female and male figures
The Power List: Why Women Aren’t Equals In New Music Leadership and Innovation

The Power List: Why Women Aren’t Equals In New Music Leadership and Innovation

female and male figures

I once had a conversation with my violin teacher that I will never forget. I was at a crucial stage in my development as a musician. The path to a career as a professional violinist was becoming clearer to me, and my passion and talent were becoming more evident. I was in my lesson; I had a stack of music on the stand and several important auditions coming up. Turning to my teacher and mentor, I wondered aloud how viable this path was really going to be.

“I would advise you to think very, very carefully about all of this,” she said grimly. “Being a musician and having a family is extremely difficult.”

I was fourteen.

My quartet once sought feedback on a Barber quartet from a male coach I had come to love and respect. “Honestly, you sound like a bunch of polite women,” he said during the coaching. I likely don’t need to clarify that this was not a compliment.

In another coaching, one of our most beloved mentors referred to our sound as “voluptuous.” This was not a compliment, either.

In graduate school, I worked on the Glazunov concerto. In front of my entire studio, my teacher said: “Please forgive me for saying this, but you are playing it like a woman.” When I played the passage better, she made it clear I had achieved the goal. Although I remained a woman, I had played it like a man.


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, explores the question of why more women have not risen to the top echelons of management and leadership in any industry. Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and has begun to use her enormous platform to sound the alarm about women’s roles in the workplace. In Lean In, she cites the dismal number of female heads of state, members of parliament, and chief executives worldwide, and launches into an in-depth discussion of women’s internal barriers to success. Sandberg acknowledges the height of society’s external barriers—such as lack of paid parental leave, inflexible work hours, and a career clock that collides headfirst with the biological clock—but her focus is on the more personal, internal blocks to success. What self-limiting attitudes has our sexist society created in women, and how are these attitudes holding them back from the kind of career success and freedom that men enjoy?

At first glance, you might think that the field of contemporary classical music doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the high-powered corporate tech world. And you might also think that, in the arts, women have an easier time rising to the top. Never mind that hardly any women conduct, and leadership imbalances persist in both artistic and administrative roles. In just a couple of generations, it does seem like the gender balance of American symphony orchestras has shifted dramatically—a shift we can confirm simply counting the number of women in orchestral chairs all over the country.

But in the art music world outside of the American orchestral scene, it’s harder to quantify how far women have or haven’t come. This is a more informal economy; we can’t count female full-time hires because there are hardly any full-time jobs. Women “rising to the top” in the contemporary music scene means coming into a position of social, cultural, and aesthetic influence. That’s a kind of success that’s harder to identify. Are women equally represented among prominent art-shapers and cultural decision makers? Are they curating the most cutting-edge concert series in town? Are women the people whose concert reviews you eagerly anticipate? These questions are harder to answer with any certainty, but in what follows, I’ll argue that—at least in Chicago—the answer is no.


Every year, the Chicago Tribune chooses “Chicagoans of the Year” in music, often praising these artists for work that is visionary and groundbreaking. Since 2008—as far back as the online archive goes—all nine of the honorees (George LePauw, Lupe Fiasco, Mark George, Bruce Iglauer, Paulinho Garcia, Syl Johnson, Riccardo Mutti, Mike Orlove, and Local H) have been men. The writers selecting these visionaries have also been exclusively men: Howard Reich, John von Rhein, and Greg Kot.

Chicago magazine has a similar honor; since 2006, all three of its honorees (Ken Vandermark, Ramsey Lewis, and Kimo Williams) have been men.

A recent Chicago magazine new music “power list”, written by a man, included seven men and one woman. The men on the list are men I admire and know well: artistically adventurous, socially connected, innovative, and ambitious. The only woman on the list, Mei-Ann Chen, is a conductor pursuing a fairly traditional career anchored by a major Chicago orchestral institution. The type of “power” articulated in Chen’s career has very little overlap with the kind of self-made creative power shared by honorees Marcos Balter, George LePauw, and the Spektral Quartet. Chen’s inclusion seemed out of place—but sadly, it was the first time since at least 2006 that Chicago magazine has bestowed this kind of honor on any woman musician.

Most of the new and influential creative organizations in our scene—the organizations whose creativity and dynamism will form the heart of our cultural and professional lives—are run by men. To give a small sampling: the Spektral Quartet is all men; ChicagoMusic.org is run by Paul Giallorenzo; all six of the staff at Elastic Arts are men; exciting new venue Constellation is run by Mike Reed. Beethoven Festival, which has been honored as one of the most exciting new cultural initiatives in Chicago, has six musicians on its executive committee. Only one is a woman, and she is in charge of educational outreach. At the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which is changing the face of our city with its investment in contemporary music, all four of the wonderful people in charge of cultural programming are men. I say this not to shame anyone for being a man, working with men, or for being successful. I simply say this to point out that among the most exciting, successful, and innovative new projects happening in Chicago, women’s participation is not equal.

Among Chicago’s contemporary music ensembles, 63% of the performers are men.[1] Among music writers with a regular byline in a major publication or radio outlet, 82% are men.[2] At Pitchfork Media, a Chicago-based publication which is increasingly paying attention to “indie-classical” artists, only 6 of the 40 staff writers are women. (Though two-thirds of the interns are female.)

Lest it seem that I am pointing the finger at other organizations, let’s look at one of my own. During a recent meeting of Parlour Tapes—a new Chicago record label I’m part of—we were assembling the list of contributors to our October compilation release. As we surveyed the list, we realized that more than 75 percent of the invited artists were men. We didn’t intend our first release to have such a gender imbalance—it had just happened.  How could our team—which includes two women and two men—have missed that?

As I reflect on the problems mentioned above, I think of those women in our community who are highly visible leaders. Melissa Snoza of Fifth House Ensemble was a huge role model for me when I founded my own ensemble. Composer and aperiodic director Nomi Epstein consistently innovates. And of course, Chicago continues to feel the profound influence of MacArthur Fellow Claire Chase, years after she moved to New York. However, we should view these women not as proof that “there’s no problem here,” but as having achieved success in spite of the challenges they face. As Limor Tomer put it at the Chamber Music America conference in New York this year, “In the phrase ‘old boys network,’ the operative word is network.” In contemporary music, as in most fields, networking is power. Despite admirable achievements from outstanding musical women in Chicago, the fact remains that women often aren’t making it onto “power lists”—whether informal or in print. The men in our community have been far more successful in amassing social capital and using it to advance their musical careers.


Why is this the case? Why aren’t more women being recognized for visionary artistic leadership in Chicago’s contemporary music scene—and why aren’t more women providing that visionary leadership in the first place?

As it turns out, the research Sandberg discusses in Lean In can help us answer these questions.

1. Women musicians, like all women, pay a “likability tax” when they are self-promoting, assertive, and successful. One of the most important sociological facts Sandberg emphasizes is that success and likability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women. A strong body of research demonstrates that if a man has an ambitious, thriving, and successful career, his peers will find him more likable; if a woman has the same kind of career, her peers will find her less likable. Two studies in the Journal of Applied Psychology called this the “penalty for success.” Women artists pay a social tax for their professional achievements that men do not. Women musicians cannot promote themselves in the same way that men do without facing negative consequences in the way they are perceived personally. This is particularly problematic for performing artists, who must cultivate personal connections and an enthusiastic fan base (read: people who like you) in order to survive. Women find themselves in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. We shouldn’t be surprised that they might shy away from career developments that would make them, say, Chicagoan of the Year in Music—or that when it comes time to choose, journalists don’t find those women leaders quite as appealing.

2. Women musicians are less likely to embark on high visibility projects, take professional risks, and conceive of themselves as leaders—which leaves them at a distinct disadvantage in developing entrepreneurial careers. Research in “gender differences in task choice” has demonstrated that, when given the opportunity to choose a more challenging or risky task at work, women were far less likely than men to choose that path. Other research has demonstrated that millennial women are less likely than their male peers to characterize themselves as leaders and visionaries. This does not mean, of course, that women cannot take risks and establish visionary careers; it means that, due to gender socialization, they are statistically less likely to even conceive of that as a possibility.

3. Women consistently underestimate their own talents and abilities, leaving them at a disadvantage in the essential realm of self-promotion. Research in Lean In indicates that even when women and men perform equally well as surgeons, the women are likely to believe that they have performed worse. When it comes time for women artists to announce a new commission, upload a new performance video, or send a press release, how might this chronic devaluation of their abilities affect them?

4. When choosing who to hire, men are significantly more likely to choose a man. The consulting firm Innovisor found this to be true in more than twenty countries. So in a field where most composers, conductors, curators, music writers, and “visionaries” are men, the situation of a mostly male circle of influencers is likely to perpetuate itself.

5. Similarly, senior men are more likely to mentor young men than young women. Sandberg, drawing on research from the Journal of Vocational Behavior, notes that “mentoring relationships often form when the younger person reminds the more senior person of themselves. This means that men will often gravitate towards sponsoring younger men, with whom they connect more naturally. Since there are so many more men at the top of every industry, the proverbial old-boy network continues to flourish.” This means that fewer women musicians are being sponsored and mentored by influential, senior men in their field.

Having a mentor relationship misperceived as a romantic or sexual relationship is also a problem. Research in The Sponsor Effect shows that 64% of high-ranking executive men are hesitant to have a meeting with a more junior woman, and half of junior women avoided close contact with senior men. This means that in crucial social settings, like post-concert beers or a brainstorming coffee date, young women are less comfortable seeking out mentorship that could yield enormous professional dividends in the early stages of their careers.

6. Women are taught from an early age to worry about whether they can have children and a career. Five years before I had my first real boyfriend, my violin teacher was talking to me about balancing work and family life. Let’s face it: this seed of anxiety was never planted in the minds of my male colleagues. Sandberg cites research which shows that in two Princeton University studies—one conducted in 1974, one in 2006—there was a dramatic disparity between male and female students’ perceptions of whether work and family would be a conflict for them. In both studies, twice as many women foresaw this as a problem. This inner worry, Sandberg claims, means that women who want families “lean back” from their careers rather than leaning in.


