A Quiet Saturday Afternoon

Quiet time.  Time to think, reflect – and blog.  That’s something that’s been missing for a while.

Things at the radio station are going very well.  Just like any new endeavor, it’s taken a bit of time to settle into a routine.  Not to mention, as I get more comfortable (and folks around the office get to know me better), my responsibilities are expanding.

It’s been nearly a year since I stepped into the mid-day hosting spot on WCNY.  I’m finally comfortable enough to really call it my own now.  I’ve made a few changes, including a weekly hour of music “Fresh From the Wrapper,” where I feature works from CDs that we’ve just received in the station.  These are the newest classical music releases, some of which aren’t available for sale just yet, and I get to share them with our listeners.

Putting together a 2-hour Concert Hall every other week has been fun as well.  Morning host Bruce Paulsen and I divvy up the Concert Hall duties, hosting on alternating weeks.  It’s a great chance to present music from various venues and organizations here in Central New York, and wow, do we have some incredible talent cross our threshold!

I’m adding another responsibility at the station as well – a new program, which we hope to make available for syndication, called Feminine Fusion.  It features music created, performed, and inspired by women throughout history and into the present day.  Look for the first episode to air on WCNY in September.  It’s titled, “From Parlor … to Prize Winners” and features music composed by Clara Schumann, Libby Larsen, and more.  I’ll be providing a weekly blog update with program notes for each episode, so be sure to listen in if something piques your interest!

If you’re worried that the composition side of my world is being neglected, have no fear!  I wrote a very short work at the request of the Society for New Music based on the photography of Carrie Mae Weems.  The piece is called “Woman A/Part,” and it was premiered at the benefit gala this Spring.  There will be a repeat performance this summer at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival as well, and I can’t wait to hear it live.

I’m also taking a vacation from the radio station next week to put the final touches on my trombone concerto for Haim Avitsur.  My good friend Ovidiu Marinescu will be conducting the work (in Moscow in January – brrr!), and the CD will be coming out mid-2017.  I’m very excited about the piece, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

And, in true “glutton for punishment” style, I’ve picked up two new instruments for the summer.  I’m taking banjo lessons from the talented Nick Piccininni (all while enduring an endless array of banjo jokes from my friend, Bill Knowlton).  I’ve also bought an instrument I’ve wanted for some time now – a contrabass flute!  This particular flute was handmade by Jelle Hogenhuis, and I am having an absolute blast with it!  It arrived just after the CNY Flute Choir season ended, and I’m excited for the fall rehearsals to start up again.  I’ve also started working on a new flute choir piece that (fingers crossed) we can premiere next Spring.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well.

If you’ve read this far, well, thanks!  Now that we’re caught up again, I promise you’ll be getting more regular updates.  And if you have ideas or requests for my regular programming or the new Feminine Fusion show on Classic FM, drop me a note and let me know!

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My New Reality Show

I’ve often thought of pitching a reality show that follows a composer around in their day-to-day activities.  I mean a real reality show, with the person in the career they had long before the reality show started.  Something you know they’ll still be doing long after it ends.

Then I realize what the show would really be.  A lot of this…image

interspersed with a bit of that…image

not to mention…image

Of course, you’d also see some of this…image

followed by…image

Yeah.  The day-to-day reality of composing is not all that exciting to watch.  Although, truth be told, day-to-day life for most of us is pretty low key.

Still, there are exciting moments.  And some very busy weeks!  Take these last two weeks, for example.  I’ve been working with the 8th grade keyboard classes at Ed Smith School almost every day as part of a composition residency there.  This is an opportunity for these kids to help create a new piece for premiere in May.  Add to that a performance for a local charity organization (that ultimately led to a severe case of laryngitis for me), one at a semi-annual flute showcase, nine rehearsals, and one more performance (two sets) at another local elementary school just this morning.

And in between, of course, more of this…image

There are definitely a few more weeks of that coming up.  And then another whirlwind of activity in May!

But even without the whirlwinds, I think this show could really sell!  Just look at this program.

 

Funding New Music

This Kickstarter campaign for my Three Songs recording and performance has me thinking a LOT about money recently.  (Surprised?  Didn’t think so.)  As of this post, I have 23 backers, and I truly can’t thank them enough for showing their support and belief in this project.

I’ve also had LOTS of folks sharing, and talking, and giving me moral support.  Which is appreciated.  But what I need is backers.

If every backer pledged $25 – that’s another 168 backers.

With 6 days to go.

That’s a pretty big climb.

I’m not discouraged.  I have faith that people really do want to hear new classical music, live and recorded.  And I’m trying every way I can think of to spread the word.  (Short of hiring a skywriter – if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be asking you to pitch in, would I?)

It has forced me to think more creatively, though.  Not only about this CD project, but about marketing myself in general.  Because composers (like so many artists) are earning less and less through their music.  According to this article, “composers are producing more for less money, while also having to find other means of generating a significant income.”

I’ve been brainstorming, trying to come up with creative ways to combat that.  And you’ll see more things here, and on my website and Facebook pages, as I work on getting more music out there.

But for now – and the rest of this week – I’ll be focusing on my CD release.  And asking you to help.

