I find conducting goes so much better without sleeves

The soprano-turned-conductor Barbara Hannigan, has been giving dress tips in the Guardian:

barbara hannigan conducting

 

When I’d made my debut at the Châtelet, I’d worn a suit: many women conductors wear either gender-neutral outfits or something resembling a man’s suit. I thought trousers and jacket were the “costume” I had to put on. However, to cover my arms in a jacket might serve convention, but not the music – and I never wear suits in real life! Ever since, I’ve worn a sleeveless dress to conduct. It’s something I can move in that doesn’t distract me or the orchestra – and it fits the music on the programme. I don’t tie my hair back, either, because I never do unless I’m having a bad hair day. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about this from orchestras and audiences. None find it a problem that I’m not soberly clad in a dark suit. Critics do invariably always remark on my attire, though, which isn’t something they regularly do with male conductors.

 

Any male conductors want to follow suit?

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  • dear gods, is that what music making has come down to? Whether to wear sleeves or no? Whether to wear a suit? Is my hair tied back?
    Is that what I should have been worrying about all these years, when I was more concerned about practising scales, solos, etudes, excerpts?
    This is exactly the kind of nonsense that some women use to derail their careers, and define themselves as women musicians.
    It matters not a jot whether you are male or female when it comes to playing music. Save that nonsense for the bedroom.

    • Surely Susan the audiences are influenced by the look of the artists, we hear but we also see, and both of those senses play a part in our appreciation of the musical event. Barbara Hannigan is a singer, a conductor, a dancer and a complete performer. Her Ligeti with the Swedish orchestra or with Sir Simon Rattle are just wonderful. The audiences just loved them, so she must be doing something right. I would guess that she does her scales and her preparation prior to the performance.

    • A little harsh I feel Ms Bradley about someone saying what clothes they find comfortable to conduct music in, and why shouldn’t she care about her appearance? All of us in professional jobs know the importance of “impression management” and lets face it there are enough barriers out there facing female conductors without adding any others. Yes, we know we shouldn’t be judged just on how we look but both male and female are, that is the reality
      You aren’t from Hebden Bridge by any chance?

      • Of course appearances matter. But it matters more whether one can do the job or not.
        A good-looking, well-presented conductor of either sex, who cannot conduct, is no use. A conductor of either sex who can conduct is what is needed, regardless of attire.

        Never heard of Hebden Bridge, and having looked it up, it appears to be on the other side of the planet to me. No idea on that one.

    • Susan, in my opinion, her point was the same is yours-that it shouldn’t matter, yet it does to critics and audiences who aren’t used to seeing female conductors.

  • If only we could simply ignore the dinosaurs that keep reproducing the sexist discourse of women being unable to conduct, or being unable to do anything relevant in music at large – the problem is though, that ignoring isn’t the same as silencing, and we surely need the BH’s of this world to disprove them. At a loud voice. Or with a sleeveless arm swinging the baton, for that matter.

  • I am surprised that you of all people, who has been supportive of women on the podium, chose to “spin” this article as you did above. Anyone who read it, and I assume you did, will know it is not about “dress tips” for anyone.

    • Thank you, for this response and your work.

      The question is, if a male conductor had made the same comment, would it be reported the same way?

      I understand the need for levity in headlines, but when so many women are routinely blocked from conducting just for gender, levity can go too far, as you’ve noted.

      • “Women are routinely blocked from conducting just for gender”.
        Now that’s a bold statement, which is based in perceptive bias, not in reality today.
        The opposite is true, there are even orchestras trying to fill a certain number of assignments of the season with female conductors and can’t find enough good ones for it… Meanwhile a man is blocked from this assignment. That’s today’s reality.

        • Read the comments of Petrenko, etc., and you will understand what is meant by blocking access to the job based on gender.

          • Petrenko, Temirkanov do not have major influence over hiring female conductors. They just talk out of the boy’s club. They are only a very small minority in the music business.

            The more interesting perspective here is actually that of the WOMEN themselves on their female colleagues conducting.

            I have heard more negative comments about female conductors from women musicians (and audience) than from men! True!

  • Barbara, as you rightly say, I have been supportive of women in the podium for quarter of a century, all the way back to The Maestro Myth. I selected this particular quote because it makes a number of serious points. But it can help sometimes to get the point over with a touch of levity – if only to stimulate a broader discussion. best, NL

  • Looking over the Verbier Festival program for 2015 I see Alona de la Parra conducting there, female conductors from Mexico do not appear there very often. Progress!