I bring these findings, and my own experiences and observations, forward for three very important reasons:

1. I believe that women rarely get the opportunity to discuss the psychological and emotional limitations that gender socialization has created within them. While I know some of Sandberg’s research is deeply discouraging, my hope is that it can also serve as a point of inspiration. I hope that some of my female peers will recognize themselves in these words, and be encouraged to push through inevitable feelings of self-doubt and fear. My hope is that every woman can become the composer, performer, writer, curator, and art-shaper that she dreams of becoming.

2. I believe that many men are not aware of these issues, because their life experience has not required them to be. Men may feel helpless when learning about this research; they may find themselves feeling defensive or skeptical. But I also believe that my male colleagues care deeply about equality and want a thriving musical ecosystem where all voices can be heard. By examining their personal lives, their beliefs, and the practices of their ensembles and organizations, I believe men can become essential allies in acknowledging women’s unique challenges and encouraging them to live up to their full potential.

3. As a woman writer and musician who has benefited from the encouragement and mentorship of countless men and women in the Chicago scene, I am in a position of relative privilege. As I read Lean In and realized how powerful its findings are, I came to feel that I had a responsibility to share what I had learned. My hope is that this article will generate a discussion that acknowledges that we have a problem—and that we all share the responsibility to make it better.



1.Ensembles counted: Palomar, Anubis Quartet, Chicago Chamber Musicians, Chicago Q, Dal Niente, eighth blackbird, Fifth House, Fulcrum Point, Gaudete Brass, ICE, Maverick, Spektral Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, and Fonema Consort.

2.Media outlets included: Tribune, Sun-Times, TimeOut Chicago, Chicago magazine, and the Chicago Reader.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

111 thoughts on “The Power List: Why Women Aren’t Equals In New Music Leadership and Innovation

  1. Armando Bayolo

    Great article, Ellen. It caused a great deal of self reflection, not only as a man who is a leader in my city’s new music community, but, especially, as the father of two girls who is raising them to never believe that there is anything they can’t do simply because of their gender.

    The cultural acclimation to traditional gender roles is unbelievably hard to break because of how ingrained it has become over literally centuries of human culture. The last fifty years since the rise of feminism are only beginning to crack the surface and, I would argue, there is as much to be gained in the education of MEN to NOT think that women can be limited by their gender.

    Of course, this is coming from a Hispanic male who was raised by pretty traditional parents in a pretty macho culture. It’s been a long process of education for me (having daughters and an ambitious, smart and driven wife has helped a lot).

    I am proud to say that, in Great Noise Ensemble, we have a great number of women leading our growth as an institution. We have an incredibly talented and forward thinking group of women in Katherine Kellert, Jessica Abel, Annelisa Guries, Andrea Vercoe, Rebecca Kletzker Steele, Natalie Spehar, Sacha Place, Heidi Littman, Michelle Acton, Molly Orlando Palmeiro, Cara Fleck and Hilary Henry, all working tirelessly behind the scenes AND on stage and taking positions of leadership across town and across the country. Then there’s Sonya Knussen, whose Baltimore-based hexaCollective has been and continues to be an important collaborator with Great Noise, as is hexa mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen, who is an increasingly important voice not only in new music but in opera in Baltimore, Washington and, increasingly, nationally through her parlor series of concerts and her blog, the Sybaritic Singer.

    Of course, the Washington Post’s lead music critic, Anne Midgette, is a woman, and a very talented, intelligent and driven one who has been incredibly important in supporting our burgeoning new music scene and has helped shape its identity through her criticism.

    Then there’s the mighty Zona Hostetler, founding board member of MATA, head of the Randy Hostetler Living Room Music Fund, and important promoter, supporter and advocate for seemingly every new music organization between DC and New York and beyond.

    Beyond DC there is the tireless Neva Pilgrim, founder of the Society for New Music in Syracuse, which transformed the new music scene in central New York and gave important early exposure to a number of major (and not so major) composers.

    I name these women not to seem smart or to counter your argument that there is much room for improvement (there certainly is!) but, rather, to give props where props are due. It seems to me that an important step in achieving greater roles for women in new music leadership is to acknowledge the ones who are there already and lift them up as role models.

    1. Ellen

      Thanks, Armando. I’m so glad the article has inspired reflection for you. I agree that pointing out wonderful, successful women role models in our community is really important. Thank you for doing so!

  2. Jeff Harrington

    Good article, and I shared it online; you took the interesting research and remade it to your own ends, but a friend pointed out this review in the Guardian which has concerns about it’s persistently compromising approach.

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – review
    Zoe Williams challenges an infantilising, reactionary guide for ambitious women

    But when she pans back to apply her approach to all women, her conclusions are often comically infantilising. She gives Arianna Huffington as an ego ideal. “Her advice is that we should let ourselves react emotionally and feel whatever anger or sadness being criticised evokes for us. And then we should quickly move on. She points to children as her role model. A child can cry one moment and run off to play the next.” Sure. And a cat can go to sleep when it’s bored. Emulating the cat may not be the best way to deal with a boring situation. Later, a superior intervenes on her behalf with a client who keeps trying to fix her up with his son, and she remarks: “I could not have been more grateful for Robert’s protection. I knew exactly how that baby bird felt when he finally found his mother.”

    This is not a book about how women can become more equal: this is a book about how women can become more like Sheryl Sandberg. You will be able to decide relatively fast how plausible a goal this is.

    1. Ellen

      Thanks for your comment and your support, Jeff. I thought the chapter on emotional authenticity in the workplace was one of the weakest, and perhaps least relevant to working in the arts, since there’s less of an expectation that we leave “personal stuff” at home. Our art is personal! That being said, I disagree that the book is a guide on how to become Sheryl Sandberg. I have no interest in becoming her, but I gained a great deal of clarity, inspiration and motivation from the book and the research. There’s a TON to criticize about the book, but for many people, its main findings are important things that they’re (unfortunately) hearing for the first time.

  3. Tom Moore

    These are all very good points. I think that the critical issue is self-promotion. Whether in new music or early music, my experience has been that you can’t wait for someone to call you for a gig. You have to go out and create opportunities for yourself. Composer Alex Shapiro (http://www.alexshapiro.org/index.html), I believe, does workshops on promoting your work, which is why her publishing company is called “Activist Music”. It may well be that men are more socialized to go out and put themselves at risk. On the other hand, most of my musical career has been spent working in collaboration with entrepreneurial women, such as Janet Palumbo (Le Triomphe de l’Amour), Tracy Richardson (Melomanie, which performs a combination of early music and new commissions), Elissa Berardi (Philomel), and Laura Ronai, director and creator of the Baroque Orchestra of University of Rio. Here, in North Carolina, in putting together a new concert series, almost all of my collaborators are women, and all involved as well in creating ensembles and opportunities – Alison Willet, Kelly Roudabush, Beverly Biggs, Catherine Legrand, Lorena Guillen (director of the Triangle Jewish Chorale, which has just commissioned a new work on the Jewish experience in the South).

    I can say that no. 4 (men hire men) is certainly not true in my case. Regarding no. 5, I wonder if there is a factor of same-sex attraction between mentor and mentee that is not frequently at work. Regarding no. 6, at least part of this meme certainly is transmitted from mother to daughter. For men, the expectation is that men will have both career and family, or else they are to some extent failures. Indeed, men simply do not have the option to only devote themselves to family. It is not a choice.

    1. Ellen

      You make a great point, which is that strictly enforced gender roles hurt all of us. Men who want to devote themselves entirely to family will meet a great deal of resistance from our culture.

  4. Pingback: NewMusicBox » The Power List: Why Women Aren’t Equals In New Music Leadership and Innovation | Tia Harvey

  5. Keith Kirchoff

    A wonderful article, and it addresses a question I am often asked by the students when I am playing at various Universities.

    I did want to comment primarily, though, upon your opening anecdote regarding your teacher when you were fourteen. You write: “Five years before I had my first real boyfriend, my violin teacher was talking to me about balancing work and family life. Let’s face it: this seed of anxiety was never planted in the minds of my male colleagues.”

    Though that may be true for most studios in the nation (I honestly don’t know), this was not the case in mine. At around the exact same age, I began studying with a very respected piano teacher and expressed my interest in making music my life-long career. He told me exactly what your teacher told you, perhaps even more bluntly: You will NEVER have a family if you pursue a career as a concert artist.

    Like you, I have never forgotten this comment. In the case of my teacher, he was referring to the amount of time spent on the road and how difficult it would be to balance that with a healthy family relationship, be that spouse or children. And it is a prophesy I have not found entirely untrue.

  6. Kaeli

    “Having a mentor relationship misperceived as a romantic or sexual relationship is also a problem. Research in The Sponsor Effect shows that 64% of high-ranking executive men are hesitant to have a meeting with a more junior woman, and half of junior women avoided close contact with senior men.”

    This article seems to insinuate that junior women’s avoidance of senior men is out of concern for having the relationship misperceived by others. As a woman, I have been approached many times with the promise of a mentor-student relationship with older men only to find that the only reason they pursued contact not to mentor me, as I thought, but to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship. I cannot tell you how disappointing it is to feel, time and time again, my worth as an artist devalued and placed below my worth as a sexual being. I don’t find it surprising that other women avoid senior men. It is not a self-defeating strategy; it is a self-protecting one.

    1. Eleonor

      Yes, that has been exactly my experience Kaeli! One male coach at my college even took the cellist I was accompanying aside to see if we were having a relationship, implying that perhaps if we weren’t then he’d have a chance? What business of his is my relationship status?! Something my female piano teacher never inquired about.

    2. Ellen

      Really good point, Kaeli. What you’re talking about, which is basically sexual harassment, is the kind of situation that I’m sure a lot of women are trying to avoid by steering clear of senior men. Unfortunately, this trepidation might be leading us to miss out on important mentoring and growth opportunities. But I can’t say I blame anyone for feeling that way.

