Her Ensemble is a string group which seeks to address the gender gap and gender stereotypes in the music industry.
Merging aspects from popular music and classical music scenes, the free form group are passionate about creating meaningful change by shining a light on music written by women, most of which has been overlooked for centuries. Performances have a distinctly relaxed feel, with players interacting with audience, using artistic lighting, welcoming drinks in, using fashion as a means to encourage self expression, and doing away with rigid rules and outdated traditions in order to make this accessible to everyone.
The mould-breaking group was established during the first year of the Covid pandemic, when many musicians, including violinist Ellie Consta, found their performing careers put on hold. During this time, Ellie was living with friends who worked in the popular music industry and began writing string parts for their songs. This allowed her to view music making from a completely different perspective, whilst also highlighting many drastic differences between the scenes.
Ellie, why did you start Her Ensemble?
I’d always felt really torn between loving classical music whilst not always loving all aspects of the scene. I started to question why we do things so differently in the classical and pop worlds. Things like, why women still aren’t allowed to show their shoulders and ankles in a lot of orchestral settings, why there are so few women leaders, why the dress code is different for men and women and how this excludes people who don't fit into the gender binary and upholds patriarchal structures. I believe challenging the status quo is vital for progression.
Around the same time, I discovered that in 2019 just 3.6% of the classical music pieces performed worldwide were written by women. In 2020 this rose to 5% - the highest percentage recorded to date, despite a plethora of music existing and dating all the way back to 450 BC (and most likely before this too). I realised I could only name a handful of female composers despite having been through music school, music college and into the profession. I wonder now whether some of these composers might have identified differently had they been alive today. I just want to explore and share all this music.
Working closely with my artist friends during lockdown in an environment with fewer rules was so refreshing to me. I was surrounded by people unashamedly expressing their authentic selves which made me feel like I could be accepted in all my imperfections and allowed me to be vulnerable and explore parts of myself which I had previously censored for fear of judgment in the classical world. I wanted to take the bits that I loved from both worlds, combine them and put my own spin on things.
We recently asked our followers if and how they alter their appearance to fit in to the classical world and we had a shocking number of responses, mainly from women. From being shamed and told to cover up skin, to dyeing their hair a more ‘natural’ colour, hiding their queerness, hiding body hair, removing piercings and covering tattoos so as to be taken more seriously and avoid harassment. These issues are all linked, and the list goes on. I find it strange that we are encouraged to express ourselves through music, which is art, yet confined to such a narrow margin when it comes to gender expression and clothing, which is also a means for self expression. I’m not opposed to covering my shoulders or ankles, it’s just more about unwillingly sexualising my body. I can’t imagine someone telling a chart-topping pop artist that showing your ankles is unprofessional or inappropriate.