The Beat on the Street

Women's History Month

Volume CVII, No. 3March, 2007

March is Women’s History Month. Last November, a member wrote to Allegro that the New York City music scene was biased against women (see November 2006 “Musician’s Voice”). From your perspective, is this true? If you are a woman, do you get as many referrals from men as you do from women? If you are a man, do you refer women as often and for the same engagements as men?


How many male and female members do we have? And how are men and women differently represented in different fields, like Broadway or classical? Allegro asked Local 802’s information technology department to crunch these numbers for us. Computer whizzes Jennifer Cronin and Joe Rodriguez obliged – and found the following results:

Male: 7,013
Female: 2,010
Total: 9,023

Male: 1,127
Female: 367
Total: 1,494

Male: 1,277
Female: 339
Total: 1,616

Male: 583
Female: 366
Total: 949

Male: 904
Female: 673
Unknown 4: 15
Total: 1,592

Male: 2,740
Female: 738
Unknown 4: 2,591
Total: 6,069


1 As of Nov. 30, 2006.

2 The data for Broadway and all categories below are for calendar year 2006. The question asked was, “How many musicians played on these kinds of contracts in 2006?” Data includes members and some non-members. Musicians count once whether they appear on one contract or many contracts.

3 Includes the New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet, Mostly Mozart and American Ballet Theatre.

4 This category refers to musicians who appeared on a contract who aren’t members of 802. With some non-members, we do know their sex and so they have been included in the male/female data. For others, we don’t know their sex and therefore they are included in this “Unknown” category.

In the last several years, all my referrals have been from women. I have successfully referred women and men, but so far, men have not returned the favor.

This is not a criticism of male colleagues. I believe women have a better sense of networking and watching out for each other.

Peggy Ellen Reynolds

While things have certainly gotten easier for women, I feel as a middle-aged woman that most doors are shut. Unfortunately it seems that guys get hired first – age not being much of an issue – then young attractive women next, and finally those of us who are female and over 50 must deal with the dregs. While we all get older, age doesn’t seem to hinder male musicians as much as it does female. Sadly, this is a reflection of the way our culture values appearance in women.

Deirdre McArdle-Manning

I am a woman musician on jazz and world music gigs, recording dates, classical engagements and some Broadway. I am of Asian descent, and I’m a classically-trained concert jazz violinist.

1. I get many gigs from women groups to play section violin on TV for pop stars because I am a young woman.

2. I have done some recordings and shows contracted by men, and felt awkward at times when all of the other women were blond and very hot, and the guys were old and not so hot at all.

3. Most of my other gigs I do are concerts and they call me because I am their first choice regardless of gender and race. For example, I am usually the only woman in touring bands, and usually the only Japanese person on gigs at synagogues and Jewish festivals all over the world.

I don’t blame contractors who hire hot women for recording sessions. It’s just a human nature, and I am sure they do so unconsciously.

Meg Okura

I am a female musician who has worked in the classical and musical theatre field for about 10 years. The majority of my work does come through referrals from women colleagues or music directors, but some does come from male colleagues.

We could debate this subject for decades, which wouldn’t be of any real progress. Since this issue is so volatile, it should be addressed by the union immediately.

For starters, let’s find out these answers:

1. What is the ratio of women to men graduating from music schools?

2. What is the ratio of women to men in the union?

3. What is the ratio of women to men who work under union contracts, subdivided under the various fields, even instruments?

Then, we can have a clearer picture and take action if necessary.

Other industries have to subscribe to fair hiring practices. And if there are contractors, conductors, or players who routinely discriminate against women – or anyone for that matter – they should be reprimanded.

This would set the standard of conduct that we, as professionals, expect to be followed by everyone in the music industry.

Mikki Ryan

When I was at Juilliard, I took a small job at a Catholic church on East 72 Street. Though the pay wasn’t great, the position didn’t require a lot of time. Plus I played a few funerals and weddings to offset the lack of income. I had very few dealings with the priests so all in all it was a relatively pleasant gig.

Then, one Sunday after mass, the pastor came up to the organ loft and announced he was letting me go. Boom! No notice, no warning, no nothing. In disbelief, I looked at him and asked “Why?” Without a moment’s hesitation, he told me that a man had inquired about the job – the job that was already filled by yours truly. And this good Catholic priest felt that because this man had a family to feed, he needed the job more than I did. I was out. The man was in. End of story.

I didn’t know what to do, so I just left. I felt humiliated, denigrated and alone. I had no one to turn to for help. The money certainly wasn’t important; the job wasn’t important. The way I was treated was. The answer to the question was clear: It’s because I’m a woman.

Bettina Covo

I am a Broadway piano sub, currently subbing on “Beauty and the Beast,” “Les Miserables,” and “The Apple Tree”. I’m subbing for two women and one man. My first two Broadway opportunities were given to me by male pianists, so I certainly have never been discriminated against as a woman. I am extremely grateful to the men and women who gave me my start in the Broadway world.

Cathy Venable

I am an actor and singer as well as an instrumentalist, so many of the gigs I am hired to do as a musician (outside Broadway) are about a “look” and often about the need for a female backup vocal double, so it’s hard to say, although I can say I often feel like “the girl in the band.” But then the question becomes: are the guys subject to this criteria about the “look”? I guess I often figure that not as many girls want to eke out a living in the smoky, loud bar I play at, though maybe if it weren’t so much of an “old boy’s club” it would be more fun. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.

