Why is playing the trumpet a male-dominated profession?

kirsten_trumpet_TNThe trumpet is an instrument predominantly played by males, but why? It should come as no shock to you that for many years, boys have been traditionally told to play the trumpet, and girls the flute, piano and violin. However, this was over 100 years ago, so why is it that when I watch concerts both on TV and in real life, I still rarely see a female brass player in the orchestra?

Back in 1788 when the trumpet was first invented, it was widely played in the military, and it made sense that the women stayed at home playing the piano whilst the soldiers learnt the bugle call. However, as time continued, it was made clear that women were not ‘made’ to play a brass instrument and (to quote Mueller, an old music critic of the 19th century) it made them look highly unattractive. This could be due to people’s view on the posture, which arguably does feel fairly masculine: the trumpet sticks out straight in front of you, blasting the sound directly at your audience, while they see you turning the same red shade as a ripe tomato. The clarinet’s downward thrust, or the sideways peep of a flute, seems far less threatening and far more ladylike. The harp, which only 3% of the Royal Albert Hall’s respondents believe would be played by a man, allows you to quietly waft your notes towards your listener. With popular trumpeters such as Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong being male, it makes sense that fewer girls than boys would feel as though they want to follow in their footsteps. With this view still prevalent, we find ourselves in a musical world where only 3% of all brass players are women.

Now, as an instrument, the trumpet is no mean feat, requiring hours of practice, lip strengthening, as well as the building of lung capacity. Some even argue that women may not have the strength to maintain a clear tone throughout a performance, however, I would like to highlight that one of the highest regarded players in the world to date, is in fact a woman. Alison Balsom is one of the most requested trumpet players; she has performed all over the world and has even won Grammys for her work in Classical Music.

So what do I hope for brass in the future? Well, as a female trumpet player I hope that more young girls will take inspiration from Balsom like I did, and disregard the gender stereotypes that go into choosing an instrument, in order to play music because they love it, not because it is the instrument they have been told they should play.

Kirsten, Head of Osmund


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