|Amy Beach, an actual woman composer of the 19th century!|
It began with musicologist Kendra Leonard asking a music history account about their OTDs ("On This Date"):
Hey @musihist, what happened OTD in music history that isn't about a man? How about tomorrow? And the day after that?— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 15, 2017
Follow us and find out.— MusicandHistory (@musihist) December 15, 2017
Since Dec 1, you've posted more than 150 tweets. Only two are about women. That's a terrible ratio. https://t.co/8Uq1C94YtP— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
And THERE is the myth! Dr. Leonard summoned me:We can't change the fact that until very recently, women in western music were discouraged from pursuing composition. But we try to make known those who did, and are, creating great works.— MusicandHistory (@musihist) December 18, 2017
Note: She used my personal Twitter handle (@LindaHypen) instead of the one I use only for this blog (@MusHistCliches). Feel free to follow this account for musicological discussions like this one, but be aware that I also tweet about my cancer, my son, and my cat..@LindaHyphen want to take on the fallacious argument here that this site/account can't post equally about women because of biased historiography? https://t.co/kfbl7osESZ— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
Like many myths, it is based on a bit of truth: Women have historically been discouraged from composing. (Unfortunately, this continues today, for reasons that will be explained by someone else later in this post.) I've even gotten into a different Twitter discussion about this, with Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel as the prime example.
Just as women in general have been encouraged to focus on domestic matters and not work outside the home, they were discouraged from seeking advanced training in composition because it would distract from their household responsibilities. As Abraham Mendelssohn told his daughter Fanny, "for you [music] can and must only be an ornament, never the basis of your being and doing."
So, what makes this a myth?
Before I answered, musicologist Marian Wilson Kimber jumped in with source-based knowledge:
Between the 1920s and 1940s (quite a while back), the Knoxville, Tennessee, branch of the National League of American Pen women did annual concerts of music by member composers. 70, yes, 70 women got their music performed.— Marian Wilson Kimber (@MWilsonKimber) December 19, 2017
If music by 70 women was heard in Tennessee, sort of makes you wonder about the rest of the country, huh? Not to mention Europe. . .— Marian Wilson Kimber (@MWilsonKimber) December 19, 2017
Dr. Wilson Kimber is an expert on women composers in the 19th century (she prompted the post on Clara Schumann last year), so I'm grateful she could bring solid evidence to the discussion!I can't count the hundred year old programs I have seen with pieces by women on them. "Until very recently," my ass.— Marian Wilson Kimber (@MWilsonKimber) December 19, 2017
My contribution more directly explained why the initial statement is a myth:
I don't think I can refute this as thoroughly or elegantly as @MWilsonKimber already has, but I'll add my take anyway:— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
Yes, women have historically been discouraged from pursuing composition, something I've argued on Twitter...https://t.co/KMquYIDzkL
But "discouraged" is not the same as "completely prevented." Women have been composing all along, as @MWilsonKimber's research indicates. Other forces have suppressed our knowledge of the women in history: a narrow focus on the overwhelmingly male cannon (dvlp'd in the 19th c)...— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
...and the PERPETUATION and narrowing of that cannon by music appreciation classes and radio station. Yes, historical women are harder to find than men, but not at the ratio of 1:75! It's also easier to find them now than ever, thanks to research and info sharing.— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
I need to clarify a few things in this post: The canon is perpetuated by more than what I've mentioned. PLENTY of books about classical music contribute to this narrowing, as have risk-averse concert programmers. And now we have websites that reinforce the idea of Great Masters.— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
BUT we also have websites dedicated to canon-busting, bolstered by current musicological research, AND we have the opportunity to discuss the issues with more people than ever!— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
Rob Deemer clarified my post with updated information:To that end, @musihist, you have an opportunity to bring exposure to these historical women composers, and others have already done the hard part for you! Check out @robdeemer's database of 2775 women:https://t.co/t8MfhojVIP— Linda Shaver-Gleason (@LindaHyphen) December 19, 2017
The conversation spread out in many directions! I've included as many pertinent Tweets as I could find, but I may have to update this to include more as I become aware of them. I also omitted Tweets that got too personal or otherwise didn't seem to move the conversation forward.(We're already up to 2864 and rising every day!)— Rob Deemer (@robdeemer) December 19, 2017
This is terrific. With respect to my conversation yesterday with @K_Leonard_PhD and @KeepngComposure (who blocked me), the easy availability of this resource makes it inexcusable not to have at *least* one female composer every day. Amazing work.— Jeff Gordon (@urbanstrata) December 19, 2017
One challenge here is the vastness of the database. I'd love a resource that makes suggestions like: "If you like ABC male composer, try XYZ female composer." I'll be exploring the data anyway, but points of reference would be super helpful.— Jeff Gordon (@urbanstrata) December 19, 2017
Women are still discouraged from pursuing composition.— Erin Marie Hoerchler (@KeepngComposure) December 18, 2017
Yes, and when sites like @musihist insist on citing male composers 99% of the time, it perpetuates the idea that women can't be composers.— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
How does it perpetuate the idea that women can't be composers?— Jeff Gordon (@urbanstrata) December 19, 2017
Because when students only see men’s names on their music and in history books, they learn that composers are men.— Erin Marie Hoerchler (@KeepngComposure) December 19, 2017
Then they grow up to be teachers who only teach music by men, and the cycle continues.
