- Women and people of color are underrepresented in classical music jobs and leadership roles.
- Classical music is a middle-class-on-up phenomenon. Few poor people play.
- Composers are overwhelmingly white men.
- Women are over-represented in teaching professions.
- Women make 83.7% of the average male classical musician’s salary.
- Orchestra instrument assignments split along gender lines. (Harp players are mostly women. Tuba & percussion players, men.)
The reason none of this is shocking is because Sharff’s findings mirror what’s out there in the world. Women get paid less. Minorities* hold fewer prestige positions. There are many reasons, some of them deep & complex, others relatively straightforward, and fixable.
This is about the story we tell ourselves. If we say “most piano geniuses are white men,” it’s not just an observation but a self-fulfilling prophecy. White male piano superstars will, sure enough, continue to “emerge.” (Where do they come from? Mysterious!) When we assume conductors look some way and then a woman strides out wielding the baton …… well, you know. Folks get uncomfortable.
Cultural myths about talent and creativity contribute to inequalities, as do other, indeed frequently lauded features of the sector, such as its informality, flexibility and reliance on networking.
Classical music — like many other professions — is a good-old-boy’s club. Some of this is changing, yes. But what we’re talking about could be labeled misogyny, or racism. Charitably we call it a bias. Players and management are pleasant enough. Nobody intends to hurt anyone else, of course, or to cheat them out of jobs. It just sort of happens, and who are we to change it?
Classical music outfits have grade-A talent and passion. Nobody’s taking that away. But it’s time to consider why orchestras look monochromatic. White men clearly don’t have to go away. But it’s time to stop dicking around. Our orchestras can’t be History’s Unfortunate Footnote when the music stops. We’re the smart ones, remember?
So to start, we must shake up orchestra boards (good luck) so they reflect the diversity of the cities they serve. Play shows outside orchestra hall, specifically in under-served communities, and develop mentorship programs targeting the kinds of people you haven’t hired or historically cared about. Give women & minorities the same promotions and leadership roles everybody else gets as a matter of course. Oh, and start “discovering” composers you don’t typically play.
That’s a start. What else? I’m sure there’s a lot more.
I’ll let Marin Alsop take us out. Here she is at the 2013 BBC Proms, the first woman to ever conduct the last night of the Proms.
Now, quite a lot has been made of me being the first woman to conduct the last night of the Proms. Thank you. I’m incredibly honored and proud to have this title, but I have to say, I’m still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can be ‘firsts’ for women. Here’s to the seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, hundreds to come.