Conductor Stature

I recently saw a list of phrases used to diminish women conductors, alongside translations. (e.g. “you are enthusiastic” = implied histrionics). I was moved by the list and remain troubled by the way we marginalize women conductors. (Another example used: in an introduction, “finest women conductors” = unconscious othering.)

There was one I disagreed with in the list, though. It said “No idea you were so short” = no expectation of power.

I think that’s backwards. For as long as I can remember, I have repeatedly surprised by conductor stature – in both ways, but most often by them being around my shorter height. I have always thought it was because I gave them so much power in my head that they gained height in my mind.

Even with repeated proof to the contrary, Steve Zegree remained about seven feet tall throughout my time singing in Gold Company. That his actual height surprised me when I stood next to him was not because I had no expectation of power from him, but because I had such high respect for his authority.

Every good conductor I know gains height when she steps in front of a choir. And I have seen ineffective conductors lose height in front of a choir – seeming to shrink before my eyes as they struggle to work.

If I am surprised that a conductor is shorter than they are in my mind, I truly believe it is because their authority is so great. It is my respect for them that has ratcheted up their height.

On the other hand, saying “I had no idea you were so short” would be pretty rude, regardless of intent. Perhaps the placement on the list reflects a level of rudeness that our society feels more ready to level at women than men.