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Ashley is pictured performing with the Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall in 2019.

Working Toward Gender Equality in Orchestras: TSO Viola Ashley Vandiver

Gender inequality still exists in the orchestral world, much like other sectors. On International Women’s Day, TSO Viola Ashley Vandiver offers a personal perspective.
March 8, 2021

Hanging on the walls in the backstage corridors at Roy Thomson Hall are photographs of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from decades past. They greet me each day that I make my commute to work. In every picture, I see the stoic faces of an overwhelmingly male orchestra. In one photo, there is just a single female in a sea of male musicians.

I see how much incredible progress we have made, but I also recognize how far we have to go to reach parity.

Taking these in fills me with an array of emotions. I’m grateful to the women who came before me and upon whose shoulders I stand, and I’m thankful to the men who made space for those women. I see how much incredible progress we have made, but I also recognize how far we have to go to reach parity.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” I believe we’re at an extraordinary intersection in time, and events over the past year have allowed many of us the opportunity to have conversations I personally never thought possible. Members of our Orchestra are moving forward and supporting each other as we begin to collectively acknowledge and understand the role that unconscious bias plays in our decision making. Our shared desire for equality is being met with action, and I’m genuinely hopeful that there will be a time when women in leadership positions in orchestras is the rule, and not the exception.

I would like to acknowledge the Chair of the TSO Board, Catherine Beck, who has contributed immensely to the TSO, and whose leadership is an inspiration. It’s an absolute privilege and honour to work alongside the creative, collaborative, and compassionate women in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I’m optimistic that, when future generations of women at the TSO walk the same corridors at Roy Thomson Hall, they will look at the pictures hanging on the walls and see themselves reflected.

Ashley Vandiver has been a member of the TSO viola section since 2018.