    3. Kit

      Thought I might put in a good word for some of us “older men” mentoring young women… In my previous job, I worked with and mentored half a dozen young women interns, and in the job before that, all three employees I hired were women, and chose one over a young man who had roughly equivalent experience and skills. Although I currently work in the new music field, those jobs were in the visual arts – (wonder if that might make a difference?).

      I enjoyed working with them, and believe that enjoyment was largely reciprocated… and tried to give them every encouragement to achieve their full potential, because it was the obvious thing to do.

      That’s not to question the fact there there are pervasive attitudes that are potentially damaging, but rather to suggest that maybe it’s not all bad news out there.

  7. Jennifer Jolley

    My two cents.

    1. I need to read Sandberg’s new book ASAP. From her points that you summarized, I am in agreement with them.
    2. I too need to be more confident in myself as a composer and not fear backlash for actively getting my music performed. And, I hope one day I will be seen merely as a composer—not a “woman composer,” because last time I checked, I was not women-composing music.

    1. Ellen

      Thanks, Jennifer. Fear of looking pushy, bossy, self-promoting or “too aggressive” is definitely a constant background noise for me, too. It means a lot to me that this article might help you push through those hard feelings and continue the important work of growing your career and getting your music out there!

      1. Armando Bayolo

        I know there are gender issues here, but the pushiness in self promotion affects men too. There’s a Romantic notion that Artists don’t concern themselves with suchmundane matters like making a living, and that our music will simply find its advocates naturally (by osmosis?). This is another issue for another time, but it’s an attitude I’m all about disavowing and discouraging.

  8. Jen Wang

    Thanks for this post, Ellen! Along the lines of documentation of institutionalized bias, this study of hiring practices in the sciences, despite being in a different discipline, is well worth mentioning: (Summary from Inside Higher Ed).

    Among my colleagues, both male and female, I’ve encountered a wide range of feelings towards institutionalized bias, ranging from those who believe (as I do) that it’s a fact of life, but not one in which individual guilt has any place; to those who feel that career achievement is a simple meritocracy, and reject discussion of anything else as a desire to play the victim. The most tricky aspects of it, to me, seem to be: (1) the difficulty of “pinning it down” or proving its existence to skeptics, which is why I think the study above is valuable; and (2) acknowledging that the effect of privilege on our lives is complex and varied—everyone is an intersection of many different categories, and those categories may effect us in ways that can be in tension with one another. It’s absolutely possible to be privileged in some ways and disadvantaged in others, for instance, and so it can be difficult to tease out and talk about a single aspect at times.

  9. Liza Figueroa Kravinsky

    Hi Ellen,

    Great article, and it made me think as a woman composer who is starting her own new music ensemble.

    I recognize the barriers of perception. Once, a Hollywood producer told me that women don’t seem to be interested in composing for film – right when I was talking to them. The top film and commercial composers are men. If they make mistakes, it’s not as big a disaster as if a woman were to make a mistake.

    I feel starting my own ensemble will help me overcome these perception barriers. Thanks for articulating what I’ve been sensing.


    1. Ellen

      I’m so glad I could help you articulate what you’ve already been sensing. For me, that’s THE most powerful thing about feminist writing.

  10. Emily H. Green

    Really excellent piece. #5 is so, so important. Only when I recently found a few key female mentors did I realize how starved for them I had been before. Let us all remember to seek them out confidently (see your point #3 about self-promotion…) and also to offer ourselves in that role to our younger peers — whether they look like us or not.

    I’m not sure if you also mention that women are socialized to compete with each other for male attention; sometimes we threaten each other in unhealthy ways and fail to help each other — as mentors or peers.

    There is a fine line between saying, “Hey women, it’s your own damn fault you’re not successful,” and “Let’s all be aware of the ways in which the system itself is keeping us down.” Sandberg (and Ellen) does a good job of acknowledging both, and addressing the former in a positive, productive way.

    Hats off.

    1. Ellen

      Great point — and Sandberg mentions that in her book, too, about the negative competition among women, and women’s hesitation to help each other up the ladder as much as they should.

  11. Jen Richards

    I can think of many counterexamples in leadership specifically. Just here in Chicago, even if I’m not included, Fulcrum Point (Sophia Wong Boccio), Chicago Chamber Musicians (Kathy Butera), UC Presents/Contempo (Amy Iwano), Links Hall (Roell Schmidt), High Concept Labs (Molly Feingold), and the CSO (Deborah Rutter) are all run by women. That’s off of the top of my head, and in addition to Ellen’s own Chicago Q, and those mentioned in the article, ICE’s Claire Chase, Fifth House Ensemble’s Melissa Snoza, and aperiodic’s Nomi Epstein. And in new music generally, the person I and several others most look up to is Janet Cowperthwaite at Kronos Quartet.

    But though these examples make me skeptical about the claim that women aren’t leaders in new music, the larger point of widespread disparity in artistic leadership and number of performers is certainly one that should be discussed. One point I wholly agree with is that the lack of women writers covering the scene (Mia Clarke and Hedy Weiss are the only examples I can think of) is a major contribution to the lack of visibility.

    I would love to hear other thoughts. And more importantly, solutions.

    Thanks for writing this Ellen.

    Jen Richards
    Managing Director, eighth blackbird

    1. Ellen

      Jen, thanks for your comment, and for the chance for me to reflect on what I mean by leadership. You are right; there are a lot of women running organizations. But do they identify as women artists? I don’t believe arts administration is the kind of leadership I’m talking about. I’m talking about women being recognized as visionary artists, creative heavyweights. In a way, arts administration is a thankless behind-the-scenes task. I am talking about highly visible, thriving artists who are recognized for their creative accomplishments and visionary capacities. Although Claire and Melissa, who I named in my article, ARE administrators, they are also artists. The “genius” for which Claire was recently recognized is both artistic and organizational, it seems to me. Anyway, I hope that distinction makes a bit of sense. You’ve hit upon an important point that I’d like to reflect more on.

      1. Natalie Bontumasi

        Hi Ellen,

        Thank you for a thoughtful article about this important (and complex!) issue. It’s great to read such a lively discussion! I agree with so much of what you write, but I did want to make a point about your comment on arts administration.

        Not all musicians, regardless of talent, are visionary, or creative heavyweights, and similarly, not all arts administrators are thanklessly toiling behind the scenes without imagination or vision. Some arts administrators may be women, who for many of the reasons you cite, have quit their early pursuit of a career as an artist, but are compelled to stay in the arts.
        Certainly running an organization requires leadership skills (and vision and creativity would not be unwelcome!), and the highest levels, as in almost every field, are challenging for women to reach. Dynamic leaders of arts organizations are partners in fighting gender inequality, are subject to it themselves, and can bring talent, innovation and courage to their work as well.

      2. John

        I feel like your response to Jen’s comment is rather weak. Leadership comes form multiple domains. In my experience, distinguishing the admin people from the creative people is pretty much impossible when you actually get down to the nitty gritty. To be sure, there is a group generally oriented toward producing art and another group oriented toward facilitating the logistics posed by producing art. But surely you would admit such distinctions to be, ultimately, somewhat facile.

        1. John

          In fact, the number of women working in the field could actually be pointed to as exemplifying just how invisible women are. In spite of doing a lot work, they remain underrepresented in how people think about the field.

          1. Ellen

            This is a great point. Perhaps my undervaluation of administrative work just indicates that women doing that work are being undervalued. (By me! And others.)

  12. Gwyn Roberts

    What a fascinating article! I am a female musician. Together with my husband, I co-founded and co-direct Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempesta di Mare. Despite the fact that my husband and I are equally in charge, and the fact that we always list ourselves as co-directors (with my name first!), people are constantly assuming that he is the real director and I must do, well… something else, probably something administrative. Our CDs show up online with him listed as the conductor. Members of the press call our office and ask to speak to the director — and they never mean me. Colleagues ask me how my husband’s group is doing, or ask me to convey their congratulations to him for his recent successes (a.k.a. OUR cds, concerts, whatever). And, most memorably, when he was out of town recently for one concert that was entirely my project, people asked me afterwards what it was to do a show without the maestro. We’re talking about a group that HAS NO CONDUCTOR, so it’s not like he’s standing up front waving a baton and looking maestro-like. I get tired of having to correct people who do this, and I often feel petty for doing so. But what should I do? The cultural assumption that the man must be the director is so very strong.

  13. Marcos Balter

    Brava, Ellen. Great article on a really pressing issue. I’m glad Jen mentioned all the wonderful female leaders within the Chicago music community. But, the issue remains that their visibility level is not, for most part, equal to that of their male counterparts. Now, if we want to examine a group that is not only near invisible but also completely underrepresented – in leadership positions AND in actual simple participation -, we can shift this discussion to race. But, that’s material for another article (or so I hope!).

  14. Elaine Fine

    Now that I am in my 50s, and have grown tired of fighting for recognition (professional as well as artistic), I’m glad that you’re fighting the good fight, Ellen. Perhaps some day in the distant future women will no longer need to prove themselves in a musical world where most of the judgements are made by men. Or sometimes by women with money, though the days of the “patroness” are pretty much over.

  15. Peter (@CrazyComposer)

    Very interesting article! Having spent over 30 years of my life in music it amazes me that there is such inequality in a field that should be the purest of the arts when it comes to being genderless for what could be less representational of gender than sound waves and their production? As a performer (classical guitar) there was no way to distinguish the sound of a female performer from that of a male, and I defy anyone to listen to ten pianists (or violinists or flautists) playing behind a screen – all playing the same repertoire – and being able to identify their gender according to their playing. Anyone who says they can do it is a charlatan and full of … excrement.

    As a composer I’ve heard my music performed by students and professionals – both men and women – and the results have had nothing to do with their sex or sexuality and everything to do with the amount that they’ve practiced and their musical abilities in general.

