Diary of Resistance

Sent to Monique Buzzarte in Spring of 1997



As you requested, here is a brief overview of my posts to the Internet regarding the VPO.  You will need to shorten it even though I mention only the most basic posts.   Please forgive my personal perspective, but you asked for a report of what I did.  Most people do not know.  A full report would include the actions of several people.  I will cc this post to a few IAWM members and friends who might be interested in my perspectives.  I received some thousands of responses about the VPO issue from private posts and about eleven different listservs and they are a rich source of material for analysis and study.  This brief "diary of resistance" I have sketched out might help you make your report.


My first post about the VPO was to the trombone-L on October 16, 1995.  (This was the first time the thread had ever been mentioned anywhere on the Internet.)  It received little notice from the trombonists but was forwarded to the International Horn Society-L on October 19, 1995 where it caused very extensive discussion--in the first two weeks about 50 pages when printed out.


Based on that initial experience I began using the entire music area of the Internet to try to raise a protest against the VPO's belief that gender and ethnic uniformity give them aesthetic superiority.   On January 24, 1996 I sent documented information about the VPO's categorical exclusion of women to eight lists (gen-mus, IAWM, Women in Music, trumpet, trombone, IHS, tuba, and brass lists).  In addition it was forwarded by others to the Orchestra (ICSOM), the ams, and the Unmoderated Classical Music lists to make a total of eleven listservs.  (These are the ones I know about, but my posts went many places I am only now learning about--such as various feminist lists, the opera list, and lists for labor relations.)  I should note that from the very beginning Varda Ullman Novick was indefatigable in cross-forwarding posts to various lists to keep everyone informed about what was evolving with the VPO issue.


The January 24, 1996 post caused massive discussion throughout the Internet.  The most notable and interesting was the gen-mus list which had 15 posts the first day.  Until then they were averaging one or two posts a week.  It also caused extensive discussion on the IHS and Orchestra lists.  The discussion on the Orchestra-L continued unabated for months.  (Interestingly, all together the orchestra list discussed the issue far more than the IAWM list.)


On January 29, 1996 I sent a second post to the gen-mus list entitled "More VPO Info."  Due to their interest I encouraged them as gender-in-music scholars to begin writing about the gender bias of the VPO and other orchestras.  I noted that their efforts would move the mass media. This prediction was quite correct, but it turned out to be me who did most of the writing.  I gave the gen-mus list the address of the VPO, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Czech Philharmonic and suggested list members write to these orchestras.


On February 25, 1996, Jeanice Brooks took my suggestion and sent a letter to the VPO inquiring about their employment policies and hinting at a possible boycott.  It was co-signed by 30 members of the gen-mus list from 12 countries.  The VPO responded to the gen-mus list on April 19, 1996 saying that if the orchestra employed women they would need to increase their personnel by 25%.  The orchestra feared the prospect of mass pregnancy.  The theme of a boycott stayed strongly in the minds of the VPO and greatly increased the perceived strength of our protest.  This was a big contribution by our gen-mus friends.


An active discussion continued on the gen-mus list for several weeks and many of those messages were forwarded to the IAWM-L by Ginger Smith.  At this point the IAWM-L did not discuss the issue in much detail.  It was, in fact, almost ignored.  Meanwhile, Irene Stuber contacted me and began placing VPO notices in her Cats Claws and WOAH which were very widely read on the Internet.


On January 30, 1996, Sylvia Glickman, who at that time was IAWM Journal Editor, asked me to write an article about gender bias in orchestras.  She had seen my posts to the lists.  Her foresight about what was to come was astounding. The article appeared nine months later with ideal timing for the protest that evolved.  Sylvia's efforts were taken over with perfect coordination by Eve Meyer who succeeded her as Editor of the IAWM Journal.


The post you mention, "Orchestras & Social Reality", was sent to the IAWM-L and seven other lists on January 31, 1996.  It was not specifically about the VPO, but rather about what people can do to oppose discrimination in orchestras.  I wrote it because this question had been raised on the IHS-list but was never adequately answered.  I used Abbie Conant as a concrete example and role model that young musicians (of both genders and all colors) could use in struggling for equality.


On February 2, 1996 I received my first post from a journalist wishing to write an article about the Vienna Philharmonic.  It was from Andres Saenz of _La Nacion_ in Costa Rica.  In his article he predicted protests against the VPO over a year before they actually happened.  He based his prediction on the activity that was evolving on the Internet and specifically mentioned the gen-mus list.


On May 6, 1996 I placed my transcription and translation of a West German State Radio interview of members of the VPO on  IAWM-L and seven other lists.  It was forwarded to the ams-L, orchestra-L, and unmoderated classical music-L again bringing the total to eleven lists.  The WDR's inspiration for the interview came from a full page article about Abbie's struggles in the Munich Philharmonic that appeared in TAZ, a major Berlin newspaper in December of 1995.  The article also discussed a documentary film about Abbie that was broadcast nationally in Germany.


Through the transcription the IAWM-L was finally moved to considerable discussion and began formulating ways they might protest against the VPO.  There was much discussion about the tatics used by the guerilla girls.  Sarah Whitworth and Jo Scheir suggested members write letters to the VPO and asked if an address could be provided.  On May 14, 1996, I posted the VPO's address to the list.  In the same post I also suggested that the IAWM board write a letter to the VPO inquiring about their employment policies, and to tell the VPO that the IAWM might begin organizing a protest.  My suggestion did not become a reality until eight months later after you were made a board member representing the "Performers Portfolio."


