Category Archives: Women In Music

Why Are Pioneering Female Composers So Neglected?

I’m embarrassed by how late this is, but here’s a reminder announcement:

May first and May eighth, starting at 6:45pm, I’m giving a pre-concert talk at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul for the Hill House Chamber Players (most of whom are current or former Minnesota Orchestra players).

  • All the details, including ticket information, are here.
  • You can like their Facebook page, and read up on the women featured, here.

The program includes music by Lili Boulanger, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, and Gabriel Fauré. Fauré and Bach are my two favorite composers, so it’s a deeply meaningful program to me, and I hope to you, too. It certainly is a beautiful one.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Women In Music

How The F*ck Did I Not Know This Woman?: Edith Lorand

Presenting…

How The F*ck Did I Not Know This Woman?

~(A new Song of the Lark series)~

(Part 1 / ???,???)

Edith Lorand: violinist, conductor, queen

*

If you’re like me, you’ve never pondered what André Rieu would be like if he:

  • was a flapper
  • with better hair
  • who could actually play the violin.

Also if you’re like me, the instant the idea of Flapper André Rieu occurs, you feel an intense longing to know her.

It’s easy to imagine her biography.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

Hill House Chamber Players Concert!

Hey, guys! Anything new since my last entry in…November? Good. I’m glad everything has been so serene and uneventful.

Sorry about the break. I swear it has been unintentional. I’ve just been swamped by stuff in my personal life, the details of which I will not bore you with, and suddenly it’s March and we’re a few weeks away from planting our potted pansies. I’m alive, I’m well, and I’ll probably resurface in the blogosphere soon.

But I’m not writing about my not writing. I’m writing to remind you of the Hill House Chamber Players, a group I was honored to be asked to give pre-concert talks for during the 17/18 concert season. The Players consist of star Twin Cities musicians (including a few Minnesota Orchestra members) performing at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. Their next concerts are being held Monday March 6 and Monday March 13th. Both nights feature the same marvelous programming: works by Mozart, Clara Schumann, and Rebecca Clarke. Pre-concert talks start at 6:45; the concert itself begins at 7:30.

I’ve got a copy of the script right next to me. If I was to give a bland description, I’d say it’s about the dual careers of Clara Schumann and Rebecca Clarke. If I was to give a slightly more provocative description, I’d say it’s about how the romantic hero great composer archetype (as personified by Beethoven) robs listeners of inspiring musical voices, including those of women. If any of that intrigues you, I’ll see you on Monday!

Also, you should like HHCP’s new Facebook page for news, reminders, and tidbits about the works they’re spotlighting.

More information about the concert and the season here!

clara-schumann

Clara Wieck Schumann, here seen gazing dolefully at you, wondering why you aren’t coming to hear her work performed by some of the greatest musicians in the Twin Cities

 

4 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

Our Tears Will Teach Us: Being A Woman In The 2016 Election

Warning: political discussion ahead! If you think bloggers who write about music should keep their traps shut about politics, ignore this post.

I apologize for not writing much on the blog lately; I’ve been busy with my personal life, and I haven’t been able to give entries the time and thought they deserve. But after the results of the presidential election, I thought it would be therapeutic to check in with you guys. That’s what I feel like I want to do: connect with the people who mean a lot to me. And you, dear readers, mean a lot to me.

Here are where my thoughts have been lately… There are desperately important questions to be asked about politics and race and culture right now, but since I focus on gender on this blog, I’ll drill down into that particular topic. Mainly I want to explore how Hillary’s defeat, and Donald’s victory, made me feel as a woman last night.

Fun factoid: like many other Americans, I’m a direct descendant of Elizabeth Alden Pabodie, potentially the first white woman born in New England. She was born in 1623. Yesterday I kept thinking about her. How would she feel if she could see a woman winning the popular vote for President of the United States? How would her daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters and so on and so on and so on for centuries react? She endured so much building America. They all did. What would they say about this election? What insights might they have about the journey we’ve shared with them?

grave

Elizabeth Alden’s grave; photo from Wikipedia

On the other hand, I want to be careful not to idealize or romanticize Elizabeth or her descendants. (It goes without saying that the recognition of her as the first “white woman” is uncomfortable: somehow it seems to negate so many other babies born over so many other centuries on this continent.) I have to believe that I had female ancestors who endured and did heartbreaking things…simultaneously. I’m sure there were women who endured difficult marriages because society gave them no way out. Women who were hit and raped. Women whose personal interests were brushed aside, or who felt pressured to brush them aside themselves. Women who were treated as breeding machines and nothing more. And I’m also sure that there were women who were virulent racists. Women who shunned immigrants. Women who abused their own family and friends. Women who, for whatever reason, chose apathy. In other words, women who were human beings.

But somehow, in fits and starts over centuries, progress was made: slowly, slowly, slowly, yes, but also surely. Later, Elizabeth’s descendants multiplied first by the dozens, and then by the hundreds, and then by the thousands, and then by the tens of thousands…maybe more. They saw so much progress in their collective lifetimes: they saw so many American women doing so many amazing things. I’m so humbled to think about the process. It feels like a dinner party has been going on for centuries, and I’m just now popping in, aware of but unable to totally grasp the significance of what has come before. And that was a feeling I didn’t have until this election, honestly.

I’m looking at this Wikipedia page now – “List of American Women’s Firsts” – to try to put the evolution I’m talking about in perspective. I highly recommend you check it out, and read these women’s biographies.

In 1647 Margaret Brent was the first woman to demand the right to vote.

In the 1700s Henrietta Johnston became the first woman working as an artist in the colonies.

In 1762 Ann Franklin became the first woman newspaper editor.

In 1776 Margaret Cobin was the first woman to serve as soldier in the American Revolution.

In 1784 Hannah Adams became the first woman to become a professional writer in America.

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree.

In 1850 Harriet Tubman was the first American woman to run the underground railroad.

In 1853 Antoinette Brown Blackwell became the first woman to be ordained as a minister.

In 1869 Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in America.

In 1870 Louisa Ann Swain became the first American woman to vote in an election.

In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first American woman to run for president.

In 1878 Emma Abbott became the first woman to form her own opera company.

In 1887 Susanna M. Salter was elected the first female mayor in America.

In 1911 Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female pilot.

In 1916 Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to to be elected to Congress.

In 1921 Edith Wharton became the first woman to earn a Pulitzer.

In 1922 Rebecca Felton became our first female senator.

In 1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman in America to be elected governor.

In 1931 Jane Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1932 Hattie Caraway was the first woman actually elected, rather than named, to the U.S. Senate.

In 1933 Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve as a cabinet member under FDR.

In 1934 Lettie Pate Whitehead became the first woman to serve as a director of a major corporation.

In 1944 Cordelia E Cook became the first woman to receive both the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

In 1972 Katharine Graham became the first female Fortune 500 CEO, as CEO of the Washington Post company.

In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to join the Supreme Court.

In 1983 Sally Ride became the first woman in space.

And in 1984 Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman in America to run for vice president on a major-party platform.

And five years later, I was born. And I’m only 27.

Obviously I only scratched the surface. Look at that list of firsts, with each woman working on the shoulders of the women who came before her. When I step back and think of how far we’ve come over the centuries… And when I think about how, in the long run, our setbacks as American women generally seem to be temporary… It makes me want to talk to Elizabeth and ask her:

What do you think?

And: will other demographics be so lucky?

*

It goes without saying, this doesn’t mean we should be content with where women are now, or stop fighting to improve our lives and the lives of the other and the marginalized. But when a disappointment this huge comes along, after crying a bit at the chance so unexpectedly lost, I feel it is important to take a step back and remember that bigger picture.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel hope in the pain today. I’m someone who deeply values respect of women. (Obviously.) A man who bragged about committing sexual assault has just been elected to the highest office of the land, and somehow I’m not completely destroyed by the idea. (Yet, at least.) (Am I shell-shocked?) My best guess as to why that is? Because I feel like the history I ticked off above is more powerful, more sustained, than any one man or any one movement. Our mothers fought against horrifying odds, and still they put one foot in front of the other and stayed on the path of progress. But…we’ll see.

Also, my mom’s tragic early death, and even watching the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, taught me how catastrophe can cause people to bond in profound ways. Our tears will teach us. Laugh if you will – call me naive if you want – be deeply concerned about what Mr. Trump’s election means to non-white-males, and to the country and the world at large (I’m concerned, too), but also… When you think about us American women, at least, remember our strength, and how many setbacks we’ve overcome before.

You know, I’m not even sure if any of this makes sense, but I just wanted to say something. Given how often I write about female musicians on the blog, silence didn’t feel right. I’m also working to let go all that I don’t control, and fighting like hell over the things I can. And I’m looking forward to finding the dark humor in the struggle (dark humor is the best).

I’m also trying to remind myself how blown away Elizabeth Alden would be if she could know that one of her great-times-many granddaughters, born 366 years after her, had the chance to vote for a female president. And it’s not just me who had the chance; it was many thousands of her descendants. Barring catastrophe, there’s a decent chance we’ll be able to do it again. Maybe soon.

The work goes on, and so does the beat.

11 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

Women of Note at St. Paul’s Hill House!

Here are some of my favorite things:

  • Chamber music
  • Female composers
  • the Minnesota Orchestra
  • Minnesota history
  • Architecture
  • the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of St. Paul
  • Post-concert refreshments

Lucky for me, all of those passions are combining in a single project this season. The Hill House Chamber Players are devoting their 2016/2017 season to spotlighting works by women, and they invited me to give a pre-concert talk before every show.

The Hill House Chamber Players consist of some of the area’s most talented musicians, including some Minnesota Orchestra players. Together they perform in the James J. Hill House gallery, which used to be lined with art now at Mia. (I once heard a rumor that Jules Breton’s painting The Song of the Lark – which Willa Cather featured in her novel by the same name – hung in the Hill House gallery for a while, but I’ve never been able to prove or disprove that…) It’s a very cozy and intimate venue, and I’m really looking forward to chatting with audiences there.

Here’s the schedule:

October 10 & 17, 2016

  • Amy Beach: Quintet for Piano and Strings in F-sharp minor, Op 67
  • Judith Lang Zaimont: Calendar Collection for Solo Piano (excerpts)
  • Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, Opus 44

March 6 & 13, 2017

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K.493
  • Rebecca Clarke: Viola Sonata
  • Clara Wieck Schumann: Piano Trio in G minor, Op 17

May 1 & 8, 2017

  • Lili Boulanger: Two Morceaux: Nocturne and Cortege
  • Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel: Piano Trio in D minor, Op 11
  • Gabriel Faure: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op 15

For more information on the season, and for pricing, click here!

I want to thank the HHCP for having the guts to commit so wholeheartedly to their theme. When was the last time you heard of a chamber music series season that consists of two-thirds female composers?

It’s a little early to know for sure, but it feels like works by women are gaining ground locally this year. Not only are the HHCPs committing wholeheartedly, but The Musical Offering is presenting works by Elsa Barraine and Lili Boulanger as part of their broader 2016/2017 theme of “Emigrés and Mentors.” If you have more examples of recent or upcoming local concerts featuring the work of women, please post in the comments!

I’m optimistic that one of these decades, works by women might even show up in a meaningful way at a big-budget organization like the Minnesota Orchestra. But until they do, support your local chamber music scene. Inevitably, chamber music is where innovation starts.

I look forward to seeing you guys at the Hill House!

7 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

May Link Roundup!

I’ve been busy, but it hasn’t shown much on the blog. So I thought it was time for a link roundup. Yeehaw!

scotts-roundup-gc

No, not this kind of roundup, but this does make for an intriguing preview image

First off, I’ve started a series of essays for Interlude.hk about the early lives of composers, and how those early lives affected their later creative output. My first two subjects were Gustav Mahler and Rebecca Clarke.

I also wrote a major essay for Frank Almond’s “A Violin’s Life” volume 2 recording. Frank, as you surely know, is the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony, and he recently Kickstartered an amazing recording to document the history of his storied (stolen) Strad. The recording includes the ebullient violin sonata in B-major by Amanda Maier-Röntgen. Click here, then on the name Amanda Maier-Röntgen for my essay, which gives a broad outline of Amanda’s life and muses about the role women’s works (should?) have in our canon. Frank’s recording is great, and you should really check it out.

I also had the honor of giving the intermission talk at the Mother’s Day Musical Offering concert at Hamline University on May 8. The works of Germaine Tailleferre and Louise Farrenc were on the program, and they were given gorgeous performances. At intermission, co-artistic director Susan Billmeyer and I discussed why the works of women aren’t performed more frequently. Why are we still surprised to see them on programs even in 2016? Everyone in the organization welcomed me warmly into the fold. It was a heartwarming way to spend the day. Thanks to all those who came out… I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did.

I’m booking several pre-concert talk appearances for various Minnesota ensembles for the 16/17 season, and when the time is right, I’ll share that information with y’all. It might be difficult to find an orchestra willing to program work by women, but thankfully, local chamber music ensembles are picking up the dropped baton. There’s a lot to look forward to next season. Stay tuned.

If you want me to come gab at your event, let me know, because apparently that’s a thing I’m doing nowadays.

I also learned and performed the first movement of Maddalena Laura Sirmen’s sixth violin concerto with my amateur string orchestra this month. I wrote my own cadenza and everything. I hope to get around to writing about the experience, but if I don’t, I want to give a shout-out to the String Connection orchestra in Eau Claire for being way more adventurous in their programming than the biggest American orchestras. *thumbs up*

4 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

RIP Jane Little

Jane Little, a bass player in the Atlanta Symphony for 71 years, collapsed at a concert this afternoon. She later died. I pray that her passage was a gentle one: that in her final moments here she felt no pain, only passion burning for her art.

janelittle_ayso_020316
I never knew Jane Little, and it feels presumptuous to say too much about her. All I can do is extend my deepest, truest, most heartfelt condolences to her friends, family, and colleagues…and listen to what they have to say about her extraordinary life and career.

