15 Jun 2018

Orchestras skirting around pants no more

From Upbeat, 3:44 pm on 15 June 2018

Women wear pants in all walks of life but they are unable to do so in a formal concert setting in New York.

But that could all change, as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra catches up with the New Zealand counterparts.

The Philharmonic is in its 176th season and still does not allow women to wear trousers in formal concert settings at David Geffin Hall. Female musicians were required to wear full length gowns or skirts.

But women have raised their voices and discussions are underway about modernising the dress code to allow them to choose what they wear, including formal pants. Top hat and tails for men are also being discussed.

According to the New York Times the New York Philharmonic is the only orchestra among the top 20 in the States that enforces the dress code.

Up until 2015 the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York didn't allow women to wear trousers at including Carnegie Hall, but an agreement was reached after musicians lobbied, allowing women to choose floaty dress pants as an option.

It turns out New Zealand is far more liberal, with female musicians wearing trousers for "decades".

New York Philharmonic

New York Philharmonic Photo: Chris Lee

Female musicians in this country are allowed to wear trousers. All the major orchestras and the New Zealand School of Music are inclusive of women wearing pants.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has allowed women to wear pants for “decades”, but it does have strict guidelines. Its clothing policy states: “For evening concerts (normally after 6pm) male players wear formal tails and women evening formal. Women have the option of black ¾ or ankle-length black evening dress or skirt; or well-cut dress trousers in a formal evening fabric. They also wear a formal black evening fabric top that complements the formality of the skirt or trousers”.

Orchestra Wellington 2016

Orchestra Wellington 2016 Photo: Mifarr Photography

Wearing a skirt or dress on stage in not always practical, something that Orchestra Wellington’s Penny Miles knows all too well from a performance she gave in a knee length skirt at Government House.

“This woman came up to me and said ‘you need to close your legs when you play’. Oh the shame!” she laughs. “I do play with my legs apart. That’s just how I balance the bassoon on one leg. Ever since then I’ve had a full length black satin skirt.”

And she now has a standard rule for dressing up for the orchestra. “The more sparkles the better,” she says.

Orchestra Wellington’s male players also received a makeover recently when the traditional tailcoat was swapped in favour of a black suit and long black tie combo, which has been known to trip up visiting performers. “I’ve seen ties made out of gaffer [duct] tape,” she says. “If you have tails you wear a bow tie. They come up with ridiculous alternatives to a black tie.”

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra CEO Gretchen La Roche

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra CEO Gretchen La Roche Photo: Supplied

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra CEO Gretchen Le Roche says while it’s important to have traditions, it’s also important to create a look that is unique. “I’m proud of the fact that in New Zealand we have a pretty progressive attitude to these things,” she says. “It’s that balance of paying respect to traditions that have evolved over hundreds of years but looking to the now and the future.”

White tie and tails are the tradition at the CSO. But are women allowed to wear pants and tails too? “Heck yeah!” says Gretchen. “There are also no rules around hair colour… facial hair… tattoos. That’s all personal choice.

“I don’t think it’s going to detract in any way from the music.”

Nor are restrictions put on men or those of other gender identities. Anyone who wants to could wear a skirt on stage. “We don’t have a policy that says yes or no. If someone wants to wear a skirt … fair enough,” Gretchen says. “I wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra has similar guidelines stating that musicians must be in “elegant black”.

Some APO members even get into themed attire when the occasion calls for it. One memorable example was when the APO Assistant Concertmaster Miranda Adams, who was leading a performance featuring music from the Final Fantasy video games, coloured her hair and tucked a sword into her dress.

APO's Miranda Adams

APO's Miranda Adams Photo: Facebook - Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Individuality is also something encouraged at the New Zealand School of Music. There are no official rules for what students can wear, just as long they are “smart” and “tidy”. Orchestral musicians are asked to wear black.

“The School leaves it up to individual students as to what they wear for their recitals, and it is their choice to dress in the way they choose to represent themselves,” says a school spokesperson.