Women in Music: what’s going on?

For my inaugural post, I thought it best to write about something that puts me dangerously close to being labeled a misogynistic bastard. When you’re a straight, white male, you can never be too careful when writing opinions about… well, anybody who’s not a straight, white male. C’est la vie.

But here we are, talking about women in music. What are they good for? We’ve had plenty of (purportedly) straight, white males to fill the roles of the musicians, and conductors, and composers, and critics, and choreographers, and patrons…

It almost seems that half of the human species has been ignored for the last 8 or 9 centuries of musical history. Women’s claim to fame in music is Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann (who never would have become a household name, talent notwithstanding, if her husband hadn’t provided the stepping stool for her to climb out of the sexist tar pit), and Nadia Boulanger, who has only been dead just long enough for the world to decide whether or not she actually deserved to be famous. It’s looking good, but probably because she taught Aaron Copland and Daniel Barenboim… two straight, white males. (Okay, yes, Copland was gay, but he kept it a secret. Same thing, societally speaking.)

Okay, so we’re not at a great place where women are concerned in music. After studying (more or less) with Abbie Conant in Germany, this was really brought to my attention. Read this article detailing her struggle to be the only female brass player in the Munich Philharmonic. Even if you don’t think you have time, read it.

It’s obvious that we need to do an about-face on our opinion of women in orchestras and the musical world at large. It’s our duty as a forward-looking human race. It’s what our conscience tells us to do. It’s what’s right.

But I’m going to be selfish for a bit.

I want women to become a greater part of the creative musical world because they’ve got stuff we’ve never heard or seen. I want to see and hear that stuff!

Women think differently than men. Our brains function differently, and often arrive and different conclusions from the same information. This is backed up by scientific studies all over the place. It’s good news, too! It’s why we need more women planning our governments, making decisions and guiding our future: more viewpoints considered means more progress made.

And what is more personal than the act of making music? Where do you find the purest distillation of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences outside of their expression through music? Because I’m a musician, I’m just going to go ahead and answer these questions with “nothing” and “nowhere.” I feel as if the music I write is intensely, deeply “me,” and the decisions I make when performing music come from a personal place. It’s part of what makes music so awesome!

Having studied with some female composers (rare though they may be), and listened to the music of others, I can safely say that women’s music is different than men’s. I don’t know why, I can’t explain quantitatively how, but the truth is there. Female performers perform differently, female conductors conduct differently, and female composers absolutely write differently.

Again, being selfish, this is why I’m excited for the future of music and the greater involvement that women are having in it, and why I work just as seriously with my female colleagues, professors and students as I would my male ones: there’s an entire half of the creative process we’ve simply overlooked for the majority of the last millennium. Don’t you want to hear what it sounds like? Aren’t you just a little bit curious?


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