A while ago, I read a blog post by Justine Wallis about feminism, and the fact that feminists are a dying breed. It’s an interesting statement – females and males aren’t yet considered completely equal in society (although, of course, the situation is a lot better than it used to be), and yet the issue is no longer pursued as vocally as it once was. In my mind, it is perfectly acceptable for women to want to have successful, interesting careers, and progress along their chosen path, whilst also having a family life.
I am currently reading Sophie Fuller’s book The Pandora Guide to Women Composers, which discusses the careers of many female composers throughout history. It’s a great book to dip in and out of, and highly inspiring to see how women have created paths from themselves through composition throughout history – regardless of the fact that it was long considered an unsuitable career for females.
Although, as with most careers, these thoughts have disappeared, composition is still a male dominated world. Whilst an undergraduate, the females in the composition class were heavily outnumbered by the men. The lecturers were all male, and the pieces we studied were all written by men. These are probably all coincidences, but still. At composition seminars I was invited to, again, the number of females presenting work were minimal, and the panel was exclusively male. As a postgraduate, I’ve been lucky to be sharing my education with a brilliant group of postgrad students, where there were an equal number of women and men. Interestingly, in the accompanying undergraduate course, women were once again outnumbered – but the trend within the postgraduates looked positive. I have never had so many inspiring, positive role models in composition as within my group of postgraduate peers – both men and women. Although my teachers were male (Stephen Montague and Gregory Rose), there were female composers on faculty staff – outnumbered by the men, but when the community of composers seems to be predominantly male, it seems logical that the staff at conservatoires will also be as a consequence. However, one of the reasons I chose Trinity College of Music was because of the number of female staff in comparison to other London based music colleges, which at the time featured minimal or no female staff members.
As part of my auralisation research this year, I conducted a survey of composers currently working or studying at UK Higher Education establishments (universities or music conservatoires). The majority of respondents – 81% – were male. Why is the proportion of men to women so high? Are women less likely to desire a career in composition due to the difficulties and uncertainties?
Perhaps the number of female composers is lower due to the difficulty in female composers finding work. Women in Music have conducted an interesting Proms Survey, looking at the representation of female conductors and composers in the BBC Proms from 1989 to 2010. This year features the lowest percentage of works by living women composers in the last couple of years. The BBC Proms are recognised as the greatest British classical concert series. What hope do female composers have if this important British institution isn’t recognising the importance of supporting them through their careers..?