    What really has to change in this situation is the culture of institutional sexism that exists in our society – the same type of sexism that permits women to continue receive less than 75% of the pay than men for the same work – why? Because they’re allowed to pay them less. It’s institutional. We’ve grown up thinking it’s okay to treat women like chattel, that it’s okay to objectify them, to subject them to inappropriate language (such as “playing like a woman”) when they deserve respect and equal opportunities – just as men do – and receive.

    What needs to change is the attitude of the men who perpetuate the system that subjugates women, denying them the opportunities to thrive.

    When I was teaching at a private “Christian” school they actually tried to bring me up on charges (sexual misconduct) because I was mentoring a young woman (guitar) – I had the temerity to be in a room alone with her after her scheduled lesson time which was seen as “improper”. Well, I had the time in my schedule and so did the girl in question, so we were going over some lesson material – sitting – fully clothed. But – because I wasn’t billing her for the time the school considered it “suspicious” and wouldn’t accept that someone was doing something like this out of the “goodness of their heart” … it really broke my heart.

    Suffice it to say, that school has since shut down and I only teach hand-picked students – and I’m not even charging for the service. The person I’m mentoring right now is male, but I’d gladly work with a female – it’s just a question of connecting with someone interested in composition (and other things, of course).

    Thanks again for the article.

  16. Jazz Musician

    In my reality, as a musician with a degree in music and entrepreneur who runs a website and smart phone app company, it’s just the opposite. Being a white male, aka grain of sand means that if I am competing for a position or a client or a gig against someone who is either a woman or has a different ethnicity I will lose out every time. Usually because they are “trying to be diverse”. I have seen over and over again musicians and entrepreneurs of less ability be given higher positions simply because they have lady bits. Another white guy is not worth much, a woman on the other hand is going to get every opportunity and ALL of the attention.

    Now I will admit that among men there is a certain level of camaraderie, and a lot of times we will pick our “closest bros” over women for gigs. This however is limited to the bar gig down the street, not the big opportunity. Not to mention that women are even worse when it comes to this, often forming “all female groups” that men aren’t even allowed to partake in. And let me tell you, the all female groups I know have a busy schedule, because boobs.

    This also holds true in business. I was at a business networking group and in the room was 90% older men. Then a young attractive women walks in the room, and instantly receives attention from everyone. She is basically handed the keys to the castle as far as opportunities and referrals. Why? Boobs. Did half of them just want to get in her pants? Probably, but still, she can pass over those people and find the real ones. She had a lot of choices…

    So don’t tell ME women aren’t equal. Go talk to a white guy and find out the crap he has to go through to get the same treatment as a woman or someone who has a different ethnicity. The truth might surprise you.

    1. Jon

      I would expect these kinds of comments on Gawker or somewhere like that, I’m sad to see it here. Speaking as another white guy, I can tell you I’ve gone through exactly none of this said ‘crap’

      Maybe you really did lose a job in favor of diversity (or maybe, just maybe that woman really was very talented and deserved it), but your anecdotes aside, statistics don’t support your view and you can’t argue with the fact that men, specifically white men, dominate the music world (and pretty much everything else) at the moment.

      You may not think so, but simply being white and male gives you quite a lot of privilege and you should try to keep that in mind.

      1. White and male

        “…being white and male gives you quite a lot of privilege.” What bilge. In a nation with its current president, the recent “Memphis Soul” concert at the White House and the huge marketplace out of which classical music is a tiny and dwindling portion in which a diverse group of people are ever in the public eye, name one “white and male” classical musician who receives that kind of media attention. I’d say privilege as well as massive income is being amassed in the popular music segments of the overall music industry while all this white, male “privilege” is doing precious little for classical musicians described as that. The racism exhibited by counting skin color in our dwindling arena of classical music is now overt. Why such racism? which white, male classical musician is holding down others? Name one, please.

        1. bgn

          Philip Glass. Steve Reich. John Adams. John Corigliano. I’d say Elliott Carter, but he’s dead…

          But you have a point (a stupid point, but a point, to quote the guy in All about Eve) Classical music is a dwindling area in terms of general cultural knowledge, and it’s all too easy, even with the best will in the world, for a few big names to monopolize public attention. It so happens that those few big names are all white and male.

          1. White and still male

            “Philip Glass. Steve Reich. John Adams. John Corigliano. I’d say Elliott Carter, but he’s dead…” Zwillich, Tower and a number of women are in such ranks as well. But as to these afore-mentioned “all white and male,” what is your social prescription for them? Banishment. Perhaps a purge according to political correct quotas? My point was and remains that racism and sexism are now rampant, and have not a darn thing to do with classical music and its quality. When political theory trumps the content of art, I get off that bandwagon. Maybe it’s best just to see classical music die off in our modern age, in order that diversity be increased. And, yes, that is sarcasm, because “all white and male” names mentioned as your response don’t amount to a hill of beans in the popular culture these days. Shall we eat our own, or stop such political nonsense trotted out as musicology? “Monopolize public attention?” Corigliano? Try the Beatles and Elvis, admittedly all white and male and mostly dead. Billy Joel, white and male. Reaping hundreds of millions in royalties, while classical music wets its panties over political correctness and counts its pennies. Oh the agony. You win the cleverness award in identifying some composers by gender and race. Now what? Or maybe better, so what?

          2. bgn

            But as to these afore-mentioned “all white and male,” what is your social prescription for them? Banishment.

            Hardly. My point was that we pay attention to too few composers. If we paid more attention to contemporary classical music, particularly attention of the kind spoken of by Missy Mazzoli below, it would be easier to pay attention to more composers, male & female, and not let a few big names hog a very small spotlight.

    2. Emily

      Jazz Musician: your response reads like an onion article! Having people pay attention to you because you have “boobs” is not the same as being taken seriously as an artist — it’s quite the opposite.

  17. Diedre Smith

    My composer friend sent me this excellent article after yet another long and harrowing conversation about the woes of gender inequality, and specifically how the performing arts are decades behind other professions in bridging the gap. As a dancer, I grew up with and even accepted the gender gap and favoritism towards men as a result of the obvious: girls outnumber the boys by at least 20 to 1 (my own likely optimistic estimate). Isn’t it interesting then that the vast majority of high profile positions–of which there are VERY few–are occupied by men? As a child, you’re lucky to have one boy in ballet class. And yet, choreographers, artistic directors, and most renowned teachers are almost always men. And you certainly NEVER find former male dancers teaching “Toddlers in Tutus” at the local strip mall.

    1. Ellen

      How interesting that in a field where men are the tiny minority, they rise to those leadership positions in such big numbers. Excellent point Deirdre, thank you for bringing that in.

  18. James Rogers

    Hello Ellen,
    It is a very nice article that you wrote and it has given me a lot to think about. I am a bass trombone player in NYC. My basic question is what can I be doing to help? There are only one or two other females playing BASS trombone in town so I don’t always have an opportunity to sub out work to women. In my own ensembles I have called women to play and I have commissioned many women to write new pieces. I also have 12 tenor trombone students and over half of them are girls.

    None of those actions (the calling for subs, the commissions, the gender of my students) had premeditation regarding the gender of the people involved. Eve Beglarian is a great composer and writes great for trombones, let’s write a grant was my thinking, not, let me go out and commission a woman composer. Same thing with my ensemble, lets get Jen Baker to sub because she is a great improviser was my thinking and I wasn’t concerned about her gender. These were all passive things. Are there positive proactive things I can do without calling someone just solely based on there gender.

    Also, what you say about the mentor/beer after a gig scene is something I an conscious about too. I am a 6’1” 300 lbs guy with a pony tail and a huge beard. I love the post gig beer but I can tell that some women think I am hitting on them. As much as I like to hang out with a nice big crowd after a gig, I also don’t want to appear sketchy.

    I did a gig with a great female trumpet player and I asked her for her number and felt like I need to tell her, “I am not trying to ask you out, you just sounded great and I can always use another trumpet player in my contact list”. After I said that I felt a little embarrassed.

    Sorry to wander a little in my thoughts but any advice would be nice.


    1. Ellen

      Your comment really makes me happy because I sense that you have observed and understand these problems from your own experience. Simply by acknowledging that we have a problem, you’re doing a lot. My article doesn’t contain many ideas for solutions — mainly I wanted to articulate the problem. Perhaps I can think on this more and write a follow-up!

      1. Ellen

        James, my husband just gave me a great idea. He said, talk to other men about the problem! Some men might take the problem more seriously — and less defensively — if it’s articulated or explained to them by another man.

        1. James Rogers

          That is a very good point of your husbands. It isn’t that men can’t take advice from a woman or we don’t want to listen to a woman, it really has to do with the age and education of the man you are talking to. I am not trying to defend what JAZZ MUSICIAN posted but there is something to take into account.

          I am 30 years old and I went to school in California. From the time I was in middle school to the early part of my college career the Affirmative Action pendulum had swung out very far. There were lots of young teachers who were trying to right the world’s wrongs by teach gender equality but as a young white male, we were made to feel as if we were the cause of the worlds problems. College application had special sections to fill out if you were a woman or of certain ethnicity. I remember my high school’s college counselor looking up scholarships available to me and having to skip over most of them because of my family background. My dad even got a job and was let go before his first day when an accountant realized they could get a tax break if they hired someone who wasn’t white.

          It left many young men, myself included when I was younger, feeling like we weren’t wanted or weren’t needed in the world. If we were being taught gender equality then why are there grant and scholarships based solely on that? Once you leave high school and college it takes a while to learn that things are different in the real world.

          This is why some men my age have a knee-jerk reaction to articles like this. Many of the men who react that way feel like that because they don’t act sexist and haven’t been around sexist behavior and so they might not think there is a problem or feel like they are a part of the problem. With the rise of pop groups that only hire women string and horn section players, and many of us guys still working on our thoughts about the female only Jazz and Classical groups popping up, many men feel their point of view is validated. Taking this mind set into account could possibly help women better explain there point of view to men.

          Back to the original point your husband had is that I have never thought to bring this up as a topic among my guy friends. Thanks for the advice.

          Sorry again for the wandering thoughts.


