Berklee's Chloe Swindler on Playing with Lizzo at the 2022 BET Awards
The power of social media is undeniable. Just ask Chloe Swindler. She recently performed with Lizzo’s all-Black, women-led band at the 2022 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, California. The opportunity came about through a direct message on Instagram from Lizzo’s musical director, based on a recommendation from another colleague. Swindler, who plays the trumpet, was one of four horn players to perform alongside the “About Damn Time” singer.
Earlier this year, Swindler joined Berklee’s Diversity and Inclusion team as assistant director of engagement and programming. A native of San Diego, California, she recently completed her Doctor of Musical Arts degree at UCLA. There, she served as cochair of the Anti-Racism Anti-Discrimination Committee, working alongside faculty, administrators, and students to deliver recommendations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion to the dean of students. As an educator, Swindler has served as a lecturer of music at California State University, Los Angeles, and as trumpet faculty for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA). In 2020, she created an online conversation series with topics focused on DEI and panels centered on Black experiences in music, theater, and art, and the impact of COVID-19 on music education equity.
We spoke with Swindler about her new role, her dedication to representing Black women instrumentalists, and her recent performances with Lizzo and Harry Styles. The interview has been edited for length.
What instruments do you play?
I am a "trumpetiste," a term used by the iconic trumpeter Clora Bryant, but I am also a guitarist, arranger, and singer-songwriter. All of my formal training has been classical, which I started in 2005, but I have been playing trumpet in big bands and combos since high school. When I studied at the Royal College of Music in London, I played in the swing band and big band. At Yale, I was both the lead trumpet and vocalist in the jazz band.
For my formal training on trumpet, I just finished my Doctor of Musical Arts degree at UCLA. I also hold a Master of Music degree from the Yale School of Music and a Bachelor of Music from Boston University. After taking several ethnomusicology courses, my research from my undergraduate studies onward has always been focused on Black American music studies, with my undergraduate honors thesis at BU and graduate research at Yale focusing on Black women instrumentalists. My doctoral dissertation focuses on three pieces for solo trumpet by Black American composers Regina Harris Baiocchi, Alvin Singleton, and Alice Jones. I also take into account the impact of the protests in 2020 on the reception and/or creation of the compositions and include a guide for teaching the works with inclusive music pedagogy practices, especially ones that take into account the influence of both Western art music and Black American music styles.
In June, I presented at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in San Antonio, Texas. I performed a lecture recital called Five Works for Trumpet by Black Female Composers. As one of three Black women who attended the conference, out of the nearly 850 registered attendees, it remains incredibly important to me to stay visible in the field—not just for myself but for young and upcoming players to see what is possible.
Tell me about your new role and your responsibilities.
My role at Berklee has four objectives: (1) coordinating a diversity and inclusion–focused signature programming series, (2) supporting student leadership development, (3) offering and cosponsoring topical programs, and (4) facilitating community connections and affinity spaces.
In short, my job is to create and provide support for primarily student-facing programming that contributes to students’ sense of belonging on campus. Earlier this year, I assisted with the programming of the Jabulani and Lavender graduation ceremonies, for students of African descent and members of the LGBTQ+ community, respectively. In the past month, I also moderated two virtual discussions—one for Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander and another for LGBTQ+ Berklee community members.
What was it like performing with Lizzo and her band at the BET Awards?
It was a great experience having the opportunity to play with Lizzo and work with her creative team for the 2022 BET Awards. I was truly inspired by the words of encouragement she gave us after the last rehearsal before we entered the venue. Walking into these rehearsals, everyone was at such a high level of artistry and focus that it was a beautiful energy to be around.
What was going through your mind during the performance?
I was especially aware of what the performance meant for TV viewers at home and those who would watch the performance online. There was an incredible visual representation on the stage of size inclusivity and Black artistry, along with an all-female band and horn section. While I was playing, I took the time to enjoy the cultural moment in the making and to be as present as possible.
I understand you also performed with Harry Styles. When and where was that?
I am very grateful to have been called to play with Harry Styles for Coachella earlier this year. This Coachella was particularly special, as it was the first Coachella since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was beautiful to spend two weeks rehearsing and playing with such an amazing horn section, to share the stage with Harry Styles and the band, and to be a part of the process.
Watch Lizzo's performance at the 2022 BET Awards: