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Female Empowerment Music Courses Begun in South London College

Morley College in south London has begun a three-week music course exclusively for women. The course aims to address the shortage of women conductors in the English orchestra. Last September, Marin Alsop became the first woman conductor to orchestrate the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. The course is being headed by expert conductor Alice Farnham, who began the course as a response to Alsop’s critics who offered the best of their back-handed compliments after the performance—saying that they were surprised that a woman could do so well.

These critics include Bruno Mantavani, the head of the Paris Conservatoire and Vasily Petrenko, principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Ms. Farnham decided to partner with Morley College and develop this experimental course which caters exclusively to girls aged 16 to 18 in an effort to provide an avenue for young girls who are interested in conducting music. Andrea Brown, Morley’s director of music stresses that the important thing for educators in the field of music to achieve is to let young girls know that if they want to conduct music or learn music as a career, there is a place for them to go. As much as it is a course which is being graded and which issues a certification, Ms. Brown also indicates that it is a safe space for young women to experiment with music. She hopes that the implementation of this course will help young women everywhere pursue their dreams of conducting music.

Pip Scott, a student of the program who also goes to the Royal College of Music says that before she was endorsed for the program she hadn’t thought of being a conductor—she says that she loves music and she wants to do it as a career but she hadn’t even thought that becoming a conductor was feasible option. She says that while charging people in the music industry with being sexist might be harsh, there is definitely a stereotype of conductors being predominantly male and older. She says that the program is a step forward for women in music and for musical education; she definitely recommends that it be kept on by Morley College and that more young women be accommodated next time.

Her fellow student Melisande Yazuv who is a violinist and singer taking up a degree in music at the Royal Academy of Music says that more than anything the program was helpful because of the safeness of the environment. They were encouraged to experiment and to make mistakes so that these errors could be corrected. She further states that the environment really helped her realize what she wants to do with music and helped her better understand how music behaves as a whole. Ms. Yazuv says that she encourages all young women who are interested in music to join the course. She also says that there’s something to be learned from this course for educators everywhere—no matter the subject or craft.

Ms. Farnham adds that what they try to teach the young girls along with the technical bits of conducting is confidence and charisma. Furthermore, she says that the biggest difference between male and female conductors is that the former views the profession as his birthright whereas the latter is always shaking in her boots, nervous about the critique of the performance. She goes on to say that most male and female conductors are matched in technical skill: what makes the difference is the confidence, something that this course ambitiously wishes to develop in these young women.

The course, whose first run is in its last week, is ending with a bang: the students are going to take turns conducting a youth orchestra group consisting of 20 pianists in its culmination concert this coming weekend. The final performance will be performed under the tutelage of one of (if not the) most well-known female conductor in Britain, Ms. Sian Edwards. They will be performing William Walton’s Suite from Henry V. The course hopes to go for another run as soon as possible—as well as accommodate more applicants.



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