More recently I’ve been thinking about being a composer, as a female, and the consequences that has had on myself and my work. The world of music composition now has a number of established female composers, with more rising voices on their way to join them. From this, it would be quite easy to say that the world of music composition could now enjoy gender equality; however, I would have to challenge that. Although we may now live in a world that accepts women as composers, I still feel there are necessary steps to break down the gender constructs which hinder how we appreciate the work of female composers, and the steps involved in women becoming composers. Of course, some of my thoughts are taken from my own experience of being a female composer, but I am aware that others have experienced similar stories.
Drawing from my own experience, I have realised the significance of sharing the stories and works of female composers with younger musicians. When I was 18, I attended a song-writing course at Dartington International Summer School which was led by Betsy Jolas and Helen Grime, a composer featured in the British Music Collection (http://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/composer/helen-grime). The course was a really positive experience for me in many ways, and it also happened to be my “lightbulb moment”. For the first time in my music education, not only were female composers being mentioned they were actually teaching me. When Betsy Jolas told me how she had woken up at 4am every day so that she could continue to compose alongside her responsibilities as a mother, my thinking completely changed. Up until this moment I had been unsure of committing myself to being a composer but both Betsy and Helen had shown me that being a woman did not have to prevent me from doing something I loved; I could become a composer. It is clear to me that these composers were a great inspiration to me in this time, and I have realised that I continue to be inspired. Earlier this year, I was pleased to be able to attend the premiere of Helen’s “Concerto for Clarinet and Trumpet” by the Hallé Orchestra, another moment which was important for my confidence and ambition as a composer.
These moments of inspiration have been crucial to my own development and it illustrates that despite years of music education I was unaware that centuries of female music remained, and continue to be, truly listened to and accepted. Whilst growing up, it was implied that women of the past were unable to compose due to their duties of being wives and mothers, other than a few exceptions which had been published under a family member’s name or an alter ego. However, there are thousands of female composers that show this is not the case and celebrating their work in our own society would have a hugely beneficial effect on the world of contemporary composition. Although I am very glad to have had my “lightbulb moment”, I hope that there will come a time when such occasions are no longer necessary. I would like to see a world in which female musicians can hear about female music as much as male music, so that gender no longer remains a point of difference. If we can share and celebrate the achievements of past female composers we can build a foundation for new composers to walk onto where they are accepted as individuals and not just “women”.