“A Score to Settle” is the title given to my feature article in Limelight Magazine’s July edition. It is six years since I published Women of Note, documenting the rise of Australian women composers. I was keen to take another look at the landscape for Australian women composers and I was both pleased and dismayed by what I discovered.
In a candid interview composer Kate Moore shared her experiences of sexual harassment and being dismissed on account of her gender. Professor Anne Boyd had similar experiences of decades ago and it seems nothing has changed for subsequent generations of women composers. This has been confirmed by recent research from Sydney University showing women are disproportionately under-represented in Australian music across all genres.
However there are exciting initiatives are being implemented all around the nation to combat discrimination and support women composers. Many arts organisations have instituted gender parity policies, requiring 50/50 representation across their repertoire and performers. The Sydney Conservatorium’s Composing Women program (launched in 2016 by Matthew Hindson) aims to put in place systemic reform around gender inequality and stem the high attrition rates from women studying music who don’t continue into the profession.
The goal of greater gender diversity has inspired the Summers Night project, named after Anne Summers’ Women’s Manifesto and launched this year by Tura New Music, Soundstream and Monash University. Olivia Davies, Rachel Bruerville and Carmen Chan Schoenborn are being mentored by Rebecca Erin Smith, Becky Llewellyn and Cat Hope. This program is being supported by Tura’s Women’s Giving Circle, a recent initiative from women interested in championing women artists. The Summers Night project will kick off with performances of the new works in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne this month by Decibel and Soundstream ensembles. I will be interviewing Cat Hope and Olivia Davies at the Perth Concert on July 2nd.
The Melbourne concert will coincide with Monash University’s Gender Diversity in Music Making Conference, directed by Cat Hope, Head of Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. The conference aims to bring to light the music of composers and performers who identify as female or non-binary with the goal of shaping a future where their contributions are represented in everyday music life.
It’s exciting to see the activity happening around the nation to rectify what is now being recognised as a national issue. But there are also glaring absences, the most notable being the major performing arts companies. According to Ian Whitney’s survey of Australian content in 2018 only 20% of the Australian music being performed by the major performing arts companies (the orchestras and opera houses) will be works by women. Let’s not forget that these companies (the state orchestras and opera houses) take the largest slice of the pie when it comes to funding. In 2016-17 they received 62% of the Australia Council’s funding.
It is an agonisingly slow process but Boyd says we are in the process of catching up.
“Women composers past and present are beginning to be heard,” she told me. “And people are going to fall in love because the music is just wonderful.”
Read the full version of my feature article on women composers in the July edition of Limelight Magazine.
Come and fall in love with music by women composers:
- Elena Kats-Chernin’s new work A Knock One Night will be premiered by the ACO on June 27th at the Perth Concert Hall.
- Pianist Gabriella Smart will perform Cat Hope’s Kaps Freed for piano and electronics on June 29th.
- The Summers Night concert is July 2nd at the Subiaco Arts Centre featuring new music by Olivia Davies, Rachel Bruerville and Carmen Chan Schoenborn. Join me for the pre-concert interview and meet the composers involved.
- WASO will perform Masquerade by English/American composer Anna Clyne on July 12-14th . If you haven’t heard of this stunning English/American composer come to my pre-concert talk to find out more!
- Read more on Australian women composers in my book Women of Note (Fremantle Press 2012).