American Choral Directors Association National Conference Sexism, color coded!

ACDA is a big professional organization for choral conductors. Members conduct school and community youth choirs, church choirs, adult community choirs, college choirs, and professional choirs. Every choir you can think of.

I’ve been a member going on twenty years now. It’s a good organization that serves its community with valuable resources and connections. I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad I’m a member.

It’s not male dominated — there are men and women serving in offices and committees, and presenting sessions at conferences. Service to the organization is well balanced across genders. But… conducting?

Conducting, performing on stage at an ACDA event like a conference, is male dominated, with 75% of conference choirs being conducted by men. This has been true since the group’s inception. What has also been true is that the 25% of women conductors are overwhelmingly conducting children’s, treble, and women’s choirs.

The sociological term for limiting the access of a group of people beyond one area is “ghettoization.” It doesn’t mean a physical “ghetto” like “In the Ghetto,” or the Jewish ghettos of the Holocauast, which are obviously much, much worse. But sociologists use the term to describe the same phenomenon of limitations imposed on a group of people in a systematic way.

Like this, in which blue names are men conducting college, adult, and other arguably prestigious choirs (I included the conference high school honor choir in this, even though it’s a youth choir, because of its tremendous prestige in the field). Pink names are women conducting children, youth, trebles, and women. Dark purple names are the men who don’t conform to the gender norm. The light purple names are women conducting choirs of mixed-gender adults.

UPDATE: I mined my data from the conference performance schedule, but didn’t look at the Welcome Concert, International Concert, Music in Worship, and Contemporary events because they are cross-track events and notpart of the same system as the other. However, they do represent choices ACDA made, and when I included them, even taking into account St. Olaf’s three men and one woman (who conducts their women’s choir) it was a positive influence overall — doubling the percentage of women conducting adult mixed-gender ensembles from 3% to 6%, which is, if not impressive, at least statistically significant. So, I’ve included those now. I did not include ensembles who do not perform without a conductor, since the whole point is the visibility of women.

Non-conforming Men: 36%.

Non-conforming Women: 3%.

That pink section is the ghetto.

Men are allowed to cross over, and conduct choirs that tend to be associated with women — almost half the men are conducting those choirs. In fact, there are more men conducting youth, trebles, and women than there are women conducting at the conference altogether!

And those women are overwhelmingly limited to that pink box.

Is it because women only want to conduct those choirs? Because they’re not good enough to conduct mixed college choirs? Definitely not.

It’s because the system is designed in a way that limits women’s access. But the thing is, the system is made of people. The people can change it if they want to. The Dallas Opera, for example, started a whole program for women conductors. Yay! But the people in charge of the system at ACDA are largely the people who benefited from it as it stands, and don’t notice that there are others being limited by the system.

Hence the lack of change.

This is the profession I work in. I sit at a table for college choral directors at a conference, and I’m the only woman at the table. I see it, I feel it, I live it. This is why I’m so outspoken about sexism. It’s real, and it needs to change. And if anyone is surprised to hear about it, it won’t be because I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops.

EDIT: according to feedback I’ve gotten, apparently ACDA really is interested in change. They just haven’t figured out how to make it, because the pool of applicants they choose from is mired in a system that makes it hard for women to get hired for positions that are large and well-funded.

Hint: affirmative action. Say out loud, “We’re trying to elevate the visibility of women (and people of color while we’re at it!), so the selection process won’t be blind, and we’re going to make sure we have proportional representation! That helps the system get better, because you know what helps conductors get hired for big jobs? Cred like ACDA performances.

Also, very easy fix: hire women honor choir conductors, not just for the children’s choirs.

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