In updating the Events page recently I noted in the website for the 2012 International Women’s Brass Conference an article by co-host Lin Foulk titled “Why IWBC 2012?” This particular section was one that caught my attention, on her experience with sexism in the brass world and a story from a public master class.
I was told numerous times in my development that I was playing a phrase “like a girl” (used derogatorily) or that I played a particular passage “with balls” (used as a compliment). Even though he apologized, former Boston Symphony Orchestra trumpeter Rolf Smedvig’s sexist critique of a female brass trio in a masterclass at Boston University (as quoted in the Boston Globe in 1991), is indicative of the kind of language that still occasionally exists in brass pedagogy: “Boys, I mean, we grow up at the age of 5, you know, and we’re playing in the dirt and you guys are playing with dolls. I’m sorry to say that, but…some women brass players have a really tough time leaving those womanly traits behind and getting more aggressive. You came out there and it looked like you had your doily dress on and you were going to tiptoe through the tulips, you know, and play this…You can’t do that when you have a trumpet in your hands.”
In my own teaching I believe I have always been careful to not use this kind of sexist terminology (opting for phrases such as play it with more guts, more heroically, with a sound for a big space, etc.) but for sure there have been and are teachers that think they need to be edgy and say things in the way described above. The master class quote, that is particularly disturbing to me. I was not there of course but it seems like there are literally hundreds of other ways to get at whatever the point was that was trying to be made without using the example given. Fortunately, I believe the use of that sort of example is less frequent today, and especially so I believe in our horn world.
This year the International Women’s Brass Conference will be held June 6-10, 2012 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Visit the event website here, and for more on the organization itself their main website is here. Also, the website of co-host Lin Foulk, Works with Horn by Female Composers, is well worth visiting, containing a catalog of over 1,000 works including this handy list of recommended works.