This week, we investigate a musical mystery that has its origins in – what else? – sex.
Why ar e there so few female conductors of symphony orchestras? Paul Bergman of Waterloo, Ont., wants to know.
It’s because social prejudice held women back from conducting for so many years, says Charles Heller of Toronto.
The role of conductor developed in the 19th century, as orchestras got larger, he says. “At that time, women were not allowed any public leadership role in any profession. Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, successfully conducted private family concerts, but was actively prevented from conducting in public – it would have been shameful.”
Society justified this, he writes, by saying women were inherently inferior to men. “Israeli president Ezer Weizman actually quoted the lack of women conductors as justification for not allowing women to be air force pilots. Of course, once women were given the chance to conduct, beginning with Nadia Boulanger in the 1930s, people realized that women could do the same job as men. There now are many accomplished women conductors.”
Yes, indeed, says Jamie Syer, a classical musician living in Sundre, Alta. It all has to do with the basically conservative nature of many orchestras.
“Until relatively recently, venerable institutions such as the Vienna Philharmonic did not even allow female players, let alone a conductor. And looking at the list of prominent classical soloists over the past 100 years or so, the women stand out because of their small number (and their impressive talents).”
Incidentally, the Vienna Philharmonic admitted its first female musician in 1997.
Why are the hands of a watch or clock always shown at 10 minutes after 10 in advertisements? asks Tim Hollick-Kenyon of North Vancouver.
Lots of you responded to this one, but we will let Daniel Benson of Toronto do the honours.
“There are at least three reasons I have heard in the more than 30 years I have been a watchmaker,” he writes. “First, it nicely frames the maker’s name, which is usually above the centre of the dial, below the 12. Second, it gives symmetry to the dial. … Finally, and maybe less credibly, the hands make a smile, like a happy face, for a positive image.”
In last week’s item about three-letter airport codes, we told you that the designations for Canada’s major airports all begin with a Y, as in YYZ for Toronto. In a follow-up question, Kurtis Kolt of Vancouver asks, why Y? Why not some other letter? (We’ll resist calling Mr. Kolt a Ys guy.)
CW asked Perry Flint about this. He’s head of corporate communications at the Americas office of the International Air Transport Association, which assigns these codes.
He informs us that this special dedicated-letter designation is unique to Canada. “However,” he says, “it is believed the letter Y was selected at random.”
If apes have about 98 per cent the same DNA as humans, writes Bob Marshal of Oakville, Ont., why do they have only one hair colour while humans have different colours?
Susan Riley of Chelsea, Que., wants to know why, when it is 35 degrees upstairs in her house, her two cats and her dog don’t go down to the basement for relief from the heat.
Peter Harrison of London, Ont., wonders why the longest day of the year is at the beginning of summer and not the middle.
Let’s hear from you: If you have the answer to one of these questions (or a question of your own) e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your location and a daytime phone number.