Interview with the Team behind the Brass Bodies Study

By Rebecca Epstein-Boley and Kate Amrine, with Dr. Sarah Schmalenberger and Dr. Patricia Maddox

From, 25 September 2019

The Brass Bodies study is a cutting-edge research project led by Sarah Schmalenberger, PhD (Musicology) and Hornist, and Patricia L. Maddox, PhD (Sociology), at the University of St. Thomas. Based in an understanding that “women brass players are both an underrepresented and under-researched group in music,” the study investigates both the physical and social experiences of women who play brass instruments. On its website, the Brass Bodies researchers describe their project as follows:

Women brass players are both an underrepresented and under-researched group in music. Conventional practices in music teaching and performances are based on male physiology, which is significantly different from female physiology. Gendered bias in the music industry reinforces the idea that women are physically deficient and must “overcome” inherent limitations to play a brass instrument.

Despite assumptions of their inherent weaknesses, the number of female brass players in professional and avocational ensembles is substantial. And yet, female physical development differs from their male counterparts through unique experiences, ranging from menstruation to illnesses like breast cancer, and the gendered workplace of brass sections often creates stress that manifests in physical symptoms. 

First of all, yes, please. This is the sort of project that could really have concrete benefits for female brass musicians. Brass Bodies’ acknowledgement that female brass musicians have been under-studied and its intent to begin the work of fixing that makes it exactly in line with our blog’s goals. Concrete data on the experiences of female brass musicians as a group will enable us to understand our circumstances better and work more effectively to improve them in the future.

Suffice it to say, we were very excited to see the findings from the first phase of this study published in the sociology journal Societies this past March. Further publications are forthcoming. We had the chance to ask Dr. Schmalenberger and Dr. Maddox some questions about this first paper to come out of the study and what we can expect in the future:


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