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Bavaria's last all-male musical bastions

Ian P. Johnson
September 10, 2017

Bavaria's 2,500 local brass and marching bands largely practice gender equality, but not all. The spotlight is now on a few all-male ensembles who still don't want female musicians.

Woman with cymbals in traditional Bavarian brass band ensemble in Rome in 2013
Much more the norm: Cymbalist and band treasurer Barbara Kramer with Traunstein, Bavaria's ensemble visiting RomeImage: DW/B. Riegert

"It stems from tradition and we're keeping it," Klaus Hochwind told the Munich-based Merkur newspaper on Sunday, speaking as band conductor in 2,500-population Reichersbeuern, a township 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Munich.

His 20-man band, which often turns out with Reichersbeuen's traditional Schutzen militia did not deny that women were competent musicians, but currently, he told Merkur's Thomas Gmach "we don't need to grow."

Likewise in Wackersberg, 18 minutes' car drive toward Upper Bavaria's popular Bad Tolz-Lenggries skiing district. Wackersberg's music ensemble director Thomas Hölzl says his men still preferred to "stick to themselves."

Wackersberg men in green uniforms with feathered caps
Traditionalist Wackersberg: its Schützen militia processionImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schrader

Arguments against

Merkur cited the director's first counter-argument: Hölzl's brass band, when commissioned to play at weddings  and in beer festival tents, often had to entertain guests far into the night.

Parents did not want daughters hardly turned 18 playing as musicians so late.

Hölzl said he also saw "conflict potential," should women play in the band when it did a five-day stint performing in beer tents in Italy. For wives back at Wackersberg, the prospect of their husbands traveling with "possibly attractive" women musicians was unsettling, Hölzl postulated.

Just a few hold-outs

Sunday's Merkur edition was quick to reassure progressive readers that it was men-only only in seven out of some 500 bands in MON, the Musik Federation of Upper and Lower Bavaria (stretching northeast toward the Czech border).

From 2001 until the present-day, female involvement in MON had risen from 33.5 percent to 43 percent. And, among the younger under-18 generation, girls were now in the majority at 52 percent.

MON's presidium brass band also plays in mixed gender formation.

A quick look at Upper and Lower Bavaria MON federation's articles of incorporation, updated recently on March 11, 2017, confirms that all its leadership posts from chairman to youth spokesperson are worded in dual male/female terminology.

Another worldly cliche about Bavaria - that of it being a bastion of traditionalism - seems to have been debunked, at least for the most part.