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Autumn 2019: Life in Music

The process of redesigning the Piano Magazine gave us, as an organization, the occasion to reflect and innovate. During that process, it emerged that it would be valuable to consider issues and provocative questions of our time that impact our professional and personal lives as musicians. This column is intended to provide an opportunity for us to holistically explore areas that impact our full lives in music.

It is inspiring to devote this first "Life in Music" column to the topic of women in music. Why do we need to explore the role of women in music? When asked to name ten female composers, most of us will struggle to answer. Meanwhile, a request to name ten male composers whose names begin with "B" will result in a long list of highly recognized composers. In 2018, arts correspondent Mark Brown reported on the Women in Music project which found that "in 1,445 classical concerts across the globe only 76 include a work by a woman."1 The quick math reveals that the majority of concerts in 2018–2019 had 95% representation of male composers. This data tells a powerful story of gender inequality that still exists. More profoundly, the lack of awareness and inclusion of women if color is staggering. An article by Tom Huizenga, published last year by NPR stated, "The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will be presenting some 54 composers throughout its 2018–19 season. Want to guess how many of those composers are women? The number is zero. Same goes for the Philadelphia Orchestra."2

Despite the historical and societal challenges of the past, women actively pursued music and composition and made significant contributions. Donne (http://www.dramamusica.com/Donne.html), the organization that conducted the Women in Music survey, is dedicated to female composers.The site publishes an impressive listing of female composers that starts from before the sixteenth century to the present day. I encourage you to explore the site as it provides an extensive list of composers from all eras. Donne also publishes an informative blog that celebrates a different female composer every day. It is a valuable resource for discovering the wealth of music by women composers. Another extensive website is www.musictheoryexamplesbywomen.com. It includes playlists, resources, research, and countless articles about highly accomplished women in music.

My initial question, "Why do we need to explore the role of women in music?" appears obvious in the face of this data. The action question is "How can we move towards more awareness and inclusion?" We have many extraordinary female leaders in our profession including the Center's pioneer and inspiration, Dr. Frances Clark. The list of outstanding women composers for the developing pianist is substantial. There are books, blogs, dissertations, research, databases, organizations, and more devoted to women in music. As a community we should charge ourselves to explore a wider range of possibilities in repertoire lists for competitions, festivals, local student programs, syllabi, recitals, and university requirements. When discussing history with our students we can recognize the contributions of women artists, noting that few women are included in most resources but can be discovered through new, emerging ones. In addition to expanding repertoire options for our students, we can challenge ourselves to learn a new piece by a woman composer, learn more about these relatively unknown composers, and revel in the new sounds and beauty of these compositions. We can consider contacting local performing arts organizations or universities to advocate for more diverse repertoire in their programming.

As we know, change comes from purposeful action. In 2015, Jessy McCabe, a seventeen-year old student in the U.K., campaigned for the inclusion of five sets of works by women to be added to the Edexcel syllabus. Jesse noticed that the A-level music syllabus featured sixty-three male composers and no female ones. In response to an email from Jessy, the head of music wrote:  Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included." Jesse subsequently launched an online petition and received almost 4,000 signatures. She also wrote an open letter to the education secretary to fight for the change that she achieved successfully.4

As we strive for inclusion of more diverse repertoire as individuals and as a community, we will move closer to gender equality and balanced representation. These are exciting times as we advocate for the awareness of more women composers, the celebration of their valuable contributions to music, and for the aspiring, young musicians who will define our future.



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Autumn 2019: Keyboard Kids' Companion
Myra Hess and Wartime London, 1939-1945


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About Piano Magazine

Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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