“Time’s Up,” Equity and Opportunity in Music
January’s one year anniversary of the “Time’s Up” movement prompts contemplation of the initiative’s central concerns: the elimination of sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. Falling under the consideration of equity and opportunity, CMS’s current common topic, are the ways these issues resonate in our schools, conservatories, and departments of music.
While the following emanates from my experience at conservatory decades ago, the charge for our membership is to consider contemporary manifestations of gendered inequality at our respective institutions. Taking a page from the #MeToo movement, a central feature of which is self-disclosure, I relate the following in an effort to shed light on the importance of respectful work environments.
Shortly after the New Year, “Allison” and I chatted in advance of our annual get-together. She and I had been members of the same piano studio; her undergraduate major had been music education and mine, performance. We both credited the outstanding general education in music we received at the elite east coast institution for providing us with a strong foundation. Allison expressed admiration for my decision to transfer to a different university after my first two years at the east coast school. She continued saying, “At least you didn’t have to live with a piano teacher feeling you up every week during your lessons.”
Her admission came as a surprise but I heard validation of my own experience with that same piano professor, now deceased, in her statement. In my second year, after experiencing something similar, I related the pattern of behavior to a group of male piano-major friends and queried whether our teacher had patted their thighs, ostensibly, to help them “maintain rhythmic accuracy.” Shaking their heads “no,” they insisted I put a stop to the behavior.
My conversation with the music educator was remarkable in that neither of us remembered raising the pattern of inappropriate behavior with the other – neither at the time of its occurrence, nor over the intervening thirty years. Neither did either of us bring the untoward attention to the awareness of another conservatory professor, advisor, or university administrator who could have intervened on our behalf. The silence, solitariness, and inaction conveyed in this story resonate with some of today’s headlines inside and beyond academia.
I broach the issue of sexual harassment to incur neither pity nor sympathy. Rather, I raise the point to encourage advocates of equity in the workplace to be vigilant in connecting the dots between all forms of gender bias and inequity in academia. Certainly the scenario I related could have involved a student of any gender; we know well that sexual harassment is about the operations of power, and not of sex. The point is, let us use the momentum of Time’s Up as a heuristic lens to examine gender inequities in music academia - from bullying by co-workers of co-workers and the lower salaries of female professors and instructors of music relative to those of men, to the slower rate by which women are awarded the rank of full professor, or receive any type of faculty employment, if the NASM HEADS data is correct.
All academic disciplines have within their ranks a few bad apples, but there is now recognition throughout academia that our students and colleagues deserve clear information about reporting channels, and avenues of support for using them. At the same time, there is a place for thoughtful attention to the musician’s person in our pedagogies, something endemic to all of the arts disciplines. At issue also, however, is that today, the “bad apple” in our midst is more likely than not structural, as the examples I offer secondarily illustrate. All of us have a role to play in setting things right.
Throughout my career, I have witnessed examples of faculty and administrators courageously confronting scholars, performers, and candlestick makers whose actions have gone off the rails of propriety. I salute the refusal of the majority of our membership neither to condone nor abet the inappropriateness carried out by a minority of faculty and administrators in academia. Many are committed to eliminating inappropriateness and other forms of inequity in our music departments, conservatories, colleges, and schools. These individuals have my high admiration.