Leenya Rideout

As the music director for “The O’Jays” singing group for the past 30 years, I’ve seen and used both male and female horn and string players in concerts and theatre dates in New York as well as across the U.S., and also referred both equally to other musicians. While male musicians typically make up the rhythm sections of most touring bands, female musicians seem to be well represented in most symphony orchestras, major recording sessions and on Broadway.

Dennis Williams

If I am impressed by a player’s ability – whether man or woman – I will recommend them for a gig that I think they can handle.

Wally “Gator” Watson

There are simply more men than women musicians. I quite often get calls from women, and I always call or refer the best people for a gig when asked – man or woman. Musicality is not a gender issue. There are divine talents and heaping piles of mediocrity on both sides of the equation.

Sean Harkness

The first time I hired strings for Enya I got a call after I’d already hired half the section that they only wanted women of a certain hair color and dress size. I replied that I would not fire people I’d already hired unless they were prepared to pay them full scale because the union has a non-discrimination clause (never enforced) and I didn’t want to be brought up on charges. They fell for it and I got to keep my players on the job and many subsequent jobs after that.

I was Enya’s string contractor for the next few years until one gig when they told me to hire an early-20’s female percussionist.

Now, most percussionists are men in the same way that most harpists – and many violinists – are women. (No disrespect to the young women percussionists reading this.)

As this was a high profile job I wanted to hire my first-call percussionist, regardless of age or sex.

Unfortunately, I was specifically told to hire someone with the right look (it was for TV) and that the part was so simple (crotales on four of every measure) that it didn’t matter if she had ever played percussion in her life!

Predictably, the person I hired looked great and played less than great.

Then Enya played in L.A. the next week and that contractor hired an actual percussionist.

As I am told, the person who hired me got a lot of grief about the fact that the L.A. percussionist was so much better than the New York percussionist.

Instead of telling the truth, she blamed me and I haven’t contracted for Enya or Warner/Electra since.

In conclusion, I think racism is racism and sexism is sexism and that hiring someone because of their race or sex rather than their musical qualifications is wrong.

Ironically, I fought it the whole time I was hiring for them and the one time I caved in I got fired for it.

Gregor Kitzis

I am a copyist, and work primarily on Broadway and for Broadway-related concerts. As a copyist, it has been my observation that women often make the best supervising copyists, and they have played a significant role in our field since Matilda Pinkus ran Chelsea Music. While there may not be as many women in the field as men, it seems clear to me that they are regarded as equals, and I have never seen a case where – when references were asked for or given – women were not treated with equal professional respect. Finally, it has been my good fortune to work for two extraordinary women supervising copyists, and I would not trade that experience for anything.

Ernest Ebell

I took over a keyboard/rehearsal piano and occasional conducting chair at “The Lion King” a couple of years ago from a dear female friend. Her sub was – and now my sub is – female. She plays the bulk of shows when I am not present. Beyond that, my three to five subs are split more or less evenly amongst the sexes.

I sit next to our string section which is a 50/50 split for the regulars, but the subs seem to lean more heavily towards the female.

So on our side of the pit at any given performance it is not unusual to be 80 to 90 percent female. The two woodwind chairs (also on my side of the pit) are held by men, but it seems that a majority of their subs are female.

Our musical director is male, but our associate is female. They conduct the vast majority of shows. The other three part-time conductors are male.

Our current resident director is male, but his replacement is female. And our dance supervisor is female.

And of course, our original creator and director is female.

These are the people I work with on a day-to-day basis at the show. I certainly can’t speak for the New York City music scene, but if there is a bias against women, I don’t experience it on a daily basis in the narrow world in which I operate.

Paul J. Ascenzo

I work on Broadway and in the club date and recording fields, and I cannot say that I have ever experienced any bias against woman on the New York City scene. I do see more woman working today then I did in the past 15 to 20 years. If I refer or hire musicians, I choose the best person for that specific gig. Great players, great attitude, reliable – I’ll call them. I’ll call someone who I owe a favor to, or I might give preference to one who needs work. If she happens to be a woman and if she is appropriate for that gig then I’ll call her. I won’t stand for any bias nor will I even discuss such . We are human beings first and foremost. I prefer to work with this species. Even better if they have a sense of humor.

Jon Berger

I work primarily in the field of music education as an adjunct professor of music at a major New York City university. I am also a bandleader and recording artist.

When hiring a musician or sending in a sub for either playing or teaching, there are many considerations that include musical or academic competence, location both of the job and the employee, personal responsibility and attire, as well as the expectations of the client or employer, the physical demands of the job (need to cart heavy equipment, for example, or keep late hours in an unsafe neighborhood), the personalities of the students or the musicians on the job, and so on.

A good “match” often requires balancing these and many others factors. While I always place competence at the top of my list, it is not always possible to hire or send in the most highly qualified person (who may be of any gender, race, etc.), much as I would like.

Specifically, this is not meant to condone sexism, but to explain the reason for choices that may appear on the surface to be sexist, but may have deeper rationales that are not immediately evident.

This is also not meant to imply that sexism does not exist. It does. In hiring and referring musicians and teachers, I always look to musical qualifications first.

Armen Donelian