Dirigent – An award-winning conducting course for young women in Sweden

Anette Andersson Huber tells IAM why a women-only conducting course is still necessary in 2016

On International Women’s Day I read an article in a local newspaper on a young woman and her musical career as a musician and conductor. She is 25 years old and says: ‘I get the question if women can conduct all the time. I answer to prejudice with the best method I know – I show people what I can do. And I never come to a rehearsal unprepared.’

This young woman is one of the participants in a project I have been working with since 2014, a programme in Sweden for women conductors. Eight young women were accepted to our course Dirigent during the summer of 2014, following an audition process that included individual interviews. We were looking for participants 15–25 years old, with orchestra experience, strong personal commitment, and willingness to invest time and energy. Conducting experience was not required. This initiative reaches out to young women who are at the point of choosing a profession.

Dirigent conductor
© Peter Lloyd

Over seven intensive weekends between August 2014 and June 2015, the participants studied baton technique, orchestral score analysis, and rehearsing techniques. Other topics included gender studies, orchestral psychology, and how leaders develop visions and goals. Participants took study trips to rehearsals and concerts and practiced with orchestras. They also had ongoing access to mentors for further help and guidance.I often get the question: ‘Why a conducting course – only for women?’ My first answer is that the long-term goal is to make conducting a natural choice for anyone with the necessary desire, drive, and skills, regardless of gender. But women are strongly underrepresented in the conducting profession, in Sweden and in the world. Young women have few role models at the podium and it may be hard for them to imagine a career as a professional conductor. There are already several conducting programmes with mixed groups, and they are usually filled with mostly men. Obviously all women don’t feel that these programmes are for them. With Dirigent, the women had the chance to learn from female conductors, as a homogenous group.

DirigentNow, in 2016, I see the participants in the newspapers and on social media, some of them during rehearsals with professional orchestras, conducting their own compositions, classical pieces for orchestra or huge ABBA projects. Some are starting their own orchestras or doing their diplomas in conducting. Others use their conducting skills in other ways, or as a tool in a composer’s career. All of them might not become full time professional conductors. But they continue to show people what they can do, and I am proud to see them choose career based on desire, drive and skills – and not on gender.

Anette Andersson Huber is a production manager at Kultur i Väst, the cultural administration of the region Västra Götaland in south-west Sweden. Her project for women conductors Dirigent won the region Västra Götaland Equality Award 2015. Dirigent is a Kultur i Väst project, in association with KUPP, RUM, GSO, GWO and SOF. Participating instructors were: Merete Ellegaard, Marit Strindlund, Kerstin Nerbe, Maria Eklund, and Anette Andersson Huber.