Picture a sprawling orchestra tuning up. That dissonant yet somehow warm cacophony emanates from the stage. Suddenly, a hush comes over the room as the conductor enters and proudly bows before the audience. Now, that conductor you envisioned, was it a man or a woman? Statistically speaking, chances are it was a man. Across all United States-based orchestras, only 20% of conductors are female. In “higher-budget” orchestras (about 1/8 of all U.S. orchestras) this number drops to 11%. Still not convinced? Let’s take it up another notch: Out of the top 22 orchestras across the United States, reserved for the greatest and most talented musical minds, only one woman can call herself leader of the ensemble.
What’s the reasoning behind these facts? Throughout orchestras themselves, it seems like men and women are perceived and represented as equals. In fact, in some orchestras women musicians even outnumber their male counterparts! Well, for one thing, it likely doesn’t help that conducting is a freelance profession. They are not part of the unions that musicians work through, opening up room for sexist-based selectivity. This sexism is no figment of the imagination; many in the classical music world will openly express the male domination of the field—a status quo that has been held since the days of Mozart himself.
What is even more frustrating is that women are becoming discouraged from even pursuing a career as a conductor in the first place. From 2011, the number of conducting doctorates earned by women dropped approximately 15%, while the number for men increased nearly 20%!
Still, not all hope is lost. It was just earlier this month that the principal conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, conducted the Last Night of the Proms. Alsop was the first women to take the podium of this 118-year-old classical music spectacle. Though statistics may look bleak, we have to believe that an uprising of genius lady-conductors is imminent! If every other glass ceiling in the classical music world is slowly being shattered (remember--the last castrato died less than 100 years ago!), it's just a matter of time before these statistics are turned on their heads!