig, and Wotman as trumpet player the following school year. 

“I remember … being really bummed out about my music playing and rolling up to jam with them at orchestra ball, and it ended up being one of the best-ever jazz musical experiences I’ve had at Brown,” Lee wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Wotman was invited by Lee to play in the band after saying that she wanted to meet more femme jazz musicians. She quickly fell into a rhythm with the band. 

“I was incredibly nervous at first, but the second I stepped into the room, I instantly felt a sense of belonging,” Wotman wrote in an email to The Herald. “I played at WaterFire with everyone, just a week after joining. It’s truly a moment I’ll always remember.”

‘A powerful moment’: Synergy and musical chemistry

The open, synergetic nature of Em’s Femmes’ rehearsals has been a highlight for band members. Kaleel described the difficulties of starting college during the pandemic. “There were no clubs, no in-person activities at all,”  Kaleel said. “I really missed playing with people, and I didn’t remember how badly I missed it until the first rehearsal.”

Kaleel emphasized how easy it is for the band to jump into random melodies and have fun playing off of each other. 

“If you’re like, ‘I want to play this song,’ and people have heard the song before … we can immediately start playing it,” she said. The first time they played, “it was such a powerful moment. We were all screaming and yelling … jumping around (while) playing in that basement.”

All of the members of Em’s Femmes are classically trained jazz musicians, and they perform often as small jazz ensembles, according to Kaleel. 

Lee wrote that they do “a combination of school and community events,” including performances with Gigs on the Green and Sounds@Browns. They have also performed at the Providence Wine Bar and WaterFire. Recently, the band performed for Small Victories’ “Winter White Out” party, where they played a mixture of pop and jazz music, as well as some fully arranged original pieces for the first time. “Just to see the energy we had with (the crowd) was the most adrenaline I’ve had getting off that stage,” said Kaleel.

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Along with the dynamic energy of rehearsals and performances that has continued throughout the band’s existence, the group has fostered community for its members.

“We also always spend part of rehearsal just chatting and talking about our weeks,” Wotman wrote. “It takes me out of the chaos of my busy week and gives me a warm space to do what I love with people that I love.”

Happiness, respect, passion for jazz: The philosophy of Em’s Femmes 

Em’s Femmes was founded partly in response to the stressful energy the members felt in male-dominated jazz spaces, which led them to believe their band “should be guided by happiness, mutual respect … and love for music, not the ego or expectation that comes from that,” said Kaleel. 

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This philosophy encourages the band to unapologetically make and enjoy their music, according to Kaleel. “There’s a lot of apologizing that (usually) comes in” when there are slip-ups, Kaleel said, adding that the group strives to convey that “we want you to be here, and we want you to contribute and grow. I think that’s what really helped the band be more interconnected.”

According to Lee, “Em's Femmes really helps showcase some amazing femme musicians who usually wouldn't take the spotlight or feel comfortable expressing themselves through music.”

Em’s Femmes also makes time to work on original pieces during their rehearsals, particularly developing chords, melodies and various playing styles. The band performed an original by Wotman, “Homewrecker,” at their last gig, which was “the first time I had ever performed one of my original songs live,” according to Wotman. “It was such a special moment for me,” she wrote. 

In the future, the band hopes to work on studio recordings of original songs and perform more live shows this spring. “We would like to keep playing bigger shows, but also stay true to our roots at the same time,” said Kaleel. On and off campus, Em’s Femmes promotes its music through Instagram, artwork and word-of-mouth. 

With all the live performances, busy rehearsals and experimentation with different sounds, the members of Em’s Femmes continue to find value in musical collaboration, and ultimately in each other. 

“I don’t think any of us thought we would’ve gotten this far in just one year with our band, but we’ve done a lot of shows and made a lot of good music,” wrote Lee. “Some of my favorite moments have just been the synergy between different band members … it's really all the little things that make every moment worth it with these femme friends.”


Isabel Hahn

Isabel Hahn is an Arts & Culture section editor who concentrates in English and Behavioral Decision Sciences. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, reading, and journaling.



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