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This is a more informal economy; we can’t count female full-time hires because there are hardly any full-time jobs.Women “rising to the top” in the contemporary music scene means coming into a position of social, cultural, and aesthetic influence.These questions are harder to answer with any certainty, but in what follows, I’ll argue that—at least in Chicago—the answer is no.
Turning to my teacher and mentor, I wondered aloud how viable this path was really going to be.
“I would advise you to think very, very carefully about all of this,” she said grimly.
The type of “power” articulated in Chen’s career has very little overlap with the kind of self-made creative power shared by honorees Marcos Balter, George Le Pauw, and the Spektral Quartet.
Chen’s inclusion seemed out of place—but sadly, it was the first time since at least 2006 that Chicago magazine has bestowed this kind of honor on any woman musician.
Chicago magazine has a similar honor; since 2006, all three of its honorees (Ken Vandermark, Ramsey Lewis, and Kimo Williams) have been men.
A recent Chicago magazine new music “power list”, written by a man, included seven men and one woman.What self-limiting attitudes has our sexist society created in women, and how are these attitudes holding them back from the kind of career success and freedom that men enjoy?At first glance, you might think that the field of contemporary classical music doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the high-powered corporate tech world.Are they curating the most cutting-edge concert series in town?Are women the people whose concert reviews you eagerly anticipate?“Being a musician and having a family is extremely difficult.” I was fourteen.My quartet once sought feedback on a Barber quartet from a male coach I had come to love and respect.“Honestly, you sound like a bunch of polite women,” he said during the coaching.I likely don’t need to clarify that this was not a compliment.In just a couple of generations, it does seem like the gender balance of American symphony orchestras has shifted dramatically—a shift we can confirm simply counting the number of women in orchestral chairs all over the country.But in the art music world outside of the American orchestral scene, it’s harder to quantify how far women have or haven’t come.