Gender Politics and Classical Music, cont.

September 28, 2011

There are landmarks that we might even forget to look for. When the Boston Symphony begins its new season this weekend, they will have their first female brass player. After 131 years.

We became accustomed to blind prejudice against the sex in Berlin and Vienna, where there was an out-and-out fight to keep two of the world’s premiere orchestras all-male, but there must surely have long been qualified female horn players before young Rachel Childers came along to break one more barrier that, in today’s employment market, is far from being merely symbolic.

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4 Responses to “Gender Politics and Classical Music, cont.”

  1. This seems an unfair comment, as orchestral auditions have been ‘blind’ for many decades; and the talent pool for brass instruments skews heavily male in any case.

  2. rogerevans said

    To call the post “unfair,” I’m afraid you need to cite more than the auditions whose blindness you rightly put in quotation marks. The latest study limits their effectiveness to 50% improvement in helping women to advance from the preliminary rounds. But preliminary rounds are only part of the battle.

    Others call the “blind” auditions a sham:

    http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/artswatch/Blind_Auditions_at_Orchestra_Hardly.html

    Whatever the case in specific orchestras, there many way of getting around the blindness. As for the obviously lower percentage of women among brass players: for that datum to be conclusive, one would first have to prove that the numbers were cause rather than effect.

  3. Thanks for the link to Goldin and Rouse.

    Their statistics show that female brass players have only recently reached 25% of the pool of graduates; that the percentage of women in major orchestras has been increasing steadily since 1960; and that the orchestras surveyed have been hiring fewer and fewer players. At the time of writing (2000) it had already been fifteen years since one of the Big Five hired more than five players in a season.

    They also show that the BSO has not lagged behind other orchestras in the hiring of women.

    As Childers herself says: “It seemed that the barrier should’ve been broken awhile ago, but it makes a little sense because there isn’t a lot of turnover here, The gentleman who had the position before me retired, which is the case for most of the open positions here.”

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