On the Exclusion of Women from the Last Two European ITFs and the Future of the ITA


A commentary by Abbie Conant, May 10, 2012


In response to recent discussions about the exclusion of women from the last two European ITFs, (the yearly International Trombone Festivals) the President elect of the International Trombone Association, Joe Alessi, has made the following statement:  “Hi Abbie. Was not aware of all of this. As future president of the ITA, I will make sure this never happens again. More positive things will come out of this. Best to you and Bill.”  (Joe is pictured below along with his daughter Gianna.)  

I want to thank Joe for his statement, which I know will be very meaningful for many.  I am certain that people like Joe, Ken Hanlon, and other ITA leaders have the very best of intentions and it gives me a good deal of hope for the future.   It’s ridiculous, of course, that women have been excluded from the last two European ITFs, and absurd that it took three years for the problems with the ITF 2009 to even surface.  In part, it shows how many women have stopped engaging themselves with the ITA, which is, of course, bad for the organization.


These problems will not be solved merely by making sure women are in the ITFs, which could end up being little more than a form of tokenism or window dressing.  We need to re-think the perspectives that allowed the exclusion of women in the first place, and also consider how this very likely applies to other groups such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and the many trombonists that explore non-mainstream forms of music.


I think one of the major problems in the ITA has been its excessive shift toward celebrity culture.  As we all know, the ITA administration was dominated by a small circle of people for a couple decades.  Those folks did a lot for the organization, and did work no one else wanted to do, but the ITA became weakened by cronyism and a lack of depth in its pool of leadership. 


Over the last decade, the ITA has tried to compensate for years of insiderism by positioning famous trombonists in the executive committee and Board.  The number of university teachers among the officers and Board was significantly reduced and replaced with people in top orchestras, military bands, and well-known jazz/commercial players.  Even though this improved the ITA’s image of professionalism, celebrity culture has an inherent tendency to create a narrow, dominate culture in the center that marginalizes important aesthetic and social view points.  As a result, the ITFs have recently tended toward a dichotomous division between a small group of stars and the groupies who worship them.  We have thus seen a corresponding loss in the ITA’s and ITF’s educational, social, and artistic dimensions.   


A closer cooperation with our European colleagues has created a new and extremely important kind of diversity in the ITA, but as we have seen in the last two European ITFs, it has also brought with it some forms of ignorant, provincial chauvinism that segues in unfortunate ways with the problems already created by the ITA’s excessive celebrity culture.*  As a result, the ITA has not been able to give European ITF hosts the guidance they have clearly needed to create appropriately diverse festivals.


And finally, these narrowed perspectives continue to leave some very serious, long-term problems unaddressed.  One of the worst is the sexual exploitation of students by a few star players and members of top orchestras – a problem that has recently affected even the ITA Board.  This sexual abuse of students is yet another manifestation of our excessive celebrity culture in the brass world.


We see that these problems will not be solved by the mere “political correctness” of putting some token women into the ITFs, or by any other sort of lip service and window dressing.  We need to re-think our excessive celebrity culture and create a more diverse board and executive committee that represents many social and aesthetic views if we are to fulfill the noble purposes for which the ITA was founded. 



*Update: The ITF 2011 in Nashville organized by Lawrence Borden also did not have any women soloists.  The ratio was 15/0.


Here are the m/f ratios for the last four years:

ITF 2009 Aarhus 14/0
ITF 2010 Austin 14/1
ITF 2011 Nashville 15/0
... ITF 2012 Paris 42/0

Total: 85/1

This is astounding if one considers how many excellent and well-known women trombonists there are.