That being said…

I have a ticket sitting in will-call at the Minnesota Orchestra box office.

I will be over a thousand miles from where Jane Little started, made, and ended her career.

But I will enter Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The players will come onstage. (The concertmaster will be a woman.) (Her stand partner, too.) And I will see the Minnesota bass section, headed now by Kristen Bruya (principal) and Kate Nettleman (acting associate principal).

I will look up to Kristen and Kate as they share a stand. I will watch their eyes fiercely criss-crossing the music, their gazes snapping up intently to follow the conductor. (On Friday, the conductor will be a woman.) They will lose themselves in the sound for us. The bass section is the section that brings the orchestra to life. They will make a mighty rumble.

And even though I never met Jane Little, in that moment, I will think of Jane Little. And I will silently thank her, and celebrate the legacy she left for all of us.

Here is a profile on Jane Little from the AFM.

“I thought now why would any girl want to play that big thing, but when I started playing the bass, it was just…I just fell in love with it.” – NBC Nightly News

1 Comment

Filed under Women In Music

Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*

giphy.gif

Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

download (1)

The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.

25 Comments

Filed under Women In Music

Can American Orchestras Do Better At Including Women Composers?

This is a follow-up to the recent widely-read entry In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers. Liane Curtis got in touch with me during the hullabaloo, wondering if I would be interested in covering the grants made available by Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy. I didn’t have time to write anything this week, so I invited her to post a guest entry. According to her bio:

Liane Curtis is a musicologist and the founder and President of both The Rebecca Clarke Society, and Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, non-profit organizations which are based at the WSRC [Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University]. A former Fulbright Scholar, Liane has taught at a wide range of colleges and universities, including Wellesley, Ohio State, and (in 2011 and 2007) at Brandeis University. She has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Bay Windows, The Musical Times, The New Grove Dictionary of Music, the National Women’s Studies Association Journal, Women’s Enews, The Gay and Lesbian Review, and other publications. In October 2006, Liane was a Fellow in the National Endowment for the Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera.

An impressive resume, but for me the thing that stands out about Liane is that she Cares Deeply About This Stuff. About a year ago, when I was beginning my study of the Clarke viola sonata, I sent her an email asking where the manuscript was. She sent me a link to a PDF of it right away. Never mind I was a largely self-taught violist based out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who had no plans to perform the piece publicly. (The manuscript, by the way, is fascinating – a must-read for any violist – and can be perused here.) She cares, and she was excited that I care, and that generous and free exchange of knowledge is hugely meaningful and exciting and awesome. Agree or disagree with any of her premises, she is a woman on a mission, and I appreciate that.

So here is her guest entry. If you’re connected with an organization that is looking for grants, take note! – Emily

*

Can American orchestras do better at including – rather than excluding – women composers???

And can the grants offered by Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy help?

by Guest Blogger Liane Curtis

The recent inflammatory article in the Spectator (by Damian Thompson – no link here so you don’t encourage the clickbait), squashed so deftly by Emily E. Hogstad in this blog, and on New Music Box, reveals an overt instance of how deep-seated, hostile bias against women composers continues to survive. While overtly sexist statements such as those in the Spectator article are not as common as they were in the past, these same values are played out routinely in the current practice of dismissing and ignoring music by women. In short, when we see many orchestras routinely programming NOT ONE  SINGLE work composed by a female in their entire season of classical orchestral programming, it is agreeing with Damian Thompson’s ignorant opinion that “there are no great women composers, [and] that’s because creative geniuses are rare and, in the past, so few women wrote music. There may be some in the future…” The orchestras that are in this group this season (2015-2016) include: the Cleveland Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Utah Symphony. Just to point out one grievous case, the San Francisco Symphony is based in the city that was the home of The Women’s Philharmonic for all of its 20-plus years. Much of their past extensive fan base is there and would be eager to hear works by women. But one of our WPA supporters tells me that the SFS has excluded women composers in 17 of its past 20 seasons. The SFS prides itself for its creative, inventive programming, but to be so emphatic in ignoring women makes one wonder if there is some deep-set misogyny there.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Guest Blogs, Women In Music

Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers (Link)

Hey, y’all! I just wrote a follow-up to my last blog entry for NewMusicBox:

“Five Takeaways From The Conversation on Female Composers”

Many thanks to the fine folks over there. Feel free to continue the conversation! The places where I’d most like you to continue the conversation would be at local artistic committee meetings, at music stores, at your private teachers’, and anywhere else where repertoire is decided and debated.

It's been fun, Spectator!

It’s been fun, Spectator!

5 Comments

Filed under Women In Music