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Jolie González Masmela conducting UNC orchestra

Inspiring Inclusivity in Music Through Achieving Milestones and Pushing Boundaries

Consiguiendo importantes logros y eliminando barreras para inspirar a la inclusión a través de la música

Jolie González Masmela, an international conducting student recently achieved three important milestones. As a woman pursuing a career in a field that has traditionally been dominated by males, she’s hoping those achievements can open paths for future generations.

Jolie González Masmela, an international doctoral student from Colombia who is in the Orchestra Conducting program at the University of Northern Colorado’s College of Performing and Visual Arts (PVA), recently achieved three important milestones. As a woman pursuing a career in a field that has traditionally been dominated by males, she’s hoping those achievements can open paths for future generations.  

Last November, González Masmela was accepted into the workshop HUB for Women Conductors in Chile; an organization with a mission to explore, mentor and expand the possibilities for women conductors. In February 2024, she was one of 10 conductors selected from around the world to be part of the 2024-25 Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship Mentoring Program, working directly with Marin Alsop, who made history as the first woman to lead a major American orchestra — the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Gonzalez Masmela was also selected as one of four masterclass recipients among all national college and university orchestra directors by the Conductors Orchestra Director Association.  

González Masmela considers conducting a magical process. She has been interested in music since she was a child, so being the recipient of these accomplishments is a dream come true.  

“Conducting is like doing magic for me. We all start in different places, like a puzzle, and with leadership, during the rehearsals we all put together that puzzle where everyone has an important role to play. And at the end, we all contribute to a bigger and better work — the musicians, the technical team, the audience — we all play an important piece at the end,” said González Masmela.  

“Every time I conduct a piece, the result will be different. Every time a piece is performed, every presentation will result in something completely unique. And what I find fascinating is that although my instrument, the baton, is silent, I am still the one who coordinates all the efforts so that the music will exist.” 

Girls can´t do that! 

Classical music conducting is an extremely difficult field for women to break into. Around the world, less than 10% of conductors are women. That number is no different in the U.S. Across 174 American ensembles of all sizes, only about 9% of music directors were women in 2016 .  

The phrase “Girls can’t do that!” comes from the responses that Marin Alsop received over the years before becoming the first woman to lead a top-tier U.S. ensemble. Now it serves as a reminder to Taki Alsop fellows that they are opening positions for future female conductors.  

Not only does gender play an important factor in González Masmela’s career, but race does as well. According to the League of American Orchestras, of all U.S. orchestra conductors, independently of their gender, only 9% identify as Hispanic/Latinx.  

Yet the intersection of these two minorities has never been an obstacle for González Masmela, a Colombian native from the city of Ibagué with a strong musical heritage. 

“In Colombia, when I had just started my career in conducting, the director that I most admired, and who was my mentor at that time, told me that this professional path was not for me because I was a woman,” said González Masmela. “He told me this was not a job for girls. However, that didn’t stop me. My family has been always very supportive of my dreams, and I also found that encouragement when I came to UNC.”  

Conducting her talent 

González Masmela studied for her bachelor’s degree at the renowned Tolima Conservatory and her master’s degree at Northwestern State University in Louisiana. She then decided to come to UNC thanks to the recommendation of Carlos Riazuelo, one of her mentors.  

“The support that I get at UNC is spectacular. Since I came here, the School of Music faculty showed me that they were not only interested in having a woman, but a Latina,” she said. “Faculty members ,  opened opportunities for me here, specifically as a Latina woman singing in concerts, conducting the orchestra and opera, participating in the design of the curricula of the new program of Latinx Music. If we had a concert they would give me the most difficult pieces, to give me priority in all possible ways.” 

The fact that PVA Dean Cristina Goletti, along with Carissa Reddick director of the School of Music, are both women is something that González Masmela considers inspirational for her academic development as well.  

“We are thrilled that Jolie chose UNC to pursue her doctoral degree in Orchestral Conducting,” said Reddick. “She is an incredibly talented and dynamic conductor and is a role model for all of our students. Our female-identifying students can now see someone like them as a conductor, a profession which is predominantly male.”  

“He told me this was not a job for girls. However, that didn’t stop me. My family has been always very supportive of my dreams, and I also found that encouragement when I came to UNC.”  

– Jolie González Masmela


Power at the Podium 

The theme of the 2023 HUB workshop that González Masmela attended in Chile was “Power at the Podium” because, according to the organizers, the Municipal Theatre of Santiago – National Opera of Chile – in current times power has changed its physiology. With women now appearing at the podium, there is a new way of leading that challenges stereotypes, breaks barriers and affirms an artistic identity that is unique and at the same time flexible and open. The host, Alejandra Urrutia, is the Music Director of the Chamber Orchestra of Teatro Municipal de Santiago – National Opera of Chile. She is also the first woman conductor to be the director of an orchestra in Chile.  

González Masmela said her experience there was truly transformative and marked a significant milestone in her journey as a female and Latina conductor. 

While she was there, she participated in a series of masterclasses, mainly on cultural impositions on gender roles, score analysis sessions, rehearsals with the orchestra, conversations with international guests, personal branding and marketing lessons and a final concert. She also conducted the Chamber Orchestra of Santiago de Chile Municipality and became part of the Women’s Orchestra Hub Network. 

"It was in Santiago, while participating in the conversations with guest speakers that I realized the difficulties that we have to face in the conducting world as women,” said González Masmela. “A speaker shared that while she was conducting, a man threw a shoe at her. I heard so many stories, like musicians not willing to play just because the conductor was female, or playing on purpose out of tempo to make her look as if she couldn’t keep control of the orchestra, and a lot of other stories that demonstrate that women are not seeing as equal on the podium.  

“It opened my eyes to see how privileged I have been to be part of UNC where everybody has shown their support to my career.” 

A trailblazer as a mentor 

One of the conductors that González Masmela admires most is Marin Alsop, so obtaining the mentorship with her has being inspiring.  

Marin Alsop is not only the first woman to conduct a major U.S. orchestra, she was also the first woman to conduct a Brazilian orchestra, the principal conductor of British orchestra and chief conductor of a Viennese orchestra. Alsop is currently the principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and artistic director and chief conductor of the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra.  

Alsop decided to create the Taki Alsop fellowship to help and inspire future female conductors.  

The Taki Alsop Fellowship Mentoring Program is a two-year award that primarily includes intensive coaching and mentoring with Alsop and other music industry professionals. 

“It is a privilege to be in a position to impact the lives of aspiring women conductors. I can clearly see what is needed to assist emerging conductors in the pursuit of their dreams and want to make the road easier and more rewarding for them,” writes Alsop on the Taki Alsop Fellowship website. 

"I have never ascribed to the philosophy that, ‘It was tough for me so it will be tough for you.’ My philosophy is: ‘It was tough for me so that I could make it easier for you.” 

As part of this mentoring program, González Masmela was invited to participate in rehearsals with Alsop in conducting for the Colorado Symphony this past February.  

“Getting to know Alsop was truly inspiring, and working with her helped me to understand why I do love conducting,” said González Masmela. “She is a living inspiration for us all.”  

Passing the Baton  

Gonzalez Masmela said she wasn’t aware of how small the world of conducting for women was. After she participated in the HUB, she decided to commit to other women musician’s development.  

“Just like Marin Alsop or Alejandra Urritia, I know that achieving success through my work can be inspiring for other people, so now I have the commitment to be more intentional in open opportunities specifically for women.”  

González Masmela just finished her doctoral examination and is preparing her doctoral dissertation, the last step to achieve this terminal degree that will open new opportunities for conductors in the future. Her dissertation will be about representation of women in music leadership.  

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