Sounding the Feminists: #EqualityTime, #HearAllComposers

Yesterday, Sounding the Feminists, a collective of women composers, musicians and musicologists, began a Twitter campaign to encourage the programming of contemporary music by women. Irish composers Amanda Feery, Finola Merivale, and Emma O’Halloran started the campaign and it has taken on a life of its own.

Campaigners used Twitter to highlight women composers whose work they’d like to see (and hear) programmed. Each tweet named three women composers and many of the tweets supplied their photos. The hashtags morphed a little over the day, from #timeforequality to #equalitytime, and #hearallcomposers.

The list of women composers generated here is pretty diverse, although I’m sure that could be improved still. It includes women composers of colour (right from the first tweet), and women of various ages. It is also quite diverse in terms of genres, styles, performing forces.

I have collated the tweets into a Storify story based on the three hashtags that were used throughout the day. It is very, very long. I have done my best to ensure there are no repeated tweets or repeated combinations of composers, but there are simply too many tweets for me to check right now that each tweet contributes something unique. If I have a chance over the coming days, I will edit to improve the story. (There are surely ways to group the mass of material to tell a story.) But one thing is abundantly clear: there are a lot of living women composers—this campaign has barely touched the surface—and no self-respecting music programmer can claim ignorance.

Women of Renaissance Ferrara

This is a super quick post to flag up last week’s BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week series. Instead of concentrating on one composer, they chose as their focus music and women in Renaissance Ferrara. The series draws heavily on the research of Professor Laurie Stras (University of Southampton) and recordings by Musica Secreta, the women’s voice ensemble that Prof. Stras co-directs with Deborah Roberts.

Do not miss the third programme! It is devoted to the music of nuns, and it reveals a newly-discovered woman composer. Stras identifies Suor Leonora d’Este, a noble-born nun in the Corpus Domini convent in Ferrara, as the likely composer of an intriguing book of anonymous motets, the Musica quinque vocum: motteta materna lingua vacate (1543). ‘Felix namque es sacra’, a motet written for five equal soprano voices, is one of the highlights.

At time of writing, there are between 21 and 26 days left to listen again to these programmes, so get listening! And if that’s not enough (it won’t be), Musica Secreta’s recording of these exquisite motets, Lucrezia Borgia’s Daughter, is now available.

Day 1: St Catherine of Bologna

Day 2: Lucrezia Borgia, Tromboncino, and de Rore

Day 3: Leonora d’Este and Raffaella Aleotti

Day 4: Giaches de Wert and the First Concerto

Day 5: Dangerous Graces: Luzzaschi and the Fall of Ferrara

Championing the Work of Women Composers

Kerry Andrew’s piece in The Guardian continues to attract blogosphere responses. Jenny Clarke’s post, The Stats on Women Composers, gives a brief account of two contemporary music concerts she recently attended in New York: one fifth of the composers represented in the Music of Now Marathon‘s program were women; in the second concert she mentions, only one out of the thirteen pieces was composed by a woman.

I have only been to two concerts of contemporary art music since I arrived in New York. The first was a free concert showcasing recent commissions by Chamber Music America with pieces by four men composers: Anthony Plog, Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, and Rudresh Mahanthappa. The event was part of Chamber Music America’s 2012 National Conference. I encourage you to follow the conference link and view the photos selected to represent the conference. CMA has chosen for its public image photos that show women as audience members, diners, and sometimes performers, but never as speakers addressing the conference. Granted, performers have agency, but to be honest the predominant view in the classical world is still that performers are channels for the composer’s music. So, in short, the picture of the conference that I’ve been able to put together is that that women were absent from CMA 2012 as authorial voices. This is surely not the complete picture: I only attended one concert, and I couldn’t find the conference program, but this is what I have been able to find out from my own experience and from the CMA website. I don’t for a moment believe that no women gave conference papers, so the questions are: were they not photographed? Or were the photos not selected for inclusion in the website? If not, why not? And were there any compositions by women in any of the conference concert programs? If not, why not?

The second concert was given by Thomas Buckner as part of his ‘Interpretations’ series at the Roulette. In this concert one third of the pieces (two out of six) were by women composers—Anne Guthrie and Annea Lockwood. The next concert in the series, on March 8, International Women’s Day, is 100% women composers, with pieces by Bun-Ching Lam, Monique Buzzarté, Frances White, Pauline Oliveros, Alice Shields and Sorrel Hays.

