Long-time readers of this blog might remember an article I wrote in 2009 on the subject of discrimination in orchestras. I thought at the time that my survey of the rosters of ICSCOM orchestras demonstrated a marked differential between the number of men and women, especially in principal positions.
Someone else has done much the same survey (using a smaller dataset of the 20 biggest American orchestras, though) and come to very similar conclusions in graphical form (quoted here without the graphs):
Of all the graphs I posted of the Metropolitan Opera’s performance history, one showing the absence of female composers seemed to resonate most online. Continuing in that vein, I decided to take a look at gender representation in America’s top 20 orchestras, represented by 1,833 individual musicians.
First, an overview of gender representation in the 20 orchestras sampled. The orchestras, on average, have 63% men and 37% women. Only one elite orchestra has more women than men: the St. Louis Symphony.
We can now dig into the individual sections. Of the 20 orchestras, only one has a female music director: Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony. Taking all conductors in total is little better in terms of inclusion of women. The basic fact is that if you are going to an orchestra concert, there will likely be a man leading the symphony.
Demographics of American Music Directors Explained in Gif Format:
In looking at the strings family, we can see that there is very good representation of women playing violin, less so the others. The only section in the orchestra that women completely dominate is the harp.
Amongst woodwinds, women are especially present as flautists.
With the relative exception of french horns, men dominate the brass section. In fact, there is only one female tuba player in these orchestras: Carol Jantsch. She also graduated from the University of Michigan #goblue #collegetribalism
Similar to brass, men completely dominate the percussion section. Keyboard players are evenly split.
But what if we start to look at the “musical leadership” of the orchestra- specifically, the concertmasters and principal chairs. Spoiler alert: there’s a pattern.
If we look at violins, concertmasters are almost uniformly men, leading a violin population that is mostly women.
Here’s the string family as a whole. In all cases (except basses), men are more present in leadership roles compared to women.
Again, the same pattern is present for woodwinds. This is especially apparent with flutes, where most men are leaders in a flute population that is mostly women.
Horns, noted the relative exception for female participation, shows the same pattern with 90% of principal roles served by men.
And here is percussion and keyboards.
The substance of the article is in the graphs, so go read the whole thing.
An update from my own orchestra: since I wrote the article in 2009, we’ve hired three principals: flute, oboe, and cello. All were women, and two replaced men.