Rethinking the “Woman Composer” Label

Early last year, I wrote about being a “woman composer,” and what that meant to me.  I recognize that part of my viewpoint stems from my upbringing.  I’m the only girl in a family of 5 kids, and the expectations for me were on a par with the expectations for my brothers.  It was the value of my work that mattered, not my gender.

This week, I’ve come across two blog entries that are making me revisit this idea.  Kristin Kuster brings us “Taking Off My Pants,” and Amy Beth Kirsten declares that “The ‘Woman Composer’ is Dead.”  I strongly suggest you read both of them, so you can get a clear understanding of the viewpoint of each of these authors.

I’ve tended to shy away from “women-only” or “women-oriented” events and competitions.  As Ms. Kirsten points out, music should be chosen for its excellence, not the gender of the composer (or performer).  I want to be evaluated on a level playing field, and choosing to segregate myself by my gender seems counter-intuitive.

Reading her article further, I applaud her list of composers who “killed” the “woman composer.”  It is an impressive list (and notice how often Jennifer Higdon’s name appears).  Then I looked at a list of Pulitzer-winning composers over the years, and realized that, to my eye at least, women are still quite underrepresented.

On the hand, as Ms. Kuster says in her article, “Any composer’s success — no matter how we each define it — is never, not ever, all about the music.”  So many variables factor into one’s success.  For one, this is a community built on who you know – and who knows you.  In my experience, there are still plenty of people around – men and women – who carry a real gender bias in their dealings with all composers.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is a difference between the utopian view of what should be, and the reality of the world in which we live.

Of course we should be judging, choosing, and programming music based on the quality of the music alone.  In reality, those doing the programming tend to go to a familiar composer’s works first.  It takes a significant investment of time and money – both of which tend to be in short supply – to gather a multitude of unfamiliar works from lesser known (or unknown) composers, then read through each and every one in the hopes of finding an undiscovered diamond.

Another obstacle – and one that is completely gender-neutral, by the way – is access.  Composers have more control over their works by self-publishing, but publicity and distribution of new works becomes more fragmented.  Performers and artistic directors have a lot more places to look for new works, assuming they have more time to search.  Not to mention the uneven quality of the scores and recordings that are available – if you can find them.  Like it or not, it’s still easier to call the big publishing houses and say “what’s new?” and relegate both quality and quality control to them.

Personally, I want my work to be valued on its own merits.  But if I can’t get it heard, you’ll never know if you like it.  What these two articles have made me acknowledge is that, participating in women-centric musical events can give me access to distribution and recordings that I might not otherwise have.  And I’m OK with that now.

We have most certainly made great strides in the last 40 years, as Ms. Kirsten points out.  Frankly, though, that’s very small in proportion to the centuries of Western music composition.  We’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way left to go.

What’s it like to be a Woman Composer?

That question has been rumbling around the back of my mind for a bit.  And I don’t like it.  It’s similar to a conversation I once had with Michael Torke about his synesthesia, and comparing it to my husband’s color-blindness.  You can’t tell anyone what it’s “like” to have these conditions, because you’ve never experienced life without them.  By the same token, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be a “woman composer” because I have no other point of reference.  I’ve never been a “man composer.”

Which brings up an interesting point.  Why even make a distinction between “composers” and “women composers?”  And if we are going to use the term “women composers,” shouldn’t we also be referencing “men composers?”  Studies have been done that show the listening audience is often influenced by gender stereotypes, for better or worse.  Take this study using a performance from conductor Marin Alsop, for instance.

Influencing an audience’s expectations is not limited to gender stereotypes, of course.  Take this example referenced by the Composer’s Datebook:  February 4, 1837 – “Franz Liszt performs a chamber recital in Paris, featuring the then-unfamiliar Piano Trios of Beethoven; At the last minute, the performers decided to reverse the printed order of the program, performing on the first half of the concert a trio by Pixis, and a Beethoven trio on the second half; The audience (and critics) warmly applaud the Pixis, mistakenly thinking it was the Beethoven work, and react coolly to the Beethoven, assuming it was by Pixis; Among the critics, only [Hector] Berlioz notices the program switch.”  Ahh, it must be good, if it’s Beethoven – even if it really isn’t Beethoven.

I think the real root of “what’s it like” is actually a different question.  And that is, “do you experience bias (or discrimination) as a ‘woman composer’?”  And the answer to that lies directly in the question itself.  If you are making the distinction between “woman composer” and “composer,” you have established a bias in the asking.  Once the reference becomes – naturally and unthinkingly – simply “composer,” then the question of bias becomes moot.

As for gender discrimination, if I step back and look very critically, I realize I have experienced some instances of discrimination.  But I have discovered an interesting phenomenon.  First of all, if I don’t go looking for it, I generally don’t find it.  And if the discrimination is there, when I ignore it (either by choice or just naïveté) and just do what I do to the best of my abilities, it generally falls by the wayside.  It’s rather like an argument – it takes two to keep it going.  I choose not to feed into the “discrimination” monster, and eventually I am evaluated on my own merits, gender notwithstanding.

So, in response to the question, “what’s it like to be a woman composer?” I say to you, ask again when you want to know what it’s like to be (just) a composer.