Funding vs. Bias as a Gender Determinant

May 9, 2001

According to the New York Times, there are about 20 symphony orchestras in the United States that pay their players for 52-week seasons. ["A New Conductor Shifts an Orchestra's Mood to Allegro", May 9, 2001.]

Germany, by comparison, has 144 full time year round orchestras. With less than one third the population, it has over seven times as many as the US.

Breaking the numbers down further, Germany has one full time year round orchestra for every 590,000 people while the US has one for every 14,000,000. In other words, Germany has about 28 times more 52 week season symphony orchestras per capita than the USA.

How does this affect women in music? It means that even with the higher levels of sexism in German and Austrian orchestras, women in those countries still have a far, far greater chance of getting a job than US women do (or men, for that matter.)

Another aspect of the problem is the lack of job security in US orchestras, since so many live under the threat of bankruptcy. The New York Times cites an example, "Like many regional orchestras, the Charlotte Symphony has survived musical and financial hard times. It came close to collapse after running out of money in 1991, and morale fell further in 1996 when the length of the season was cut and musicians' salaries were frozen." 

The Charlotte Symphony only has 61 members, and a 40 week season, even though it serves a metropolitan area of 1.4 million people. Munich, by comparison, has a population of 1.2 million people and has the equivalent of about 7 full-time year round orchestras. The State Opera orchestra alone has about 150 members and the Munich Philharmonic has 130, the State Radio Symphony 120, the State Radio "Unterhaltungs Orchestra" 100, the Gaertner Platz Opera 80, the Munich Symphony 70(?), and the Munich Chamber Orchestra 25-30. All except the Chamber Orchestra have 52 week seasons.

For another comparison, even though California is one of the richest regions in the world and has about 30 million residents, it only has two full time year round orchestras, Los Angels and San Francisco. The Sacramento and Oakland symphonies collapsed and never returned. The San Diego Symphony folded about three or four years ago and is trying to struggle back into existence.

One might also note the the Met is the only full year, full time opera company in America.

It is informative to place these numbers in the context of the dismal situation in almost all major American cities, areas where classical music would normally thrive. A recent article in the New York Times notes that Philadelphia has 14,000 abandoned buildings in such a state of collapse that they are dangerous, 31,000 trash-strewn vacant lots, 60,000 abandoned autos, and has lost 75,000 citizens in recent years. ["Philadelphia's Mayor Seeks to Expand City's Revival," _New York Times_, April 30, 2001.] Regions such as the south Bronx, Watts, East St. Louis and Detroit, just to name a few, show that Philadelphia is hardly an exception.

The status of women in music in the USA is strongly affected by the nation's general lack of social responsibility.

What is the remedy? Among other things, American musicians need to be better informed about about how poorly they are treated. In this regard, international comparisons are useful. And second, American musicians need to accept a greater activist role for the arts in their society. 

William Osborne