Women help carry music festival forward
While the world of classical music has historically been dominated by male composers, conductors and instrument builders, the field is no longer bound by those traditions.
Although nearly every piece in this year’s Hot Springs Music Festival was written by a man, Associate Director Lynn Payette said more than half its key leadership positions for the 22nd season are filled by women.
From festival board Chairwoman Vicki Shaw Cook and Arts Administration Mentor Laura Rosenberg, to staff and board members, apprentices, and renowned mentor musicians, the 2017 event simply wouldn’t be possible without the efforts put forth by women — not only during the festival weeks of June 3-17, but year-round.
Also the festival’s co- founder, Rosenberg discussed its conceptual phase, saying a trend had been noticed in classical music that there was a disconnect between the longer learning process in higher education, versus the days or perhaps a week or two for mastering performance pieces when becoming a professional. Thus, the mentor/ apprentice music festival relationship was born, where the two take the stage together, each carrying equal responsibility for a successful concert.
Percussionist Maria Flurry is one of five female mentors who shared their perspectives on professional musicianship, mentoring for the festival, and women in the field of classical music. An Arizona resident, she said women in that state are actually overrepresented at the community orchestra level, but their numbers fall incredibly short as professionals.
Horn player Caroline Kinsey said up until a few decades ago, orchestra auditions were not held behind a screen, so those choosing musicians could see the person playing. Many male judges falsely believed women couldn’t get the same sound from their instrument as a man, due to a perceived smaller lung size, so the female professional participation was greatly reduced. She said since screens have been utilized, the gender ratio has become about even.
Harpist Shana Norton had a slightly different take, since women have long filled that space in an orchestra, but she noted that recent previous generations of players tell of having to change clothes in their harp cases, because some halls had no dressing rooms for women.
Bassoonist Jenny Mann first participated in the HSMF during 1999 as an apprentice. She now works as associate professor of the instrument at the University of Alabama, and has returned to the Spa City as a mentor every summer since 2011. In that role, Mann said she enjoys the opportunity to work with a large group of musicians that she either doesn’t know, or doesn’t see very often.
“It lifts me up and revives my inspiration every summer to spend time with this fresh, vibrant group of people. It is also so rewarding to see my students not only make significant improvement over our two weeks together, but to return the next summer to continue our work. The two weeks are intense, but it is absolutely worth it,” she said.
Flute mentor Virginia Broffitt Kunzer called the HSMF musicians “some of the best in the world,” and commented on the festival’s excellent reputation across the globe.
This will be Kinsey’s first year to mentor, and she is most excited about getting to know who her students are and what they want to accomplish with being a horn player. She said, “I love to help people try to understand what they really want and help them make a plan, and be brutally honest with them on what it takes.”
Kinsey said there is nothing like being a musician, and she wishes everyone could know what it’s like to sit on stage and perform such incredible pieces. “One performance alone makes you experience almost every kind of emotion there is — to me, that is living,” she said.
Emotion plays a big part for Rosenberg, too, who now lives in California and returns annually to carry out her latest role. She said, “I don’t have words to adequately convey the heart-lifting delight I feel every time I come back into Hot Springs and realize we’re going to have another festival season,” adding, “I’m filled with gratitude that Hot Springs is a place that continues to nurture an entity like this.”
Regarding the involvement of women, in addition to people of color who were traditionally excluded from orchestral play, she said, “We need to be the enablers of making sure that everybody has access to this wonderful art form.”
Using familial terms, Rosenberg spoke of the mentor/apprentice relationship and the growing numbers of women in professional music, saying, “It needs to be our joy, but also our responsibility, to make sure that as we have stood on our mothers’ shoulders, that our children get to stand on ours.”
Festival passes can be purchased for $150 by calling 501-623-4763. As always, attendance to rehearsals is free and open to all. As specific concert information becomes available, it will be posted on the festival website, https:// hotmusic.org.
Hot Springs Music Festival string quartet violinists Lara Madden, left, of River Forest, Ill. and Laura Stiener of Las Cruces, N.M. rehearse with others at the Fine Arts Center of Hot Springs in 2016.