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English Women In The Orchestra.

Those of us here in England who watch carefully the trend of matters musical, and who notice “which way the wind blows,” know well that the present opportunity for the musician lies in the orchestra. We are overburdened with music-teachers, with singers, solo pianists, violinists, and organists; but the supply of capable orchestral players only meets the demand.

This demand is on the increase. All over England there is a steady growth of public interest in orchestral music. Amateurs—and it is the amateur who “rules the roost”—are no longer content to sing songs and to play the piano. They take up stringed and wind instruments, then co-operate and form orchestral societies. It naturally follows that they wish to hear good orchestras, and so they attend orchestral concerts more frequently and listen more intelligently than of old. Amateur orchestras of all kinds and sizes are to be found all over the country, sometimes in quite small villages, and in London they abound. Every year there are more orchestral concerts given, and every year they become more popular. The standard of excellence is rising, too, and rightly so. An audience nowadays expects more for its money; and, in the country especially, one finds a steady improvement in performance a necessity if one wants to get an audience at all. All this means work for the orchestral player,—amateur as well as professional,—and it affects women as well as men.

Women professional players are fast taking their stand alongside of men. The question of sex will soon be no matter for consideration, players being judged by their merits alone. Many conductors and secretaries of musical societies prefer to have women in the orchestra, and say they are more punctual and attentive at rehearsal and, on the whole, give less trouble than men. On the other hand, a woman’s physical endurance is generally less than a man’s, and she tires sooner at long, fatiguing rehearsals and concerts. It might be said in passing that the Handel Festival Orchestra and other festival associations employ women players.

It must not be forgotten that in England women play wind-instruments as well as stringed. Except perhaps a few of the very largest military brass instruments, there is no wind instrument unplayed by women. All through the summer of 1900 the music at the Women’s Exhibition in London was provided by women’s bands, and one of these was a full military orchestra of sixty players.

In the matter of wind-playing the two principal English music schools, the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, are at variance. The R. C. M. will on no account permit its women students to blow anything, nor is any wind-scholarship open to women. The R. A. M., on the contrary, has always encouraged it, and it is many years ago now that Miss Frances Thomas, the well-known clarinetist, was one of its students. Only this year the academy has instituted six wind-scholarships open to both sexes under similar conditions, and two of these (oboe and trumpet) have been won by girls.

Wind-instruments are far easier to play and more quickly learned than stringed, and wind-players of both sexes are the best paid. It must be admitted that women wind-players do not, as a general rule, play as well as they might, but they have only themselves to blame. Careful teaching from the very first is essential, and women should not take engagements until they are able to play the music required well.

The playing of wind-instruments by women has brought into existence many orchestras and bands composed exclusively of women. These are of varying qualities, and we must confine ourselves to the mention of the best professional band and the best amateur orchestra.

The best professional organization is the Æolian Ladies’ Orchestra, formed in 1886 and conducted by Miss Rosabel Watson. This talented lady is a first-rate all-round musician and a most capable conductor. She is the best woman horn-player in England, and plays the piano and all the stringed instruments extremely well, especially the double bass. Her Æolian Orchestra is composed of present and past students and scholars of the R. A. M., R. C. M., and the Guildhall School of Music, all good players, well taught and well disciplined.

The largest amateur ladies’ orchestra is the English Ladies’ Orchestral Society, which consists of over a hundred members, and boasts a full band of strings and wind. The conductor is, sad to relate, a man, but the man of all others who deserves the post. Mr. J. S. Liddle has always been a great friend to the woman musician. As long ago as 1887 he organized and conducted, in the little town of Newbury in Berkshire, a series of concerts at which a ladies’ band performed in conjunction with the choir of the Parish Church. This arrangement of an entirely female orchestra, together with an entirely male chorus, is perhaps unique. The band of these little concerts formed the nucleus of the English Ladies’ Orchestral Society. The society was formed in 1893. The members live all over England, and meet for practice in London. Concerts are given by invitation at provincial towns in aid of charitable objects, and, since its formation, this most successful society has contributed £1079 to various charities, chiefly hospitals.

England is said to be unmusical, and this may be true. We have not produced many great soloists, but enough has been said, perhaps, to show that, as far as the orchestra goes, we English women musicians of the rank and file are far ahead of those of any other country. We have not reached our goal till we are admitted to the very best orchestras on an equal footing with men, but that end will assuredly be gained before the century becomes much older.— Florence G. Fidler.

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