Five Ways to Support Female Colleagues and Students in the Brass Section

As 2017 winds to a close, we’d like to use our final Five Things Friday of the year to make a difference in the community. We spend a lot of time here at Brass Chicks discussing the reality of how things are for us as women playing brass instruments, but sometimes fail to make the connection to what we can do to make things better. Hopefully, the five methods below can help us to help each other and make a change in 2018 and beyond!

1. Listen to women

Go to shows and concerts featuring female musicians, buy albums of work by women, and listen to and play music by female composers. Additionally, show your students that you are doing these things! Lend your students CDs where they can hear female players. Send them YouTube links to videos of your favorite female soloist. In addition to helping out the musicians whose work you share, this can help show the next generation of musicians that brass is not just a men’s game and women are setting a standard of excellence in this field. 

2. Support and encourage female leadership

Listen to ideas from women in your sections and female conductors/music directors in your ensembles, even if not everyone does. In a patriarchal society, women are socialized to be less competitive and to speak up for ourselves less. We should do everything we can to counteract that tendency in the music world and amplify the voices of women when we can. Also, support your female colleagues! Be an advocate for the female musicians around you and they will encourage you positively as well.

For more about empowering other women, we love the book Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett (recommended in a previous Five Things Friday) and this Huffington Post article by Rachel Wolfson.

3. Change the culture and challenge the stereotypes

Call out moments where people make offhand sexist remarks or misogynistic judgements. This also involves catching your own prejudices and working to counteract them. Watch the language used in rehearsals and lessons to describe how a person’s playing sounds. When a student plays assertively, they are not playing “like a man.” A sensitive performance isn’t “feminine.” Do not assume that a player who you do not know is a man, just because of what instrument they play. If someone uses this stereotypical kind of language when you are present, point it out and correct them nicely. These are lazy, harmful shortcuts that make our communication less clear and prevent us from needing to find the words for what we really mean to say. We know that not all doctors are male and not all nurses are female – so why do we act like it’s acceptable to assume that a trombone player is a HE and couldn’t be a SHE? Spreading awareness to our audiences is important as well, so they don’t continue to program and support organizations that only promote music performed and composed by white men. If you are a female brass player and you often get comments like “Oh, I never see female tuba players,” then take this as an opportunity to kindly educate this person. “Actually, there are Carol Jantsch, Velvet Brown, Joanna Ross Hersey and many more!” Spreading awareness to our (older) audience is important as well, so they don’t continue to program and support organizations that are only promoting music performed and composed by white men.

4. Encourage hiring practices that level the playing field

Blind auditions have been shown to increase the hiring of female musicians. If you are in a position of power within an orchestra organization (especially a smaller one or a youth ensemble, where a blind system may not already be in place), think about implementing blind auditions through some or all of your audition process. Additionally, beyond the orchestra world, start thinking outside the box for subbing and other gigs. People tend to call their friends or other connections who they trust for jobs. Use the platform you have to promote the work of female artists you admire, and give out the names of female musicians when you have a gig to pass on. If you teach, how many of the students at your institution have a role model who looks like them on the faculty? Seeing mentors of the same gender and race can be incredibly inspiring for students and can help create a more positive and less discriminatory environment for everyone.

5. Show girls that brass playing is an option for them

Play outreach concerts. If you are interested in teaching, teach clinics in local schools. Children are the future of music, and what they believe is possible defines what will actually be able to happen! Women who play brass instruments have the power to show girls that brass is for them, too, simply by existing and doing what we love.

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