APOLOGY TO BLACK WOMEN: I’M SORRY FOR MY DISCRIMINATION, I FAILED IN MY MISSION AND I WILL CORRECT MY MISTAKES

Yes, I said it. I’m failing in my mission. The Daffodil Perspective champions women but I’ve not featured music by black women on every show, I’ve not featured music by women of colour on every show.

I apologise to all black women for marginalising you and discriminating against you. I apologise to black female composers for not featuring your music enough, not featuring it in a fair and equitable way. And not just black women, I apologise to all women of colour for my behaviour and my inexcusable racism.

I apologise to the people who’ve supported me through this, I haven’t deserved your thanks and praise. At this point in time I’m not worthy.

Through all the events in the past few days there’s been various reflections on racism, organisations jumping on the virtue signalling bandwagon, many disingenuous comments circling the internet amongst sincere responses to do better.

The past couple of days I felt complacent through it all, I felt superior to these organisations. I thought I do a gender equal, inclusive show, I play black and minority ethnic composers every week. I’m doing so much better. I stood up on Twitter and Facebook saying I practise what I preach, saying I play at least 2 BME composers on every show.

I proudly showed my face to the world, making it clear that a mixed race brown woman produces The Daffodil Perspective. That this amazing work is all mine. I wanted to show people who I am and what I accomplished (all voluntarily I’ll add).

And on a personal note on Facebook I opened up about the different types of racism, the casual racism I endure on a daily basis, as well as the sexism. For black and minority ethnic women like me it really is just a double punch in the gut every day.  I’m subjected to both sexism and racism all the time and it’s exhausting and painful.

I’m not going to lie, The Daffodil Perspective is light years ahead of the curve when it comes to curating diverse programmes. Last year alone I featured 16 times more music by women than the 15 biggest world orchestras combined, 10 times more female composers than the Proms and 22 times more BAME composers than the Proms.

I feature black and minority ethnic composers all year round. I don’t just talk about them during black history month or black music month. I play everyone all year round.

Just because I did better than almost every major ensemble on the planet doesn’t mean I did good. I didn’t. I discriminated, I was unfair, I was a hypocrite and I was subject to internalised racism and it showed. I failed to be there for my fellow women of colour.

I do play 2 BME composers on each show but I don’t practise what I preach.

The truth is I’ve been failing since day one.

My mission from the beginning was to champion female composers. That is still my mission, that is what my show is all about, championing female composers. The show is gender balanced and I include composers of all genders, all skin colours, all sexualities on the show however the main principle is to showcase music by women.

This mission should embrace all women, it must embrace all women.

I’ve not been doing my job.

I checked my statistics for my 1st year of the show again,. I didn’t look at Florence Price, who was my most played composer, played her on a third of the shows last year (she’s my favourite composer of all time anyway).

Aside from Florence Price I only played 7 black female composers in my 1st year. That’s out of 204 female composers I played on the show!

They were Margaret Bonds, Regina Baiocchi, Errollyn Wallen, Eleanor Alberga, Valerie Coleman and Ella Jarman Pinto.

I checked how many other women of colour I played in that 1st year and the number is 6. The composers were Michiru Oshima, Chichun Chi-Sun Lee, Chen Yi, Keiko Abe, Yi Qiao and Reena Esmail.

So 13 non white female composers out of 204. That’s half a percent! I mean, that’s appalling., For a show that’s supposed to champion women it’s atrocious.

I’m just over halfway through the second year of the show now and I’ve played 8 black women, 15 women of colour overall this year. I’ve played around 90 composers so that’s about 10% black women.

This year I’ve played Rosenphanye Powell, Margaret Bonds, Florence Price, Shirley Thompson, Hannah Kendall, Zenobia Powell Perry, Unsuk Chin, Nora Holt, Tanya Ekanayaka, Gabriela Lena Frank, Ming Hsui Yen, Betty Jackson King and Michiru Oshima.

I’ve not played a single non white female composer in the last 2 shows.

I’ve failed.

