27. April 2006 · Comments Off on Women in the Brass Section · Categories: imported, Ramble

This article, about the new principal French hornist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, includes this paragraph:

Several smaller orchestras have more women in the brass section, even in principal chairs, than Philadelphia. But why has equality in the brass section lagged behind other parts of the orchestra?

Some will suggest that it’s due to gender discrimination, and that might be true in some instances. But I think a lot more has to do with the fact that there were fewer female brass players in the past. When I was choosing an instrument (or when it was being chosen for me), a brass instrument wasn’t even considered. Boys played brass instruments. Even to see a girl on saxophone was unusual, although I knew a few who played it. (I think Lisa Simpson changed that!) I can’t say what it is about the brass instrument, but it was assumed, in the “olden days”, that it wasn’t for the female folk.

When I think back to my high school and college band days (Yeah, I played in a band, and the experience wasn’t all bad. Not all good, either. But not all bad!) I can count the number of female brass players on one hand. I never knew a female tuba player. In fact I still don’t believe I’ve ever seen one! (The Philadelphia Orchestra is the first full-time orchestra, as far as the article writer knows, to hire a female tuba player—is that a “tubist”?—this past year as well.) I knew of a few horn players. One trumpet player and one trombone player. That was it.

So yeah, there are fewer female brass players in major symphony orchestras. But I’m guessing that will change.

I’m glad to read this paragraph as well:

“Our audition process is based purely on artistic merit. We haven’t done anything different to recruit women.” (Auditions are done mostly behind screens, though the gender of candidates is apparent at various points in the process.)

I try not to guess who is behind the screen, but when someone takes a deep breath it is often easy to “hear” the gender. And of course some auditionees cough or do something else that identifies gender. I never care if a man or woman wins the job though, so I’ve not paid any attention to that sort of thing. Funny thing, but I always want the best player to win. And then I pray it’s not someone who is difficult to get along with!

The audition process is an odd one. Many orchestras do auditions with a screen. That means that we only hear and don’t see the players. They do this to avoid any discrimination accusations. And I suppose that’s a good thing. But can you imagine any other field doing this in their hiring procedures? Most want to know if the individual is a good fit for the company. They may even wine and dine the applicants. If a person is fully qualified, but manages to disrupt everything and everyone around her or him, or if the person’s social skills are so poor that everyone around is either angry or in tears all the time, that person probably wouldn’t be hired. I know we have the tenure process so that we can deal with impossible situations, but sometimes I think we could easily avoid a year or two of misery by knowing who is behind that screen. Then again, a lot of lawsuits are probably avoided with that screen. And I would guess the gender issue might come into play a lot with the old school conductors (and conductors are in on the audition process). Of course there are also those conductors who would gladly have an all female orchestra! We want to avoid those as well. Yes?

And finally, there’s this:

Montone still has a contract to negotiate in Philadelphia; deals typically stipulate not only salary, but also how much time off a player has, whether he or she will play concertos, and whether the orchestra will assist in the purchase of an instrument. Montone’s salary, if it matches other orchestra wind players’ such as principal trumpeter, flutist or oboist, would exceed $200,000.

I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous. I am not jealous.

Okay. In reality, I’m honestly not jealous! The stress of that particular job wouldn’t fit me well. But I could sure use a loan from one of those players or, better yet, a little monetary gift. 😉

Ramble, ramble. Moving on …

Opera Tonight
I wonder how the reeds will behave. Will any of them be granted tenure? Time will tell.

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