Though Hit Like A Girl is a competition, more importantly it is also a collaboration of many people with an interest in highlighting and promoting female drumming. And, of course, music is itself a collaboration, among musicians and between performer and audience.
As a contest Hit Like A Girl has been lucky to have thousands of amazing drummers enter the contest over the past four years. At times the level of playing is so high that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the judges to recognize all the talented players who enter. For instance, Venzella Joy was first-year entrant who was passed over by many of the contest judges. But she was a wonderful drummer. Two years later she snagged the drum chair in Beyoncé’s band. She is but one of many examples. Melanie Lorenzo, a 2015 entrant but not a winner, is one of the drummers on ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons’ latest project, along with SoZo. And there are many other extremely talented drummers doing their thing in bands all across the world who may not have become finalists or winners but whose work is every bit as distinct, individual, and noteworthy. In the coming weeks we want to present some of their unique stories.
No contestant represents the deep talent of the contest for me more than Mischka Seo, Korea. She’s an awesomely talented drummer. She plays a style of jazz that is not that common among the contest entrants. Her playing is improvisational, deeply emotional, and draws on the immense history of jazz drumming. No matter what style you play you can feel the power in her music. Her playing is fully realized, with nuance and depth in every stroke. Her influences, like Elvin Jones, are on full display, but she’s not copying them; she’s channeling their spirit of freedom, the core of jazz.
What’s as amazing as her playing is her story. As a teenager Mischka found that her parents and school were hostile to her desire to play drums. Even though she studied music and taught piano, drums were her love, so without her parent’s knowledge she applied to music school in Germany and emigrated. Later, she came back to Korea. She married a jazz pianist and has continued to pursue her passion. But she has faced headwinds to become a drummer, something many Hit Like A Girl. We interviewed Mischka in the spring about her experiences.
Hit Like A Girl How did you know you wanted to be a drummer growing up?
Mischka When I was in high school, I used to go to pop singers’ concerts and the drummers always stood out the most to me just because they looked cool and hit things a lot. You know how drummers are! I went to an all-girls high school and my friends and I secretly made a rock band but my teachers were opposed to this group just because they were very conservative and classical. We were just trying to play some music but our teachers thought we were doing something bad other than just playing rock music, you know? The ridiculous thing was that one of our teachers beat me up and cut my hair just because I was the drummer! Out of all the members in my rock band, I guess playing the drums seemed the most rebellious. This incident made me and the girls become more rebellious and we kept on playing. We didn’t really know how to play back then but we just played no matter what.
Hit Like A Girl Did you know any other girl drummers at the time?
Mischka No, there were very very few girl drummers in Korea back then. I think I was the only girl drummer from my city.
Hit Like A Girl Why do think your parents were so opposed to you drumming? Was it because of society’s expectations of girls?
Mischka It was just really rare for a girl to play drums in Korea and my parents are very conservative and I think they just wanted me to have a normal office jog. If I wanted to play music, my parents were okay with me playing the piano or something less crazy.
Hit Like A Girl How did you make the decision to move to Germany and play drums? Were you already a good drummer at that time?
Mischka My dad was okay with me playing the piano or other more “girly” instruments so I ended up going to a two-year music college in Korea but I didn’t tell him that I played the drums. He probably thought I majored in piano. I’m not a good pianist but in Korea, any music school graduate could teach at a small academy-type piano school for children even if their major is not piano. So I ended up teaching the piano to some children but I didn’t like my situation. I wanted to keep studying drums but I didn’t know how to convince my parents.
I found out that the tuition in Germany was free so I secretly prepared my audition at the Frankfurt School of Music without telling my parents. I didn’t think I would get in because I wasn’t that good and I didn’t know the German language. But I tried my best and I think the judges were surprised to see an Asian girl and thought I was interesting and saw some potential in me. So I’m really thankful for that that they selected me. I told my parents that I’m going to a travel with my friends at the time, but later I told them I got into a music school in Germany and wrote them letters from time to time.
Hit Like A Girl So off you went.
Mischka Even though the school tuition was free in Germany, I just had my plane ticket money and not much more than that when I left Korea, so I had to work at a restaurant serving or washing dishes or work as a babysitter. But since I didn’t really speak German or English at the time, I had trouble communicating with people in Germany. I’m still not that good at English, either, but my husband lived in the U.S. for a long time.
Hit Like A Girl It sounds like it was a great positive experience.
Mischka Yes, at my school in Germany, I had great teachers who helped me out like Claus Hessler and got to meet legendary drummers like Elvin Jones and Jim Chapin through clinics. It was such as honor to have met legends that I only saw in books or heard in recordings.
Hit Like A Girl How is your family with your drumming now?
Mischka It was really hard when I got married because my husband and I lived with my in-laws and they did not like the fact that I played drums. They demanded that I sell the drums. So my husband and I decided to leave them and we didn’t contact them for two years. I really thank my husband for taking my side and not his parents’ side in terms of letting me play drums. It came to a point where my husband and I both erased and blocked their numbers. After two years of not seeing my in-laws, I had my daughter and they really wanted to see their first grandchild so they apologized and just wanted to have a good relationship with us. Now they are very supportive of me, which is a lot better than the situation a few years ago.
Hit Like A Girl Would you encourage your daughter to play drums?
Mischka I do want to encourage my daughter to play drums or any kind of music but my in-laws are strongly opposed to that so I’m not sure what to do. They want her to be have a job that has more steady income.
Hit Like A Girl How are things changing to make people more accepting of female drummers?
Mischka I think more girls should keep on playing to prove that we can do it too. And it has been really hard but it would be great if more media or press people could introduce female drummers to let more people know that there are female drummers, too!
Hit Like A Girl Why is it okay for guys to drum in South Korea and not girls?
Mischka I think the drums just seem masculine to people in South Korea so they are just used to seeing guy drummers. More and more girls are playing drums in South Korea nowadays but the guy drummers are more developed and the drum companies or the music industry in general only support the guy drummers which gives girl drummers very very few chances. I’ve been having a hard time with this myself. This is my first interview ever so thank you so much for thinking of me.
Hit Like A Girl What are some of the ways female roles are changing in Korea?
Mischka Korean women are gaining more and more rights than before so it is okay to do anything nowadays. We have our first female President this term which proves that South Korea is changing a little. But normally girls have an office job or do something like becoming a nurse or a flight attendant. If they wanted to study music, it would be something more feminine and classical like voice, piano, or violin.