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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Female principal first violinist='concertmaster' or 'concertmistress'?

April 2, 2010 at 4:48 AM

This question came up while we discussing last week's vote on the gender of local concertmasters.

Are some of them "concertmistresses"?

Back when I was a teenager, I sat principal first for various school and youth orchestras, and my title was most certainly "concertmistress." I didn't think much about it until I was a little older, and then frankly, it just sounded a little anachronistic. The word "mistress" doesn't have a very favorable flavor in the popular vernacular now, does it? Then again, sometimes I think all words used to describe a woman, particularly a woman in power, end up being used as epithets.

But I digress. What word should we use, when a female is the principal first violinist, concertmaster or concertmistress?


From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 5:16 AM

 How about the answer, "whatever she wants to be called" ?

From John Cadd
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 9:27 AM

You used the phrase "Woman in power".I am old enough to remember the original Flash Gordon films.How about------ Leaderine?    A nice lightweight silver helmet with some art -deco grooves down the side would be appropriate.   She who must be obeyed?  Your two alternatives are much too dull.Go and sit on the back desk till you come up with something more original.Run along now poppet.

From Bart Meijer
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 11:00 AM

In one of the first episodes of the Star Trek Voyager series, Captain Kathryn Janeway and her crew have to decide on what to call her: is it "Yes Sir " (as per the regulations), "Yes Ma'am", or  "Yes Captain"? "Yes Captain" wins, but at first many are confused, and say things like "Yes Sir, err, Yes Ma'am, err, Yes Captain!"

I sometimes quote that, to my wife's chagrin.

My latest orchestra had a female CM: we called her Emma.

Edit: in Dutch,  "concertmeester" is used for both men and women.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 11:03 AM

 In high school I was called the "Associate Concertmistress" (sitting next to the Concertmaster, a boy), and some people thought that sounded weird that he was the master and I was an associate mistress.  

I don't really have the automatic negative associations with the word "mistress" though, especially if it has a prefix.  I don't mind the words actress and waitress, either.  I mostly mind when the female form has extra syllables or is clunky-sounding, as "firewoman" rather than fire fighter would be.

From Michael Divino
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 12:16 PM

 Well when I think "master" I think male and "mistress" I think of a "loose" (ahem) woman.  So, I would leave it up to her. 

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 12:59 PM

I don't have a positive association with the word "mistress".  The British use the word "Leader", which I think is better.

From Robert Spear
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 2:49 PM

Anne is right. We need a better word, and "leader" would serve perfectly well. "Master" has the masculine connotation, but in this case it seems to me that the word is used more as a reflection of expertise or position in one's art or craft. For example, a master violin maker would not be a mistress violin maker if the individual were female.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 3:39 PM

We all try to master the piece we are working on, too.  "Concertmistress" sounds old and fuddy-duddy, more like a disciplinarian than a leader.  English is a funny language.  It's definitely not gender-neutral, but it's not like most of the Romance languages where almost all nouns have a gender.  Non-English speakers- what are the terms in your languages?

From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 4:44 PM

 I got a few hits on Google when I searched for "Frau Konzertmeister" but I am unable to discern the context. Could I suppose that if she is unmarried it is Fraulein Konzertmeister?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 5:04 PM

Robert suggested:  "Concertmadame." I conked him over the head.

From Alison Daurio
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 5:16 PM

Hm. I've actually never thought of concertmaster as a "male" word. I always interpreted "master" as in "the best" or "expert." I don't know the actual root of the word, but to me "concertmistress" sounds kind of diminutive, if anything...

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 7:38 PM

A couple random thoughts:

1. At one time (not so long ago), "master" was what you called boys until they were old enough to be "mister". The feminine of "master" in this context was "mistress". (Think of "Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary".) I agree that today we think of "master" as someone who has "mastered" something. In this context, "mistress" does sound demeaning.

2. Someone from Germany once told me that women are called "frau" instead of "frauline" when they reached a certain age, regardless of their marital status. That would imply that there are no "frauline KonzertMeister"s unless maybe in primary school.

On the other hand, I was probably more impressed to see concertmistresses than concertmasters when I was young.  I was disappointed that Neville Mariner didn't direct Academoy of St Martins in the Field when they came to Berkeley, but in retrospect I was thrilled to hear Iona Brown (who wikipedia calls a "director", BTW)  And the concertmistress of the San Francisco Symphony at the time was a violist!  Geraldine Walther.  I would have been oblivious to that fact, except she was also soloist for that concert.  (Harold in Italy.)


