Warren Symphony Orchestra conductor Gina Provenzano is rare in music

Among the local music groups reviving canceled schedules during the COVID-19 crisis is the Warren Symphony Orchestra ― formerly the Motor City Orchestra ― marking 50 years after its founding.

On Sunday, the band has its first normal concert in 2 and a half years. It’s normal because not wearing masks and not sitting 6 feet apart are obstacles to playing your best.

Featuring an all-American playlist, the concert pays homage to Friday’s celebration of Veterans Day; admission is free for veterans. Without saying it, it will also sound a note of all-American diversity, thanks to who is on the podium: a female conductor. Only a fraction of professional orchestras like this are led by women.

Warren Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Gina Provenzano conducts the orchestra in front of middle and elementary school students inside the Warren Woods Community Auditorium at Warren Woods Middle School in Warren on October 27, 2022.

Men conduct 85% of the country’s professional orchestras; and women hold an even smaller share of the roughly 100 conducting positions nationwide, according to the League of American Orchestras (the Warren ensemble is not considered one of the top 100). This gender divide is just as rigid elsewhere in music. Compare that to the rest of American culture: gender inclusion has a big head of steam. Women star in action movies, fill the nonprofit sector, outnumber men in law and medical schools, and shatter, if not shatter, the glass ceiling in politics.

Increasingly, surveys show that most male privilege is relegated to hidden realms, such as corporate boards and the hidden hierarchies of religion. Yet in one of society’s most public realms, professional music-making of all kinds remains a bastion of male dominance. In 2020, only 69 of the 888 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were women — just 7.7% over 35, according to the Vice Media Group website. Women can become top singers or world-renowned virtuoso soloists. Yet far fewer women make a living strumming guitars, beating drums, or lifting sticks to conduct professional orchestras.

From rock stages to country music bars to classic music halls, women are watching but not playing. Rock and rap music notoriously takes their sexism well beyond exclusion, not only keeping women off the stage except as occasional dancing sex objects; they also keep women in their place with a long history of degrading, often misogynistic lyrics – “Under My Thumb”. according to the title song of one of the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits.

Warren Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Gina Provenzano conducts the orchestra in front of middle and elementary school students inside the Warren Woods Community Auditorium at Warren Woods Middle School in Warren on October 27, 2022.

Last week, conductor Gina Provenzano raised her baton and the sounds of the Warren Symphony Orchestra filled the auditorium at Warren Woods Middle School. The program was a warm-up for the players’ public concert, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township. The warm-up gave children from school groups a chance to hear and see their instruments in the hands of the pros. Hearing themes from famous movies played live was a rare opportunity for these school children. It was also rare to see Provenzano doing work that audiences almost always see done by a man. Her role as a role model could have been as important as the music for these young people, she said, as the audience marched by.

“One of our board members overheard a little girl say, ‘She was a lady. I could do that one day!’ That’s exactly what I like to hear,” Provenzano said. Things were different for her, she says. In conducting classes at the University of Michigan years ago, he was taught to conduct only to prepare for leading bands as an elementary school music teacher. “I’m almost mad about it. They never talked about the ability of women to lead professionally,” she said.

For years she was indeed relegated to teaching music, but slowly her ambition to conduct grew. She found male mentors willing to coach her, spent time conducting a youth orchestra in Maine, then returned to Michigan with her husband and children, taking a job as conductor of the Midland Community Orchestra. .

“They don’t get paid, even though I was,” Provenzano said. The Warren Group board hired her six years ago. The public is still getting used to her.

“After a concert, people come – ‘Oh, your costume is beautiful’ or ‘You should do something different with your hair.’ I don’t think in a million years people would comment on the appearance of a male conductor,” Provenzano said. is gender neutral,” she said.

Likewise, there’s nothing inherently masculine about strumming electric guitars or banging drums, except that the culture has made it that way. But it’s a man’s world for anyone on concert tours or the bar circuit, Amanda LeClair, co-host of the music show “Culture Shift” on WDET-FM (101.9) told Detroit.

“You’re faced with this incredible access control by male musicians,” LeClair said. For women who dare to play an instrument, and not just sing in front of men, there is a high level expectation that has nothing to do with music.

“You not only have to play your instrument well, but you also have to look good,” she said. Even if you’re a “spectator,” the stress of fending off male snipers takes its toll. “Think of Meg White. She played drums with one of the biggest bands in the country (White Stripes), and she just got ripped off by men in the media and online for her playing,” said LeClair White left the Detroit-based duo due to “acute anxiety,” according to several online celebrity sites, including TheList.com.

Warren Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Gina Provenzano raises her arms during a performance for middle and elementary school students inside the Warren Woods Community Auditorium at the Warren Woods Middle School in Warren on October 27, 2022.

Women are known to face security risks, including potential sexual assault, in sports and performing arts fields dominated by male authority figures – from gymnastics and ballet to music, especially in rock-pop-country-jazz music scenes, where big egos are usually mixed with late-night shows and drug addiction.

Last week at Warren College, as student machinists hauled music stands, Ann Arbor’s Terence Farmer put away his timpani, aka timpani, and thought about performing under a woman.

Farmer’s perspective was informed by 44 years of pounding drumheads stretched over large copper bowls, in precise cadence to the rise and fall of a conductor’s baton.

He smiled wistfully, then said having a woman set the tone “gave things a different flavor, but it’s definitely not a bad flavor.”

Contact Bill Laitner: blaitner@freepress.com

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