Each generation learns that women don’t or can’t contribute.
I absolutely believe women's contributions to music should be elevated and celebrated, and women today should be encouraged into the field. But I'm not sure what you just described is within the control of @musihist's OTD tweets...— Jeff Gordon (@urbanstrata) December 19, 2017
Some of the women who follow OTD don’t feel elevated or celebrated by the 99% male content.— Erin Marie Hoerchler (@KeepngComposure) December 19, 2017
These problems are solved by everyone making an effort and perpetuated by everyone avoiding responsibility.
So why not start @womenmusihist and make it happen?— Jeff Gordon (@urbanstrata) December 19, 2017
Because it shouldn't have to be segregated.— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 19, 2017
Weird how women have been “on the cusp of equality” in music for like 100 years.— Erin Marie Hoerchler (@KeepngComposure) December 18, 2017
*whispers*— Alan Theisen (@AlanTheisen) December 19, 2017
The canon is a method of gatekeeping for everyone involved.
A 365 day OTD feature on women who were discouraged from becoming composers sounds like an excellent idea to me. Nannerl Mozart’s wedding day on Aug. 23 comes to mind for a start. That leave 364 days that I am sure can easily be filled.— Cristin O'Keeffe (@Aspasia_1) December 18, 2017
@musihis I bet that could be done easily without referring to women in music's personal lives even--their professional accomplishments (concerts, premieres, recordings, etc) could fill an entire calendar many times over!— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
In fact, my thought in pointing to Nannerl Mozart was based on her established professional music accomplishments in concerts plus the fact she was a composer. So, yes, indeed!— Cristin O'Keeffe (@Aspasia_1) December 18, 2017
Oh, I get it--her wedding date ended her composition career. :( Yeah, we could totally fill up years' worth of OTDs on women composers getting shut down. I could begin w/all of the women Nadia Boulanger told should stop composing, get married, & pop out some new *male* prodigies.— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
Exactly. We need to celebrate the women who did prevail & are prevailing as composers. But I am also calling @musihist’s bluff that the fact women have been (and thanks to attitudes like theirs, continue to be) discouraged from composition has no historic significance.— Cristin O'Keeffe (@Aspasia_1) December 18, 2017
#Musicology friends, if any of you send students to this source, check out their perpetuation of calling attention to male composers in vast numbers over women & non-binary people. https://t.co/kfbl7osESZ— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 18, 2017
argh!! also why is "music history" here only = composition?— Musicology Duck 🎶🦆 (@MusicologyDuck) December 19, 2017
Yesterday's convo centered around that, but also touched on performance. Obv, representation in non-classical music (& I'm still searching for good alt to "classical") is an issue too, but wasn't part of original issue w/ @musihist's sexism.— (((Kendra Leonard))) (@K_Leonard_PhD) December 19, 2017
So ends Part 1! But the conversation kept going, particularly once Emily E. Hogstad shared her thoughts. (Look for Part 2 to be posted tomorrow!) [UPDATE: Here's Part 2!]
Thank you to everyone who joined this conversation and made it as enriching as it turned out to be!