Women are heading for a majority in German orchestras

Women are heading for a majority in German orchestras


norman lebrecht

July 19, 2021

That’s the headline take on a new survey in Das Orchester magazine (print subscription only) on the changing gender balance among 9,884 musicians employed in Germany’s 129 public-funded concert and opera orchestras.

The small print shows a less agreeable picture.

Only 21 percent of principal and senior posts in the orchestras are held by women.

There are more women (62.6 percent) in the second violins than in the firsts (59.1%).

Harp posts are 93.7% female. The next highest is 65.4% on flute.

But there are still sections of the orchestra where women are distinctly unwelcome. Tuba is 98.1% male, trombone 95.4%, percussion 95.4&, trumpet 94.7%.

Equality is a work in progress.


  • John Borstlap says:

    According to a recent article in the Stürmische Beobachter:

    The reason that women are reluctant to take-on the tuba is that they don’t want to be reminded of the indigestion of their boyfriend. With the trombone and the trumpet, it is because most women find the instrument unbecoming, which is wrong since they are a symbol of emancipation and more effective to ward-off unwished intimicies than pepper spray. The percussion section in Germany is very sophisticated, so women don’t want to repeat the sounds they already make at home when preparing the food. The female popularity of the harp is not because it is such a feminine instrument without any forte, but it gives them some emotional peace after the forced struggle to get their voice heard in the outside world.

    • Susan Bradley says:

      I do hope your comment is meant to be humorous even though it failed to be so. Ridiculous and ignorant statements perpetuating stereotypes. Yes, I play the tuba, and it has nothing to do with my boyfriend. How the hell is a trumpet or trombone ‘unbecoming’?

      • John Borstlap says:

        I agree, it is a ridiculous, not a humorous article. And the Germans do not really have a longstanding reputation for humor.

  • Drew Barnard says:

    I wonder why more women aren’t playing trumbert.

  • Timmy says:

    Have blind auditions, hire the winner, give them tenure if they are successful in the position. Gender/race/orientation is not relevant and will never be relevant in orchestra hiring practices, despite ignorant ,outside forces pushing an agenda.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    What percentage of tuba graduates are male? Trumpet? Trombone? Harp? Flute? What percentage of established players who would be auditioning for a second or third position are male, and what percentage are female? For which instruments is the available pool of talent equally divided between the genders? Without these underlying data, the percentages cited are meaningless. And on what planet are second violins less important, less critical to successful orchestral performance, than first violins?

    If one tried to publish this as a paper in a scientific journal, it would be shot down with the speed of light.

    • Derek H says:

      You are right, and many of these figures depend on the person’s instrument of choice.

      Also, I have always admired second violins and violas – they do a great job with harmony etc.

  • Barry says:


  • Neville Young says:

    I hate to nitpick but is the header meant to be Women or Woman?

  • And I remember not so long ago in Germany you never saw a female face in the band other than playing the harp.My how things have changed.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s all part of a secret plan of women to take over the world, because the men have made such a mess of it.


    It may be, of course, that women generally tend not to gravitate towards those instruments where they’re in a minority. There will always be exceptions, as the percentages clearly indicate. No cause for alarm!!

    • think again says:

      What a silly comment. If that was anywhere near true women would be in a minority across all the instruments, given how male-dominated (or indeed, all-male) orchestras used to be.

      As a female double bassist I can tell you that part of the reason is that some instruments are still seen as a male preserve (from comments made by multiple musicians), with according consequences for audition success etc.

  • Novagerio says:

    Equality or equity?…

  • Females trombone players are still uncommon. Certainly not close to being 50% of the trombone population and not 50% of those pursuing it at a high level and going to auditions for symphony posts.

    I’ll note that *every* female trombonist i have known personally, when asked how she came to choose trombone as an instrument, has replied with something like, “My [older male relative] used to play it in school, so we already had one sitting around and my parents didn’t want to buy something else.”

    • John Borstlap says:

      Trombones and tubas require, like trumpets, more air power, i.e. bigger lungs, and that is mostly an advantage of being a male. Has nothing to do with discrimination or lack of female ambition. And there are more female horn players to be seen in orchestras because the air pressure requirements are a bit less on that instrument.

      • I’ve heard entirely capable female trombone and tuba players and who were not large creatures.

        Flute takes a lot of air. They play that.

        It is not female lung capacity that is dissuading them.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Maybe. But the air needed for the flute does not need much volume or pressure since the sound production is through vibration, while brass mouth pieces require lip tension and quite an air pressure. It is a very different production process.

      • Susan Bradley says:

        Wrong. Air flow and air pressure are different things. Horn requires more air pressure, less flow. Tuba requires little air pressure, more flow. And it has nothing to do with bigger lungs. I play tuba professionally with one lung. I would prefer two, but I had no choice in the matter. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it. I’m sure some bloke told me that, years ago.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I have no idea what the situation is in other countries, but here in the US of A there is (or was when I was in elementary school) the special days when perhaps the Junior High School band or orchestra directors would visit 5th or 6th grade classrooms, perhaps with student musicians, and demonstrate various instruments being played. The idea was to encourage the kids to pick an instrument (a very few of us had started taking music lessons earlier on our own initiative [translation: on our parents’ directive]).

      But otherwise this “pick an instrument” was prep for populating the bands and orchestras in Junior High School, now often called Middle School. There were no elementary school bands or orchestras that I was aware of.

