As ICSOM approaches its 60th anniversary, it was enlightening for me to review the role that women have played in our organization.
Upon reading the minutes of our early conferences in the 1960s, it was noticeable that almost no women were mentioned. Of course this would be reflective of the small number of women in ICSOM orchestras at that time, but it was good to see that there was a female presence at the first ICSOM Conference. Bonnie J Lake (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) was in attendance as an observer.
However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s when there was mention of women as ICSOM Delegates: Bernice Beckerman (Minnesota Orchestra) in 1967, Linda Hoes (Honolulu Symphony) in 1968, and Nancy Bodycomb (San Antonio Symphony) in 1969.
[Note: The front page of the September 1969 issue of Senza Sordino included a photo of Nancy Bodycomb addressing the conference about the status of the San Antonio Symphony, resulting in a resolution of support from the Delegates: https://icsom.org/senza/issues/senza081.pdf]
Even before the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, ICSOM had been making firm statements about fairness in employment for women. Delegates at the 1970 ICSOM Conference in Chicago unanimously accepted a resolution, noted in the conference documents as follows:
“ICSOM went on the record as being in support of equal rights for women in all employment, and specifically in the field of symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras, with this position to be suitably publicized.”
In the early 1980s, ICSOM orchestras continued to address issues faced by women in the field. Dr Gilda Greenberg (Western Michigan University) spoke at the 1981 conference in Milwaukee regarding her research for the American Symphony Orchestra League, which included fair auditions for and cultural attitudes about women. A January 1982 Senza Sordino article by Henry Shaw (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) provided this data: of the 3881 ICSOM musicians in 44 member orchestras at that time, 1150 were women. In other words, nearly one-third of ICSOM musicians were women, a tremendous leap since ICSOM’s founding twenty years earlier! The article includes a photo of then Music Director Zubin Mehta with sixteen female musicians of the New York Philharmonic: https://www.icsom.org/senza/issues/senza202.pdf.
During the 1980s, delegates began electing women to positions on ICSOM’s Governing Board. Melanie Burrell (Denver Symphony Orchestra) was ICSOM’s first female Chairperson. Today Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic) is ICSOM Chairperson, and she has held this position since 2016.
Melanie Burrell was also ICSOM’s first President, a position which was created in 1984. She has been ICSOM’s only female President.
Three women have been ICSOM Secretary: Nancy Page Griffin (Seattle Symphony Orchestra), Lucinda Lewis, (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra), and Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony), who is currently serving in her nineteenth year as ICSOM Secretary.
Five women served in this role of ICSOM Treasurer: Melanie Burrell, Penny Anderson Brill (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra), Florence Nelson (New York City Opera), Carolyn Parks (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), and Stephanie Tretick (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra).
There have been two female Senza Sordino Editors: Deborah Torch (San Antonio Symphony) and Marsha Schweitzer (Honolulu Symphony).
When the Member-at-Large position was created in 1984, two women were among the first to be elected: Bernice Beckerman (Houston Symphony) and Cathy Compton (Detroit Symphony Orchestra). Over the years, this list grew to include Ellen McGlone, (San Antonio Symphony), Florence Nelson, Carolyn Parks, Stephanie Tretick, Mary Plaine (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra), Lynn Rosen (Utah Symphony), Nancy Stutsman (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic), Cathy Payne (San Francisco Symphony), Gail Kruvand (New York City Opera), Jennifer Mondie (National Symphony Orchestra), and Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra).
In addition to current Governing Board members Meredith Snow and Laura Ross, other women hold important positions within ICSOM today.
Julie Edwards (Utah Symphony) is our chief Moderator for ICSOM’s Orchestra-L and Delegate-L email lists, a job she has held since 2018 (and which started with a tricky, but well-executed migration of hosting services). Julie also served as Conference Coordinator for the 2019 ICSOM Conference in Park City UT.
Barbara Corbato (Grand Rapids Symphony) was named Administrator of ICSOM’s online Conductor Evaluation Program (CEP) in 2017. She researched and developed our CEP which was launched in January 2018. Barbara remains the contact when a delegate requests a survey as well as when a manager requests the results.
Established in 2005, the ICSOM website was completely redesigned in 2012 by current webmaster Martha Warrington (Oregon Symphony). Thanks to her work, the US Library of Congress includes our website in their Professional Arts Web Archive which preserves our materials and permits access to researchers world-wide.
The history of ICSOM is documented clearly in More Than Meets The Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History by Julie Ayer (Minnesota Orchestra). This is a must-read book for all orchestral musicians in order to discover what led to the founding of ICSOM, as well as providing many fascinating facts and interesting stories.
Currently our industry has a growing female presence. Last month the Dallas Symphony held its third annual Women in Classical Music symposium, a five-day event with panel discussions and performances. In October, Women in Lutherie, an organization that provides support to female makers of string instruments, held its first annual conference.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra just announced the appointment of Nathalie Stutzmann as their new Music Director; she joins the ranks of current ICSOM conductors JoAnn Falletta (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra), Eun Sun Kim (San Francisco Opera Orchestra), and Xian Zhang (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra), and former Music Directors Marin Alsop (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Colorado Symphony), Catherine Comet (Grand Rapids Symphony), and JoAnn Falletta (Virginia Symphony Orchestra).
Beyond these lists, there are many women who have served in leadership roles as ICSOM Delegates and Committee Chairs, AFM National and Local officers, ROPA and OCSM Presidents and Executive Board members, and our attorneys. It is clear to see that women in our field have had and continue to have a strong and impressive leadership presence.
However, it is wise to note that representation does not always guarantee inclusion and equity. For example, despite the growing ranks of female conductors, the vast majority remain male. The ranks of concertmasters and Principal musicians also are still predominantly male.
Our work is not done. ICSOM encourages and supports women in all leadership roles of our orchestras, ranging from musician committees to board chair. Our membership is composed of extremely talented people whose gifts are needed beyond their music stands. Let’s be sure that those abilities are put to good use, for the good of us all.
I challenge our organization to continue to be mindful of its mission of building fairness and belonging. Hearing and centering the voices of women while also striving to build equity is an important way to recognize and honor all of their contributions: past, present, and future.