Conducting workshop NCH

Conducting workshop NCH.

Winners of the Best Large Sponsorship at the Allianz Business to Arts Awards, the National Concert Hall and Grant Thornton, are helping to break down traditional barriers in the male dominated sphere of classical music conducting.

“The National Concert Hall and Grant Thornton quickly took the view that in order to change the status quo a new and multi-faceted approach was required. We want this programme to inspire women within our own organisation and to provide linkages with our female [and male] client base. We involved a number of female leaders within Grant Thornton in the delivery of the programme. It has also been an area of focus by our corporate social responsibility and graduate recruitment teams.” – Paul Jacobs, partner, Grant Thornton.

“The professional development, mentoring and workshops provided by Grant Thornton added invaluable elements that are not found in conservatory-based programmes. The combined inputs of one of the world’s leading professional services firms with Ireland’s national cultural institution for music gave the Female Conductor Programme a weight that was significantly greater than the sum of the individual parts.” – Simon Taylor, CEO, National Concert Hall.

Recognition of the issue of gender imbalance in the world of orchestral conducting has grown significantly over the past couple of years and the number of appointments of women to principal conductor roles has increased. However, figures from recent years still paint a picture of a work in progress.

For example, a survey of 100 titular conducting roles within the 61 members of the Association of British Orchestras showed that only four were held by women. While no official figures are available for Ireland, there is only a handful of women working professionally as conductors here, according to the National Concert Hall (NCH).

Looking to break through this glass ceiling in classical music, the NCH joined forces with Grant Thornton, which had been NCH corporate members since 2006. The partners combined their unique expertise in devising the Female Conductor Programme, the first programme of its kind in the world.

Culminating in a finale concert in June 2018, this ten-month programme gave 12 hand-picked participants the opportunity to work with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, acclaimed British conductor Alice Farnham and a host of other world-renowned conductors. On top of this, 15 of the Grant Thornton team as well as some of its clients provided practical business and leadership coaching to the participants to help them to overcome the challenges ahead.

Each of Grant Thornton’s workshop sessions focused on the tangible skills participants could use every day, such as effective and clear communication and devising strategies designed to navigate barriers in organisations and society. Recognising that participants would often need to promote themselves or ultimately be self employed, the sessions also dealt with marketing, accounting skills for running a small business, together with protection of intellectual property.

For Grant Thornton, the programme has allowed the firm to showcase to its clients, staff and future employees that as supporters of the arts it does more than donate money; it wants to get involved and make a difference to the initiatives it supports. Staff across both parties were involved throughout the different stages of the programme.

The 2018/2019 Female Conductor Programme has already made a noticeable impact, not least in terms of the progression of participants. For example, Grace Bergin formed an opera society within Dublin Institute of Technology and produced an opera, while Lynsey Callaghan made it to the final of conducting in the Feis Ceoil. Renowned conductor Marin Alsop has agreed to support the 2019/2020 programme.

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