One other upcoming series I’d like to draw attention to is Women’s Work 2012, which will present three concerts of music composed by women—twenty-four composers in all. The link is to their Facebook page which includes clips of music by some of the featured composers. It appears the series is seeking sponsorship. The composers are:

  • Elizabeth Raum
  • Melinda Wagner
  • Gwyneth Walker
  • Amanda Harberg
  • Nancy Bloomer Deussen
  • Margarita Zelenaia
  • Judith Shatin
  • Luo Jing Jing
  • Katherine Hoover
  • Stefania de Kenessey
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Vivian Fung
  • Mary Lynn Place Badarak
  • Mary M. Boyle
  • Adrienne Albert
  • Lydia Busler-Blais
  • Sharon Farber
  • Lera Auerbach
  • Rebecca Oswald
  • Winifred Hyson
  • Deon Nielsen Price
  • Chen Yi
  • Sharon J. Willis
  • Carol Worthey

There is plenty more music out there. Get programming!

Including Composers Who Are Women in the Music Curriculum

Yesterday The Plashing Vole brought to my attention Kerry Andrew’s recent article in the The Guardian, ‘Why are there so few women composers?’ Andrew suggests that one way to increase the number of composers who are women is to revise the curriculum so that composing is seen as something women do. Sensible suggestion, that. Writers of supposedly general histories of music have often failed to mention that really they’re writing histories of music by white, European men. Many failed to mention their decision to omit the creativity of specific demographics and instead passed off the work of a select demographic as the work of an entire culture. Of course, all histories involve decisions about what to include and exclude, but some histories are a bit more upfront about those decisions and criteria for inclusion than others. And sometimes even music history surveys that include women do so in ways that differentiate them from men—for example, women composers may be introduced as student of Mr. X, whereas the men composers are apparently born fully-formed creative geniuses who never required teachers. (Yes, I have a specific music history book in mind.) Casting a wider net in telling history, being more inclusive in many ways, paints a fuller picture of what was going on in a specific culture. It isn’t just good for groups of musicians currently marginalised by society, it’s good for society as a whole. More people see music as a possible activity and we all get to hear a wide variety of music. What’s not to like?! (Please, don’t answer!)

So, yes, I agree with Andrew that primary and secondary schools need to revise their curricula (which in England and Wales really means changing the National Curriculum). It needs to happen in tertiary education too—you know, in the classes where future teachers learn the kinds of things that our culture currently thinks are worth teaching. In cases where survey courses are still the main approach, the ideal would be to revise those completely. (The late Prof. Donna Cardamone Jackson, who taught at the University of Minnesota, once told me that in every course she taught she used music examples by diverse composers—diverse in terms of gender and race. I would say Donna was quietly revolutionary. Sometimes not so quietly.) It’s not just a case of keeping the same basic “great composer” narrative and including a few token women, say. The “great composer” narrative functioned to exclude people, to devalue certain types of music making. Ultimately, the narrative needs to change too, and in many places it is changing.

Today I happened upon a relevant book that might help those interested in revising undergraduate curricula: Julie Dunbar’s Women, Music, Culture: An Introduction (Routledge, 2011) and its companion website. Like Women’s Voices Across Musical Worlds, edited by Jane Bernstein (Northeastern University Press, 2003), chapters of which I’ve used in my undergraduate course, ‘Women and Music Across Cultures’, it’s organised by theme. I’ve only skimmed the Google Books preview of Dunbar’s book, but so far it looks quite interesting. Both Bernstein and Dunbar’s books are suitable for undergraduates and might be particularly useful for those who are not research-active in women’s or gender studies and want to work at mainstreaming gender-related issues in their courses. Dunbar’s includes questions, exercises and discussion points that encourage students to reflect upon the kinds of stories that are told (including the one being told in the book). Bernstein’s edited book doesn’t have that kind of thing—it’s aimed at a general music readership, not just undergraduates—but it does have really useful topic introductions that draw out common threads between the various essays. In my very brief scan of the very short preview, I saw abundant mention of Hildegard, Pauline Oliveros, and an index entry for X-Ray Spex. Bernstein’s book likewise covers a wide range of musical practices.

I’m curious enough to request an e-copy of Dunbar’s book for examination, even though it’s going to be a while until I teach an undergraduate course again. To be honest, the paperback price seems a little on the high side: £39.99, or $64.95 versus $29.95 for a paperback copy of Bernstein’s edited volume. (I’m quoting prices on the publishers’ websites: at time of writing, is charging almost $140 for Dunbar’s in hardback and just under $60 for the paperback.)

Finally, the Committee on Women and Gender of the American Musicological Society is updating their collection of course syllabi. I’ll post the link when I have it.