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Women in music


'I remember getting on one of those New York double-decker buses and riding around for five hours, thinking of my future. Should I take a safe job as a concertmaster of an orchestra? I had an offer. I didn't know what to do. Finally I said to myself, "Dammit, I want to play!. ..." '

- Isaac Stern (1920-2001) quoted in The Times, 1984

Although I studied in London during the first half of the 1960s when the world was being shaken into a different reality through the Beatles, the pill, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the role of women in musical life, or indeed many other fields, was certainly not what it has become today.

I had attended one of the most intellectual girls' Grammar Schools in my home city of Liverpool. We were still instructed 'to work hard and get a good job before marriage'. After tying the knot, more women stayed at home than continuied with their careers. In retrospect, the heart bleeds even more for Fanny Mendelssohn!

Going on to study at the Royal College of Music in London, I found my profession to be little different. Women could play a string instrument here or there. There was always a shortage of good string players! The harp didn't count in this logic any more than did conductors. The first were mostly women and the second mostly men. As an oboist, only two orchestras opened their doors. The BBC as a public institution set an admirable example. The other, the English Chamber Orchestra was run by Ursula Strebi, Philip Jones' wife, who came from Switzerland. Philip Jones had formed an outstanding brass ensemble, a veritable institution of superb performers.

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Copyright © 4 January 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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