“Polly Ferman is not your typical artist. Being one of the most famous women in music hasn’t made her focus even more in her art but instead has inspired her to support others.”
For the most part pianists are male. It has been like that for centuries. A recent study of four major international piano competitions revealed that over a period of 85 years (from 1927 to 2012) women had a 10% chance of becoming the first-prize winners. It’s an understatement to say that there aren’t too many women in music. We are honored to count Uruguayan Polly Ferman among one of the most famous women in music and one of the most famous Hispanic people. Her career spans many years and as many countries where she has performed as a soloist with the Symphonies of San Francisco, The Tokyo Philharmonic, The National Symphony of Argentina and many others.
The beginning of one of the most famous women in music
You’ve started playing piano at three. How did that happen? Did your parents have a piano at home and you started “playing” with it as with any other toy?
While I attended kindergarten at age 3, a small “orchestra” was created. Just by chance they invited me to try and play the only instrument that had individual sounds: the xylophone. All other instruments were percussive. My teacher realized I had a perfect ear and commented it to the schools’ Principal. She called my mother and told her she thought I should study music. My mother searched for the best piano teacher in Montevideo, who not only had to be good, but would also have to take on a child my age. Santiago Baranda Reyes was the creator and director of the Juan Sebastian Bach conservatory in Montevideo. I was the youngest in the Conservatory. We did not have a piano at that time, so my mother would take me to a friend’s house to practice. Many times I would arrive to her friend’s house and did not want to play it. This is the beginning of my pianistic career, which is full of wonderful anecdotes.
How much of a family mandate is it to follow a musical career from such young age and how much is the child’s true passion?
Although I started performing in big theatres at age 7 and won several international competitions when I was 9, my family never considered music should be my career.
In my case, it proved to be my real passion. It was a long road with many interruptions due to a divorce when I was 22 and I already had three children. At that time, my parents did not support the fact that I wanted to continue as a pianist. It was not a “job”. 8 years went by before l I started playing again.
Women in music— Playing in the big leagues
You’ve played in world- renowned theaters from Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires to Carnegie Hall in New York City and many, many others in between. What does it take to become not only one of the most famous women in music but also one of the most successful women in the industry?
You have to be flexible and believe in your intuition.
It has been a long road. Although my background is in the European classical repertory, after moving to NY I realized the music of my region of the world was not very well known here. It was for that reason that I decided to dedicate my performing career to the musical language of Latin America. Despite being advised not to do so, as Latin American composers were considered second grade, I trusted my intuition. My musical repertory helped audiences perceive a sort of visual language. It helped them imagine the landscapes, rhythms and passions of my region.
My third move was into the New Tango repertory or the old tango with a new look. There I learned (and still do) the elements to create what is today my musical “gem” GlamourTango.
Why do you think there aren’t more women in music? Is it something in the industry that discourages women? Or something to do with the upbringing of girls?
I would say it is both. Before, women in music were cases like me. It was part of a child’s education. Mainly girls studied piano. Piano was not thought as an instrument for boys. Later on, the ones who followed the professional road were men as they could be “free to travel”. As one of the few women in music I would say that being a successful musician does not lend itself well to sharing a life with someone who isn’t also an artist. (And at least as successful as you are.) You need to share the same passion in order to achieve enough balance to be on the road and keep a family. It cost me three husbands!!!!!.
Do you think the competitiveness in the industry discourages the inclusion of more women in music?
I do not even think about that. Competitiveness is everywhere. You just need to keep trying to do your best and help others. Then the synergy is with you. The truth is that there are not too many famous women in music. Most of the time this happens because presenters still believe that if they have children they may get sick and this may cause an engagement cancellation. Why just with music?
Others may still see women’s place at home. Or consider they will not stand the stress of a busy traveling agenda.
Helping promote Latin American culture and increase the numbers of women in music
You’re a very unusual pianist. Not only are you a minority when it comes to women in music but you are also part of a very small group of artists who become entrepreneurs. Tell us what motivated you to create PAMAR (Pan American Musical Art Research Inc.) and the Latin American Cultural Week in New York.
What motivated me was my passion to help others. In PAMAR’s case, it was my deep understanding of how important it is for an artist to reach the USA, mainly NYC. I started by opening doors for my colleagues (competitors). It may sound strange, but it was like that and still is, my truth. I believe in sharing. It makes me richer and wiser as it gives me the opportunity to learn from others.
When I came to NY and realized how much audiences enjoyed my Latin American repertory, I had the chance to either “ keep it to myself” (short lived), or open doors for other artists from Latin America. It was challenging as I was just starting. And I was already helping pianists with whom I shared my almost unknown repertory.
I founded PAMAR in 1984. At that time, few people in New York knew how diverse and rich the Latin American culture is. With the help of other artists I introduced through PAMAR we planted the seeds, which now on our 30th anniversary have become a nice cultural park filled with Latin American tress and flowers. Later on, the Latin American Cultural Week, LACW, a City wide annual Festival integrated music and dance with visual arts, theater, film and literature.
One of your latest projects is Glamourtango, a multimedia show where the musicians and performers are all women. Here you are not only a performer but also the creator and director of the show. What is it like playing all these different roles?
GlamourTango is the crossroad of everything I have experienced and learned in life. It is about piano, women in music and in dance. Is a homage to women. It is creative and at the same time I proved myself as a musical producer. It is my betting on women. I am showing the world that there is nothing we cannot do. Tango was taught with a prominent man’s role. “Good women” were not taught to dance tango and much less to play it. Maybe sing it, but not too much. GlamourTango is feminine, elegant, strong and passionate.
I love the new musical family I have created. One in Buenos Aires and the other in NYC. We all share our talents and successes. Each one of the artists involved with the production is unique. They come from Cuba, Israel, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay and Korea. We are all together creating history and paying homage to those women who silently helped write tango’s history.
Why did you want to turn tango on its head, given that it’s traditionally such a macho dance?
Mainly to show that us, the women of the world, are capable and deserve to be everywhere. We have the talent and the strength. We can stretch wide our arms to hold children and professions. Tango is the ideal place for us to show it!!!!
The future of one of the most famous women in music
Where are you going from here? What are some of your dreams for the future?
My dreams are to keep on learning, creating, growing and most importantly, sharing.
What recommendations do you have to increase the number of women in music?
You can do it, you need to do it. We need you, we need to fulfill our passions and music is a perfect road to follow.
You can connect with Polly Ferman and GlamourTango: