Seriously, single-sex orchestras are the best recommendation people can come up with in their report showing that girls play smaller, higher-pitched instruments and boys have the hefty brasses? How about, I don’t know, working on changing attitudes – as the authorities have been aiming to do with school sport, to the extent that primary-school girls are now happily playing football with the boys – and encouraging girls to try out the beefier instruments while letting boys know it’s equally OK to give the clarinet a go?
I come from a rather biased perspective on this, it’s true. I was always good at music as a kid, and desperately wanted to learn the flute when I was six. But that wasn’t because I thought it was appropriate for me as a little girl (I don’t think I had such opinions – I was already happily going along to football at that age, having made a huge fuss and demanding to be taken) – it was because the flute teacher was also my music teacher, and I thought she was great. (She still is – hello, Mrs Joyce, if you’re reading this!)
Interestingly, my music teacher actually suggested that I give some of the other instruments a go before deciding to take up the flute – in particular, she thought I’d be good at the ‘cello – but I was adamant. So I learned the flute, and did very well. When I started middle school, though, I was given the opportunity to learn a second instrument, and this time I picked the double bass. Don’t ask me why. Once I was reasonable at that, I switched to bass guitar, and spent my teenage years playing bass in lots of bands.
(My younger sister at this time was learning violin and trombone, and she’s much, much more of a girly-girl than I am.)
Since then, I’ve done a bit of flute teaching for pin money, and in the past two years I’ve taught three boys and five girls. They’re all of primary-school age, so I’m willing to believe their attitudes may change when they get to Big School, but I don’t think any of them see the flute as a “girls’ instrument”. More likely, teachers and parents think of the flute as a “girls’ instrument”, and they pass that stereotype on to the children. So, in short, stop it. That would fix this “gender imbalance” (gender. Grrrrrr).
What does anyone else think?