IWBC: WE CAN DO IT
THURSDAY, MAY 10th, 2012
Rosie the Riveter inspired a social movement that increased the number of working American women by 57%, proving to women (and the country) that they could do a “man’s job” and do it well.
Today, women brass musicians have their own version of Rosie the Riveter. In 1973 Susan Slaughter became the worlds first principal trumpet player with a major symphony orchestra. In 1990 she created the International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC), designed to celebrate, inspire, support, develop and educate women brass players pursuing professional careers in music.
“It was the energy I got from that first conference I attended,” said Lin Foulk, an Assistant Professor of Music at WMU and the co-host of the conference. “I wanted to create that energy here in Michigan.”
As a grad student, Foulk, a French horn player, realized that in five years of training she hadn’t played a single piece by a female composer. She asked a fellow musician why and he replied ‘because they are not good, they can’t do it.’ “It hit me like a brick,” said Foulk. “I knew that couldn’t be the answer.”
Foulk attended her first IWBC in 1993. “It was so powerful to see an entire ensemble of female performers, to see them really nail it.” It was also transformational for Kelly Watkins, IWBC’s current President. Watkins was a freshman in college when she attended her first IWBC in 1996. “I was blown away by it,” said Watkins. “Being able to see women I had heard of, but never seen perform live.” The conference solidified her future path. Watkins has been a professional trumpeter for the Unites States Coast Guard Band since 2003.
Now a doctoral student at Michigan State University (MSU), former IWBC President and euphonium player Gail Robertson also credits the IWBC with making the connections that led to her fellowship at MSU. “The friendships and associations I’ve made at IWBC have been invaluable.”
Foulk, Watkins and Robertson all spoke about their indebtedness to Slaughter. “It was her vision that started all of this,” said Robertson.
“That first conference was like a revival experience,” said Slaughter, now retired from the St. Louis Symphony. “Before the conference there was no one to talk to. You couldn’t talk to the guys. Finally there was a place where we could talk to each other. Women left feeling like they had been reborn.”
Yet some may ask – “Does the organization still have a place in a world where women have made great strides?” According to the IWBC 2012 website, women trumpet, trombone, and tuba players make up fewer than 3% of the top 25 orchestras by budget size.
The IWBC will continue to be an important organization for women brass musicians. “Our collective energy, our personal stories, that is our distinction,” said Foulk. IWBC 2012 also brings a level of distinction to WMU. With the IWBC under its belt, WMU will have hosted most of the country’s other brass conferences. “That makes us pretty unique,” said Foulk.
Trail blazing since its inception, this year’s IWBC will offer another first. It will be the first time the Monarch Brass, a nationally recognized all-women brass ensemble, whose members are outstanding players from North America’s top symphony orchestras and universities, will feature all Michigan women players. “It’s amazing. You have so much talent in one state,” said Slaughter.
What Rosie the Riveter represented to women in the 30’s and 40’s – the IWBC represents to today’s women of brass. How ironic that the real life model and inspiration for the World War II We Can Do It poster, later dubbed Rosie the Riveter, was an orchestra musician from Inkster, MI!
You can celebrate this unique moment in Michigan’s musical heritage at a free Monarch Brass concert on Sunday, June 10th from 4 – 5pm in downtown Kalamazoo.