On March 24, 2010 I attended a lecture presented by hornist Lin Foulk entitled New Standards: Women in Orchestras in the 21st Century. Lin Foulk is the horn instructor at Western Michigan University, and she has done extensive research on women in music. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to learn that she would be giving this lecture. Lin Foulk is a great role model for any woman brass musician– she is an exceptional musician, articulate speaker, and genuinely nice person.
I took notes on her lecture, which I will share (if I can read my handwriting!), but you can also find many of Foulk’s quotes and sources on her website under PDF Downloads.
Women have experienced open discrimination in the music world, which was rooted in the Victorian woman concept. In this era, women mainly played the piano and sung– the reason being that they could engage in this activity while staying at home as a “woman of leisure.”
By WWII, women began filling the empty spots in the orchestras/bands of the men who had left for war. While this was a big step, the men regained their positions after returning from the war.
By the 1960s-70s, a second wave of feminism occurred, which resulted in more inclusion of women in orchestras. This was achieved by publically announcing vacancies in orchestras and holding blind auditions.
Foulk presented many graphs and statistics that described the relationship of women in the orchestra to the well being of the ensemble.
In an orchestra with 10% or less women, the women generally keep a low profile and behave accordingly to the orchestra norm.
An orchestra in transition (10-40% women) will develop gender boundaries and cross-group stereotyping, which results in conflict.
In a balanced orchestra (40-60% women) will form inter-group relationships and allow both gender goups to feel legitimate.
An analysis of these results would indicate that since women do have orchestral careers, it would be in the orchestra’s best interest to generally be gender balanced. This is complicated, though. I don’t think that an unfair advantage should go to women as oppposed to men. I think the underlying issue has to do with society’s view of women and their roles. Perhaps women aren’t audtioning as much as men for orchestral jobs. If this is the case, then it would be hard to achieve this balanced proportion. As Foulk said, “Changes in society change the fabric of music.”
Foulk discussed many other topics such as women conductors and composers. She also engaged in a question and answer session with the audience.