If you play music and live in the world, you’re probably aware of classical music’s alarming lack of gender diversity, particularly in leadership roles. Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra remains the only female music director of a major American orchestra, and major orchestras continue to exclude works by female composers in their season programs.
Data on the gender split among professional orchestra performers offers a more complex view of the situation. At first glance, the numbers are encouraging: In 2018, 48 percent of players in orchestras represented by the League of American Orchestras were women, a vast improvement from orchestras of the past. However, positions for brass, percussion and some wind instruments – not to mention principal positions – are disproportionately occupied by men.
But we can also look to those numbers for encouragement: They show us that gender parity can at least be improved. One reason for the increase of women in orchestras since the 1970s has been the implementation of blind auditions. Another? Increased social acceptance and visibility of women in roles from which they have been historically excluded.