Women conductors shouldn’t be a rarity

In 2014 Andrea Brown and Alice Farnham launched Women Conductors at Morley. Their intention was to create a place where women in music could discover their own personal voice through conducting. Karin Hendrickson joined the workshop as associate conductor last September, here she writes for IAM about the real value of getting women on the podium. 

What we do at Women Conductors at Morley is provide an opportunity for women to further their aspirations, ambitions, and training as conductors. But in the larger global sense, we provide a place where women can have a right to share their voice without any initial interference from the outside world.

Our message to women conductors is this:

  • We want you to have your voice and to be able to share it.
  • We want you to be a leader because we know you can do it.
  • We want you to build the life you want, because we know you can dream it.

Our vision isn’t just about giving a few women in the world some podium time in front of an orchestra; we are part of the larger voice declaring that every woman in the world deserves to have the safety, protection, confidence, presence, training, and bravery to know their voice and to speak it, to have their dream and to live it.

On International Women’s Day 2016 the media will be thick with discussions surrounding the challenges in equality and opportunity as they relate to women – and it has been well documented that the classical music industry has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to equality.

Having spent the past six years of my life standing on a podium in front of orchestras, one might ask what a female conductor can add to the discussion – except the ever present conversation surrounding a ‘glass ceiling’.

As I launched into my career, I hadn’t expected to become aware of a gender divide. Then one day after a concert in Bulgaria I was given flowers by an elderly woman. ‘It is so beautiful to see a woman conducting,’ she said to me. A few years later, at another podium in Bulgaria, I received the same comment. The subtext of the message stayed with me: as a female conductor, I am seen as something of a rarity.

This past year on the stages of both Pittsburgh and Nashville symphonies, I was approached by younger women who either asked for a photo with me or revealed how they would love to “try conducting”. Meanwhile, older women congratulated me on my performance: ‘It’s so great to see a woman on the podium – it’s about time,’ they said.

I believe the reaction of all these women – young, old, national, international – is rooted in the same concern: my being a conductor is not the biggest issue, it’s the recognition that by leading from the podium, my personal voice is being acknowledged.

The Women Conductors at Morley workshops provide opportunities for women to further their aspirations, ambitions, and training as conductors. Alice Farnham and Andrea Brown created the scheme because they wanted to address the particular challenge that women are still reticent to consider conducting as a career path.

The programme has attracted an international participant list that includes women from Germany, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Austria, US, England, Serbia, Belgium, Australia, China, Russia, South Africa, Poland, and also a young woman from Palestine the team hope to support in the future. This past weekend, Women Conductors at Morley concluded its eighth round: during this intake, we have welcomed a total of 90 participating women. Tutors on the course have included esteemed conductors Sian Edwards, Jane Glover, Julia Jones, Alice Farnham, and Andrea Quinn.

Compared to the other challenges facing 21st century women, this podium time may seem inconsequential but the values set at Morley aren’t just about the women we engage with musically. The worth we set at our workshops is to be shared and put into motion as best we can for every woman in the world.

Every woman should have the rights of a first-world podium. And not just in front of an orchestra.



Karin Hendrickson was nominated for the 2016 Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. Recent symphonic debuts include Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (USA); Nashville Symphony Orchestra (USA); Kammersymphonie Graz (Austria); São Paulo Symphony (Brazil). Upcoming operatic debuts include music director for Opera for the Unknown Woman and music director for Garsington Youth Opera. She joins The Royal (UK) as a cover conductor for the 2016-17 season.