- Not Yet "Bridging the Gender Gap":Women's Experiences in Composing for the Twenty-First-Century Wind Ensemble
Seated in the middle of an all-male composers' panel at the 2017 College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) conference, composer Steven Bryant remarked upon the absence of diverse programming on wind ensemble concerts, especially as regards gender. The irony was not lost on many members of the audience, myself included. Of the almost fifty works performed at the conference, he noted, only one was composed by a woman: The Eyes of the World Are Upon You, by Jennifer Jolley. She was also the only woman participating on the conference's series of composers' forums, which featured twenty-one of the thirty-nine people who had works performed. Others on Bryant's panel eagerly joined the discussion. Even though it was frustrating to see and hear the absence of women discussed by a group that included none, acknowledging the gender imbalance within the band community represented a new and welcome step toward correcting the problem. In addition to this spontaneous discussion, there were two research panels on the conference program dedicated specifically to "bridging the gender gap," which aimed to address programming imbalances. Clearly, gender was on the mind of many of the 2017 conference attendees. These public discussions of gender inequality would prove to be an entry into a multiyear examination of how the band community approached diversity and [End Page 41] inclusion, the significance of which extends beyond the band to other areas of classical music.
This article focuses on the position of marginalized composers of wind ensemble music, or music written for bands using flexible instrumentation and mostly one-on-a-part scoring, using the CBDNA national meetings of 2017 and 2019 as case studies to illuminate both the progress made and the challenges that still remain toward diversifying a historically male and white American musical community. The experiences of Jennifer Jolley provide a glimpse into what it was like to be known as a "woman composer" in the band world during this two-year period. Jolley is a mixed-race woman of both white and Asian heritage, but she often passes for white. This adds an additional layer to her story: she is a woman of color who acknowledges that she receives many of the same privileges as her white colleagues.1 Although I center Jolley's voice throughout this article, it is important to note that she is just one example of a woman who composes band music and cannot stand in for anyone else; her story is her own.
In 2017 conversations about building a more diverse band world revolved primarily around gender, specifically focusing on composers. Works by living composers comprise the majority of music programmed at CBDNA conferences, which perhaps suggests that the wind ensemble community should be a haven for composers from historically under-represented groups; in practice, however, this community still mostly commissions and programs music by composers who are white men. To contextualize the diversity problems of the twenty-first century, this article first explores the growth of the wind ensemble concept in the 1950s and 1960s, examining the values codified in the new repertoire. Half a century later, these values continued to prioritize white men at CBDNA 2017, even as many community members began to advocate for change. It is already evident that CBDNA 2017 will be remembered as a turning point in the movement to diversify the wind ensemble community, as demonstrated in the changes observed at the 2019 national meeting.
I selected the meetings of the College Band Directors National Association both because of its role in the band world as a focal point for the status of the wind ensemble repertoire (rather than the National Bandmasters Association, which focuses primarily on the educational significance of band music) and because anyone can register to become a member (rather than the American Bandmasters Association, for which membership requires nomination).2 I attended the 2017 CBDNA national meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, to conduct ethnographic research: I conducted interviews with attendees, participated as an audience member at concerts, and attended panel discussions on topics important to CBDNA...