In this same letter of May 14, 1996 I pointed out that the IAWM did not need the tatics of the guerilla girls.  My remarks turned out to be very correct and are interesting to read in retrospect:


"Most people are not aware of the VPO's employment policies.  A simple and dignified protest by women musicians in front of concert halls during the VPO's international tours, along with factual advance letters to the media, would be all that it takes to create a lot of publicity.  The general public would thus learn of the VPO's discrimination, and be less inclined to buy their recordings and concert tickets.  The protest would also be a deep embarrassment to the VPO, which is the national orchestra of Austria."


That is exactly what happened in the protest ten months later.  I wasn't making a wild guess.  In the same post I pointed out that Abbie and I had found these tatics to be very effective in making known our 13 year long struggle against the Munich Philharmonic.  I also listed the importance of networking with other international women-in-music organizations, and I listed some of their addresses in Germany, Switzerland, and Holland.  Unfortunately there has been little movement in that direction to date, but I am sure that progress will eventually be made.  The work with Regina Himmelbauer in Vienna was exemplary.


On May 15, 1996, the Vice President of Garland Publishing, Leo Balk, contacted me and asked if I would write a book about the status of women in German-speaking orchestras.  He had seen my work on the Internet.  We eventually settled on the idea of writing solely about the VPO.


In August the VPO began to be put under considerable parliamentary pressure in Austria.  A parliamentarian from Linz, Sonja Ablinger, was principally responsible.  Due to the massive discussion on the Internet, articles began appearing already in August of 1996 in major European publications predicting that the VPO might face protests in the USA.  Die Woche and The Guardian are two examples of such publications.


At this point Werner Resel gave a misleading interview to Austria's State Television, and on August 14, 1996 Reuters circulated a report world-wide that the VPO would begin admitting women.  This false report was accepted by much of the international community, and the presumed "success" was even discussed by IAWM members during  the "Donna in Musica" meeting in Italy in late September of 1996.  On September 25, 1996 I placed a post on seven lists pointing out that the Reuters report about the VPO admitting women was false.  (Again my post was widely forwarded.) Discovering the report was false astounded much of the music community.  As a consequence the Internet discussion of protest became even more active and angry, especially on the IAWM-L. 


On October 8, 1996 Nora Graham contacted me for more information about the VPO.  She had no association with the IAWM and did not know of its existence.  In early May a friend had forwarded her privately a copy of my WDR interview transcription.  Nora told me she had written to two Orange County organizations about the VPO's up coming USA tour, and that she wanted to organize protests in Orange County.  I suggested Nora join the IAWM-L and enlist their support for her ideas of letter writing and protest.  She joined both the list and the IAWM.  On October 27, 1996 she posted a copy of her protest letter to Dean Corey on the IAWM-L, and became a central leader in the protest against the VPO.


At about the same time, in late October of 1996, my article "Art Is Just An Excuse: Gender Bias in International Orchestras" was published by the IAWM Journal.  Eve Meyer included information I had provided pointing out that the recent Reuters report was incorrect.  From this point on there was a very solidly established attitude that protests against the VPO should be held during their up coming USA tour.  A good deal of discussion evolved about Nora's ideas for letter writing.  One of the most clear and unmitigated statements regarding protests at the site of the concerts was made by Nancy Bloomer Duessen to the IAWM list on November 1, 1996. 


In mid November 1996 (approx. Nov. 19th?) the zapvpo web page was put up and you began concretely organizing the desire of IAWM list members to protest.  I contributed two articles to the web page and simultaneously posted them to several lists.  These were "The Image of Purity: the Racial Ideology of the Vienna Philharmonic in Historical Perspective" posted in the first week of January, 1997, and "A Difficult Birth: Maternity Leave in the Vienna Philharmonic" posted on February 11, 1997.  


From that point on it became necessary to focus my efforts in private posts.  These were mostly to the IAWM's tireless Press Liaison, Cathy Pickar, helping her understand the policies of the VPO, giving her information for the press corps, and helping her formulate strategies for dealing with them.  I also worked closely with you, Regina Himmelbauer and Clare Shore, advising you on the orchestra's attitudes, translating articles, suggesting protest strategies, etc.  I also corresponded a good deal with the international media after the IAWM sent them documented information I had provided concerning the VPO's policies.  Some of the most important agencies I corresponded with were NPR (to urgently correct another false VPO report), the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, ABC, and the New York Times (the central European correspondent, Jane Perlez who wrote the front page article--not Mr. Holland of the music section.)


During the last weeks of the protest I was also busy organizing and rehearsing the informal concerts "Celebrating Women" that took place during the protest.


Now I am tired.  I've unsubbed from most of the lists and am taking an Easter/Passover/etc. rest.  But the battle has only begun.  Look at these statistics comparing the number of men and women in German-speaking orchestras:


Vienna Philharmonic: 149/1 -  <1%

Czech Philharmonic: ?/0 - 0%  (not German-speaking but closely tied to those traditions)

Vienna Symphony Orchestra: 124/3 - 2%

Staatskapelle Dresden: 144/5 - 3%

Berlin Philharmonic: 120/7 -  5%  (4 additional women are in a probationary period)

Dresdener Philharmonie:117/6 - 5%

Gewandhaus Leipzig: 193/13 - 7%

(Stand 1994)


Over all women represent only 11% of Germany's major orchestras, and occupy virtually no first desk positions.  Abbie and I are now in our 17th year of protest.


I will be back to contribute what I can to the VPO WATCH--if the IAWM has no objections.  It seems, as Pauline Oliveros pointed out, that due to our experiences Abbie and I are "cultural warriors."  In spite of the hazards for one's psyche, resistance has become our way of life.