National Women Conductors Initiative Announced

June, 1998---"It's time to stop wasting the talents of brilliant American musicians because of their gender." And with that, an anonymous donor has given one million dollars to establish The National Women Conductors Initiative.

"The project was motivated by our donor, who attended a classical music concert at which she saw a woman on the podium for the first time," said Judy Patrick, Executive Director of The Women's Philharmonic. "It was a transformative experience for her. It brought to her a vivid awareness of the lack of representation of women on the podium. She decided that she was going to do something about it."

Researched and developed by The Women's Philharmonic, the initiative has been three years in the making and included an in-depth, two-month study designed to identify ways to assist women currently working as conductors. The study included professional women conductors, industry leaders, and those in positions to be decision makers crucial to the career development of conductors.

Key findings include: most women musicians working as conductors in the US suffer from "chronic invisibility"; different standards exist for men and women about what is appropriate authority within an orchestral culture heavily influenced by European traditions; appearance and dress play more of a role than desired---reviewers often pay more attention to the dress of women conductors than to their music.

According to the Initiative, the program will have two phases. The first will include the selection of up to 30 women conductors to participate in the Initiative, the observation and coaching of conductors, the development of career-enhancing tools for individual conductors, the establishment of a national advocacy and public education program, and the provision of honoraria for advanced study.

The second phase will concentrate on as many as 12 conductors, who will be paired with professional mentors and partnered with members of the steering committee to develop career paths based on individual strengths.

Information from the Women's Philharmonic points out that women represent less than 50% of major-orchestra musicians, and that there is a significant gender gap in principal positions and tenured jobs. There are no woman concertmasters in major American orchestras, and barriers continue to exist in specific sections such as brass and percussion (shades of Brassed Off). There are also no women serving as Music Directors in the largest orchestra and opera companies around the world.

About the intriguing anonymity of the donor, Patrick comments, "The donor determined that she wished to remain anonymous so that attention would be paid to the project rather than her."

The Women's Philharmonic is based in San Francisco and is dedicated to promoting women composers, conductors, and performers. Since its first concert in 1981, it has presented works by more than 150 women composers, including 129 premieres and 35 commissioned works. The Philharmonic has won numorous awards and can be seen (and heard) in San Francisco during their 1998-99 season. For more information, visit their website or call (415) 437-0123.

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