LIFESTYLE

Musician Alice Farnham Launches Girls-Only Course To Address Shortage Of Female Conductors

25/03/2014 10:18 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 12:00 GMT

Although music is the sort of industry you'd imagine would be less about sexism and more about your genuine ability to play the instrument well, there is an undeniable lack of female conductors in major orchestras.

Trying to address this is female conductor Alice Farnham, who has launched a new three-week course at Morley College to try and give young women a chance to see if conducting is for them.

The age group is 16 - 25, and it's a chance for women who haven't considered conducting at all. As Alice says: "To put the gem of an idea in their heads."

female conductor

Although The Guardian has linked this with the appearance last year of Marin Alsop, the first female conductor ever to lead the Last Night of the Proms last year - and the subsequent 'boorish' comments, Alice doesn't feel that the lack of women is due to sexism.

In fact, despite the newspaper quoting Vasily Petrenko, principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as saying: "a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things", he doesn't seem to be indicative of the general attitude.

Unlike other industries, there is no direct path to becoming a conductor.

Talking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Alice said: "You need to be a professional musician, the basic requirements are that you are trained in another instrument to undergraduate degree level. So that really essential. Some people have started conducting in opera – they may have been a pianist and decide later to become a conductor after learning on the job."

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Increasingly, people tend to do a post graduate qualification – which lasts usually two years – but even that isn't necessarily a prerequisite.

Alice started off as an organ scholar at Oxford and had to conduct a choir which she said she "hated". But towards the end of her year, she found she enjoyed it.

She then spent five years in London in an organist's job and got groups of musicians together to put on concerts. In her mid-20s, she packed up her things and moved to Russia, where she was taught by the world-renowned (and at 93, fairly elderly) composer Ilya Musin.

From her journey however, and looking at the lack of female conductors, what does she think is the best way to get women involved and interested in the job?

"This is what we’re trying to explore. I think to me, it’s at a very grassroots level. There are female conductors but there aren’t many and a lot of young people – both men and women - don’t see many examples of it. So it doesn’t enter their consciousness as an option and I think that’s the main reason. In this day and age, it is odd that there is still such a gap."

Has she ever experienced sexism?

"Because there are so few role models, when I arrive at a rehearsal, people are surprised to hear I’m the conductor. There are always comments around it and it's not particularly normal. But generally I haven’t experienced overt sexism, because in the music industry if you can do the job they don’t mind or care. However I think conducting is still considered quite a macho thing to do and women get put off by that."