Thursday, April 26, 2012

Why We Need to Think About Women Composers

Some weeks ago, an article was published over at New Music Box proclaiming that women composers were dead. No, actually, it claimed the term "woman composer" is dead. We are sufficiently advanced that we don't need the term any longer.

A number of people took issue with this in the comments, which are well worth reading. I asked whether that much had actually changed since my 2008 article, "Lend Me a Pick Ax," was published in NMB.

Here's some evidence that things just aren't changing as fast as you might think.
  • Ojai Music Festival, 2010: works by Saed Haddad, George Benjamin, Steve Potter, Schoenberg, Strauss, Varese, Zappa, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Purcell, Boulez, Knussen, Ligeti
  • Ojai Music Festival, 2011: works by Purcell, Faure, Messiaen, Szymanowski, Copland, Britten, Berio, and Grainger, David Bruce, Crumb, Janacek, Prokofiev, Peter Sculthorpe, Richard Tognetti, Schoenberg, Bach, Crumb, Webern, Maria Schneider, Bartok, Grieg,  
  • Ojai Music Festival, 2012: works by John Luther Adams, Dmitri Shostakovich, Charles Ives, Leos Janacek,  Reinbert de Leeuw, Richard Wagner, Alban Berg, Beethoven, Haflidi Hallgrímsson, Bent Sørensen, Mozart, Kurtag, Bartok, Grieg, Bolcom, Copland, Debussy, the other John Adams, Stravinsky
  • Ojai Music Festival, 2013: works by Lou Harrison, John Luther Adams, Samuel Barber, John Cage, Henry Cowell, Charles Ives, Olivier Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky, William Walton
The Ojai Festival is a major West Coast festival of 20th and 21st century music, and four years of programming, from 2010 to 2013, include one work by a woman.
There's just no excuse for this.


Elaine Fine said...

Yup. It's that way out here in the inland provinces as well.

Interest ebbs and flows with the circumstances (like the month of March), but for those of us who write music, and happen to be women, the reality of the matter is terribly demoralizing. Tragic, actually.

Lisa Hirsch said...


john_burke100 said...

Sigh on a cracker. Every time I see one of these cheery announcements that we're past all that ugly injustice stuff, I check my wallet.

Mary Jane Leach said...

A few weeks ago, when the American Academy of Arts and Letter released its new members, yet again no women composers were on the list. I mentioned this on FB - the response was either crickets or someone saying he couldn't think of any women that should be admitted. I've been to one of the induction ceremonies, and visually it's shocking when you see how few women there are. For starters, music has 13% women, art 22%, and literature 28% - none are great percentages. Also, I find some of the men (and a couple of the women) not very inspiring choices, esp. when some of the best-known male composers, like Bob Ashley, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young aren't in it.

That said - here are who I consider the no-brainers:
Gloria Coates
Carla Bley
Meredith Monk
Libby Larson
Jenifer Higdon
Laurie Spiegel
Alice Shields


Lisa Hirsch said...

That is amazingly depressing. Thanks, Mary Jane.