Monday, November 07, 2005
Composing Bias against (women's) choral music
Hi. I am a composer of choral music, with a specialty in writing for women's voices. In the composing world, I have observed demonstrable prejudice against the writing, performing, or programming of women's choral music. I have written an article on this in the Journal of IAWM, October 2005, and would be happy to send it to you if you request it. It is entitled: Is it (Just), You Girls? A Plea for Women's Choral Music."
Embedded in all of this is I believe, an implicit silencing of women as composers, especially those who write using words, and further, those who write for other women.
Let me begin with a quote from the letters of the well known singer of the later 19th century, Marie Fillunger, the lover of Eugenie Schumann, Clara Schmann's daughter. She never happened to sing anything written by a woman (except Viardot), taking her cue from the prevailing attitude of contemporary critics about women composers:
"Even if women composers don't net us much for the world of art, nevertheless art also doesn't have to fear them much, given that they are so few in number. If these composers do their thing and don't stick their beaks in our world, and if they don't impose themselves on us in any vain way, we can gladly give them their due and grant them their joy of diddling." (Translation mine).
Now to the beginning of my article
The composing world harbors a hierarchical mindset: At the top, orchestral music reigns, followed by ensemble and solo music, literature for SATB (mixed), TTBB (men’s), children’s chorus, and finally, SSAA (women’s chorus—or WC).1 Why am I writing this for the IAWM? Isn’t this preaching to the choir? Yes, but as I intend to show, composers, conductors, teachers and even some publishers may unwittingly neglect women’s choral music (WCM).
Evidence of neglect is strong and compelling. Just consider: Despite women’s fuller participation in composing, conducting and teaching, the status of WCM, at least in the United States, is still underrepresented or undervalued in virtually every category imaginable: compositions, choral and composition departments, methodology books, competitions, programming, touring, recordings, radio broadcasts and scholarly journals.2
My Path to WCM
First, some background disclosure. I do not have a traditional degree in composition. I know the human voice from years of singing as a soloist and as a chorus and ensemble member, and from numerous Kantorei, collegium musicum, art song and oratorio performances. My musical training includes a degree in voice specializing in German Lieder (earned with the help of two Fulbrights) and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in German Studies and music history. I also founded and directed two women’s choruses and one mixed chorus (SATB) over a ten-year period from 1994 to 2005.
I think this is enough to get the ball rolling.