My Opinion piece for The Guardian was published today.
I am really pleased to be able to document nationally the exciting energy in the industry at the moment around women composers. The article is already generating a storm of comments. Got to love a controversial topic!
Australia’s female composers are having a moment. We need to harness that energy.
“Everything I’ve ever wanted to do would’ve been easier had I been a boy. But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was.”
These fighting words come from Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990), arguably the most famous female composer in her time and one of the first Australian women to march into the male-dominated world of composition.
Back then, the costs were high: Glanville-Hicks’s colleague Margaret Sutherland was married to a psychiatrist who thought a woman wanting to compose music was a sign of mental illness, while many women had to lie about their gender in order to be published. The positions on the boards and in the institutions were held by men who also received the majority of the commissions.
Today women make up 26% of Australian composers, sound artists and improvising performers. It’s not close to gender parity but the figures do stack up well internationally – the only country to fare better is Estonia with 30%. Women make up about 20% of American and Polish composers but, for most countries, the average is a woeful 15%.
Women have also made a significant contribution to Australia’s music history, often punching above their male contemporaries. Sutherland almost single-handedly pioneered modernism in Australia music and, in 1938, Glanville-Hicks was the first person to represent Australia at the International Society of Contemporary Music. Anne Boyd smashed through the glass ceiling to become the first woman and first Australian to be appointed professor of music at the University of Sydney in 1991. Today Liza Lim, Mary Finsterer and Elena Kats-Chernin are likely to rank higher internationally than their male contemporaries.
Sadly, however, the majority of women still struggle with visibility. According to musicologist Sally Macarthur, women’s music represented only 11% of the works performed at new music concerts in 2013. In the concert halls where the more conservative orchestras reside, it is far rarer to hear a work by a female composer – dead or alive.
But a new surge of energy is bringing female composers into the spotlight. In August, hundreds of women, including myself, will gather at the Women in the Creative Arts conference in Canberra as part of a wave of industry activism – hopefully, they say, for the last time.
Read more here.