Five Things I’ve Learned about Working in a Male Dominated Profession

Alia Kuhnert pic'15.jpgAlia Kuhnert began playing trumpet at age ten in her home town of San Francisco, going onto  major in trumpet at the San Francisco School of the Arts High School. Alia attended the Summer Brass Institute in ’12 and ’13. As a fellow she collaborated with Joseph Alessi, principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic, Øystein Baadsvik, international tuba soloist, and Thomas Hooten, principal trumpet of Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alia is a graduate of the New England Conservatory where she majored in Trumpet Performance and performed with NEC’s Philharmonia, Wind Ensembles, Opera, Jazz and Chamber Orchestras. Committed to education, Alia teaches trumpet at the Harmony Program, a program whose mission is to reach underserved communities in New York City public schools. She is the trumpet faculty at Cazadero Music Camp in California. Her principal teachers include Catherine Murtagh, Michael Sachs, principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra, Ben Wright of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tom Siders of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Kevin Cobb of the American Brass Quintet. Alia is currently pursuing her MM and DMA in trumpet performance at Stony Brook University, studying with Kevin Cobb.

1. Get used to the comments and questions

“A woman playing trumpet? Is that common?” Men AND women have asked me this. My response has been the same since I was in fifth grade, “Well, if you can believe it or not, women also have lips, lungs, fingers, and a brain”. The seemingly never-ending comments and questions about being a female brass player have never gotten me down. I actually feel bad for the person asking. Why does someone think that you can’t do something you love because of your gender?? Beats me. “You play pretty good for a girl!” makes my eyes roll so far in the back of my head that I can see my brain. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, auditioning committees started using a screen to create “blind auditions”. What a great concept. No one can see that you are a woman. Until judges started noticing what heels sounded like…

2. Everything is going to be at least 10x harder for you

Lets face it – it’s a boys club. Helen Kotas was the first female brass player to hold a rostered position in a major symphony orchestra. She held the principal horn position in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1941-1947. That’s ninety nine years after the New York Philharmonic was established (1842). The first female trumpet player to join a major symphony orchestra was Marie Speziale in 1964 (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra). First female trombone player was Betty S. Glover in 1952 (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra). First female tuba player was Carol Jantsch in 2006 (Philadelphia Orchestra). You will always have to jump through more hoops because you are a woman. If you keep your head up and keep yourself driven towards your goals, this will make you a stronger player and person. Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.

3. Don’t sell yourself short

Be confident.

Practice hard and efficiently.

Over prepare.

You are a woman and you play brass – that’s awesome! Don’t let someone else diminish your self worth. Be the best you can be for yourself.

4. You will probably be the only woman in your section

In a recent orchestra rehearsal the only other female brass player turned to me with a big smile on her face and said, “We’re the only women!”. I replied with a “Heck yeah!!” and made the “We Can Do It!” fist. In a room of 11 men we were there to be part of the section, we were there to make music, we were there to kick brAss.

I was on the subway in NYC going to a gig with my trumpet case when a little girl came up to me and asked what instrument I play. When I told her trumpet, she looked at me with furrowed eyebrows and told me that when she went to Jazz at Lincoln Center a few nights before, she didn’t see any women on stage so she assumed that women weren’t allowed to play jazz or brass instruments.

The next time you look at a picture of a symphony orchestra, jazz/brass band or wind ensemble – imagine all the men in the brass section gone. What do you see? The entire brass section missing? Being that one woman playing a shiny instrument in the back will inspire girls everywhere.

5. Expect nothing.

After playing A Short Ride on a Fast Machine by John Adams for a wind ensemble concert, we were walking off the stage as the audience applauded. The guest conductor was at the stage door and shaking the performer’s hands as we filled through the backstage door. When I got to the conductor he put his hand behind his back and didn’t look at me. I was the only woman in the trumpet section. Later, the usual conductor of this same ensemble verified this man’s behavior as historically sexist.

It can get very frustrating having to deal with people that want the brass world to remain a boys club. “It’s a man eat man world”… let them eat themselves.

You are seen.

You are appreciated.

You are awesome.

You inspire.


The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World
Mary Z. Stange – Carol K.Oyster – Jane Sloan – Mary Zeiss.Stange – Sage Publications, Inc. – 2011



Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians
Claudia Goldin – Cecilia Rouse – 1997

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