“If You Want to Meet Men…”

Part III

I wanted to see how later generations of women fared in instrumental music.  I asked Diane Nichols, the first female director of the Eagles Band what her experiences were. Here’s her story:

Diane Nichols, clarinetist in the Eagles Band, shared this.

“I am fortunate to have lived in interesting times.   As an American Baby Boomer, I’ve witnessed incredible events and profound social change, not the least of which is the role of women in society.  When I came of age in the 1970’s, women were just beginning to assert their active role outside of the home, yet we remained conflicted. We wanted to have it all, career and family, and told the world to “hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore.”  As a young girl growing into band musicianship, I had no female role models as band directors. Although my male band directors supported what I was trying to do with my life, that is totally different than having a woman band director as a mentor.  Women band directors simply did not exist in my experience.  When I entered UMass as a freshman, I was one of two women majoring in clarinet (undergraduate or graduate level). By the time I left, there were several women in the department. My undergraduate class seemed to be split 60 percent men to 40 percent women.  The times were a’changing.      

 I joined the Eagles Band in May, 1975.  I was 19 years old and had just finished my college freshman year. I walked into rehearsal in the basement of the Fraternal Order of Eagles building on First Street, and guess what?  I was the only female in the room!  The only diversity was in the age range of the men in the room — college students who I knew from high school, to middle-agers, to elders who had been playing gigs since way before my parents were born.  Most of the men were kind and acted as mentors.  Some of them seemed a little unsure or uneasy with my presence in their domain.  Some called me “Little Girl,” which I chose to accept as a term of endearment rather than as a sexist slam.  The biggest challenge came two years later.

 Our conductor, Dr. Morton Wayne had called in his absence just before rehearsal.  The band manager stood in front of the group (we had maybe five women in the room at this point) and asked if one of us would volunteer to conduct the rehearsal.  Having just finished a year of conducting class, I sheepishly raised my hand.  For a second, you could hear a pin drop and then the murmuring started.  I stood in front of the band and rehearsed the first piece.  When I finished, the murmuring had settled down and the band was cooperative and kind for the rest of the evening.  Dr. Wayne appointed me Assistant Conductor for the rest of the season, and the following year he resigned and I was appointed Conductor/Music Director of the Eagles Band.  I was 22 years old, the first woman to be officially appointed to the position and the first woman to hold the directorship long-term.  Not everyone in the band was happy about it.  There were at least two men who quit the band because of it.  I believe the men who stayed were on the right side of history.

 I recently told a male colleague that women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as a man doing the same exact thing with the same skill set.  It is amazing that in the 21st century, I found it necessary to utter those words yet again in my lifetime.  I know of a band in the state of Florida that still does not admit women to its ranks. It’s their loss.”

 I recently told a male colleague that women have to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as a man doing the same exact thing with the same skill set.  It is amazing that in the 21st century, I found it necessary to utter those words yet again in my lifetime.  I know of a band in the state of Florida that still does not admit women to its ranks. It’s their loss.”

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