On women in the conducting profession- an “I am still telling you” moment

It’s not so much a “I told you so” situation as an “I am still telling you now” one.

Back in September, controversy erupted when a well-known conductor was quoted as saying some bizarre and outdated things on the subject of women conductors.

I wrote a blog post at the time saying that however unfortunate his remarks (and I have no idea if he meant them as reported- my instinct is always to give people the benefit of the doubt), if writers and journalists wanted to improve the balance of opportunities for women conductors, they should spend more of their energy and column inches writing about women conductors:

So, dear music journalists, here is your challenge: write a feature article profiling at least 20 to 30 women conductors working today.

Many of my brilliantly gifted female colleagues know all-too-well the frustration of trying to get a critic to come to their concert or trying to get their latest CD reviewed. Find them- pay attention to them! Get out there, dear journalists, and please get beyond the absolute top-tier of major orchestras. If you want to know who is really up and coming, you’ve got to look at youth orchestras, community orchestras, university groups, new music ensembles, collectives and people in minor staff positions. Of course, there are a lot of important and well-established women conductors in the field making major professional careers other than the current music director of the Baltimore Symphony. Don’t forget them. Your list should include conductors at all stages of career and life.

Some thought I was being unfair to journalists, while others had already taken up the challenge. Jessica Duchen compiled a list of about 100 names of women conductors worth getting to know. Wonderfully, her list has had more hits than any other post in the history of her blog.

However, a month on from the initial controversy, and the conversation has moved on from what one guy may or may not think of women conductors to…. Wait for it….

What several more guys think of women conductors?!?!?!?!?!?!

(For a summary of this month’s news, click here)

So much more coverage in so many important places now means that we know a whole lot more about  some men, and very little more about any specific women working today in the field.

So, I’m still telling you…. By all means, name and shame. It’s great linkbait. There are plenty more sexists in the business waiting to be outed. The business will be fairer and less creepy when we’ve seen the last of teachers whose profiles might be summarized as “the ass grabber,” “the man who brought domestic violence into the teaching studio” and the “no chicks in my class” guy. I guarantee you, there are plenty of people out there who know which three guys I just described. I won’t even miss the “breasts get in the way of conducting” guy.

However, if you want to create opportunities for specific, talented and deserving women in the industry, you have to make those women your focus, not men. You’ve got to find women conductors, observe them and write about them in detail and at length. Simply embedding a link to Jessica’s admirable list will not do, nor will adding the two other most obvious names to the now-automatic mention of the current Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony in your blog post about the latest foot-in-mouth moment.

I know- it’s way harder work than simply cutting and pasting something somebody said in an interview with another journalist. But there are so many great stories waiting to be told in the industry that nobody is telling. There are not just remarkable talents out there- there are proper, full-fledged artists who  are working in near-obscurity. If you don’t have the resources to take up my challenge of doing detailed profiles of large numbers of women conductors, how about a feature piece on one deserving artist? It’s a job only music journalists can do.



See also this post from 2007 on the subject

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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2 comments on “On women in the conducting profession- an “I am still telling you” moment”

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