Matilda Lloyd on the Rise of Female Trumpet Players
“What’s it like being a female brass player?” “What obstacles have you come across as a female brass player?” – this type of question rears its head at almost every masterclass, Q&A, and often in general conversation too, no matter where I am in the world. Two weeks ago, I was on tour in South Africa performing the Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestras. One of the conductors gave a radio interview before our concerts in Johannesburg, and he was asked by the interviewer whether working with a female soloist was different from working with a male soloist. He simply refused to answer the question and instead replied that the question doesn’t need to be asked and so he didn’t need to give an answer. I like this idea that the role of gender as a musician shouldn’t even be something that is questioned, or perceived to be different between male and female players, but as a female brass player who is asked this question frequently, I feel that it is important for me to honestly answer the question and share my experience, so as to help continue to pave the way for female brass players around the world.
Growing up, it was very common for me to be the only female in the brass section. At most of my earliest orchestral, wind band and jazz band experiences with Kent Music (I grew up near Sevenoaks) I was the only girl, but I never really felt uncomfortable with that. The only thing I noticed was that I was often not expected to be as strong, or to play as loudly as the boys, who were often also older than me, and this pushed me to prove them wrong and to prove that I deserved my place within the section. However, when I started to play music nationally, first in the National Children’s Orchestra and then in the National Youth Orchestra, there was a much better ratio of girls to boys in the trumpet sections; almost half and half in many cases. It no longer felt like being a female trumpeter was a rare occurrence, and it began to seem very normal to me. This has continued throughout my life, especially when studying for my Masters degree at the Royal Academy of Music. During my time there, there were 20 students in the trumpet department and half of them were girls! This seems to be the case at many conservatoires in the UK now, and I think that really shows a trend towards female trumpet players being accepted, and ultimately perceived as just trumpet players. For me personally, the moment when I really and truly began to believe that I could be just as good as, if not better than, a male trumpet player occurred when I started having lessons with Håkan Hardenberger in Sweden. Because he knows that I don’t ever want to be perceived as weaker than a male player, he sometimes uses that knowledge to push me in lessons to really go for it, play louder or more confidently and to not be afraid of making mistakes! This was the total opposite from a lesson I once had many years ago with a trumpeter who told me to stop trying to play like a man and to use my delicate and graceful feminine qualities when I was playing the trumpet, despite the piece having a very loud and aggressive fanfare-style opening section. I am now studying for a Diploma in Malmö with Håkan and I am very excited to see how much more I can develop as a player, as a musician and as a soloist in the next two years.
In the world of trumpet soloists, there are two very obvious huge successes in the female-trumpet-playing world: Alison Balsom and Tine Thing Helseth. There are also other great role models for female trumpet students, for example renowned teacher Barbara Butler in the US, or orchestral player Anne McAneny, who recently made headlines for being the only female trumpeter in the top 20 orchestras in the world! When all these wonderful women were my age, it was a real rarity to be a female trumpeter and there were many more gender stereotypes at play, not just in the brass world or music world, but in life in general. I’ve participated in a few international competitions now, and people often ask me why there are no female trumpet players on the jury. The simple answer is that there just aren’t very many renowned female trumpet soloists or orchestral players compared to the number of male trumpeters, so the panels are usually exclusively male! But I take heart in the fact that the number of girls entering and performing in these competitions is on the rise; at the ones I have attended around 20-30% of the participants were female. So, if we have many more female brass players in the conservatoires now and taking part in competitions, in a few years’ time those female brass players will be winning orchestral seats and embarking on solo careers. And a few years after that, those same players will be the ones on the competition juries! And with all these female players embarking on their careers and moving more into the spotlight, more young girls will be inspired to pick up a brass instrument and then the cycle will continue until it is completely normal for there to be female brass players and people will no longer need to even ask the question!
In my quest to continue this cycle, I am embarking on a career as a trumpet soloist. Alongside my love of performing and playing the trumpet, I really enjoy giving masterclasses when I travel for concerts, in order to share my experiences and answer people’s questions. In September, I made my US solo debut with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra and was able to give two masterclasses at nearby universities and it was fantastic to meet lots of US university students and hear them perform all the standard repertoire. I also really enjoyed meeting some younger trumpet students in Yorkshire, alongside a performance at the Ryedale Festival last summer, and in Normandie in Spring 2019. Whilst on tour with the L’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Rouen, as a result of winning the Eric Aubier International Trumpet Competition in October 2017, I was able to work with many young French trumpeters with the help of a translator and what I could remember of my A Level French! I’m really looking forward to my upcoming concerts next year, which include performances in Germany, the US, Sweden and at the Henley Festival. If you would like to follow my journey and career, you can find me at the social media platforms below:
Facebook Page: @matildalloydcamtrumpet
Interview by @suzywillmott