Female Composers: Vastly under-represented

Today’s post is from Tara Meddaugh, playwright extraordinaire whose work is sought by tens of thousands of actors and directors every month, and who is also the voice behind the band Girl Crusade. Welcome, Tara! We all know there are fields of work where the 50% of the population known as “female” are under-represented versus their male counterparts. We tend to think of fields such as technology and sales, but this gap can be found in the arts, as well.  In particular, female composers are greatly under-represented. The top 20 music schools only have 18% of their Composition faculty filled by women for the 2015-2016 year (and hey, this is up 3% from last year. Small victories, right?). Only 11% of composers who have premiered their work in the last 20 years have been female, and the Performing Rights Society of Composers, songwriters and music publishers is only made up of 14% women.
So why this disparity? Well, like many fields, it’s not quite clear. But it is clear that girls, like in the other male-dominated fields, tend to drop off in this area as they get older. Girls and boys may start with equal interest in music and composition, but by the time students reach college level, the field has very few female participants.  One obvious chicken-and-egg answer is that there are not many female role models in Composition to look up to, so girls tend not to see it as a viable career path.  Of course, you also have another side. Damian Thompson writes “There’s a good reason why there are no great female composers,” and while I was not able to read the whole article without subscribing to The Spectator, it appears his stance is this: It’s extremely rare to be a great composer for men or women. There were more male composers than female composers throughout history (presumably because there were more males in most careers throughout history in most developed countries). There is a greater chance of finding a great male composer when you have thousands to choose from. If you only have a hundred (say) female composers to choose from, most likely you’re not going to find a great one. Statistics just don’t go that way. So there are not many great female composers because there were simply not enough female composers to pull from (he also goes on to criticize many known female composers, not because they are particularly bad, but because they are really not particularly good. But just female, so therefore, praised, because, hey, at least here were some women composers).  If you subscribe to The Spectator and read the whole article, please, correct me if I’m wrong, or elaborate further.
Still, if that is Thompson’s opinion, it still stands to reason that if you allow for more female composers, you allow for the chance to find that select few of actually great composers.
Whatever the reason for this disparity, there are many organizations who see these statistics and are offering ways to draw in more female composers. After all, females make up half of our world, and without that voice in music, we are missing out.  The PRS for Music Foundation in the UK initiated 28 new projects supporting women creators of music over the past few years. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and OPERA America have all offered programs to seek and encourage more female composers. And currently, on September 24, Q2 Music will offer its 2nd year of their “24 on the 24th series with a 24-hour marathon stream celebrating the ceiling-shattering achievements of female composers in the 20th and 21st centuries.” So if you’re curious about what female composers are actually putting out there, check out their station/site on the 24th this month.  And who knows. Maybe if we allow for more female composers to hone their craft, we will find a few more of those very select (male or female) great composers out there.
Share your thoughts! Are you a female composer who has succeeded in this male-dominated field? What tips or advice do you have for others who are starting out? Do you think there are particular hurdles as a female composer, or is the field more even than the statistics lead us to believe? What is our responsibility (if any), as music lovers and preservers, toward encouraging the under-represented female composer?  If you’re a male composer, what has your experience been working with female composers?  ]]>







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *