Women Conductors @ Morley
Most successful conductors these days will have started young. From sixth form onwards, they were probably conducting small ensembles they had set up themselves, attended courses and started taking conducting lessons. For complex reasons it would seem that young women are less likely to take these initiatives. With notable exceptions, conductors need to start young in order to get onto Postgraduate Conducting Courses and Young Artists programmes. If more women are realising earlier their potential to take leadership roles in music, then women conductors will gradually become the norm.
Recent discussions in the media regarding women conductors, Marin Alsop's conducting of the Last Night of the Proms and her inspirational speech have highlighted the issue of gender imbalance in the profession. Morley believes the best way to tackle this is through creating opportunities, inspirational activity, championing role models and enabling successful mentoring schemes.
Morley’s response was to set up a free pilot orchestral conducting programme for young women (Women Conductors @ Morley) aged between 16 to 23, which took place at Morley College in March 2014. In addition, there was a short taster course during the WOW festival (Women of the World) at Southbank Centre. The aim of the pilot programme was to develop a strategy and assess the criteria for a proposed full-scale conducting programme for women to be launched in academic year 2014-15.
Research and Development workshops covered:
• Basic Conducting technique - the classes could be divided into different levels for differentiation of practice and ability, but peer development and support would be encouraged.
• Repertoire Classes - master-classes conducting a variety of repertoire using two pianos (with professional repetiteurs or orchestral pianists) or small ensembles.
• String technique with instrumentalists from professional orchestras.
• Opportunity to take part in master classes with a leading women conductor and orchestra.
• Workshop on movement, gesture, posture and confidence
• Key-note speech from an inspirational artistic leader – Jude Kelly
• Talks given by recent post-graduate female conducting students on their experiences of education and the industry
Students were encouraged to give each other feedback, and given age difference, support each other depending on their level and experience. Private tutorial support was given and further training encouraged. There will be further opportunities to attend rehearsals of leading professional orchestras and opera companies.
The initial pilot programme was deemed by all to be a success, with all participants having gained much insight and enthusiasm for conducting.
Morley College have now been awarded full funding from Arts Council England to proceed with a larger conducting programme, hosted by every regional conservatoire in the UK as well as developing further training courses for women to focus on various elements of conducting including conducting concertos, opera, dance and choirs.
A short film was developed by film-maker Henrietta Foster to document the pilot project. Including interviews with individual participants and course leaders, as well as footage of various workshops in progress, it can be viewed by following the link here:
This Adult Education college was founded by a woman, Emma Cons, 125 years ago and the conductor and composer Imogen Holst had strong links there for many years. Morley boasts a rich history of music making with composers including Gustav Holst and Michael Tippett as Directors of Music. Unlike the music conservatoires, Morley College is not bound by curriculum requirements, but has good resources, studio spaces, and excellent partnerships with professional music organisations including the Centre for Young Musicians, Southbank Centre, Royal Opera House, Wigmore Hall, LPO, LSSO and the BBC.
The college music department regularly undertakes projects with the wider professional music and music education communities, as recently demonstrated with ‘A Choir of Our Time’. In 2013, the project joined the BBC Singers, LPO, Southbank Centre and 10 community choirs from Lambeth and Southwark in a performance at the Royal Festival Hall.