In case you don’t know the history of “Un-Block The Music,” the quick summary is…I graduated college and worked in a department store as I frantically searched for a job as a reporter. It was the beginning of the Internet. Email wasn’t really “a thing,” but I knew networking was the only way to get a job in my field, especially for a girl. When you applied for a publishing job back them, they still cared if you could type. Ugh…Anyway…I took the phone book and I sent letters to every magazine. Got my first job that way. Not much has changed in 2020, except for the fact that networking is a bit easier through Email and Social Media. Drummer Emma Ford will attest to that. Her path from Sydney, Australia to Broadway is inspiring and why I chose her for “Women Wednesday.”
Since Emma was 15 years old, she was motivated to get to Broadway. In 10th grade, she saw The Rocky Horror Show and “I was obsessed with it. The band was at the back of the stage, and occasionally the curtain would rise up and you could see them.” She had the opportunity to do a ‘work/study’ program and thought…this was where she wanted to do it. “It took a lot of calls and emails and persistence to get someone to agree, but they did. It was incredible and one of the best weeks of my life. I got to spend a day in each department behind the scenes of Rocky Horror learning about hair and makeup and wigs. Then, I was able to spend a couple of days with the band. On my last night, they dressed me up and I sat next to the drummer and they gave me whole box of percussion. They told me, ‘play what you want!’ When the curtain went up at the end, I was rocking out! That was the moment, I knew… ‘oh yes…I want to do this the rest of my life!’”
Emma worked her way through amateur theater in Sydney and within 10 years she was at the professional level. However, there are only two professional theaters in Sydney, and they were male dominated. “Although there was an occasional female conductor, flautist or maybe a string musician, there were no female drummers. It just seemed to me that I wouldn’t be able to get in there even with my connections,” so I thought, “I am going to try for Broadway, to see if someone there would give me a shot.”
Emma applied for and won a $10,000 Award from the Rob Guest Endowment. “My idea was to come to New York to study with a Broadway drummer. I got in touch with Andres Forero (drummer for Hamilton), and I studied with him for three months.” Afterwards she went back to Australia and applied for her Visa and then moved back to New York full time.
Andres introduced her to his sister- in- law Dena Tauriello who was the drummer for the Broadway show, Head Over Heels (inspired by The Go Gos music) She was looking for a sub. “Within three weeks of moving here, I booked my first subbing gig. I got the job because of Andres’ confidence in me,” Emma said further emphasizing the need to get to know people in your chosen field. So in between it all, she contacted as many people in the profession as she could. “I emailed a whole lot of drummers when I got here. I just wanted to meet them to get advice and learn and be able to adapt and to be prepared to fit in. I wanted to follow their paths. A lot of those drummers answered me, but the most important one was Larry Lelli.”
“Larry is so supportive. He took me under his wing and let me come and watch him play. He was looking for drummer subs at Come From Away at the time. He asked me to learn the book. I went in and I played the show. Larry is actually the greatest thing that could have happened to me in my New York journey,” Emma said. She is a sub on this show now, and “Un-Block The Music” heard her play!!!
In addition to her work on Come From Away and Head Over Heels, Emma also worked on Tootise and was in talks to begin work on Jagged Little Pill at the time of the shutdown.
Emma is happy to see women gaining some momentum in theater. While there haven’t been a lot of female drummers in theater, Emma looked up to drummers like Cindy Blackman and Sheila E. “It helped me to keep going and to realize I could have a viable career as a drummer. There definitely has been a surge of all female shows, and while some people might think it is overkill, I think it is super important. As we are gaining support of the male community of musicians, it is beginning to create change. For now, having all female shows is a step in the right direction as we continue to transform the way society looks at women.”