  19. Sheree Clement

    Thanks so much for writing this lovely piece, Ellen. Very heartening!
    I was particularly glad that Sheryl articulated the piece how you don’t have to be male to engage in sexist stereotypes. I’ve noticed this myself, in the realm of how we perceive a piece of music when we know the gender of the composer, and when we don’t know the composer’s gender, how many of us prefer ‘extroverted’ music to ‘introverted’, self-reflective tone.
    We all have lots of work to do together to make the world a place in which all people are welcomed equally.
    Many Thanks…..

  20. Patricia Morehead

    Dear Ellen,

    Great to read your article, however you must be fairly new on the scene in the last few years. Your research is valuable to read.

    I am the founder of CUBE Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and we have just celebrated our 25th anniversary this season. The founder of dal niente was also a woman composer, now living in Minneapolis and has founded another contemporary music group there quite recently. Janice Misurell-Mitchell and myself were both named as Chicagoans of the year 2002 if I remember correctly, as was composer Lita Grier a few years later. Janice and I collaborated as Co-Artistic directors of CUBE for 20 years. Christie Miller has been artistic director of CUBE for the most recent 5 years.

    The new dean of Merit School of Music is Susan Cook, an outstanding saxophone performer.

    I was president of the International Alliance of Music (IAWM) a few years ago and was also president of the American Women Composers-Midwest organization some years ago, an organization that became part of IAWM.

    Marcos Balter took great pride in telling me that I was too old to be important in the new music scene, but he is a new comer to Chicago with very little knowledge of what CUBE has accomplished over the last 25 years. When Claire started I gave her every piece of advice that I knew and she did it all and beyond. I am so proud of what she has accomplished.

    When you have time you might go to the CUBE website.


    CUBE has commissioned more than 50 new works and have concentrated on presenting many new pieces by Chicago composers over many years and more than 200 concerts. When we started out 8 new music groups in Chicago folded and we were for several years the only non university affiliated new music group in Chicago.

    I appreciate all you are saying but it is important to know that there are three women teaching composition at the University of Chicago, two women at Roosevelt CCPA, one at De Paul and no women teaching composition at Northwestern (Augusta Reed Thomas did for a few years). This is big change over the time I have lived in Chicago when Shulamit Ran and one other woman who taught part-time at De Paul were the only female composition teacher when I moved here from Canada.

    Agusta (Gusty) was composer-in-residence for 10 years with the Chicago Symphony and raised the funding for MusicNow. Shulamit Ran was composer-in-residence with both the Chicago Symphony and the Lyric Opera of Chicago at the same time.

    I was vice-president of the first version of New Music Chicago and helped create the second version.

    I was also president of NEMO (New Music Overseas) with Pierre Boulez as our honorary president and worked with the consulates in Chicago to present several exciting concerts of new music from Europe with European performers and composers coming to Chicago to present and hear their music.

    Patricia Morehead

    1. Ellen

      Hi, Patricia! I am fairly new to the scene — I’ve been here for five years. I am well aware of CUBE and its excellent work. And I am also aware of the women in composition that you mentioned.

      It’s interesting that you, and many others in social media, cite successful women as if they are counter-examples to the arguments made in my article. I am not arguing that there aren’t any successful women in music, or that it’s impossible for women to succeed. What I am arguing is that, when we look at psychological and sociological research, we need to acknowledge that women face certain challenges that men do not. Is this something that you disagree with?

    2. Elaine

      You have always been my ideal model, Pat, and everything you have accomplished has come about through tremendous hard work on your part, as well as working with women (and some men) who respect you a great deal. You, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the great new-musical success stories. There are still a number of greater cultural problems that prevent the many other women who don’t have your administrative and social skills from being considered as important as men in the world of new music. The comments on this post are fascinating. I had no idea, for example, that there were men who felt that they were being professionally overshadowed by women because of their gender and/or race, and were willing to admit it in a public forum.

      Let me add one quirky note. I have been reviewing CDs for the American Record Guide for 20 years, and my reviews are signed with my last name only. Every reader who writes to the magazine about something I have written refers to me as “Mr. Fine.” That speaks volumes.

    3. Marcos Balter

      “Marcos Balter took great pride in telling me that I was too old to be important in the new music scene, but he is a new comer to Chicago with very little knowledge of what CUBE has accomplished over the last 25 years.”

      Pat, you and I know this is absolutely not true. I believe you are referring to our conversations from last year when you came to see me and invited me to become an artistic adviser for CUBE, which I declined. I agreed then to offer you and your board members constructive criticism and suggestions of improvement as an informal adviser. During our conversations, you asked me if you should still be publicly performing as an oboist. Out of utmost respect for your important legacy in the local new music community, I offered you my sincerest opinion, which was echoed by many of your board members. I still stand behind my opinion. I am glad we extended that conversation to other CUBE board members, who might have a more accurate memory of the actual conversation.

      This “newcomer” has been in Chicago for over a decade now. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for everything CUBE has done for the Chicago new music scene in the past 25 years, which is why your misconstrued retelling of this event makes me particularly sad. It is unbecoming of someone of your relevance to maliciously misquote others while attempting to make a point (if there was one).


  21. JHigdon

    Ellen, great article, and I’m loving reading the comments as well.

    Amazingly, I have a slightly different perspective on this (which I think confirms what you’re saying, Ellen)…at no point during my childhood, or even through my college experience, did a single person say to me that I could or could not do something because I am a woman. I was never told that I would have to compromise my art in any way. My parents basically told me and my brother that if we wanted to make art, we just had to do it (my father is an artist). I did not become aware of how pervasive this issue is, until after I left school, and people started sharing their stories.

    In light of this discussion and Sheryl Sandburg’s book, I think I might be one of the most fortunate people working in the arts. But this highlights the truth of the effectiveness (or debilitating aspect) of “messages” that people receive (from parents, teachers, and society) in their formative years (and even after).

    We are ALL compromised by this pervading mentality throughout all aspects of society. I guess it takes constant vigilance.

    1. Ellen

      I’m honored to read your comment and have your participation in this discussion, Jennifer! Thank you so much. I, too, was really lucky to have extremely supportive parents, which is a huge reason that I am doing anything I am doing. I think using the word vigilance is spot-on.

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  23. Judith Lang Zaimont

    Dear Ms. McSweeney,

    Of all your observations and distillations of Sandberg’s book findings the one I think is the most powerful is what Sandberg terms the “likeability tax”:
    “A strong body of research demonstrates that if a man has an ambitious, thriving, and successful career, his peers will find him more likable; if a woman has the same kind of career, her peers will find her less likable.”

    True; lamentably.

    This may explain the puzzling fact that prompted my own 1970s-80s researches into prominent female composers of past eras — why they seemed to have dropped away from historical consciousness once their own era was over. Francesca Caccini, Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Ethel Smythe, Rebecca Clarke, Louise Talma, etc. In my talks in those decades I used to exhort the young composers not to shy away from ‘big ego’ and from nurturing ‘big dreams’. These, those necessary for a career, appeared not to be on the menu for many.

    Also: Disappointing that dal niente’s showing (as you cite) also falls into the male-majority pattern. That ensemble was co-founded by my former U of MN masters student, Kirsten Broberg (profiled earlier in NewMusicBox). Kirsten is one whoe does not shy away from big dreams.

  24. Kim Diehnelt

    —- and one of my Chicago hobbies has been checking the new CSO brochure each spring when the next season is announced, and counting the number of female faces…..

  25. Victoria Bond

    What an excellent article – addressing the core issues of women’s personal as well as professional challenges. As a conductor, composer and Artistic Director of Welltone New Music and Cutting Edge Concerts in New York City, I face these challenges daily. I hope that my work will in some way further our progress towards a more equitable musical community with greater opportunities for women.
    Victoria Bond

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  27. Vivian Fung

    Thank you for writing a provocative article Ellen. I actually think it is a very good time to be a female composer – like JHigdon, I have had encouragement and opportunities that I feel are very fortunate and equal to that of any other living composer out there. And I think that more and more women composers in their 20s and 30s are becoming true forces in the new music arena.

    That being said, I think that “Lean In” did resonate with me, as well as the points you brought up, partly as a result of my upbringing and partly as a result of the culture of academia–at least the setting in which I went to college and grad school. As we have more and more female leaders entering leadership and teaching positions, I am confident that we are approaching a natural tipping point towards more awareness in this country and North America.

  28. Derek Bermel

    I’ve never been offered any opportunity — a commission, a gig, or any other job — and had to wonder, “Do they think I’m good, or is it because I’m a guy?” That’s a hefty psychological load to bear in addition to all the other ones that artists carry. We still have a long way to go (that goes for race too). Thanks for the article, Ellen.

  29. Rick Robinson (Mr. CutTime)

    Thanks Ellen! I too was very inspired by Sandberg’s recent interview in Time Magazine about her book. As a black (tho male) composer and innovator, I’ve experienced approx. half of the same issues. As one commentor said, the pendulum swings and now it is furthest to the Right relative to 30 years ago. This is the way of things, esp. in a very competitive age. Plus, people look after their own in times of economic crisis. We might succeed despite the extra challenges because this is where we find ourselves and it is still worth pursuing. My music for example folds urban pop such as R&B, gospel, Latin, rock, jazz, even hip hop with classical counterpoint. This doesn’t resonate in the composer community but it seems to work well with audiences new to classical. The sign above my office door reads, “Talent made a poor appearance, until he married perseverance.” Hang in there!

