Closing the Music Gender Gap

Written By

Megan Ihnen

Representation of gender minorities is necessary to achieving a field that fully reflects our values at New Music USA. Our organization is serious about our commitment to gender equity in all aspects of our work. We aim to empower underrepresented genders, who may have experienced barriers in new music.

We do not only include cis women in our work for equality; we seek to uplift work and projects by agender, trans, and non-binary creators and artists. Inclusivity and intersectionality are vital to this work, and we take special care to amplify the works and voices of women of color. As we foster ongoing momentum toward equality, we seek to provide tailored support, inspiration, and networking opportunities to individuals who deserve as much access to careers in music as those who’ve historically occupied more space. If you would like to be in conversation with us around gender equity in new music, we hope you’ll reach out to us.

Read on for projects that have been funded by New Music USA that aim to amplify the voices of underrepresented gender identities.

Composer festivals and training

In the last decade only 7 girls have made Texas All-State jazz band. That’s less than 2% of all participating members. There have been zero females in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra since its inception over 30 years ago, and let’s face it, aren’t we tired of hearing about how bad gender demographics are everywhere?? — Amanda Ekery

2020 Women Composers Festival
A festival of new operas and staged vocal works by living female composers. The festival includes the works of Caroline Shaw, Emily Lau, Louise Thalma, and others in addition to the performances of works by Kate Soper, Jessica Krash, Gabriela Ortiz, and Lori Laitman.

Young Women Composers Camp (YWCC)
The Young Women Composers Camp aims to amplify the voices of young female-identifying and non-binary composers, to allow them access to a high level of musical training, and to work towards a more equitable and diverse composition field. Approximately 20 students will engage with college-level coursework and participate in master classes with guest composers Gabriela Lena Frank and Angélica Negrón. 

El Paso Jazz Girls 2020
Amanda Ekery created El Paso Jazz Girls in 2018 to make a direct, practical intervention for gender equality in her hometown’s jazz community. El Paso Jazz Girls is a cost-free program taught by professional female musicians for female identifying students to learn about jazz, meet each other and play together, and create a support system.

Black feminism through music

Ain’t I a Woman
An exploration of Black feminism through music, visual art, spoken word and history. True to Castle of our Skins’s mission, the “Ain’t I a Woman” project will promote the works of Black composers from across the diaspora. The program will showcase the chamber music of Black female composers – focusing largely on the rich world of art songs – and will include music by famed composers such as Margaret Bonds as well as a world premiere commission by NYC based composer Jessica Mays.

Mind the Gap
This particular work would chronicle the life of the first female African-American self-made millionaire in America, Madam C.J. Walker, through a convergence of music, poetry, and literature. PUBLIQuartet will work directly in collaboration with Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, to create a unique and unforgettable performance experience.

Songs of Protest (Vân-Ánh Võ)
AuCo will organize workshops to introduce the production to communities and to initiate dialogue about social injustices and gender inequality.

“Songs of Protest” is a natural work progression to extend my focus in composing music that addresses social issues and elevates voices of immigrants. It is my way of offering a voice to the voiceless and positioning forward marches for women. We all deserve to feel empowered.  We all deserve to feel valued.  We all deserve to have the potentials and equal opportunities to reach that glass ceiling and shatter it. — Vân-Ánh Võ

The Resistance Project (Celebrating African Diasporic Women’s Activism through Music and Dance)
The research goal is to create a solo performance work highlighting and investigating representation of Black women and resistance during seminal moments in American history from the Middle Passage to the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements—doing so from their perspective as Black men; to further understand Africanist aesthetics as they relate to music, dance, gender, and aging bodies. Having affirming, possibly challenging discussions on race, gender, and intersectionality about Black women is important to society as a whole.

Transgender, gender non-conforming, queer and allied projects

The Lost Art of Dreaming
The Lost Art of Dreaming will investigate what happens when trans communities are invited to disrupt long-entrenched fatalistic American constructs that deny transgender communities the space to dream. Anomie’s music will carve out poignant, complex emotional journeys as Sean invites communities to think expansively, fantastically, and optimistically to imagine transgender and queer futures.

TENDER (n): a person who takes charge
TENDER (n) is a site-specific, off the ground dance that celebrates the outcasts who have defied convention In San Francisco’s Tenderloin- the city’s most vulnerable neighborhood- in the last 100 years. For months, the project becomes part of the neighborhood’s landscape, infusing the street culture with original music, dance, and acrobatic spectacle. Each section of the dance contains its own community engagement process including THE QUEEN’s WAVE: Trans Activism of the 1960s.

Embedded Environments
My [Sarah Hennies] work is also fundamentally tied to queer/trans identity and explores the emerging relationship between queerness and experimental sound studies. In his article, “All Sound Is Queer” Drew Daniel claims that “sound is queer” due to the fact that the ears are the only sense-receiver that cannot be closed. Our ears are “open” and “promiscuous” to all sound, not just music.

Women creative teams

A creative team of black women composers and theater artists reimagines Scott Joplin’s visionary opera as a work reborn for our times. We have commissioned playwright Leah-Simone Bowen to write a new libretto inspired by Joplin’s original; composer/performers Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth to orchestrate and expand a new score; and director Weyni Mengesha to shape the piece.

Penelope and the Geese (Milica Paranosic & Cheri Magid)
All the musicians in Penelope and the Geese are women; the chorus is made up of sopranos and Penelope is a mezzo. Odysseus does not speak, though he is present (and asleep) during the whole opera. With the opera, my collaborators and I give voice to dimensions of the female characters in The Odyssey that have not been explored in the original. And we’re doing this will all women creators and performers.

Vocal ensemble projects

she is called (Brooklyn Youth Chorus)
They will lead a diverse group of predominantly female composers to frame an intersectional inquiry into “female” experience. “she is called” will expose the fissures in what we understand about gender categories, breaking them open to unlock new possibilities for people of all genders. The commissions that make up “she is called” interrogate texts that have defined “female” experience from biblical times to the present day. The title work, by David Lang, is a recitation of every use of the word “she” in the Old Testament. Alev Lenz’s “The C-Word” will create a multi-voice a capella recitation of all the words beginning with C, “contain…control…content… confidence” – shattering women’s association with a single, genital slur. