I feel bad that an upcoming minimalism conference co-directed by myself, of all people, has been criticized for its absence of attention to woman composers. I don’t quite know how to go about addressing the collective guilt of the musicological field. As I said in the comments, I don’t know why Meredith Monk, not to mention Pauline Oliveros and Elodie Lauten, get so little attention in the nascent scholarly attention paid to minimalism. Monk’s scores, when she uses them at all, don’t really circulate; I managed to coax one of her opera Atlas from her, and I occasionally teach it. Still, there are a lot of scholars less score-oriented than myself who could put together a good paper on Monk’s distinct and original performance practice. (In Atlas, the instrumental accompaniments and some vocal lines are written out, but much of the vocal writing, including choral material, is developed in rehearsal, depending on the attributes of the singers available. Meredith prefers to teach her parts vocally, without the dehumanization of paper mediation.) Talking about the subject, composer Bernadette Speach once told me that in New York women composers come to men composers’ concerts, but that men rarely showed up to hear women; I started taking count, and found she had pretty much hit the nail on the head.
As a critic and musicologist, I’ve done just about everything I could think of to champion women composers. While at the Voice, I sometimes would try to see how many consecutive weekly columns I could write about women; four was as far as I once got before encountering a week with no appropriate woman composer concert. As a master artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, I got to pick my own associate composers, and chose four men and four women. When I took over the “American Composer” column at Chamber Music magazine, I was given a list of 70 previous subjects of columns by my predecessors: to my horror, 67 were men, only three women. Since then I have profiled 50 composers, 25 of them women, more than octupling their presence in the magazine. Dozens of women are given paragraphs or sections in my American Music in the 20th Century. (I heard that when Claude Palisca was criticized for having no women in his History of Western Music, he asked, “Are there any?”) Yet I notice that when women composers are omitted from an event, complaints are inevitable; when women are abundantly included, compliments or any other notice are almost unheard of. People shouldn’t expect compliments for doing what they ought to do anyway, and I don’t, but perhaps an attempt to redress the situation might be more effective if it included carrots as well as sticks.
UPDATE: For further elaboration of “a carrot,” read Comment #2.Related