Does Classical Music Have a Built-In Gender Bias?

By Philip Trapp on Mar 16, 2016 02:21 AM EDT

If you're reading this on a desktop computer, scroll to the top of this webpage and you'll see from our image header that we here at Classicalite are celebrating Women's History Month. Female composers, musicians and producers have undoubtedly made an enormous impact in the classical music world. However, do the gender bias and wage gap issues abundant in society at large also permeate the classical music community?

Bias and discrimination are ingrained in nearly every society on Earth -- orchestras and symphonies are no exception. But many are making efforts to combat this problem. Because gender doesn't dictate musical ability or instrumental prowess, many even conduct "blind" auditions. As reported by The Guardian, this decades-old process can help conductors and directors make sound personnel decisions unhindered by bias:

"In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions. Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury that cannot see them. In some orchestras, blind auditions are used just for the preliminary selection while others use it all the way to the end, until a hiring decision is made."

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Music Director Marin Alsop is the first woman conductor of a major American orchestra. Upon conducting the Last Night of the BBC Proms concert in 2013, her podium came boorishly decorated with pink "It's a girl!" balloons. As she recounted to the BBC, this was obviously not the first time she had experienced such gender-based resistance in her profession:

"When I was a kid my violin teacher told me girls couldn't do that. She simply didn't see it. To a certain degree I have met opposition, spoken or unspoken, all the way through. I think every woman in a position of authority will tell you that opposition exists somewhere in the mix, whether it's conscious or unconscious, because we're not accustomed as a society [to having a female in charge]."

In celebrating Women's History Month, remember to watch or listen to some of your favorite female singers or composers. Let us know which artists you appreciate for Women's History Month in the comments field below.

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TagsClassical Music, gender

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