We found Quinn Mason’s Youtube channel devoted to women conductors some months ago. This is truly an amazing channel, featuring more than 150 recordings of ensembles led by 50+ different women conductors, representing a different range of backgrounds, ages and nationalities. Plenty of pieces composed by women are included as well. He also has specialty playlists that feature video (as well as audio) of women, Rare Female Composers led by Female Conductors, Interviews with female conductors, and Historic Women Conductors. Bravo, and thank you, Quinn!
Quinn is a composer as well as a conductor, and his website is here. He studies at SMU Meadows School of the Arts and is a member of the Millenium Composers Initiative. You can listen to his own very exciting compositions on his other Youtube channel. We are very happy he agreed to blog for us!
On Diversity and Music
by Quinn Mason
To start, I am a young African-American male who is intensely interested in classical music (especially orchestral music); I am pursuing a career as a composer and conductor. With these facts alone, that already puts me in the minority in my field. With most of the classical music events and workshops that I attend (including a conducting workshop this summer), I notice that I’m often one of the few black people there, if not the only one.
This is something I’ve researched and looked into for a long time, because it’s not only black people, but women and other people of color as well, who are underrepresented. This has inspired me to look and research deeply into the plight of others who are struggling to be heard, and to take some action of my own.
The idea for the channel came about in December 2017 purely out of curiosity. As part of my study of conducting, I study programming (historical and current) by orchestras worldwide, and so I not only attend rehearsals and concerts by my local symphony orchestra, but I livestream concerts by orchestras worldwide. However, at some point, I began to notice a lack of women conducting those concerts. It would only be on occasion that I would hear about a woman conducting, and I also hadn’t seen one live. So, I set out to research the history of women on the podium and also to see who was working nowadays. I then asked myself what the response would be if I were to set up a YouTube channel with only performances by these talented women, with emphasis on the younger generation: those working today but not yet very well known. So far, I’ve gotten nothing but positive comments on the videos (with the occasional negative comment about the interpretation). I also encouraged submissions from conductors themselves, and I’ve gotten great results out of that as well. Among those who have sent me performances is the talented conductor Talia Ilan, who lives and works in Israel and who also guest conducts orchestras frequently. My interactions with her have been very friendly and she has been a nice supporter of the channel by spreading the word about it, creating a bigger audience, which (at the end of the day) is what we want for our art.
The presentation of the channel and each video consists of an image of the conductor and composer and a to-the-point description. I chose this simple format, so that if one were listening blindly without knowing who was conducting, it would allow someone to judge the quality of the performance itself.
Seeing the conductors presented on the channel really makes you think about how far we’ve come. There have always been female conductors, but not so prominent until now. We had early trailblazers like Sylvia Caduff and Antonia Brico, whose names are almost unknown today but had a huge influence on the introduction of women to the world stage. Compared to today, in their time it was even more rare to see a woman in front of the orchestra.
When I asked the newer generation of female conductors (younger than 30) whether they faced any adversity in their studies, the answer I got every time was that they were mostly encouraged, they were treated equally by their colleagues and that they were given a fair chance. I saw this firsthand at the conducting workshop I attended this summer, which had more than five female students, the youngest being 15 years old.
But, when I asked conductors of another generation (older than 30), the answer was a little different; that they were not necessarily encouraged to go into the profession and that the path was not easy at all. Looking deeply into those two answers and looking at the generational difference, one can see how much progress we’ve made.
We’ve talked about those making the music, but what about those writing the music?
The changing face of diversity in ensemble programming
One of the things band music (and classical music in general) has always suffered from is something called the ‘Old Boys Club’. I can recall a band convention I attended not too long ago (I was a student at the hosting college and figured I should check it out). There were several distinguished figures in the band world not only in the audience but guest conducting the ensemble as well. The thing that stuck out to me to most was that all these people were mostly older, white and male including those composers who were on the program. The only hint of diversity we had was a performance of a piece by an emerging African-American composer (who was a student at the school at the time) and those playing in the ensemble. The whole while, this had me thinking, “Surely they have some female bandmasters/composers somewhere? I definitely know there are black bandmasters/composers out there.” It was the perfect example of this ‘club’, but nobody was talking about it.
And again, this was not too long ago. We’re lucky to be living in a time where we can be outspoken about such things and change will actually happen. Initiatives such And We Were Heard and ColorFULL Music aim to promote new and interesting band repertoire by not only women, but also by people of color, in order to inspire a new generation of musicians — performers, composers, and conductors. How are we going to have the next great performers and composers if we don’t inspire them first?
We mustn’t forget why we’re musicians and why we’ve devoted our lives to music in the first place: to bring peace and happiness in an already turbulent and chaotic world. It doesn’t matter what gender or color you are: we all have something interesting to say and we’re all adding drops to the ocean of music for humankind to feast from. We have work to do, but we appear to be moving towards a brighter future.