Here’s where my failure is so much worse than other classical music organisations. Most mainstream organisations don’t really play black composers period. They’re not inclusive, most mainstream classical organisations are completely whitewashed, obsessively marginalising the work of everyone who isn’t a white man, mostly dead white men at that. Up until this week most of them didn’t even pretend to give a damn about diversity or inclusivity or racism. They’ve got excuses up to their toffee noses in reasons why they refuse to program women and people of colour.

I do care, I do give a damn about diversity and inclusivity. I experience racism all the time as a mixed race woman and I held myself up to be better, more inclusive and more accepting.

I’ve actually done my research, I’ve done so much research in the past two years I’ve probably done enough for a Masters degree at this point. I know dozens of black female composers. I know the huge amount of brilliant music that is written by black women. I know lots of awesome albums featuring their music, I love all this music and really do want to play it on the show.

Including music by black women really was on my mind from before I created The Daffodil Perspective. As soon as I discovered female composers two years ago I started searching for black female composers, the first one obviously was Florence Price and I soon found many more.

There’s Zenobia Powell Perry, Julia Perry (no relation), Undine Smith Moore, Dorothy Rudd Moore (also no relation), Betty Jackson King, Irene Britton Smith, Dolores White, Errollyn Wallen, Shirley Thompson, Eleanor Alberga, Hannah Kendall, Jessie Montgomery, Rosenphanye Powell and the list just goes on of incredible, trailblazing women fighting against all odds and creating breathtaking music.

One of the first albums I discovered was Videmus: Watch and Pray by Pamela Dillard – Spirituals and Art Songs by African-American Women Composers. It’s just phenomenal and I’ve been dying to play it since the beginning.

Also on my mind from the beginning was pianist Maria Corley’s gorgeous album Soulscapes: featuring piano music by African-American women including L. Viola Kinney, Undine Smith Moore and Zenobia Powell Perry.

Let me be clear, there are not enough recordings of these women, really hardly any, especially in comparison to certain other composers whose over-played, over-recorded music saturates the classical music market. Most of the historical black women have no portrait albums. Most of the recordings of historical black women are on albums with various composers, and usually the album is branded as music specifically by black women, African-American women, black composers. Most of them have only a few pieces recorded at most, it’s bloody awful.

And it kills me that there are no recordings at all of Shirley Graham du Bois, 1st black woman to write an opera. I want to hear her music so badly. Then there is Avril Coleridge Taylor, no recordings of her music exist either, it’s just so painful. Yet there have been 72 new recordings of Tchaikovsky in the past 2 months alone!  5 recordings of just Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 have been released in the same time! 5 recordings of this one piece in 2 months and yet there are no recordings at all of Avril Coleridge-Taylor’s Sussex Landscapes? Ugh, makes me so mad.

The awful truth is I didn’t think about including black and minority ethnic women on every show. This is how deep internalised racism goes, I didn’t think. I didn’t realise I had my own internalised racism going on and affecting the show. I mean I’m supposed to be showcasing women yet I am marginalising all non white women. I’ve really only been showcasing white women. I don’t care how I much I obsess over Florence Price, she’s just one composer. This is not equality, this is not diversity, this is not championing women if I’m ignoring all women of colour.

And not because I don’t adore them, just because I always have too much awesome music to play and not enough time. I kept thinking about playing these albums, playing these pieces and never doing it. Thinking it’s fine. Well that’s terrible, having too much music to play isn’t an excuse. Ignoring black women, even unintentionally, is discrimination, not thinking about including them on every show is discrimination. Not including black women when I curate a programme of women is discrimination. I detest discrimination and racism yet I’ve been exactly that for 18 months.

I veered completely off course, I ignored all these brilliant black women that I fell in love with, they’re the ones that made me want to do this show in the first place. They are what made classical music interesting for me, they inspired me, I related to them.

So, right now I apologise to all black women for marginalising you and discriminating against you. I apologise to black female composers for not featuring your music enough, not featuring it in a fair and equitable way. And not just black women, I apologise to all women of colour for my behaviour and my inexcusable racism.

I apologise to all who’ve supported me on this journey, I haven’t deserved your admiration.

I wanted this show to be a beacon of hope, a beacon of light, to be a model for inclusivity and diversity, to demonstrate how to program women. At the moment it’s not the beacon I want it to be, I haven’t created a good model and I haven’t created justice for all.

I wanted everyone to be able to see themselves on my show. I even said in an interview that I wanted it to be representative of our society. I wanted to inspire people like me, mixed race women who want to be composers and musicians. You haven’t been able to see yourselves properly on The Daffodil Perspective and I’m so sorry. It’s not been representative of our wondrous, diverse world and I’m truly ashamed.

Especially as I’m mixed race myself, I’m the same mix as Florence Price – mixed black and white. I feel marginalised myself, I was always the only non white musician in school and on music courses. I live in the UK, surrounded by white people and I constantly felt out of place growing up. One of the reasons I stopped playing music at 18 was because I felt I didn’t fit in, that there wasn’t a place for me. I don’t want young women to go through what I did yet I’m perpetuating the same cycle of discrimination of which I’ve been a victim.

Well no more. Female black and minority ethnic composers will make up at least 20% of female composers on every show from this point forward.

I’ve been so pleased to do this show, over 18 months it’s continued to develop, evolve and improve. Now I’m pleased to re-evaluate it, re-commit myself to championing all women, programming for justice for everyone and prioritising women of colour. Not just black and minority ethnic composers but musicians as well which I started doing well in the middle of last year but fell to the sidelines trying to fit it all in 90 minutes. Not a good enough excuse but that’s what happened.

The show format will change, reflecting on the show’s format up to this point it’s been very rigid. Other than Herstory Rewritten I was showcasing three albums of the week. Because most of the historical black women I adore only have maybe 1 or 2 pieces recorded, not many portrait albums, they’ve not often been on my albums of the week. Most of the albums of black composers I’ve seen only feature one woman as the token which is not something I’ve supported or wanted to showcase. Again it’s not an excuse.

The Daffodil Perspective will be better, I’m going to program women of colour fairly on every show. I feature 6 female composers every week on the show. Going forward at least 2 of them will be women of colour including at least one black female composer on every single show. I promise to make including black female composers and women of colour in general, a priority.

The next show is coming on the 19th June. In the meantime I’ve made a playlist of some amazing music by black women, I promise that all the composers on this playlist will be featured on the show within a year.

Hope you enjoy all this music as much as I do.

Once again, I offer my sincerest apologies to black women, women of colour and everyone for my behaviour, my discrimination and marginalisation. I promise to do better and be worthy of your admiration. The Daffodil Perspective is committed to fighting racism now and forever. I hope you’ll continue to support this show as I make it the inclusive, diverse and safe space for everyone to see themselves.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer of The Daffodil Perspective

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inaccessibility of Classical Music Part 2: Interview with classical novices

The inaccessibility of classical music is quite a heated topic these days, however much of the literature and discussion comes from classical musicians themselves, people who work in classical music, who grew up studying it and surrounded by the privilege of indoctrination.

This means it can be a bit difficult to see the wood through the trees. There often seems to be a lack of empathy and understanding for those people who didn’t study classical music and don’t necessarily listen to it.

So, what do ‘lay people’ think about classical music?

Well, after my hotly debated article a few weeks ago I asked my ‘non-classical’ friends what they thought.

Anton, 27, white, British, lives in London – didn’t study classical music growing up, didn’t listen to it, wasn’t surrounded by it.

Nina, 27, white, German, now living in Sweden – didn’t study classical music, didn’t grow up listening to it apart from her grandfather’s ancient Beethoven collection.

What was your school music experience and education like?

Anton: Musical education at a comprehensive school was a joke. The teacher talking about music – no-one noticed, not one cared, then it was ‘go and muck about on the keyboards’ Music, art, is treated frivolously, not like Maths and English, it’s not seen as important, just have a tinker If music, art, P.E. was treated in the right way it would be teaching people there’s more to it than surface level. 

Nina: I just remember really boring classes at school. We never got to listen to a piece properly, the teacher would immediately take a piece apart, putting labels on things, analyzing it, picking it to shreds. We never got the chance to just enjoy it, unlike with all other music which you can analyse later if you want, maybe if you’re really into it.

What do you think about the language used to describe classical music? 

Anton: It feels like being back in school exams (in school asking about tempos, key signatures. It’s not simply the language itself but the fact that description is an intrinsic part of the music. It’s like there’s a prerequisite of knowledge. It’s not like it’s not possible to learn about the basics but having to do so is like putting a restriction on it.