  30. Leanna Primiani

    What a terrific article! It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone talk about the disparity among male and female composers. I read Sheryl’s book after hearing her comments on several talk shows, and I have to say she is correct. Women don’t promote themselves the way men do. I was very guilty of this, and my husband literally had to push me to promote myself and not let me take no for an answer. It is still very difficult for me to do… but I do it. People might not like it, and they might even be surprised by it, but if I don’t promote myself, who will?
    Think about how many up and coming male composers comfortably go back stage after a concert and schmooze successfully, or contact presenters, orchestra administrators, agents, publishers and the like until they receive a commission, performance or sign a contract? Do women do this? I don’t think we do this as much as we should. I believe we have to make a conscious decision to promote ourselves, our music and our talents, and not let our children, our families or the “good girl” mentality get in the way of our inevitable success. If we really want it we can do it… but we have to want it.
    Leanna Primiani

    1. Elaine Fine

      Some people are just not good at self promotion (men as well as women). Is this skill ultimately what it takes to be a full participant in the current musical world? To me the act of self promotion is personally abhorrent. I do the very little bit I do because I have to, and I find even that to be difficult. I have always felt that the real proof of a composer’s worth is in the pudding, not in the packaging, but I suppose that’s not the way the world now works. There’s a lot of mediocre “pudding” sitting around in brightly-colored packaging, and people still respond to the packaging. Being an outspoken “bad girl” (I’m not guilty of the “good girl” mentality) hasn’t gotten me anywhere, but you will always know where I stand when it comes to a particular piece of music or a particular performance of it.

      I have noticed that many of the more successful male composers of the past achieved their success through their wives and partners promoting their work. A lot of successful performing musicians had (and have) the same kind of in-house support (I see it all the time).

      1. White and male

        Pardon the pun but — very fine. Partners in relationships are in fact part and parcel of how creativity is nurtured. The constant focus on describing composers by race and gender has an interesting facet, and that is that it dismisses out-of-hand partners. But as to women composers, the clear and simple truth is proven out not by politics but by perseverance coupled to talent. I think of a van Gogh painting in relative obscurity as a poet like Emily Dickinson writing in total obscurity in their time. It is the work, and not the physical characteristics of composers which carries work forward into our canon. And our canon is under threat from the popular culture which no longer supports it. As you wrote about the last inauguration, Ms. Fine, the question grows: whither classical music, irrespective of gender and racial focuses. All this diversion to count physical characteristics ignores the music, the art, the creativity and of course, the partners who help birth such. Best wishes.

  31. Missy Mazzoli

    It’s always pleasantly surprising to read a fresh perspective on the gender issue in new music, at a time when most of these articles are so similar I feel like I could recite them in my sleep.

    That said – I feel a certain hopelessness when these articles, or comments, include these long lists of female composers or arts leaders. Not only does it depressingly underscore the point, (as John mentioned in his comment) that women are extremely active in the field but are not gaining recognition for their work, it lumps these women together under a big fat W, ignores the vital and striking differences between these women, and bypasses any considered discussion of the work itself. It’s unlikely that Jennifer Higdon’s music would ever be confused with Meredith Monk’s, and while both Joan Tower and Anna Clyne are forces to be reckoned with in the orchestral world, they are from different generations and their approach to the medium could not be more different.

    I’d love to see critics, composers and bloggers take a closer look at the work itself. What was it about Claire Chase’s business plan that made ICE so successful? What is it about Julia Wolfe’s approach to rhythm that makes her music stand out? What about Marin Alsop’s technique is singular? (And yes, part of this is allowing women to be subject to the same music-focused criticism as their male peers.) If we can see these women as composers and visionaries first and really get into what makes their work compelling and unique, it will seem ridiculous to then say “By the way – that genius ALSO HAS BREASTS!” and the gap may start to close, even just a tiny bit.

    Over half of all panels in which I participate are some variation on “Why Aren’t There More Female Composers?”. It’s a fascinating topic, and one that I think is important to explore the historical reasons for the gender gap. It’s also important to make young women aware of it so they don’t internalize or personalize problems that have their root centuries before these young women were born. I enjoyed this article and Lean In (albeit in the sober and complicated way one enjoys a juice fast or a brutal Pilates class) but, as an artist I always feel a little empty after spending an entire day focused on this topic. Talk to me about extended techniques for violin. Argue with me about voice leading in the latest Philip Glass symphony. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of Balinese tuning systems and brainstorm about ways to translate that to a string quartet. Tell me why you prefer Nixon in China over Doctor Atomic. Female composers, performers and arts professionals want the same things their male peers want. They want to write, they want to work, they want to perform. They crave intense intellectual discussion. They want a place in the game, they want to be challenged, they want to be recognized for what makes them stand out, like any artist.

    1. Mark N. Grant

      Hi. Sure, I’ll argue with you about voice leading in Philip Glass. IS there voice leading to speak of in the music of Philip Glass? You mean the shifting pedal points in his arpeggios? It never occurred to me that the term voice-leading could be applied to Glass’s style of homophonic minimalism constructed of blocks of grooves– at least, applied in a way that makes any classical part-writing sense. But maybe I’m missing something here. Could you perhaps explain?

    2. Ellen

      Missy, it’s so nice to hear from you. I’m glad you felt that this provided some kind of fresh perspective, because you’re absolutely right, a lot of this conversation seems to be stuck on repeat.

      I absolutely LOVE your comment. As important as this topic is, I feel the same kind of emptiness when I spend too long dwelling in it. After several days of fielding all the comments and responses to this article, I am ready to write poetry, compose, listen to music, and play my violin — to immerse myself in the work I truly want to be doing. To preserve our creative energies, we definitely need to find a balance between awareness, activism, advocacy and …. the f’ing music itself, which heals so much. Thanks for pointing that out.

    3. Clibber

      Mizzy, I couldn’t agree more.

      I’m going to be simple.

      There’s something to be said about Not Being Concerned With Gender. If we’re always so present to gender, it absolutely gets in the way. It adds to the divide, and often makes some of us identify in a way that we never intended or wanted.

      I feel deeply for women who are underrepresented and unappreciated in this field. It’s real crappy.

      The antidote to all that awful Dick Energy: being around men who, by nature or nurture, simply respect people by their character and by the quality of their music. When this attitude is present amongst male composers and musicians (I have seen and felt it! I am there!), gender issues do not disappear, but they become less painful, and much less present. IF you can surround yourself with more men like that, (and more women who like that!), things will and do change. Immersion, and Osmosis.

      And Isn’t that the end point? That gender doesn’t cause a plus or a minus, but instead is simply a unique voice?

  32. Phillip Bush

    I enjoyed reading your very fine and thought-provoking article. One thing I’d like to point out, though: the advice you received from your teacher that “being a musician and having a family is extremely difficult,” is not necessarily a gender-biased comment in every instance. In fact, I’m pretty blunt in giving this advice to both young women AND men, without bias of any kind. It’s part of the reality of the business, especially in the free-lance touring new music concert world (or touring-anything world, really).

    1. Ellen

      Philip, you are correct that having a family is difficult for all musicians, regardless of gender. I would like to emphasize, though, that having a family is a different proposition for women than it is for men. This is of course because of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and thousands of years of history in which women did almost all the childcare. Work-life balance is a challenge for everyone, but having a child is not the same for a man as it is for a woman. Right?

  33. Judith Shatin

    While the pop-industrial complex and the current focus on ‘culture studies’ continue to marginalize ‘unpop’ concert music, one positive step that we can take is to be thoughtful about what music we teach. How many go beyond the defacto canon in repertoire choices in music classes, not to mention performance instruction? This takes additional time and care, but education is a crucial way for many to encounter the music of contemporary composers beyond tiny number of ‘known unknowns.’ This is a great way to bypass the gatekeepers, and find ways to share music that one believes in, whatever the gender of the composer. I decided on this strategy for every course I teach, and every program I’m involved in.

    As to the issue of women leaders – plenty of discussion about that above. I would just add that women, both in ensembles and academia, are still too often the ‘go-to’ gophers, and need to learn to say no! Of course it is essentializing to just attribute this to women – there are certainly men caught in the same bind. Yet, through my own experience and watching that of others, it seems additionally relevant in the case of most women.

    As someone who has been in this field for several decades, it has become ever more apparent to me that each of us can make a different through the choices we
    make whenever and however we have the opportunity, and Ellen’s article is one such choice.

  34. Nikolas

    A great article Ellen,

    however my experience is rather different… I’m a composer and a publisher of contemporary concert hall music. So I’m looking things from the perspective of the composer and mainly that of the publisher.

    On the 6 points towards the end of your article.

    1. Yes and no. I do see the point, in relation to a short red dress from a pianist last year… :P for me it was fun, and I seriously hope that any performer that works with me might do the same, male or female! :D Image means a lot and our society may not be exactly ready, but we can push the envelope to make it happen. Still, I’d imagine that part of my experience as a composer (who mostly works behind closed doors) has something to do with this.

    2. Some hard stats, from my experience. In our publishing house (age 1 year old! :D), we currently represent 15 composers. From those only 1 is a female. And there’s interest in a second female composer. While this does mean that women are afraid to go ahead, when they do they do prove how worthy they are, regardless of sex, or nationality (btw). The percentage of women applying to publish their works through us is 100%! :D. While that of men is declining little by little! :D

    3. See above

    4. I don’t know… I’m a male and all I keep seeing is a female to work with me. Nothing to do other than the fact that I need, not a clone of myself, but someone different, in order to fill in the gaps.

    5. Again, in my experience it doesn’t apply. And I’ve got more female students than male. They are much more eager to go into the creative part of music (composition) rather than the performing part.

    6. That yes, I agree! It’s very unfortunate that this is happening and I’m not sure what can be done… but I would like to think that the Internet may help avoid any issues to do with gender and nationality! After all it’s a single world with persons in it (not people, or “men”), right?

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  39. Kitty Brazelton

    For my own path, I am grateful because I’ve never ultimately felt limited as a woman. I have indeed experienced people underestimating me (at first)—and that could be because of gender, or simply because I don’t act “classical” enough, and the new music world is—despite its designation—conservative and seeks the insurance of pedigree.

    However as a teacher and employer, I’ve definitely experienced the box that young women continue to put themselves in, classical or un. My male students generally seem more entitled. Composition lessons with women students require more steady encouragement and attentive self-esteem-building.

    As a bandleader it was much easier to find and hire white males than anyone else. I made an extra effort to find women because I wanted to work in a mixed environment. One young woman bassplayer told me she couldn’t make rehearsal because she didn’t want to bust a nail. That made me realize I might be going too far.