From Corwin Slack
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 8:12 PM

 It occurs to me that Frau Konzertmeister may be the honorific applied to the wife of the concertmaster. 


Any Germans or Austrians here? (See some of us Americans know that Germans and Austrians speak the same language).

From Ben Lewis
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 10:50 PM

 In my high school orchestra, for at least four years in a row, we had female Concertmasters/mistresses. Due to the balance of power between our director and the concertmaster, however, especially last year (our concertmaster was especially strong-willed) the term concertmistress sounded almost ... bondage-esque. Which led to a series of bad jokes, and deciding that concertmaster was a better term to use. Just consider master to be a genderless title, and it's all good.

From David Beck
Posted on April 3, 2010 at 10:22 AM

 "She who must be obeyed".

I bet the German language can put all that into one long and VERY impressive word.

I ahall watch and wait.

Posted on April 3, 2010 at 11:58 AM

I say concertmaster to be PC....after all now actors carry that title for both genders

Emily Post, where are you when we need you?

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on April 3, 2010 at 12:53 PM

David - good one! Shades of Ryder-Haggard's "Ayesha". How about "Dieuberfrauconzermeister"?

But seriously, whatever she likes. What I'd ask of anyone in that position is please put some bowings in your part ahead of time, be clear, a strong leader, but nice. (I've often served as a CM myself, and I hope I've followed my own advice most of the time!)

From Royce Faina
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 12:08 AM

I say call her, "A Darn Good Violin Player"!

Posted on April 4, 2010 at 1:12 AM



Posted on April 4, 2010 at 1:36 AM


Obviously, there is way to much "violins" in your household. Poor Robert 

From Lawrence Franko
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 2:31 AM

 Color me old-fashioned, and maybe it's because I have spent of lot of my life in French-speaking lands where there are still thought to be differences between men and women, but I rather like the distinction. Vive la difference! Why is it P.C. for women to deny their femininity by adopting masculine terms when they become accomplished?  Shouldn't their femininity be celebrated instead? Master is masculine, mistress is feminine. (P.S. My wife just came by while I was typing this, and she agrees.) Men will appreciate women more for it, too. Don't take just my word for it. Remember Goethe's Faust and the last lines of Mahler's Eighth? Das ewig- weibliche zieht uns hinan... (That much said, Robert has a good sense of humor. "Concertmadame," indeed!)

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 5:19 AM

There was no frying pan involved!

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 10:56 AM

In an ironic twist on the question, an unfortunate typo in a recent concert program gave our male concertmaster a gender reassignment.  Quite a few people informed him that he was looking very pretty that evening.  Perhaps it really is best to say "concertmaster" in all cases!


From Kay Pech
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 12:58 PM

I think of "concertmaster" as a generic term, meaning the "leader" of the orchestra, not as a gender term. I would prefer to see the term "leader" used in the future, especially since so many of our best school-age children and now future "leaders" are female.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

As long as the two suffixes "master and mistress" are considered = I don't care.   

Probably the same name for the two would be best just to eliminate any stereotypes.  For some people who hire musicians (especially if it's someone a tad sexist) it is better that they do not know the gender of the person before meeting him/her to not judge the person ahead of time on the gender when it has nothing to do with the talent.  



From Robert Spear
Posted on April 4, 2010 at 8:04 PM

"Robert suggested:  "Concertmadame." I conked him over the head."

As well you should have.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on April 5, 2010 at 12:25 AM

If we define "madame" as the leader in a house of ill repute, concertmadame might apply to at least some orchestras.

From Linda Williams
Posted on April 5, 2010 at 2:51 PM

I have been Concert Master for many orchestras, and am currently in that position for the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra. I really do NOT like the "mistress" title, and always ask to be referred to as the "concert master" . is a destinctive title that is recognizable everywhere, and that is the one I choose.

From Jenny Fischer
Posted on April 7, 2010 at 3:46 PM

I think a woman principal violinist should be called a concertmaster. When you get your M.M. degree, you're not a Mistress of Music, you're a Master of Music no matter what your gender is. Why should concertmaster be any different? We always strive for mastery of the violin, not mistressy. Concertmaster just makes sense.

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