Nina: It’s so different, seems like it’s splitting itself from other genres, using a different vocabulary, often to describe the same things, like songs are arias, lyrics are libretto. Needing to look something up all the time just puts a barrier to understanding the music.

Do you think the language could be changed to make it more accessible? 

Anton: I wouldn’t suggest that classical music dumbs itself or the language it uses down, but that it gives potential listeners the option to enjoy it in a different way. If you present it maybe in a thematic or conceptual way, the language used wouldn’t be all that relevant to the discussion.

Nina: Technically yes, the question is if the people in classical music industry want to make it easier. Seems like it’s only in Italian to keep it apart. If they advertise a concert, using all these specialist terms, someone like me, someone who doesn’t know what they mean, wlll be repelled by having to learn all these new terms just to listen to some music.

What comes to mind when you think of classical music? 

Anton: Orchestras and concert halls. It’s a high form of music enjoyed by the middle and upper classes. Images of men in cravats and collars spring to mind.

Nina: Until I listened to your show, I imagined a white man in a powdered wig.

What do you feel like listening to classical music? 

Anton: Feels like you have to work, being tested. Classical music sounds like it’s encoded, like there is a code to crack, something to unlock.

Nina: I would say there is a kind of barrier, higher expectations of what I should think, feel and do as opposed to just putting on some music to enjoy.

Have you ever been to a classical concert? 

Anton: I went on holiday to Vienna, heard it was famous for classical music and Mozart so went to a classical music concert. I felt I had to get dressed up in smart clothes and when I got there everyone was wearing jeans and casual clothes. 

Nina: Once, I heard Mozart’s Requiem at a Goth Festival, didn’t buy a ticket specifically for it it though. Everyone there seemed to be new to classical music too because everyone started clapping every time the music stopped. It got so bad the people had to turn around not to tell people to clap until the end. Very funny.

Do you think you had the expectation that classical music is posh and upper class? 

Anton: Classical music is posh, like a secret society. Often the expectation is informed by your experiences within your own community so as I didn’t know anyone growing up who listened to it, I assume it’s not designed for us.

Nina: Yes, it seems like it’s only enjoyed by white, wealthy people, seems kind of sad. I think snobby people listen to classical music, not classical music is snobby.

What do you think the classical music industry can do to change this image? 

Anton: In order to make something more accessible to other people, those people need to feel they have a stake in it. People shouldn’t feel like they have no right to listen to it. Classical music feels like a private club. I don’t have a membership, why should I sit round listening to it? You need someone dynamic, big figure like Brian Cox in science, making it appealing to others. 

Nina: Stop focusing so much on 19th century composers, lift up the composers now. It would be much more interesting, listening to someone who we can identify with more. Also give us more variety on what is available to listen. The more variety there is, the more people might find more of classical music that they like. It could be a lot more popular for a lot more people.

What do you think of the names – Symphony No 1, String quartet No 2 

A: That annoys me, where are the titles? How can you tell them apart? I know some pieces have titles. I remember hearing that piece Jupiter from The Planets, that’s a cool piece and has a title, I really remember that one. 

Nina: The names don’t really tell me anything about the piece.  It comes back to accessibility, all these names, it feels like you have to study music to understand it.

Do you think this lack of titles means you can’t tell pieces apart?

Anton: Yes, most of it isn’t recognisable, I might not be able to recognise the same piece after an hour. If I listened to it 50/60 times I might recognise it. 

Nina: Yes, It’s a bit easy to mix them up when they’re all called practically the same thing. 

Any final thoughts?

Anton: Upper class people who want classical music to be highly prestigious don’t actively discourage other people, they put it in a position so people will turn themselves away. It would be good to open the platform to a broader range of composers to be fairer to talented individuals who aren’t usually showcased but also to change to perceptions about classical music.

