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This blog is a combination of new material and previously published archives... Mostly about singing, music, opera and the life of an artist. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, 1 September 1998

Some Thoughts on Women in Music (1998)

When I was an undergraduate, I remember being told what a hard time women were given if they chose to be anything other than instrumentalists or singers. Female conductors, except choral conductors, were a rarity and female composers in the minority. Our (female) choir director brought in a composer friend (also female)to speak to us about her new work, which we would be premiering that term. She told us a depressing tale of discrimination, from not being able to find a composition teacher who would accept a female student, to having trouble getting her works performed or published. Inspired by her struggle, I toyed with the idea of changing from a performance degree to composition. But as the 'muse' had not visited me, I realised that composition required more than political zeal, and resigned myself to being a 're-creative' artist. 

At about the same time, I joined Delta Omicron (professional music fraternity) and embraced the ideal of promoting the music of American and especially women composers. Our chapter sponsored an annual Women Composer Concert, and my final year I chaired the committee. If I couldn't be a composer, I would do everything in my power to help women who did have that gift. I also made it a point to be involved in contemporary music in my academic and professional career. My Master's recital included a set of songs by Scottish composer Thea Musgrave. After graduation I performed songs by a woman doctoral candidate in composition, auditioned for every contemporary opera I could find, and sought out composers whenever and wherever I could. I sang in premieres and workshops for male and female composers across the country. At the same time, I pursued work in 'traditional' repertoire, and I have sung my share of Mozart, Verdi and Donizetti. 

In 1998 I sang in the world premiere of a new opera called 'Patience and Sarah.' The composer, librettist, designer, author of the book the libretto is based on, and the leading singers are all women (only three roles of eight in the opera are male). The premiere took place at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York, fully staged, and cast with top-notch professionals. For a pre-premiere concert performance the conductor was also a woman, and I was struck by a moment in the final rehearsal when I saw how many women were in positions of power. The conductor consulted with the composer and the librettist while the only male authority figure, the stage director, sat quietly taking notes. I'm sure, as in all fields, that we have a long way to go, but I'm also sure that young women beginning at conservatories and universities today won't have such a hard time.

(a version of this article appeared in the Delta Omicron newsletter, 1998)