A little while back I spotted a Facebook musicians wanted ad, which I think was already old then, for singers for a gospel choir – specifying they had to be black. There was an attempt at defending it with a clause number from the Race Relations Act, but the (fairly predictable) response was a storm of criticism and the impression you probably couldn’t do that without good non-musical reason (eg a Supremes lookalike tribute act, or perhaps a piece of historical stage or screen drama).
But here’s the unexpected bit. There are quite a lot of band member / dep / last minute freelancer ads that specify female performers. (In the interests of truthfulness, I have seen one I can remember, within the constraints I’m about to describe, that specified male.) Now I’m not talking about vocalists; male and female voices are for most musical purposes effectively different instruments and of course you may very well specify which you’re after. But I’m thinking of adverts for female drummers / bassists to join rock bands (presumably all-female groups) and saxophonists or violinists for one-off solo engagements or to fill spots in things like wedding string quartets.
And I kind of think that shouldn’t be OK, because in that context gender makes no difference to your musical ability, and I question whether it’s really ethical to say you want a woman instead of a man on visual grounds. I mean I know men are a lot less historically badly treated than people of African ethnicity (to put it comically mildly!), but what’s ultimately the difference between ‘I want my string quartet to be all women’ and ‘I want my gospel choir to be all black’? It’s a little bit ironic that in my observation to date a definite majority of the string players working outside long-term orchestral contracts or top-end solo careers are women anyway, but also irrelevant. No, I wouldn’t say it’s a major cramp on my career – I get more rejections from finding someone before I applied, or better, than I have to ignore ads because of my gender by some way – but it’s still closing doors. The principle of the thing seems flawed.