Nina: Through the Daffodil Perspective I’ve discovered that classical music is so much more than I thought it was, so much more interesting, a much broader range of music.  Just in general the industry should get more variety. I thought it was such a narrow genre before I listened to The Daffodil Perspective. If the classical music industry played much more diverse music more people would find something in it, more people would find a niche of what they like.  If the classical music industry want to get more people interested they need to change the language and marketing, if people don’t understand what classical music is about the industry are failing in their marketing. If we understood what a concert was about we would go and the classical music industry would get a lot more customers.

 

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer of The Daffodil Perspective, 1st ever gender balanced classical music show.

  

 

 

 

Why can’t we be friends? Thoughts on the battle between classical music and pop

Yet another derogatory meme is going round the internet comparing pop and classical music.

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What’s wrong with this? Let me count the ways but in essence mainly two things:

  1. It’s reductive of pop music and shows an immense ignorance of an amazing, rich, varied and deep art form.
  2. It’s exalting classical music as superior and the pinnacle of artistic achievement when it’s not.

This isn’t the first meme comparing pop and classical in a similar fashion that’s done the social media rounds. The below meme spread like wildfire in September last year.

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This is basically saying pop is all showy and superficial whilst classical music is nothing but depth.

Classical music groups on Facebook are full of people agreeing with these memes and I nearly got into an argument on Twitter with someone who said pop music is vacuous and stupid. 

These memes are exactly the kind of thing that make people think classical music is posh, snobby and way too far up its own ass. Way to prove them right.

Before I go further let me say that I produce a classical music radio show. I spent hours every week listening to classical music and researching female composers, I adore classical music. I also listen to tons of pop music, jazz, Chinese electro, bossa nova, Afrobeat and basically every type of music created all across the world. 

Just because music is only based around 3 chords doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

Pop music may be based mostly around comparatively few chords but surely it’s about what is done to those 3 chords?  And the astonishing variety of music created around said 3 chords? 

The I, V, vi, IV chord progression is very common and used in thousands of popular songs including Africa by Toto, The Rock Show by Blink 182, No-One by Alicia Keys, Apologize by One Republic, I Try by Macy Gray, Give Me Everything – Pitbull, Dragonstea Din Tei by O-Zone, With Or Without You by U2, No Scrubs by TLC. just to name a few.

These songs alone have a huge variety between them. The very fact that a 3 chord progression leads to this much variety of music shows how effective something apparently simple can be.

Complexity and depth seems to get confused a lot. Classical music may be more technically complex but that’s not the same thing as deep.  Actual emotional depth cannot be achieved by technical complexity alone.

One of my favourite film lines ever is from 2007 romantic comedy Music and Lyrics. Hugh Grant’s ageing pop star character says:

“You can take all the novels in the world and not one of them will make you feel as good as fast as “I got sunshine, on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside I got the month of May” That is real poetry, those are real poets – Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, The Beatles”

Pop music is accompanied by the most extraordinary words, words that excite, words that hurt, words that inspire, words that seduce.

Pop music deals with everything about the human experience from being in love (Your Song by Elton John) breakups (Without You – Harry Nilsson) empowerment (Good As Hell – Lizzo), sexism (U.N.I.T.Y – Queen Latifah), protesting war (99 Red Balloons – Nena), illness (Unwell – Matchbox Twenty), death (How To Save A Life – The Fray), substance addiction (The A-Team – Ed Sheeran), and of course, thousands of songs about sex. But hey, even those cover an infinite variety from the sweet to the perverse. 

These songs and many thousands more have deep meanings and possess immense emotional resonance. Just take the chorus of The Show Must Go On by Queen.

“The show must go on, inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking but my smile, still, stays on” 

I mean come on, that’s just exquisite poetry. The Show Must Go On was written about Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury and his struggle with AIDS. A beautiful song with great depth.

Then there’s all this so-called manufactured pop, pop acts created by music managers like Simon Cowell to make them lots of money. Sure they exist as a money-spinning machine but they wouldn’t exist if the music didn’t have some sort of draw. Take this line from S Club 7’s song Bring It All Back from 1999.

“Don’t stop, never give up, hold your head high and reach the top, let the world see what you have got, bring it all back to you” 

Don’t tell me that isn’t inspiring, don’t tell me words like that, words that make people feel good about themselves, even if only for the 3 minute duration of a song, is vacuous and stupid.