      So the question should be, what can you do to encourage a pre-teen boy or girl (an age when kids are more or less programmed to conform, and rewarded to conform) to deviate from gender norms and assumptions when picking an instrument? Because like it or not the choice of instrument, or family of instrument, is made when very young, and often in a near-absence of careful thought or analysis. Thoughts of a career or even becoming good at it are few and fleeting. Sometimes the choice is made for them: “these are the only instruments we have left – the ones nobody else wants. Choose from this puny list. Hey we’ve got violas!”

      We in Milwaukee are by the way quite happy with our first trombone, Megumi Kanda and her air pressure seems as high as needed.

  • fflambeau says:

    In high school, I sat next to our band’s solo trombone player who was a female (the daughter of our conductor). She was fantastic both as a player and as a teacher. I learned a great deal from her including that one can do almost anything if you set your mind to it, and most of all, that practice does wonders.

    No one looked down on her although she was short. She was extremely talented, dedicated and determined and had the medals to prove her abilities. She was the best player in the band and everyone knew it. Even though she was small, she could reach the deepest notes on her instrument; I recall her using her foot to extend the slide a technique she had mastered!

    I can see lots more women playing trombone and trumpet, not so many playing tuba which is heavier and more cumbersome.

    • sexism again says:

      There is no reason why women can’t play tuba due to it being ‘heavier and more cumbersome’, what a stupid thing to say. How on earth do you think women cope with harps if you think we’re so weak?

      As for those discussing the apparent breathing issue, I invite you to remind yourselves of the outcome of the Abigail Conant case. Disgustingly, she was subjected to lung tests in hospital – which she passed with flying colours – after winning a first trombone post.

      • Derek H says:

        I understand your irritation, but honestly, I don’t believe fflambeau was saying women can’t play tuba.
        Indeed , the narrative is positive and supportive of a small female player.

        The comment about the tuba was just a view why fewer women may play it. I didn’t detect any intention to criticise or dismiss women players.

        • John Borstlap says:

          If women have more hurdles to overcome physically, and still do excellent auditions, that does not mean that there are no physical differences between the (two main) sexes. Males may have other barriers to conquer, no player comes into the world already perfectly trained. The point is, that there should not be any prejudice about gender and instrument choice.

        • sexism again says:

          I’m really quite bored of men telling me why sexist things aren’t sexist. The narrative you call positive is actually pretty patronising, as is the assumption women might be put off by something ‘heavy and cumbersome’ when that’s clearly not the case, as proven by the amount of female harpists.

          • Derek H says:

            I do see your overall point about male assumptions, but still don’t think any ill was intended.

            The other interesting fact, apart from that, is that nobody (male or female) has said anything about 93.7% Harpists and 65.4% Flute Players are female. Those figures are high and haven’t been explained.

      • Bill says:

        My observation in my younger days when I sat in the back of the section near the harp was that every single one of those petite female harp players invariably came equipped with a large boyfriend (or father) who moved the harp once she had covered it up and was ready to roll. They also all seemed to do secondary duty discouraging unwanted interest of a non-musical sort! Holding the door for a young harpist as she was wheeling her harp out not too long ago, I asked where the obligatory burly chap was, and why she was being forced to move her instrument solo. She laughed and said that in fact he was moving the car as close as possible to the entrance, and was just out of sight. She then allowed as to how the topic did come up now and then about how he often grumbled about having to sit around, and how he thought the conductor should just rehearse the passages she played and let them go ASAP (she rolled her eyes at this point)!

  • IC225 says:

    Weird (and wrong) to imply that a position in the second violins is paid, ranked or valued differently from a position in the firsts.

  • Tamino says:

    Women have in average about 15-20% less lung volume than men. Women have 10-12% less lung volume than their male counterparts of SAME HEIGHT. Fact. That is a decisive difference when it comes to playing the trombone or tuba. Exceptions apply but are exceptions from the norm.

    • sexism again says:

      Bullshit. There is no difference in playing quality.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That was not implied in the comment. The point is, that females may have greater difficulty to reach the same level as others without such physical limitations. The result may be equally excellent.

  • sexism again says:

    Hilarious how many men have lined up in the comments to declare what things women apparently can’t or don’t want to do. Haven’t you learnt from history? Women have been told we’re incapable of doing an endless list of things over the years and not one single one has been true. So stop doing it, it’s boring and we won’t take any notice.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have all information from my PA and she is very female, every comment about females I make on SD is first checked by her and her many criticisms worked into the comment, sometimes many times over. And while I still get negative comments AFTER publication, they reflect the female mind perfectly well, maybe for that very reason.

      Also it should not be forgotten that men, after a certain number of years of close engagement with the charming gender, can – through great effort and with the expulsion of any remnant of male rationality – enter into the female mindset, and grasp the entirely different way in which the female mind works, how female rationality functions, and its mysterious intuition and its perplexing imaginations. It goes without saying that such understanding needs a thorough preparation, of which one of the most important is reading the appropriate literature: Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, and Anais Nin. After a training period in crossdressing – at least once a week during 4 months – the interested male will be capable of entering the feminine mind with great sensitivity and understanding.

      By the way, for men who – after such period of efforts – have difficulty returning to their normal pre-feminine life, there are professional organisations helping him back on the beaten path: Remasculinators Anonymous, in almost every big city in every country in the West – except France.