The Case for the IWBC

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It has been noted elsewhere online recently that the 2012 International Trombone Festival features no female featured artists or composers. Looking back four years in fact they have only featured one female performing artist.

As a hornist this statistic is a bit mind blowing as, in the big picture at present, we are a relatively gender neutral instrument in terms of our student, amateur, and professional population, and I can’t imagine a major horn event featuring only male artists. But that has not always been the case and is not the case in the other brass.

questionMark1At the website of the 2012 International Women’s Brass Conference (to be held June 6-10, 2012, in Kalamazoo, MI) we find a lengthy article compiled by event co-host Lin Foulk that is an overview of the issues. Under the heading “Sexist language” for example,

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)….

Jackson Katz, project director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston says in Crashing the Old Boys’ Network, “One way to look at this is that society has taught young boys for centuries that to be female is to be second class. Little boys are told ‘You throw like a girl,’ as an insult. Or parents will tell their own daughters, ‘You throw like a boy,’ and mean it as a compliment.’”

Using sexist language in brass pedagogy suggests that to be female or feminine is inferior and unsuited to brass-playing. Even though both men and women possess both male and female characteristics (each of us to varying degrees), this can suggest to impressionable young girls that female brass players are inherently flawed. This inferiority complex is unnecessary and can be changed if brass teachers use non-sexist language, such as “play more aggressive here” and “be more assertive with your air.” Girls need to be reminded: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt).

It is a big topic to be sure and one we would all benefit from being very aware of, as even if it is perhaps less of a problem in our horn world than in the other brass, sexism is still a problem in subtle and not subtle ways.

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The IWBC this year features from the horn world Genghis Barbie. Bravo to co-hosts Lin Foulk and Deanna Swoboda (who joins the faculty at Arizona State in the fall) for putting together this major event, which looks like one well worth attending.

And, as always, check our Horn Matters events page for even more upcoming events. There is a lot going on this summer.

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