    As a mom—well, I didn’t allow myself to consider motherhood until it happened by accident when I was 41. I’d thought being a musician meant I couldn’t be a mother. When I found out I was pregnant it was as if I’d been admitted to the human race—I was overjoyed. And because I’d waited, I was mature enough to be both musician and mom. Again I’m grateful.

    When my marriage broke up, everything I feared all those early years came to be—working full-time as primary bread-winner and when I wasn’t working, no time to continue the level of performance and participation in the music world that I’d enjoyed back when I was double.

    Now my daughter is in college and I’m resuming. When I feel weak, I am afraid that the world will be closed to me as an older woman composer and performer. No gonad-music for me. But when I’m strong, I think it’s just a question of letting people know I’m here.

    And being brought up Victorian to be modestly feminine, seen and not heard—that is something to overcome, I agree with Ellen! But it can be done.

    So yes, the old prejudices are still with us. And in music worse than in many of the other arts, let us not remain in denial. Awareness is the first step. Trust. Question and change small actions. One by one. And if you’re in a position to make a difference—teaching, sitting on a grant panel, curating, publishing music journalism—take note.

  40. william osborne

    Your comment about gender parity in orchestras might need some qualification. Only 1 to 2% of the trumpet and trombone positions in our top 20 orchestras are filled by women. Same story in Europe’s orchestras.

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  42. Cynthia Katsarelis

    Excellent article. I’m a conductor. I formed my own orchestra, Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, and have taken wild risks. We did the Rocky Mountain premiere of Golijov’s Oceana, for example, and just did the Philip Glass Symphony No. 3 in Denver and Boulder. So clearly, I’ve broken the risk barrier. However, what has enabled this was taking on financial risk and working hard for financial support and gathering a team a to make it happen. The fiscal component cannot be underestimated. I am not independently wealthy, but with a tenured significant other, I could put everything I had into the start up and occasionally bridge fiscal gaps. I have to wonder if women conductors and composers have access to the same amount of fiscal resources as guys in general?

    Further, it is clear that women conductors are not even getting the same opportunities as men to audition. In my area alone, these searches took place without even interviewing or auditioning a single woman:
    University of Colorado, Boulder, Orchestra conductor
    University of Colorado, Boulder, Choral conductor
    Metro State University, Orchestra conductor
    Denver Philharmonic, the community orchestra, auditioned 8 men, including local grad students.
    Fort Collins Symphony/Colorado State University, orchestra conductor
    Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Resident Conductor

    No woman had an opportunity at any of those. Did they all conspire to keep out woman? Certainly not. And yet it happened.

    I have had opportunities, typically with youth orchestras. And I am very passionate about passing the musical traditions on to gifted young people. However, I’m fully professional, trained at Peabody and CCM, extra training with Marianne Ploger (some people will know how significant that work is), and apprenticed with the Cincinnati Symphony, Pops, and May Festival. Professional opportunities have been crazy limited.

    I had to create an orchestra. Marin Alsop created Concordia, JoAnn Falletta didn’t create the Denver Chamber Orchestra, but she transformed it from more community to professional quality. In all cases, the created orchestra added/adds much to the musical landscape of the regions where they exist. But they are also the place where women have had to create our own opportunities to create music on a much higher level than say, educational settings. The orchestra I’ve created is quite excellent. I bring a strong vision and the players bring theirs, and we come up with magic. We challenge each other, and we all grow. I’m not sure that many other settings are that special. I do wish some orchestras would give me, and themselves, the opportunity to find out!

    It would have made a huge difference in my life and career trajectory to have had a mentor. The institutions where I studied were really quite good in passing on the art and having great peers to work with. But there just wasn’t advice and contacts to get much going.

    Thank you for this excellent article. There’s much for us to do internally as well as externally.

    1. Christy Muncey

      Cynthia –

      I wanted to respond to your comment about not having a mentor with a question. Is it that you had no mentor, or did not have a female mentor?

      I am also a conductor and I have had a dearth of female mentors throughout my musical career. The male mentors I have had, however, have made all of the difference. As a flute player I had two male and two female teachers. It was one of the male teachers that encouraged me to pursue a career music in the first place. As a conductor I have had three mentors, all male, and all incredibly encouraging. One of them (who happens to hold a post you mentioned above – I’m from the same area) spent more time than he should have convincing me that I should pursue a career in conducting. Had he not done so with such determination, I would not be where I am today. His connections helped me to get to the next level in my career – in addition to my own talent and hard work, of course! – and my current teacher/mentor’s encouragement and connections have already provided a wealth of opportunity. While none of my mentors have been women, I have been fortunate enough to work with men who understood the challenges I was up against and helped equip me to face those challenges.

      In addition to some great mentors, I have also had several men (and women!) in my professional and personal life who have been wonderful advocates. I realize I have been extremely fortunate in this and that not everyone has been as lucky. It is nice to know, however, that there are men out there who are as behind our cause as we are.

      I applaud you for starting your own ensemble. It seems like forging new paths is a good answer for not only new music composers of all genders but conductors as well. Your success is heartening. Having a successful significant other does help, and I’m glad they are supportive of your endeavors. Not everyone is as lucky, but I think it was already mentioned somewhere that successful musicians (men and women alike!) often have someone behind them to assist – husband, wife, patron(ness). It is certainly possible to go it alone, but having an enthusiastic partner can help smooth many paths.

      I agree with you that there are still many barriers we have to face. In my own career I have had people leave my ensembles because they “could not imagine being conducted by a woman” and been told “Oh! You’re a conductor! And a woman! And you’re pretty. You’ll have no problem finding a job.” And that does not even begin to touch the surface of some of the truly sexist comments my male conducting colleagues have made or being treated as a favorite daughter, to be tolerated but generally ignored.

      After all is said and done, just as female composers want their music performed because it is good and not because of their gender, I do not want to win the job because I am a woman but because I am talented and the best candidate. Is there still work to be done to ensure that I even get an audition? Sure, but I am hopeful.

      Ellen – thank you for writing this article and for sparking the conversation. After reading your article I got Sandberg’s book and quickly read it. The concepts she covers are very much applicable to us in the music world, and I hope we can take to heart that while things are indeed better, we have a long way to go to find true equality – not just where women get their music played or get a gig simply because, but where the best music gets performed and the most talented musician gets the gig, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality.

      1. Cynthia Katsarelis

        Hi Christy,

        To answer your question, I didn’t have career mentors. Artistic mentors, yes. Fred Prausnitz at Peabody was a remarkable teacher, as was Charles Bruck at the Pierre Monteux School. It’s also hard to beat the ear and musicianship training from Marianne Ploger. But none of my artistic mentors were strong on the practical side. Advice and contacts were limited. To speak to Ellen’s article about how to help ourselves, I was not good at asking for help in my early career, when you need it. I was pretty good at getting into programs and the apprenticeship with the Cincinnati Symphony was awesome. That certainly helped me get the professional conducting gigs that came my way. Also, being a professional violinist kept me working and growing, even with an unfortunate injury.

        Academia is a great option, it may not be perfectly equal, but there’s certainly more opportunity there. One must, of course, finish the DMA!

        The major thing for conductors is that it takes experience to grow. I got good at doing Young People’s and Pops concerts on one rehearsal. Putting on a great show is important but it isn’t a hardcore artistic endeavor, like doing a large scale work. I’m grateful for the youth orchestra and University adjunct positions where I got to do big repertoire, and I got to give back as a teacher. But it is a step further to master large scale works with the expressive and technical capacities of a terrific professional orchestra, and in repertoire ranging from Bach Christmas Oratorio to Philip Glass 3rd Symphony. I had to create that opportunity, and find awesome collaborators. It was so worth it!

        Right now, only 2 women lead ICSOM orchestras. I think that only 1 or 2 lead ROPA orchestras. I haven’t counted lately. But Peabody and the Pierre Monteux School both had a lot of talented women when I was there. Where are they now? Honestly, there is no energy anywhere on the horizon to help chisel through the cement ceiling.

        I remember you, Christy, from Fort Collins. Congrats on getting to my alma mater and the success you are having there. Keep it up! Drop by if you come back to Colorado.

  43. Deborah J. Anderson

    Thank you, Ellen, and also Ms. Sandberg.
    I am a woman composer in Tacoma, Washington. I was recently asked to speak to a small group about what it is like to be a woman composer.
    Frankly, I had never really thought about it, since being accepted as a composer at all was my biggest self-imposed obstacle.
    In order to round out my talk, I did a little research and was astounded to discover how few women composers there are who are performed, published played on classical radio stations, and studying composition in the universities.
    I came up with 5 ideas, and this was before Ms. Sandberg’s book came out.
    1) Stress and competition. I wondered whether the stress and stiff competition in the music world was a factor in these low numbers, and whether women don’t deal with competition as easily as men. First, I did a little private research, contacting as many musicians and people in the music world as I could, to see if they agreed that competition was as difficult in this profession as I assumed. Many answered – and unrelated to gender, many felt that the level of competition was indeed very high.
    I contacted a friend who is a psychologist and asked if he felt, after 40 years of practice, whether he felt men reacted differently to criticism than women. He basically said, “Well, duh. Men TEND TO react to criticism with ‘Well F… you’, whereas women tend to retreat but fight back later and in a very different way.
    2) You have to market yourself. As others have already mentioned in response to your article, Ellen, women TEND TO be more reluctant to market and promote themselves. I was brought up as the equal of my bothers, but I was also taught that it was bragging to promote yourself. It took me YEARS to even believe it was OK to create a website and list my works, publications, performances and prizes.
    3)You need a good support system, and encouragement. Luckily, this situation is improving for women. However, as they say in France, “Vive la différence” – we can’t ignore our DNA and genetic make-up; there is a reason that women were created with a desire to have children and raise families. I am in no way dissing this: I myself chose to abandon my career as a teacher and stay home to raise my 4 children. Of course, most men also want to have families, but it’s not quite the same. (Let’s not go there in this response; some men are terrific stay-at-home dads.) I have had the incredible good fortune to enjoy the support of my family and of performers, initially local but then expanding to nation-and-world-wide, to encourage me to continue writing. Another issue I brought up, gender-related, is that day-care is extraordinarily expensive, composing takes a great deal of uninterrupted time, and it’s hard for families to justify paying daycare when the royalties for published pieces (for men or women) are discouragingly tiny. See next point:
    4) You need a patron. Things haven’t changed much in the world of composers and musicians. In bygone centuries, male composers usually depended on the church, minor nobility, wealthy and educated families for income. Nowadays, a spouse with a good income, a trust fund, a lucky/smart stock investment portfolio, are all necessary to provide the needed funds. Not many people can really make a proper living as a composer. Radio stations and symphony orchestras depend on patrons to support them, and let’s admit it, many patrons are of the older generation who like the old masters. See next point:
    5) My most far-out idea, and one which has met with vigorous dissent but I invite you to at least consider it: some contemporary music has been leaning towards a sort of “external observation” approach. My 100-year-old mother called it “noise”. Perhaps – only perhaps – this appeals more to males than to females, and again I am not dissing one or the other. I embrace male and female and in-between approaches to life. Right side of the brain and left. We need both/all. And I just wish both/all carried equal weight in the importance we assign them.

