It’s International Women’s Day today, and the radio station I listen to in the mornings asked whether we still need this day. Especially in a Western European country, highly developed, with equality being part of numerous laws and regulations, and with women having such a good life.
Do we need this day?
When I was a teenager, I’d have said, no, we don’t need that day. I grew up feeling I’d be a strong, independent, capable woman, and all doors would be open for me. People would recognize my talents and skills and I would be successful.
I wanted to become a conductor. I was aware of the fact that there weren’t many female conductors at that time, but I didn’t really think about it. Then I found out that music colleges wanted students to play not only piano, but also an orchestral solo instrument like the violin, the flute, the horn, whatever, to even accept you for the auditions in the conductor classes. So I didn’t study conducting after all. I learned how to lead choirs, but it took me 18 years after graduation to actually do that. Anyway, that’s another story.
If you follow my blog regularly, you will know that I’m trying to make the names and works of female composers known. I mainly concentrate on composers who have written for the organ, but for a general overview you may want to have a look here at the archive for women and music: http://www.archiv-frau-musik.de/Komponistinnena.htm
My own list of female composers of organ music at the moment has 100 names on it, and I’m still adding names and will probably end up with 200 or even more. It’s amazing, isn’t it, there are so many of them, and still quite a lot of people aren’t aware of the fact.
A few days ago, Susanna Eastburn wrote in The Guardian: “We need more women composers – and it’s not about tokenism, it’s about talent”. You can find the article here
I shared the article on twitter. There were only two comments at this time, and these two made me say, hey, read the article, but don’t read the comments. I had a peek at the comment section half an hour later, and comments had gotten worse by the minute. People saying that if women composers were any good at all they wouldn’t need our support but would be successful anyway were still the friendliest.
Why is it that the thought of women writing music and women wanting to have a seat at the table with other composers bring out so much aggression in some people? Have we still not moved on from the times of Fanny Mendelssohn, who was told by her father that her equally talented brother Felix could become a professional composer, but she couldn’t?
Yes, you need to be good for your works to be published and played. I have no reason to play music that’s poorly written or boring. But this has nothing to do with the composer’s gender. I already wrote about how difficult it can be to make your way in the creative industries in a blog post in 2015. Back to Susanna’s article. Pétur Jónsson from Medialux Music Productions had also shared it on twitter, and we had a brief conversation about the comments. He said that if we looked at the bright side, the negative comments just showed that there still is a problem.
I’ve dabbled at composing from my teenage years on. In 1993, I wrote the music for a fairytale play at a semi-professional theatre. Looking back, I can only say that it’s better that the music only exists on some tapes and written drafts, because it wasn’t very good. But I wanted more, and in 1994, I wrote the music for a stage version of Alice’s adventures in wonderland for the same theatre. The play had quite a lot of media attention since the author was a professor at the local university, and the stage design was one by a very talented student from an art college who had brought two other students with him who did the costumes. It was a brilliant production. I not only wrote the music, but also played Amanda, the dormouse, and have very fond memories of the whole thing.
What really wound me up, though, was that the critics in the local newspaper more or less ignored my composing efforts, and simply wrote that the music had been put together nicely by one of the actresses. I was furious and even called one of the critics and made him write an amendment and mention that I had not simply chosen the music, but written all the pieces and that he had been lucky to be part of a world premiere. 😉 I must have been very persuasive on the phone, and he actually wrote a few lines which were published a few days later. I have no idea whether he just didn’t know or care who had composed the music, or whether it was so good that he thought it must’ve been published elsewhere before, but at the time, I felt that my work, my talent wasn’t valued, and of course this hurt.
Only recently I started digging in my old drafts and music sheets again and found pieces and songs that I still like and might publish one day. What I would like to see, not only on International Women’s Day, is a discussion about music and composing that doesn’t automatically assume that the composer’s gender has anything to do with the quality of the music she or he writes. I’m sure that composers of any gender are capable of writing music that’s wonderful, exciting and inspiring. And every musician, artist, composer, performer needs support to be able to show their work to a wider audience. I hope that we will achieve this eventually.
I haven’t got a clear answer to the question of the headline. But I would like to encourage you, whatever gender you have, to let your music be heard, your art be seen, your texts be read. We grow and learn and there’s so much to share, so if you feel like sharing, please do it.
Comment section is open, and I’m interested in your thoughts.