A Three Part Look at Women’s Struggle to become Accepted in the Band.
I recently heard some interesting reminiscences from a couple of ladies in music regarding their journey into the world of professional music. This is the second part of a three part look at the struggle of women in instrumental music from my point of view.
As a woman growing up in northern Vermont, I thought that some of the “experiences” I had in becoming a member of the music community and specifically the world of band and public music education were unique to my rural roots. I entered that world in the 1960’s when becoming “free and equal” was in the air for everyone, or so I thought.
I began my career in music as the only female trombone player in my high school band. My sister became the only female drummer a couple of years later. Whereas, I had little trouble in moving to first chair (everyone ahead of me graduated), she found herself relegated to cymbals and triangle most of the time because the boys were assigned the snare and timpani parts by our male band director.
I went on to major in music. I enjoyed being in the same classes as some of my former male Allstate Music Festival colleagues. Then my college band director found a band piece featuring a trombone quartet. I was one of only a handful of trombone majors so I was excited about having the opportunity to be part of the quartet. He selected two of my fellow male trombone majors, selected another male trombone player not majoring in music from the band, and had our male tuba player, who also played trombone, perform. I had ranked first or second each year at All State auditions alongside one of the male trombonists that he selected. There was very little difference in our playing at that point. So, what was this about?
That same band director was my trombone teacher my freshmen year. It seemed odd to me that he was always late for my lesson and always had a phone call during the lesson. This was way before cell phones so the calls had to be transferred to the chapel where he scheduled the lesson. This continued until I went to the Department Chair about it. I thought things had improved until I was assigned a graduate student working for his masters in trombone. The only thing I remember from his lessons was a criticism he had of my playing. “Don’t play like a girl.” Now, exactly what does that mean?
After graduation, I taught music in the public schools. I was the first music teacher since the former music teacher had passed ten years before. He had the entire music program from elementary through high school. When he passed, his position had not been filled until I came along. I was responsible for all aspects of the program in the high school including resurrecting the band. I began the band program the best that I could. There was no feeder program from the elementary schools at that time. So my high school instrumental students were beginners with only a few exceptions of students who had transferred in from other school districts with a full-fledged music program. The only advantage my “newbies” had over those who would have begun to play in the 4th or 5th grades was that some of them learned the intricacies of counting music faster. But we persevered.
One day I overheard the headmaster telling another faculty member that the band sounded like an elementary band. I was devastated. Of course, they would sound like an elementary band at that stage of their development. A few days later, the headmaster said to me, “Would the band be better if you were a man?” Now, what was I supposed to say to that?
I thought about my situation as compared to Doris’ and realized that it wasn’t difficult for me to join the concert or marching band; my difficulties came in being accepted as a worthwhile contributor to the world of instrumental music beyond high school. I left teaching after only 8 years and entered the business world. When I reentered the music world 20 years later, I found I was welcomed and encouraged to use my education to assist with the band. The Eagles Band has opened its arms to me. Now there are many well respected female contributors in the band and I enjoy being part of such a wonderful community band.