Mike Lawson • ArchivesChoral • September 1, 2002

Male high school band directors outnumber women in that field by a ratio of three to one, according to a 2001 study conducted by MENC, the National Association for Music Education.

Circumstantial evidence and casual observation, including Web searches of high school music programs, informal surveys and enrollment figures at band director conferences, make that ratio appear even greater – perhaps as high as five to one.


Martin Bergee, associate professor of music education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and author of a survey on “Influences on Collegiate Students’ Decision to Become a Music Educator,” noted, however, that the gap is narrowing.

“I think it’s already shifting,” he said. “When I started in this business 25 years ago, I’m not sure there was a single female band director in that whole part of the state. Now there are considerably more than none. I’m not sure it’s half-and-half yet, but there are more [women directors].”

A look at enrollment figures in college instrumental music education programs across the country shows equal numbers of men and women, which could mean that the playing field – or, more appropriately, the marching band field – will continue to level over the next decade. However, since many music education majors are open to accepting a job teaching either band, or strings, or, in many cases, both, it is difficult to establish a trend based on today’s music students.

According to observers, the growth we have seen in the profession has taken place gradually, in part due to a lack of female role models for young music education majors.

“If you look at band directors in my state,” Bergee said, “I’d have to say that there is [still] a preponderance of men. It changes slowly. [College music education majors] have to have someone they can identify with.”

In Bergee’s study of factors that influence a student’s decision to become a music educator, nearly 65 percent of respondents cited their “school band experience.”

Deborah Bradley, vice president of Women Band Directors International, agreed with this assessment.

“The very first time I saw a lady band director, it opened my eyes to say, ‘Wow, this is not just a job for a guy,'” she recalled.

Bradley also confirmed the increase in women band directors in the recent past.
“I’ve noticed the membership of Women Band Directors International has increased a good bit over even the past five or six years,” she said. “We’re probably close to 300, mostly across the United States.”

Women As Players

While a lack of highly visible women band directors as role models has contributed to a shortage in that area, the presence of women playing band and orchestral instruments, both professionally and as a hobby, has been leading more young ladies into that field.

“The number of women in professional orchestras has been growing dramatically in the past 20 to 30 years,” said Jack McAuliffe, chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League. “The percentages are about 52 percent women versus 48 percent men, which shows that the orchestras are committed to finding the most talented people to play, both men and women.”

However, the 25 largest orchestras, by budget, still boast three times as many men as women. McAuliffe attributes this to the slower turnover rate in these largest, most prestigious ensembles. The proportion of women in these groups is growing, as well, albeit more slowly.

The percentages of men and women in community bands are similarly equal to those in most orchestras, according to statistics provided by the Association of Concert Bands. ACB president Richard Hord said that the association’s membership is probably about equally divided by gender. In his particular band in Gainesville, Fla., the percentage of women to men is about 55 percent versus 45 percent.

This indicates that the issue is not as simple as “band instruments” versus “orchestra instruments,” or stereotypical boys’ musical instruments, such as trombone, trumpet and saxophone, found in larger quantities in wind bands, versus the “girls’ instruments,” including high strings, flutes and clarinets that make up a portion of a symphony orchestra.

Why the Disparity?

Women such as Bradley, who has been teaching band for 26 years, the past 10 at Cook High School in Adel, Ga., WBDI founding president Gladys Stone Wright, the only woman to be inducted into the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors, and Kathryn Scott, director of the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band, serve as positive role models for young women entering the profession.

So what’s holding women back? In many cases, it may be nothing more than personal choice. Bradley cites several influencing factors, many of them sociological.

“I think maybe the reason there is a shortage is because of the level of commitment for a high school band director. If you’re a really active band director, you’re gone something like 23 weekends during the school year.”

While certain women are willing and eager to face the added responsibilities of adjudication, festivals, clinics, football games and conferences, others, particularly ones that are family-minded, hesitate.

“Women on the high school marching level are usually either single, or have a very understanding husband who has a very busy career, also,” Bradley observed.

She also cited the physical demands of high school marching band, which, to be sure, many women are well-prepared to meet, but from which other others may shy away.

