Response to “A suggestion for Composer of the Week – some women” on Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s blog, The Rambler

Dear Tim et al,

I’m very glad to see this post. In response to those leaving comments with names of female composers – I must add that this is something of a futile exercise. There are not only four or five names missing. There are of course thousands of female composers. For your reference, a wonderful resource is this article, which (if you include the comment thread) lists hundreds of names and does begin to scratch the surface:

The lack of women featured in BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week is only one part of an enormous problem. The evidence builds up each day – the economy of contemporary music functions in colonial, classist, racist, and sexist ways – often. Usually. I see it in every corner and it makes me want to scream, or at very least to shout a rallying cry:

my challenge to you

How is it possible in this day and age that each of us does not respond with a rallying cry *each and every time* our cultural milieu displays its idiocy in these areas? How is it possible for any of us (male / female / transgender / black / white / red / rich / poor) to walk into the usual room full of only white guys at a conference, the first words out of our mouths anything but, “WOAH, GEEZ, WHAT’S GOING ON IN HERE?” To this day, in the hundreds of appropriate situations I’ve seen for this comment, I’ve still never heard anyone say it once – and that’s just absurd. Go ahead, try it next time. Let me know how it goes.

My personal response goes something like this: the defining characteristic of “art music” is not that it is the most creative or most experimental music in our culture – but rather, that term (“art music”) indicates a genre whose boundaries are defined (almost exclusively) by colonialist and classist notions. I’m sorry to say it, the evidence is just there, we all know it.

So, what do we do about it? Yes, I allow myself to eat up the beauty that comes from that tradition (as I eat up all sorts of other musics as well) – but I also allow myself to reject the nonsense that comes with the social economy of this scene. And, as a white middle-class woman, I have to check my own privilege and continue to educate myself each day. Little by little, this education is changing my art as well as the way I treat my colleagues, and is generally reducing my ability to stomach bullshit. I have a long way to go in all these areas – I challenge and invite you all to come along with me.

Never underestimate

This problem is so huge that to leave a comment giving five women’s names as missing from the BBC’s program – or (sorry Tim) to make a listening list on International Women’s Day with essentially the same 15 female composers each year (have a listen around, there are so many more possibilities, virtually binders of them) – these things help I suppose, but in such a small way as to belittle or insult the issue. Please don’t get me wrong: I very much appreciate the effort – but it’s just time for some real creativity in attacking this problem.

Just about every young woman composer looks at just about every list of composers and every programme and every album and is told that this field is not for her. And don’t tell me that the 20% you see is enough. Or that you don’t know what to do about. This is 2013. This whole genre at the moment is worthy of such ridicule that I would leave the entire practice – that is, if it weren’t such an interesting challenge to try to change it. Come on folks, who’s with me?