Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Women in the Orchestra

In the jazz world, much of the discrimination against women was discrete—much went unsaid, and many women, even those with great talent, were simply ignored.  The orchestral scene was a bit more overt about discrimination towards women.  Perhaps it was America’s long-standing traditions with European orchestral models that prolonged this discrimination, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that real progress was made with women joining professional orchestras.  Antiquated Victorian ideals as well deluded ideas of a woman’s physical limitations to playing musical instruments professionally fueled this discrimination.  As quoted from Gustave Kerker in the Musical Standard journal in 1904:
 Nature never intended the fair sex to become cornetists, trombonists, and players of wind instruments.  In the first place they are not strong enough to play them as well as men; they lack the lip and lung power to hold notes which deficiency makes them always play out of tune…Another point against them is that women cannot possibly play brass instruments and look pretty, an why should they spoil their good looks? 

Sexual discrimination is still a major issue in the orchestral scene as well as the music conservatories that train musicians.  While this news may be disheartening, the fact that awareness has been raised, research is being conducted, and women are taking advantage of musical opportunities now more than ever are all signs that progress is being made. 
In conclusion, it was a matter of American traditions and culture that shaped women’s roles in music.  The fact that women were excluded from mainstream musical scenes forced women to unite and form new, all-women groups.  The United States military was rooted in service and duty—women’s involvement in military bands mirrored these ideas and helped to shape the band tradition in America as well as music education.  Popular music like the Blues sparked the formation of America’s true art form: jazz.  Singers like Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith sang of the hardships that African American females faced and gave the American public a needed dose of stark reality.  All-women jazz groups like the Ingenues and the Harlem Playgirls, though perceived as “novelty” acts, allowed women to engage in professional music careers in jazz—careers that would become more prominent in the future.  While sexual discrimination in the orchestral music scene has been the most prevalent and is still at a state today that requires attention, changes are being made in the right direction for female musicians.  American conductor Leopold Stokowski said, “What a poof economy it is to take it for granted that women are not ready to enter the world of art, are not capable of becoming fluent channels for the expression of genius…We are sacrificing accomplishment to tradition.”  

So, let us form new traditions for women in the American music scene!  I have really enjoyed this research and have realized that there is so much out there on this subject. I plan on researching these topics more this summer-- after I finish Tina Fey's new book Bossypants, of course. Ladies and gents, read this-- it is hilarious. (and may supply me with a few blog posts!) Oh, and also check out this handout from Lin Foulk's site-- the quotations will surely enrage you :)  

Gustave Kerker, “Opinions of Some New York Leaders on Women as Orchestral Players,” Musical Standard, Vol. 21 (April 2, 1904).

Leopold Stokowski, “Women in the Orchestra,” The Literary Digest, Vol. 52 (Feb. 26, 1916) p. 504.

All-women Jazz Groups: novelty or necessity?

Just as all-women groups were popular in the military band tradition, so were all-women vaudeville and jazz groups.  Both black and white all-women groups formed as a result of the difficulties women had joining well-established male ensembles.  These all-women “girl bands” were actually quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s, but unfortunately much of their popularity stemmed from the fact that such groups were seen as novelty acts without much musical integrity in the jazz world.  According to scholar Linda Dahl in her book Stormy Weather:
Given the popularity of female-as-sex-object as a promotional device in entertainment, the many serious and capable women musicians who formed all-women groups were all too likely to be lumped together with the “all-girl” bands   of the “Look, Ma, no hands variety.

The women in these groups were portrayed in a way that played up the visual aspects of their femininity and blended them into one generic woman. Two groups of note are the all-white girl group, The Ingenues, and the all-black girl group, The Harlem Playgirls. The women in these groups were truly talented, but the novelty aspect of their performances is undeniable.  While these women surly wanted to be treated as musicians, setting gender aside, that was unfortunately not an option at the time.  With regard to the sex, Linda Dahl states:
 But whether they [women] liked it or not, it [sex] was an issue, and an important reason for the scarcity of women in established bands.  The women players who   eschewed the all-women groups had few options; if their music remained    “respectable,” their careers quite often remained marginal.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that women could partake in more professional jazz roles, and the 1990s was when women became more integrated and accepted into the jazz world.  Groups like The Ingenues and the Harlem Playgirls lost their popularity during the Depression, and many women became disheartened by the “novelty acts” and decided to foster their solo careers or start their own bands.  


