Someone else discovers gender discrimination in orchestras

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.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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