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At The 92nd Oscars, Eímear Noone Became The First Woman To Conduct The Orchestra

"It's my whole life, basically, in a short few minutes," Ei­mear Noone says of the preparation needed to conduct the orchestra at the Academy Awards.
Steve Humphreys
Courtesy of the artist
"It's my whole life, basically, in a short few minutes," Ei­mear Noone says of the preparation needed to conduct the orchestra at the Academy Awards.

It is not a secret that the Academy Awards have historically struggled with gender diversity. Though generally critics point to the lack of women nominated in major categories like best director, a critical part of the ceremony itself has also traditionally overlooked women: the Oscars' 42-piece orchestra.

Last night, at the 92nd iteration of the award show, Irish composer and director Eímear Noone became the first woman to conduct the ensemble. Noone made her name composing soundtracks for video games like Overwatch and World Of Warcraft and was also the first woman to conduct at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Ahead of the Oscars, NPR's Michel Martin spoke to Noone about how she was preparing to conduct at the ceremony, why it has taken the Academy so long to give a woman the baton and the impact she hopes her performance has. Read on for highlights from the interview and listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Interview Highlights

On preparing to conduct at the Oscars

It's the culmination of many different types of skill set[s]. Between synchronizing to pictures, synchronizing to holograms, to your regular classical program, it is everything. It's like I've been preparing for it since day one — and I started by filling in for the nun who taught the orchestra at school when I was 15.

On the lack of women conductors in Oscars history (and in the classical music world, generally)

I think if we go back to the core, which is the educational situation — when I was a student, I didn't feel I got the same encouragement in that way. It was like I was a bad investment because I wouldn't really have a real career. It was quite tacit. It's only now, looking back, I can interpret what I was feeling.

I think a huge part of conducting and learning to be a conductor is failing on the spot, because there's only so much practice you can do by yourself. You need an orchestra. And that is a hard situation to be in, where you have to fail, and fail better, and fail again, and fail better again. But you have to be allowed to fail, and you have to be allowed a second chance. So I think looking at creating a safe space and encouraging people to get back up when they fall down — I think across the arts, in general, be it a female conductor, directors, whatever — I think we need more of that kind of thinking.

On the impact she hopes to have

This is so much bigger than me. [It's] creating normalcy by taking one of the biggest audiences in the world and showing them something they may not have seen before. Kids watching — that have never seen a conductor, anyway — if this is the first time they see a conductor, it'll never be remarkable to them to see a woman on the stage. And what we're trying to do is make it unremarkable, and that's what makes it special, ironically.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Meera Venkat
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