Author: Courtney Anderson

The presentation began by Ms. Anderson asking her audience to shout out descriptors of violinists versus the trumpet. Answers were varied and heated, as most of the audience played an instrument. It was a great start to Ms. Anderson’s presentation; and really reminded me what strong opinions people have on this topic.

After showing some fun slides with stereotypes of different instruments (e.g. A picture of Will Ferrell as Anchorman with the caption, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.” – TRUMPET) Ms. Anderson went on to discuss her research of both the stereotypes of different instruments and sections, why they exist and why we should care.

She began by noting that most instruments are gendered. For example, the drums, trumpet and trombone are seen as masculine while the flute, harp and violin are seen as feminine. I knew there were stereotypes of instruments, having played in the band for many years, but I never really thought of those stereotypes as gendered. Research showed that instruments are often gendered this way both because of the way media portrays these instruments and also the way they are built. Tubas are big and potentially easier for a large man to carry, while a flute might be easier to play for a woman with small hands. The stereotypes of the instrument can often extend to the people playing them or the entire section. For example strings players could be seen as sensitive, caring and neurotic while brass players could be seen as gregarious, loud and macho.

Why does this matter? Research shows that having these perceptions about fellow musicians can lead to animosity between the sections and unrest within an orchestra. Also, children will often choose instruments that are typical to their gender. I know this to be true, because when I was in 5th grade, choosing my instrument to play in 6th grade band, I was told by the man at the instrument fair that I would be best at the trumpet. I loved it, but due to pressure surrounding me, I picked the clarinet. I stayed with that instrument until 10th grade, and always secretly regretted it. Finally, I decided to learn the trumpet on my own and switched to playing that for my last two years of high school. But it would have been hard to do it earlier because, as Ms. Anderson mentions, children picking an instrument not typical to their gender can lead to bullying. This was very true in my middle school, and I agree that it is a cycle that needs to stop. We went on to discuss some ideas on how to stop this cycle: Girls Rock Camp, Instrument “Petting Zoos”, involvement of music teachers on the subject. What do you think?