Usually when I post to this page, it’s to make an announcement of exciting upcoming events or projects I’m working on. While those are definitely in the works and not ready for public consumption, I came across an article yesterday that I would be foolish not to share and give my two cents on. I’m not good with words at all, but I hope you’ll journey through this article with me as it is so important to who I am and who I will become.
Early on in my undergrad, I dropped my pre-med major to pursue my passion of being a composer. Believe me, I LOVE what I do and I absolutely trust that it is the career that I am supposed to be pursuing. However, in pursuing this, I know the odds I’m up against in pursuing this kind of a professional music career are not good, and they’re even worse because I am a woman.
Now, if you groan and start throwing out terms such as “the 1970s” and “Women’s Lib” and “Title IX”, it will be painfully obvious that you didn’t actually read the article and were just looking for my biased opinions on it (here’s your chance to go back and read it). I couldn’t fabricate these statistics if I tried. While I’m not at all looking for sympathy or unwarranted support, this is the world every female composer like myself faces every single day. I know what I’m getting myself into, but the question remains: why does the world I’m getting into have to be this way?
In the article, the examples are blatantly transparent in displaying just how undervalued the work of a female composer is in the modern day music scene. The lack of programming by major symphonies and the lack of females hired in the higher education system is appalling. In that list of the top 20 music schools nationwide, which is an incredibly subjective list, I might add, the one school I was accepted to has no women on their composition staff. Several people know that a huge draw for me to attend graduate school at Roosevelt University was that both composers on staff were women. I was blessed to study under both male and female composers in my undergrad, but going into my Masters studies, I knew that I wanted lessons and guidance from composers who were not only phenomenal writers and humans but women who most likely faced many of the same issues (if not more) that I’m currently facing as an emerging female composer.
It would be irresponsible for me to not acknowledge the fact that in my undergrad, I was spoiled. I had many friends in multiple instrument areas, and I never had an issue with finding performers for my pieces. While I am so grateful for the opportunities I HAVE been given and couldn’t thank my friends and colleagues enough for performing my works, I won’t always be near an educational facility to find performers to workshop and premiere my new music. Every day, I deal with the impending fear that when I submit any piece of mine for review by people who don’t know me, the little voice in my head that says things like, “Will they think of the piece less because I’m a girl? Would it help if the name Harold was on the page instead of Heidi?” will eventually win out. Living in 2014 should have taught me to know better than that, yet the article painfully proves the real world hasn’t caught up to my ideals.
In my (albeit short) experience in the music world, I’ve discovered most musicians to be in favor of the idea of “equality in the workplace”. Your average young musician doesn’t care if their piece was written by a man or a woman as long as they’re learning something, but that leaves the responsibility to the teachers and conductors who program their lessons and performances to include music written by women and people of other ethnicities as well. Young educators and conductors seem to have little to no problem with this idea. However, convincing the generation above me that supporting and programming music by underrepresented composer groups is, in fact, an imperative part of a student’s education has proven to be more of a challenge than I would have ever imagined.
In my own personal experience:
-One masterclass host blatantly talked down to me and my work because I was the only woman who was presenting. Each of the other presenters was treated with a decent amount of respect, but when it was my turn, he actually changed his tone of voice to add more condescension when ripping my piece apart. While he could have, in fact, just been a jerk to me because of his reputation and insurmountable ego, his vitriolic words still haunt me to this day.
-I once spent weeks tailoring a piece to a conductor’s every specificity and opinion, and he wouldn’t even do a reading of it as the semester drew to a close (he claimed it was a “time” issue). Even when attention was drawn by others, including colleagues, to his complete disregard of programming music by women, he remained unchanged and didn’t return my emails until it was too late.
-On one occasion, a random stranger whom I had just met made the comment, “Oh you compose? That’s cute.” Just because I happened to write music and wear a dress, this guy decided my career choice was akin to the likes of knitting or crocheting, blurring the line between passion and time-passing hobby. I’ve never in my life heard someone go up to anyone else and say, “Oh you’re a cardiologist? That’s cute.”
Now I understand that these were isolated incidents, and I have had several of my pieces performed with no problems and great success. However, the fact that I was treated in such a negative way by these three older gentlemen, especially without any such provocation, feeds into the reality that this topic won’t go away on its own. I could talk in circles for another 30 paragraphs on how this topic won’t go away without our conscious efforts to change it, but the statistics speak for themselves.
Some of you may write me off as an angry liberal woman trying to get on her soapbox and make a political statement about gender inequality. In reality, I’m a 23-year old graduate student trying to pursue my passion, pay my bills, and make this world more beautiful than when I got here. In 1997, you all told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. Are you still willing to support that dream in 2014?