“Tradition is the handing down of the flame, not the worship of the ashes.”

NBNadia Boulanger

That quotation, attributed to Gustav Mahler (as well as Benjamin Franklin and others) is the closing line to Anastasia Tsioulcas’s recent article “What Is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” over at NPR. The article addresses gender disparity, which continues to occur at some of the highest levels of professional orchestral music—but it doesn’t stop there.

Can something still be shocking, even when it’s not a surprise? This isn’t news, and I’ve never been able to understand it.

When a belief held by others is something so contrary to your own—so contrary to reason itself—it’s difficult to imagine engaging anyone who holds that belief. To “debate” something so ignorant and repellent in one sense elevates it, bestowing it with a façade of validity. In other words debating it suggests it’s a view worthy of being debated, and by extension, that a debate is even called for. But to remain silent about it prevents any hope of change.

I’ve never known a woman conductor, a woman theorist, a woman performer, a woman historian, a woman composer, or a woman student. In my lifetime I’ve only ever known conductors, theorists, performers, historians, composers, and students—some have been women, and among them are some of the greatest musicians known to me.

I don’t know what the solution is, except to not be silent about it.

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