June 8, 2005
I can respond in great detail to
questions about being a token woman in the International Trombone Association.
The International Trombone Association
In 1998, my wife, Abbie Conant, was elected Vice President/President elect by an overwhelming majority of the ITA's 5000 or so members. About 5% of the members are women. Abbie is among the world's most famous trombonists and is extremely well-liked by her colleagues. She has been featured in a cover article of the ITA Journal and described as "in the first ring of world-class trombonists." Her struggles against astounding gender discrimination in the Munich Philharmonic are almost universally known in the trombone world and even well beyond. Her male colleagues around the world greatly admire her resistance and victory, except in Germany and Austria, where she is still deeply ostracized by many. In recent years she has performed as a soloist in over 115 cities. In about 95% of the cases, her hosts have been her *male* trombone colleagues. We are working on a new tour in the Spring. 26 universities have said they want to invite her, though we will not have time to visit all of them. Twnety-five of the new invitations are from her male trombone colleagues, and one by an IAWM member. In Germany, by contrast, she is deeply resented, and can hardly obtain invitations at all.
The ITA has made some efforts to integrate women into its yearly trombone festival. In 1993, Abbie organized a women's trombone choir for the ITF in Detmold, Germany. She even commission a work for the choir by a Dutch woman composer. In 1995, the ITF included a women's trombone choir, organized by Abbie and Maureen Horgan. If I remember right, it had about 30 members and was a fairly notable part of the Festival! Monique participated in that choir. She told me it was the first time she had been to an ITF, and it was because there was something she could participate in.
The ITA has also tried to include women soloists at the festivals, but their representation has been extremely low. Abbie has been programmed three times (Detmold 1992, Las Vegas 1995, Utrecht 2000.) She performed our feminist oriented theater works for each of these concerts and they were well received. (Interestingly, the first performance was 13 years before Monique's recent participation.) Other women have also been programmed, including JoDee Davis, the trombone professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City; Jeannie Little, formerly the trombone professor at James Madison University; Heather Buchman, the San Diego Symphony; Jessica Gustavasson, a Swedish trombonist; the all-woman Prisma Trombone Quartet; and the all-woman Bone's Apart Trombone Quartet. (There have been a few others, but I do not have all of the information at hand.)
It is difficult for the representation to be too much higher, because women brass players are not as common as they should be, especially in the high level professional positions that are invited to be soloists at the ITFs. In the top 20 US orchestras only 3.8% of the trumpeters and 3.2% of the low brass players are women. These numbers are from 2001. There has not been significant change since then. [Source: Douglas W. Myers, Sr. and Claire Etaugh, "Women Brass Musicians in Major Symphony Orchestras: How Level is the 'Playing' Field?", IAWM Journal (Vol. 7, No. 3) 2001.]
Abbie faced these problems when she was Vice President/President Elect of the ITA, but the situation was very difficult. In 1998 she resigned her position because she saw that her concerns as a woman were not going to be addressed. Two very powerful members of the executive board worked to ostracize her and keep her out of the organization's decision-making processes. One person's motivations were merely personal, but the other was a German trombone professor who loathed the fact that we had so thoroughly exposed sexism in German-speaking orchestras, and even more, that we dared to also question the inherently patriarchal nature of the music itself.
Some of Abbie's efforts were directly related to the issue Monique has raised about the lack of women in the ITA Festivals. Abbie complained that the ITA Journal's coverage of the 1997 ITF did not include a picture of a single woman. (About 80 soloists had been invited. Only one was a woman, and her picture was excluded from the coverage.) The Executive Director of the ITA wrote her an irrationally wrathful letter in response. Abbie is not adept, or particularly interested in dealing with organizational intrigues, and her career as a soloist was demanding huge amounts of her time. Rather than being a disempowered token woman window-dressing the ITA's lack of women, she resigned. She continues, however, to have a good deal of influence on the ITA due to the wide recognition of her career.
Women as Token Executives
Almost all of the professional societies in music that have an extremely low representation of women have placed women in their top executive positions. Women represent only 8% of the International Computer Music Association, for example, but it has had a woman President, as well as women in other high administrative positions. Women have a very low representation in the International Tuba and Euphonium Association, but women occupy the following executive positions:
President: Mary Ann Craig
Membership Coordinator: Deanna Swoboda
Secretary: Velvet Brown
Treasurer: Kathy Brantigan
Lifetime Achievement Member: Connie Weldon
Historian: Carol Nowicke
Women in these positions are a valuable signal that they are welcome and supported. It also puts women in a position to make
changes -- even if change can only come slowly. There are, however, still problems. I have noticed that professional societies are very willing to put women in administrative positions, but that they are still seldom included among the people who are viewed as the *musical* leaders in their field. Women are used for administrative work a lot of men dislike, while being excluded from positions that recognize musical standing in the profession. Here are some examples from the ITEA:
+ It is completing a series of oral histories of respected tuba and euphonium players. The m/f ratio is 39 to 0.
+ The ITEA's Honorary Advisory Board is comprised of people who are especially respected musicians in the field. The m/f ratio is 25 to 0.