The specific demands on marching band directors may account for the difference in numbers of middle school versus high school directors that are women. It’s important to note that the gender gap among band directors decreases to a 2:1 ratio at the middle school level, and nearly evens out in elementary schools across the U.S.

According to MENC’s statistics, the number of orchestra directors at every level is nearly equally divided along gender lines. The demands on high school orchestra teachers are typically somewhat less than band directors, who may go to more competitions, play at football games during marching band season, and then have concert band performances when marching season is over.

Bradley also noted, “More women probably play string instruments when they are younger. That leads to a direct career path for them.”

While these beliefs may seem to perpetuate the stereotype of women staying home and raising children, they actually showcase the myriad choices available to female music students today.

According to statistics released by Mothers & More, a non-profit organization devoted to improving the lives of mothers, 80 percent of women will become mothers by age 44. In a given year, two-thirds of all mothers are not employed full time for the full year; 25 percent of mothers have left the workforce entirely and nearly half of employed mothers are working fewer than 40 hours per week. Of the remaining one-third of mothers employed full time, 26 percent are working flexible hours. Ninety-three percent do not work any substantial overtime. Of course, “flexible hours” and little-to-no overtime are concepts that any high school band director would say do not apply to the job.

Gender by Teaching Level
(Incorporates all forms of instrumental music, special education, general music and history, and choral)

Preschool: Male: 386 Female: 2,132
Elementary: Male: 6,647 Female: 15,190
Middle/Jr.: Male: 11,208 Female: 13,041
Secondary Male: 12,909 Female: 8,819
College/University: Male: 3,556 Female: 1,925

Mentoring Music Students

Should talented, interested young women musicians be encouraged to enter the field of band? As the music teacher shortage continues, now compounded by budget cuts in arts and music education, the answer should be a resounding yes.

Bradley said she feels confident that young women with the desire can “do it all,” but time management becomes key. Young music education majors and beginning teachers can learn these skills from the mentoring of successful women directors.

Bradley added that the responsibility falls on all band directors – men and women – to connect young women who are interested in teaching with regional women band directors.

“It helps to build a student’s confidence, if a young woman music major is directly connected with a successful lady in the field,” she said. “And it will have to be the men that do that. They can reach out and make these connections for them, using Women Band Directors International as one resource to help.”

An important part of Women Band Directors International’s mission is to provide mentoring for college music education majors who plan to enter the field as well as for young women band directors, to help keep them in the profession.

“We’re trying to be a sounding board for women who are in the profession,” Bradley said. “One reason I’m very active with it is to help younger ladies try to understand that they can balance their family, household duties, service to church or community, with their band career. They can balance it, they just have to have a strong commitment to time management, and strong people behind them.”

“Again,” she continued, “I don’t think there are enough strong mentors to the young directors. The reason I’ve been so successful is I’ve had great male and female mentors. If you can see yourself being the way those mentors are, you can see yourself in those positions, you can stress the positive and achieve a lot more.”

Placing promising high school and college music students in situations where they can teach others is one of the keys to recruiting new teachers into the profession, Bergee discovered in his study.

“The number one thing that I’ve found is that successful teaching experience has a really strong impact on a high school student,” Bergee said. “If these individuals were put in a situation where they could teach, not necessarily the whole group, but one on one teaching, sectional teaching, any teaching, then that seems to have a really strong influence.”

To date, Bergee has seen these opportunities as being extremely rare to nonexistent.

“The best thing we, as music educators, can do, is to try to structure it so that promising students teach more.”

Again, recruiting efforts must not favor either gender.

“It’s been my experience as a music educator for 15 years now,” Bergee said, “that women are every bit as capable as men are, and they have just as much talent, just as much ambition, just as much drive. It’s not something that they can’t do, or they somehow have a strike against them before they begin doing it. If there are differences, I think it’s inside people’s heads.”

Dawn Schloesser, a New York-based freelance writer, is the former editor of Band & Orchestra Product News. Schloesser’s work has appeared in several music-related magazines, including Music for the Love of It, Music & Sound Retailer, Club Systems International and Sound & Communications. She is currently editing “The Creative Band & Orchestra,” a text of innovative teaching and rehearsal methods for band and orchestra directors, written by Julie Lyonn Lieberman, which is due out in October, 2002.

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