Virginia Allen
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Interview with Weril Magazine in Brazil

My trip to Brazil in July 2000 included a tour of the Weril instrument factory outside of Sao Paulo (see the photos I took at Weril on my Journal page). An interview about my visit to Brazil appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of Revista Weril (Weril Magazine), which is read by over 30,000 musicians in Brazil. Here's a translation of the complete interview:

Bands That Enlist Talent
by Beatriz Weingrill

As the first woman to become conductor of a military band in the United States, Virginia Allen is a defender of the type of organization where she served for more than 20 years. She believes that the music of military bands has a power that reaches beyond the Armed Forces and can, as any another type of musical organization, attract young adults for careers as instrumentalists. Ginny Allen, as she is known, lives today in New York, where she works as a free-lancer and professor at the prestigious Juilliard School. She frequently guest conducts, adjudicates and teaches master classes in other countries. She is a composer and arranger, and beyond conducting she studied French horn. She was in Brazil to conduct three concerts, two with the Banda Sinfônica da CSN in Volta Redonda and Rio and one with the Orquestra de Sopros Brasileira from the Conservatório Dramático e Musical de Tatuí. Before she returned to the United States, she granted this interview to the Weril Magazine.

WERIL MAGAZINE: How were your performances in Brazil?
VIRGINIA ALLEN: I had the honor of conducting two outstanding ensembles in Brazil - the Banda Sinfônica da CSN in Volta Redonda and in Rio de Janeiro and the Orquestra de Sopros Brasileria in Tatui. I heard both of these bands perform when I visited Brazil last summer, so I knew what their capabilities were. At the suggestion of their conductors, I selected challenging American band repertoire for our concerts, and all of the musicians worked very hard to produce exciting performances. Maestros Marcelo Jardim in Volta Redonda and Dario Sotelo in Tatui deserve a lot of credit for developing musicians in their bands who are able to achieve a beautiful quality of sound, a superb sense of rhythm, and excellent technique. I was able to focus on interpretive elements such as phrasing and expression, and they were very responsive to my suggestions and musical direction. My goal as a conductor is to get the musicians to feel the music with me and then reflect the sound and energy of that music to the audience. I was fortunate to experience that type of interaction with the fine musicians and appreciative audiences in Brazil, and it was simply magical. I'm delighted to have an association with musicians in Brazil and continue to be impressed with their determination to overcome many obstacles - including shortages in funding, sheet music, equipment, teachers, and facilities - in order to create good music and good music programs. I hope I have many opportunities to return to Brazil and work with the musicians there.

WM: Could you make a comparison between military bands in Brazil and America?
VA: As I visited the Military Academy Band in Resende and the Navy Band in Rio de Janeiro, I discovered that Brazilian and American military bands have a lot in common. I'm not sure many civilians understand what military bands do and what a great career opportunity they offer to musicians. Military bands in Brazil employ very talented musicians who are also some of the best troops because of the discipline and dedication that they have acquired through their musical training. They have the versatility to perform a wide variety of music and the creativity to accomplish a lot with limited resources. These bands and the music they play boost the morale of the troops and help make Brazilians feel proud about their country and their military. The one big difference that I saw between the military bands of our two countries was the absence of women in Brazilian military bands.

WM: How did you become the first woman to conduct a military band in the United States?
VA: Although there were other women who conducted all-women military bands and reserve bands before I went into the Army, I was the first woman to command and conduct an active military band that was integrated with men and women. For a long time, the only Army band that women could serve in was the Women's Army Corps Band. I was in college when women were integrated with men into military bands in 1973. By the time I graduated from college, I believed that the Army had accepted the idea that women were capable of doing the same jobs that men were doing and that the Army would offer me a wide range of opportunities. I've been around military bands all of my life and developed a deep passion for Army bands and the power of their music at an early age. The tradition of service in military bands in my family was started by my oldest uncle who was a member of the Marine band at Parris Island. Three of my other uncles also served in bands during World War II, and my father joined the Army as a trumpet player a few years after the war ended. My father worked his way up the through the ranks to become a conductor, and eventually, Leader and Commander of The U. S. Army Band in Washington, D.C. I was the senior woman musician in American military bands until my retirement in 1997. In many ways, my military career exceeded the expectations I had more than 20 years ago because I didn't know then what options existed or how I might be limited. I never chose to be the first woman to do this or that…I just always tried to do my best in each assignment and believed that my potential would be recognized. As a result, I was blessed with a career that was exciting and rewarding and allowed me to grow musically, to travel and to meet many fascinating people.

WM: Besides the concerts, what other musical activities did you pursue here in Brazil?
VA: I had an opportunity to visit the Weril factory, and it was the first time that I saw how musical instruments are manufactured. It was incredible to observe the craftsmanship and dedication of the artists who work there.


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