 Linda Dahl. Stormy Weather: the music and lives of a century of jazzwomen. Hal Leonard Corporation (New York: 1996) p. 47.

 Kristin A. McGee. Some liked it hot: jazz women in film and television, 1928-1959. Wesleyan University Press (New York: 2009) pp. 34-35.

 Linda Dahl, 48.

American Heroines: Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith

I've devoted quite a few posts on military bands, so I decided to research something a little different. I recently took a seminar at the University of Iowa regarding American Music, so the next few posts will come from some of my research in that class. While this post doesn't deal with brass playing, one of the first performance opportunities that women had in jazz were as vocalists. On a cool side note, I did my undergrad in Columbus, GA, and the Schwob School of Music had in its possession 'Ma' Rainey's piano.

While all-female military bands and their related municipal descendants were rooted in service and education, another American idiom addressed both social and political injustices as well as entertaining the masses. This is perhaps the most American form of music: jazz and the blues. Richard Crawford suggests in America’s Musical Life: A History that 1920s and 1930s blues artists Gertrude “Ma” Rainey and Bessie Smith paved the way for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. Their blues lyrics addressed the “experiences of the black working-class women in ways far removed from the songs aimed at the white middle class.” Also, the love that was sung about in the blues was not an “idealized realm where dreams for future happiness were stored,” but rather, “were often linked with possibilities for greater social freedom.” In addressing the unromantic realities of life’s hardships, singers like Rainey and Smith brought to light many of the issues that African American women were dealing with—issues like death, disease, homosexuality, poverty, infidelity, depression, prison, alcohol, and abandonment.

  Born 1886 to a musical family in Columbus, Georgia, Rainey made a name for herself at a young age singing in a talent show in the Springer Opera House. She soon began traveling and performing with vaudeville and minstrel shows. Often called the “mother of the blues,” Rainey was known for her raw, raspy voice, her “moaning” style of singing, and her exceptional phrasing. She often sang of the pains of jealousy, poverty, sexual abuse, and the tribulations of black sharecroppers in the South. Rainey is also known for mentoring the young blues singer Bessie Smith. In 1912, Smith joined Rainey on tour in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dubbed the “Empress of the Blues,” Smith soon became one of the most popular Blues singers of the 1920s. In fact, her rendition of “St. Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong is considered by many critics to be one of the best recordings of the 1920s.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Moving Forward

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the subject of my last post. I have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking and worrying about this issue and how it directly relates to myself. And what do I think and worry about?

Mostly, I feel sad. While I think of myself as a strong person (and I think others would agree), I have spent a lot of time crying. It is hard for me to feel happy-- in fact, I am sort of numb. I guess you could say that I just don't really feel like myself, like part of me is gone.

I also feel incredibly angry. It angers me to see him praised everywhere he goes. It angers me that what should have been a great experience was ruined for me. It angers me that things would have been completely different if I were a guy. It angers me that I have lost all respect for someone that I really looked up to and admired. It angers me that I am reminded of what happened every time I pick up my trombone.

I am not just a sad and angry person now, though. I have handled myself in an extremely honest and upfront manner. I have become more assertive. I have learned that I can handle anything with the love and support of my family and friends (thank you). I know that I will be a more understanding and empathetic trombone professor one day. As much as it hurts, I have discovered a deeper passion for what it means to be a female brass musician and an appreciation for all of the women that have paved the way for me.

I am not writing this to expose anyone or reveal anything. I write this because I want anyone who might be going through the same thing to know that they aren't alone. I have shared these things with my advocate, and she always says the same things:

1. It wasn't your fault.
2. What you are feeling is completely normal.
3. You reacted in a way that you felt would best protect you.

All of the sadness and anger has taken a toll on me. I am emotionally and physically exhausted from this semester. I don't know what will truly make me feel better. I think it is a matter of time. What I do know is that more than anything, I want to truly be able to forgive.