  • Few things irritate me as much as when articles or interviews with female musicians even MENTION clothes and dress style, unless that’s the crux of the interview or the musician brought it up unprompted.

    • Ahhh no, that’s going too far in pc ‘ness. Women do have the opportunity to be more creative about their wardrobe than men, so I see it as natural to also talk about it. A bit… On the side, not as the main topic!

  • Geoff,

    That fact that you think this ‘progress!’ is very touching and serves to illustrate one of the reasons why the art of conducting is on the present trajectory it is.

  • We’re not doing women conductors any favours if we’re praising them for simply conducting at all. They should be judged on their artistic merits, same as anyone else.

    In this clip, she really isn’t doing very much. She is following the orchestra (rather than the other way around) and making some pretty gestures, but that’s all. Truly great conductors have a presence that is impossible to ignore.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qyJKAccDWc

      • Actually, in this clip she is definitely leading the orchestra, not following it. Truly great? Of course not: there are very few such maestros alive these days. But she is a real conductor – no doubt about it.

    • If you really think that in this clip BH “is following the orchestra (rather than the other way around)”, you should have your eye-ear coordination examined. She is clearly leading here. There are very few “truly great” ones these days, and no one is suggesting that she is among them, but her conducting shows a genuine talent.

      • You don’t know much about conducting apparently. She does the very basic mistake of not doing anticipatory gestures but putting it into the downbeat. Too late… no musician can follow that. But she is a smart woman. With a good mentor she can figure it out, I’m sure.

        • Apparently you know much less. As a musician who has worked with many conductors who lead and also unfortunately with some who follow, I know the difference very well. In this clip she gives lots of clear preparatory gestures exactly at the right time.

  • Not a gender issue, really. I see it as a hygiene issue, or perhaps bad manners too. Seeing a woman in a sleeveless dress at a dinner function is one thing, but while working (and presumably working up a sweat) is another. I personally find it rather disgusting seeing people in sleeveless outfits anywhere other than the beach. I have even worked with some women who have even smelled bad in similar outfits. How many men shave their armpits? God forbid if we have to see that. Can’t believe I have to point this out. Yuck!!

  • And I can’t believe I had to read it. Not a gender issue you say? Right. I still have that bridge available.

    What a sad commentary this thread is.

    • Thank you Andrey,
      Tania Miller has been with the Victoria Symphony for many years, but is moving on to bigger and better things in a couple of years. Victoria is as far from New York, the musical centre of North America, as one can be without falling into the Pacific Ocean. Tania is from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, a mere dot on the map with a population of around 1,200. So despite coming from a tiny place in the middle of the Canadian prairies, being a woman and competing with all those men, she has reached a level in her career almost comparable to that of Barbara Hannigan. Progress!

  • Women conductors are still relatively new, so it is only natural to discuss how they can be positioned within such a historically patriarchal art form as conducting. Attire is only one aspect of concepts that need to be developed. With her extraordinary musicianship and colorful personality, Ms. Hannigan is opening new musical vistas for orchestras. I love her extroverted, witty performances of Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre – especially the version with Rattle and the LSO. For those with the eyes to see, behind the performance’s humor it reveals how many new perspective women could bring to the art of conducting — perspectives that are much needed if orchestras are to survive. I hope the music world will pave a way for her. She deserves it and we would all benefit.

  • Thank you Andrey,
    Tania Miller has been with the Victoria Symphony for many years, but is moving on to bigger and better things in a couple of years. Victoria is as far from New York, the musical centre of North America, as one can be without falling into the Pacific Ocean. Tania is from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada, a mere dot on the map with a population of around 1,200. So despite coming from a tiny place in the middle of the Canadian prairies, being a woman and competing with all those men, she has reached a level in her career almost comparable to that of Barbara Hannigan. Progress!

  • As an orchestral musician, I find one detail in the following quote from the article most important to the topic at hand:

    “Ever since, I’ve worn a sleeveless dress to conduct. It’s something I can move in that *doesn’t distract me or the orchestra* – and it fits the music on the programme.” (emphasis mine)

    As long as the conductor’s outfit does not distract me from my job of performing music, does not inhibit his or her ability to conduct the orchestra, and looks professional, I don’t particularly care what he or she wears.

    Certain colors or patterns can impede my ability to see the baton or the hands. Shiny jewelry can reflect light into my eyes. Etc.

    Sleeveless dress? *Shrug.*

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