Writing music for money was something those precious classical gods Haydn and Bach did a lot. Haydn worked as court composer for Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy for years and Haydn’s job was to write music that Nikolaus liked to hear. The prince liked symphonies so Haydn just churned them out for him, The 104 symphonies he wrote may resonate now for audiences which is great, it may be beautiful music but the original motivation was purely financial, it was his job to write them.

Bach spent much of his life being employed by either the church or German royalty, many of his compositions were just written for his various employers. Bach is basically worshipped as a god now in classical music and his music provides great joy for many people.

Now think about songwriters such as Diane Warren or Max Martin, who’ve written hundreds of hit songs apiece for other people to bring to life. Their ultimate motivations may be purely financial but it doesn’t mean the music that they create is soulless, repetitive junk.

Music of any genre can have nothing less than a potent effect. I cannot listen to Father and Son by Cat Stevens or The Voice Within by Christina Aguilera without breaking down into tears. The same applies to the 2nd movement of Florence Price Symphony in E Minor, I’m sobbing within 2 minutes every time I hear that. Likewise I can’t listen to more than 5 seconds of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham or Shut Up and Dance by Walk The Moon without starting to dance.

Now you may want to sit down for this next sentence. Complex does not mean better. 

I’m going to repeat that: COMPLEX DOES NOT MEAN BETTER!

Classical music is not better than pop music, it’s different.

Music that took a long time to write may not be better, it may not even be good. It just means longer, complex and time consuming. That’s it. Some complex music is very good but lots of classical music is not actually that good. Much of the literature markets classical music as the greatest music ever written, as if it’s some blanket standard and all classical music played in concerts is of similar value. It’s not. Even the classical music billed as such isn’t all that fantastic some of the time. All genres have bad music and good music. And all of it is subjective, it just comes down to taste. 

Half the classical music fans reading this will burn me at the stake for this next sentence. I don’t like Mozart, he just does absolutely nothing for me. I find his music dull, repetitive and boring. Maybe some of that is because I wasn’t thrilled with him to begin with and it’s been shoved so far down my throat for 3 decades as being the best music ever.  I’m ever more convinced it’s not, especially after spending 2 years researching and listening to hundreds of female composers.

See? Subjective. 

In 2012 I worked as a music sales assistant at HMV. One interesting fact I noticed was so many hundreds of people say they don’t like classical music and yet they buy film soundtracks, particularly Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, in droves.

The music of Star Wars is remarkably ‘complex’, much of the score is written for 100 strong symphony orchestra and choir. Fanboys can trash Phantom Menace if they want but the score is extraordinary. Duel of the Fates is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written (in my opinion) and as for the evaded cadences going into the End Titles? Sends shivers down my spine every time, as do the cadences going into the end titles of every Star Wars film. Work of complete genius.

And the soundtrack to Star Wars: A Phantom Menace only sold a million copies or so, reaching No 3 in the Billboard Album Charts, No 8 in the UK Album charts. Now that is ‘complex’ music that people are lining up to hear. 

People say classical music ticket sales are dwindling but more people than ever are buying movie soundtracks. In addition the movie screenings accompanied by live orchestras are very popular. 

In conclusion, please continue to listen to whatever music you like, please continue to enjoy whatever music brings meaning to you. You don’t have to like pop music or musicals or jazz or classical music but no need to look down on those who do. The world is a scary enough place as it is, governments tearing us apart left and right, people divided on every major issue, Brexit. Do we really need to create more discord amongst ourselves over which awesome art form is better? Especially when all music education and arts funding is being cut across the board.

Why not start celebrating our similarities instead of fighting over differences?

Like “chills down your spine at a song’s blasting finale, or …the hair rise on the back of your neck at a rug-pulling key change.” Benjamin Carlson, The Atlantic, 2010.

These reactions are so universal no matter what type of music it is. Whether that’s the 1st four notes of Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto, the breathtaking bass riff from Supermassive Black Hole by Muse or “how strange the change from major to minor” when Ella sings Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.

Music ultimately is written to bring joy. Bringing joy to the people who listen to it and the musicians who play it, it’s written to bring people together.

Let’s spread the joy.

Elizabeth de Brito

Producer and founder of The Daffodil Perspective

1st ever gender balanced classical music radio show.