Here’s two articles from the suffrage magazine The Woman’s Journal that shed some light on the battle to allow women to play in orchestras. I’m still mystified by the reasoning that women couldn’t play in orchestras because the touring would tire them, when many conductors had no problem hiring women soloists who traveled even longer and harder than orchestral players did.
New Hope for the Musicians
A bit of news interesting to women musicians comes from London. The Royal Philharmonic Society has abolished all sex distinctions and has admitted women to all privileges equally with men. When the Society was founded in 1813, except as singers women musicians did not appear in public. In recent years they have been admitted as fellows and associates but not to the higher grade of membership, which is considered a professional honor and is rather strictly limited in number. Many women musicians have aspired to this membership which is now open to them, and as the directors are elected annually by the members, women may now become directors also.
During the war, because of the lack of men, women were admitted to the symphony orchestras of both London and Paris, and some women musicians are still playing in them. In Paris, the famous Lamoreux orchestra is closed to them, but the equally famous Colonne orchestra has a number of women playing side by side with men. In the United States, except as harpists, women are not found in any of the large symphony orchestras.
Why Only The Harp?
The conservative Old World moves ahead in some respects faster than the United States.
For some time women have been playing in the symphony orchestras of London and Paris, while they are still not accepted in the best orchestras of the United States with the exception of an occasional harpist. Conservatories and music schools of all descriptions have a large majority of women students. In all their graduating classes the women far outnumber the men. While they do not take up the wind instruments in any number, many women study the violin and a few the ‘cello. Why is the one source of a steady professional income in an established orchestra denied them? And, conversely, if the orchestras welcomed women players, would not many more women be encouraged to carry their studies to a greater proficiency?
A famous conductor recently gave two reasons why in his opinion women are not engaged for orchestra work. He claims, first, that they do not play as well as men and, second, that symphony orchestras in this country have such a long season and rehearse so constantly that women would find the work trying; further, that the large orchestras are on the road so much that it would be disagreeable for women. One might answer in regard to the last objection that women musicians travel in company with men in opera companies without embarrassment.
Undoubtedly the fact that women are not admitted to the best orchestras keeps many talented women from studying stringed instruments seriously, since the field of solo performer is possible for only a very few. What do women musicians themselves think of it? – G. F. B.