The March 12, 1921 edition of the Town Crier had on its cover Madame Mary Davenport Engberg. She was a violin virtuoso and became director of the Seattle Civic Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s first concert was April 24, 1921, and they held their last concert on May 4, 1924. The Town Crier reviewed that first concert, writing, in part, “It was a novelty to see a smartly gowned woman on the conductor’s platform wielding the baton, which she did with emphatic manner.” By leading the orchestra she was thought to be the only female conductor in the world.
Alas, not much has changed. In 2016 the League of American Orchestras reported the gender distribution of music directors was 91% male and 9% female. Of the 22 highest budget US orchestras, there is just one female conductor, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Marin Alsop. In the same survey it was noted that male and female musicians in orchestras have almost equal representation—and yet only 20% of conductors in America, as a whole, are women.
Luckily, Seattle is bucking that trend. Here is a brief list (not comprehensive) of local conductors you should take note of!
Mika Armaly – Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra
Mika Armaly received her Bachelors of Music Education from Pacific Lutheran University and had the pleasure of joining Seattle Public Schools as the director of orchestras at Hamilton International Middle School in 2010. She was invited to lead a new string ensemble within the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra organization in 2016. In 2018, Mika moved further north to the beautiful Skagit Valley where she is currently completing a Masters of Music in conducting at Western Washington University, while continuing her work with SYSO.
Anna Edwards – University of Washington School of Music, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra
Anna Edwards is Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Interim Music Advisor. Dr. Edwards has made a significant impact to the Seattle music scene as a performing artist, music instructor, and orchestra conductor. After performing as a professional violinist and music educator for over 25 years, Edwards shifted her focus from instrumentalist to conductor. After training with Michael Jinbo at the renowned Pierre Monteux School for three seasons, she received her Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Washington. She is also the conductor, founder, and music director of the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra (SCO) and leads the Saratoga Orchestra as Music Director. The SCO and Edwards both won first prize in the 2017-2018 community division of the American Prize, a national competition. As a freelance violinist, she has performed with such groups as the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Northwest Sinfonietta, Auburn Symphony, Silsbee Piano Trio, and she taught at Roosevelt High School where she built the orchestra program into a nationally award-winning program.
Kate Labiak – Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra
Kate Labiak has a long-standing history with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras — she has served as the Symphonette Orchestra Conductor since 2003, as a clarinet/woodwind coach since 1996, and also as an alum (1990-92).
Ms. Labiak currently teaches instrumental music at College Place Middle School in the Edmonds School District. As the 2014 recipient of the Washington Music Educators Association’s award for Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ms. Labiak has a diverse background of teaching experience including directing bands and orchestras from the elementary through high school levels, middle school general music (steel drums), and serving as adjunct faculty for Central Washington University. Most recently, she founded the Edmonds School District’s Middle School Girls’ Jazz Program, which provides extracurricular jazz experience to middle school aged girls.
She earned degrees from the University of Washington (Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music in Music Education, 1997) and Central Washington University (Master of Music in Conducting, 2002).
Kim Roy – Seattle Rock Orchestra
Kim Roy, versatile conductor and violist, is a native of Western Washington. Kim is the Music Director of Seattle Rock Orchestra, Snohomish County Music Project, and is the Associate Conductor for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra. As an enthusiastic educator, Kim has directed orchestra programs at Renton High School and Dimmitt Middle School and currently is the Director of Orchestras at Garfield High School. Kim earned her Bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance from Central Washington University in 2007 and her Masters in Orchestral Conducting from Central in 2009. Through inspired classical performances and the fusion of the rock and classical genres, Kim brings a high level of energy and excitement to the orchestral music scene.
Julia Tai – Philharmonia Northwest, Seattle Modern Orchestra
Julia Tai has established herself as one of the most dynamic young conductors on the international stage. She is currently the Music Director of Philharmonia Northwest, and the founder and co-artistic director of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. Her career has led to acclaimed performances and rehearsals with orchestras around the world, including the American Youth Symphony, Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic (Czech Republic), Brandenburger Symphoniker (Germany), Estonian National Youth Symphony (Estonia), New Symphony Orchestra (Bulgaria), Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Carlos Chávez (Mexico), and the Seattle Symphony. She has participated in the renowned Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at the New England Conservatory, and worked with legendary composers, performers and ensembles such as Jonathan Harvey, Tristan Murail, Graeme Jennings, Garth Knox and Ensemble Modern.
Anna Wittstruck – University of Puget Sound School of Music
Anna Wittstruck joined the University of Puget Sound School of Music faculty in fall of 2017 as Assistant
Professor, Director of Orchestra. She previously spent two years as Acting Assistant Professor in Music at Stanford University, where she served as Interim Music Director and Conductor of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and Stanford Philharmonia. She also taught music history and conducting courses in the Department of Music.
Dr. Wittstruck has conducted concerts across the United States, Latin America, Europe, and in Asia, including with the Harbin Symphony in China. She recently conducted sold-out concerts at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and Teatro Nacional de Cuba in Havana, where she performed with Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba and the Chamber Orchestra of Havana. In December 2013 she conducted the first-ever symphonic concert on Catalina Island (“Sounds of America,” featuring Copland’s Appalachian Spring) and returned with her touring ensemble the following three seasons. She has conducted concerts at the Rudolfinum in Prague and the Musikzentrum Augarten (home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir) in Vienna, as well as concerts in Berlin, Bad Elster, and Teplice as part of the 2013 Stanford Symphony Orchestra tour of Central Europe.
Support them. Go to a concert. Watch them work.