    In conclusion, I agree that the proof is in the pudding, and whether you are male or female, the music you compose should rest on its own laurels. Some competitions require anonymous submissions, and this is great. But otherwise, the problem of self-promotion, the problems of risk-taking and opening yourself to criticism, and as you phrased it, Ellen, the penalty for success, take their toll amongst women. I encourage every woman out there to follow her dream, whatever it is, and I applaud every support system she has. I also encourage every man to follow his dream, and I applaud his support system as well! As our president has been trying to tell the senate and congress, Let’s work together.

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  45. Julie Cleveland

    Wow. I can relate to this article. I have spent my life in this type of situation and can relate to many of the points. As a grad comp student at NEC in the late 80s, my music was categorized as “feminine” or “women’s music,” or, the worst adjective, apparently, “accessible” which in effect referred to the previous adjectives, as if it was of a lesser quality than the “inaccessible” compositions of my male peers. I was one of only three women in my grad composition department at the time. I don’t know what has happened to the other two women, if they have continued on in their careers. I, in essence, by being so busy all the time struggling to be a musician, gave up marriage and kids to pursue my art; I am still struggling. (I am also an actor.) Thank you for writing this article, it’s reassuring to get some validation some 25 years later, and I now plan on reading Lean In.
    One of my “feminine” “accessible” compositions from that time. Enjoy. Or not.

    1. Stella

      That’s great!! Amazing job, you are quite talented! I bet you could make it big in the music industry! I listened to it multiple times! Brava! :)

  46. Sam McElroy

    “Women musicians are less likely to embark on high visibility projects, take professional risks, and conceive of themselves as leaders—which leaves them at a distinct disadvantage in developing entrepreneurial careers.”

    May I share with you here an example of a woman who proudly bucks this trend.

    The Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (whom you may recall from the first inauguration of President Obama) is not only a concert pianist playing on the world stage, but she has taken massive professional risks by passionately rekindling the old tradition of the player as composer and improviser.

    In a music world run by marketing executives, in which “Who are you?” is more important than “What do you do?”, Gabriela Montero has not been afraid to focus solely on the music, even when faced with critics who can not accept that, in this specialized world, one person can do three things equally well, and at a world-class standard. She has to remind them constantly that Beethoven did it, as did Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov and many others. They can not accept that a modern recital can be divided 50-50 between the old and the made-up-on-the-spot. One or the other simply has to be trashed!

    Furthermore, she is not afraid to use composition to unmask the brutality of life in modern Venezuela at a time when Venezuela is exported through El Sistema as an oasis of artistic bliss and opportunity. She openly refuses to take money from the Venezuelan government or to represent it in any way, as long as corruption and murder rates remain among the highest in the world – Caracas, home of El Sistema, is the world’s deadliest capital city. Do any other Venezuelan musicians show the courage to protest this, or even to mention it?

    Not only does she address this head-on with regular appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but in 2011 she wrote a tone poem for piano and orchestra entitled “ExPatria”, a musical portrait of theft, corruption and murder in modern Venezuela. She funded it from her own pocket, driven only by her conscience. It was premiered by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields to critical and public acclaim. In 2012 she played it again at the Martha Argerich Festival in Lugano, and it has received subsequent performances at the Palau in Barcelona, and with the Louisiana Symphony Orchestra. It will be recorded for disc this summer.

    Gabriela Montero is a leader in every sense of the word. Her only struggle is not with her gender, but with the changing values of the classical music business, in which these self-evident virtues, accompanied by genial musicianship, are usurped by executives who no longer know how to lead, and who are simply not the best musicians in the room, if they are musicians at all. They follow the market, rather than creating it, erroneously believing that the market knows what it wants, forgetting, at their peril, that the market is the egg and not the chicken. Today’s record label is more interested in Facebook metrics than the ability to really play and contribute to historical excellence.

    Let me sign off by saying that I am not writing this to promote Gabriela Montero, who is doing quite fine without this, and even though this piece is about women and entrepreneurship, but simply to say that it can be done, with imagination, guts, creativity, talent and the confidence to lead the narrative. As Steve jobs said, “Don’t ask the market what it wants. Tell it what it wants.” That applies to both genders.

    Suggested viewing: Gabriela Montero “ExPatria”, a mini-documentary.

  47. Sarah

    Hi Ellen,

    Thanks for posting this. Three items caught my eye – the idea of the “social tax,” Derek’s comment about ““Do they think I’m good, or is it because I’m a [woman]?”, and Gwyn’s experience of co-directing an organization with a man.

    I’d be interested in seeing how the social tax is distributed across gender. For example, is that tax paid primarily among women peers or equally? In the experience of friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with, many woman seem to feel the effects of the social tax more among other women than among men. As in “The audacity! Who does she think she is for not following our agreed upon rules of socialized female behavior!” And so, how do we solve that problem as women except to acknowledge abundance and intentionally cheer one another on?

    On Derek’s comment, I have asked myself that question more than once. In college, I was first horn in an ensemble led by a man who was rumored to have had an affair with at least one student. He was very supportive of me. In rehearsals I’d wonder “Did I earn this seat based on my playing or based on his ulterior motives? If the latter, am I the butt of a joke? Do the other ensemble members look down on me?” And likewise, I received high marks and frequent praise from an arranging professor who was notorious for sleazy pursuit of undergrads. When I got a nearly perfect score on my final project, I wondered “Wow, did I earn this? Am I good at this? Or is he trying to take advantage of me?” I still don’t know the answer and it’s too bad because if I had been able to trust the strong positive feedback I might have taken it seriously.

    And regarding Gwyn’s comment, I can only concur. A few years ago a partnered with Steven Swartz (white, male, brilliant, a generation ahead of me) to run DOTDOTDOTMUSIC. We are business partners and equal stakeholders in the company. We are equally responsible for securing, driving, and carrying out business, and we each do it excellently. And yet, on several occasions business contacts (male and female) have referred to him as my “boss.” I don’t have a boss – I co-run a business. What can I do but correct the assumption each time? And then, because I’m conditioned to be “nice” above all else, I leave the interaction tempted to feel responsible for the awkwardness.

    Thanks for reading. And I’ll note: Jenny Bilfield and Janet Cowperthwaite are two extraordinary visionaries and rain-makers in new music. I admire them both because they approach projects with equal parts might, creativity, and humanity.

    Sarah Baird Knight

  48. E

    WONDERFUL article!!! I’ve been on the fence on whether to buy Lean In, and this convinced me that I really should read it. I think you’re so right about most things here, especially about how there’s an assumption that it will be easier for women to rise to the top of artistic careers–I’m actually working on a blog post on EXACTLY that subject, but focused on the ordeal of Abbie Conant and the Munich Philharmonic. This was a fantastically clear, precise call to action for women musicians. Thank you! And I look forward to reading all the other comments when I have a chance, because I’m sure your readers are just as insightful :)

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  50. Suzi Banks Baum

    Dear Ellen,

    Thank you for your complete and thought provoking article. The comment thread alone is educational. You have inspired quite a lot of
    reflection. While the discussion on the inequalities of women throughout the arts in America could turn us all towards heartbreak, this article and the work of many organizations like WAM Theatre here in the Berkshires is turning the tide. http://www.wamtheatre.com/
    I have a friend in the Chicago music scene, Judy Stone of the Orion Ensemble. I will share this article with her. http://www.orionensemble.org/
    And, I will link to this discussion on my website. I write and blog about motherhood and creativity.
    Thank you.

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  53. millo lailang

    I agree there are biases in gender in the society. But check out youtube or any other social media. A female gets thousands of likes just for some crappy guitar playing or any other kind of stuffs. A male never gets to 100 likes. So, I guess women have their own advantages that men will never get.
    Men get certain advantages in certain areas of life like being the leader of the family. But when society blames failures of the family, it all goes to the men too.

  54. Mila

    I’m Mila, and I play the alto saxophone, piano and ukulele. Why are men so dominant in the music industry?! There are so many things in life where women aren’t as equal as men, and this is one of the things where they SHOULD be equal! Women should be accepted into the industry, and it is NOT ok that they aren’t. In a huge orchestra, in 50 years, only 6.5% of the score writers were women! 6.5% is tiny! We need to change this. Women are as talented as men, so let’s team up and make an action for this!
    Thank you! This article was very well executed!
    – Mila

    1. Stella

      That is so true! I read a similar article with those statistics and it was amazing! I really don’t see why men are more superior in the music industry! Women are just as capable then men. Some articles say that women are judged on their appearance rather then their actual talent. It’s pretty sad but incredibly true. How often do you see comments on how good men look rather than how they did performance wise?! Not very often! Whenever you can, encourage girls to be inspired and become big in the music industry. We gotta get up to the top and overpower these boys. Let’s do this girls!

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