+ The m/f ratio for the ITEA's professional Advisory Board is 9 to 1.
On one hand, women executives can be very helpful for integration and under some circumstances actually be in positions to influence change. On the other, they can also serve a tokenistic function that can mask extreme imbalances.
Envisioning An Aesthetic Revolution
Sometimes I wonder if integration is the issue, or if the ultimate goal is to entirely transform the patriarchal nature of western "classical" music itself. A lot of the brass repertoire in orchestras, bands, and jazz is among the most phallocentric music that humans have ever created. Could there not be a type of repertoire and playing that is more intelligent and balanced?
Gender-balanced stylistic developments could be furthered if there were a small component of the conferences devoted specifically to their study and discussion. Some of the topics could be historical, such as presentations about the fabled 17th century trombone-playing nuns of Milan and Bologna. Whatever happened to the gentle, warm voices of the cornetto and sackbutt, and how did they come to be replaced with the large bore, militaristic blasting of symphonic brass under the authoritarian rule of autocratic conductors waving their phallic batons in a sado-masochistic control of objectified humans? There are masculinist epistemological biases built directly into our forms of musical expression. If we want a brass instrument to sound like it is being played by a gorilla, then this might offer a distinct advantage to men. (See also my article "Symphony Orchestras and Aritst-Prophets: Cultural Isomorphism and the Allocation of Power In Music" which is on our website.)
What led to the cultural phenomenon of the big band's "lead trumpet?" Why do we consider blowing tight, rhythmic rasberries through a brass tube a measure of masculinity?
Or on the other end of the tessitura, there is the thunderous flatulence of the all-male group "Sinfonia," which was part of the Tubists Univerisal Brotherhood Association (T.U.B.U.)-- the former name of the International Tuba and Euophonium Association. Abbie and I performed at T.U.B.A.'s 1997 conference in Lago di Garda, Italy. Before we played, I spoke to the public and asked why there were no women in Sinfonia -- especially considering all the excellent women euphonium players that belong to the organization. The audience exploded into applause. Afterwards, however, I was literally cussed-out by by a high-ranking member of the "Brotherhood." A couple years later Gail Robertson (professor of euphonium at the University of Central Florida) was included in Sinfonia, and the "Brotherhood" changed its name to the ITEA.
Specific Actions for Change
Abbie has tackled these problems very directly. (See the additional post I am sending, but here is some more recent information.) She has organized (with a lot of help) two week long WITCH events. (That is an acronym for Women's International Trombone Choir.) Part of their goal is to reinvent the trombone, which means creating an alternate musical understanding to the masculinist styles of trombone playing that now exist. Before the WITCH was founded, Abbie inititated another group called the Evolutionary Trombonists, in which both men and women participated. The Evolutionary Trombonists are meeting again this summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is a small group of highly recognized men and women trombonists who want to think differently.
As many of you know, Abbie explores entirely new ways to approach the instrument, even to the point of incorporating it into larger forms of performance-art. (See: www.osborne-conant.org/theater.htm for photos, videos, and sound files.) It has long been observed that women creators, such a performance artists, are much more inclined to highlight their bodies on stage than men. Women seem to be more at home with the body as a performative medium. (Think of the relative rarity of male dancers.) The reasons are probably cultural. The body and nature are coded as feminine, while the mind and technology are categorized as male. This is why women brass players seem to lead in areas of performance-art, while men are stuck with preoccupations about how to best blast their "equipment" -- which is how they typically refer to their trombones. We thus have a style of brass playing with about as much charm as grunting, fat-bellied, talc covered olympic weight lifters. Some players, like the fabled Christian Lindberg, have created a style of hammy athletics, but it doesn't help all that much.
(We were to perform one of our theater works for FTM8, but it was canceled due to scheduling conflicts with our setup time. In my view, the way CUNY treats the FTM8 organizers is appalling.)
The publicity surrounding Abbie's victorious struggles against the Munich Philharmonic, and our successful protests against the all-male Vienna Philharmonic are additional examples of the events that are helping people understand that it is OK for girls to play the trombone and trumpet and end tokenism in this area. Our website has had over 67,000 unique visitors in the last year who made over a half a million hits. The numbers continue to rise. For the last three months the site has averaged about 270 visitors a day, though it tapers off in the summer.
The final chapter of Malcolm Gladwell's new book, _Blink_ (published by Little & Brown, 2005), which is entitled "Conclusion," is devoted to the discrimination Abbie Conant faced in the Munich Philharmonic. It has been on the New York Times best seller list for hardcover non-fiction for the last 18 weeks. It was number one for three weeks. The chapter also includes a thorough discussion of the Vienna Philharmonic's employment practices, and briefly discusses two other women brass players, Julie Landsman (Met Opera Orchestra), and Sylvia Alimena (National Symphony.) All of the information was taken from our website.
It may be that there are still few women at brass conferences, but the future belongs to women in music. It is certain that we are witnessing a historical movement that will continue. Abbie is just one example of hundreds. Women musicians are assuming positions of leadership, and are creating a wide-reaching cultural metamorphosis. By returning the feminine to humanity, they are giving society a new identity, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness that is profoundly transforming the world of music.