“If we ever get to the polls once, you will never get us home.” Anna Howard Shaw
Today Choral Potpourri brings you Sexism Stories from several ChoralNetters. Most of their stories aren’t long, but they are telling.
Geraldine* heretofore known as “Gerry” was hired by a community college to be their choral director. When interviewed, she was told, in addition to her college position, she would be expected to direct the adult community chorus sponsored by the college. She never met anyone connected to the community chorus until their first rehearsal, fall semester. Gerry was also told she could hire her own accompanist, so she did, her friend Adam*.
Adam was her usual accompanist, so they walked in together that first day. And what do you know, everyone welcomed Adam with open arms. They told him they couldn’t WAIT to work with him, were looking forward to learning from him and were eager to see what he would program. The singers all but ignored Gerry and mentioned the piano was in the corner under the piano cover; she would have to take off the cover and move it closer if Maestro wanted her to. Adam and Gerry gave each other a look, and let it play out. Gerry removed the piano cover and moved it a bit closer to the podium while Adam chatted away with the singers. She was also told to pass out music by the chorus’s president.
Five minutes before rehearsal began, after Gerry had passed out music, she stepped onto the podium and the singers gasped. Adam took his place at the piano and Gerry introduced herself and then Adam. There was a bit of chatter but once rehearsal began, it died down. During the first break, folks came up to her to apologize for mistaking Adam for her. Many told her they were worried when they realized their mistake—they had never heard of a woman conductor! Gerry tells me this happened to her over forty years ago and HOPES this doesn’t happen now.
Heather* is not a choral conductor but an orchestral conductor. A few years ago, she interviewed and auditioned for a music director position with a small professional orchestra. Trouble began in the first rehearsal; several WOMEN string players questioned her tempi, dynamics, and bowings constantly. They asked if she was sure she wanted what she asked for. They chattered as she was speaking, much to the embarrassment of many others in the orchestra. After the performance, those WOMEN string players turned their back on her and refused to shake her hand, muttering about being expected to work with a witch**. Heather was relived she didn’t get the job. She wasn’t quite sure her treatment was because she is a woman, but her gut tells her it was.
The church which hired Glenna* was desperate for a choir director. Their organist refused to do anything other than play—loudly—and accompany, he wouldn’t even come to choir practice. Their last choir director had left them in the lurch and Glenna agreed to help. This denomination had few women in leadership, at any level, so when Glenna arrived at her first rehearsal it was with a bit of trepidation. When she stopped the choir to clean up a cut-off the first time, all the women of the choir turned to the pastor for permission to follow her directions. Pastor told them to do what Glenna asked them. She stayed for two years until she could no longer stand being expected to get approval from a MAN, a non-musician at that, for something as elemental as a cut-off.
During the five years I’ve been writing Choral Potpourri, I’ve gotten at least one or two emails A MONTH from readers wanting to know if asking if they planned to have children in an interview was ethical. Or, if they had children, if they planned to have more. It is not legal to ask to ask someone’s childbearing status in the United States but somehow, the point is often brought up with women. It seems to rarely happen with men; I have never heard from any man about this situation. Josie* is married and both she and her spouse are choral directors. Joe* is NEVER asked in interviews if he plans to have more children and Josie is ALWAYS asked, though usually in a round-about way. Josie contacted me a few years ago to share her story because she thinks this illustrates how sexist audition panels can be. I would agree.
Next week, a wrap-up of sorts and my hopes for the future for our choral profession. Until week, be well and be safe!
**You know the word I mean
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning!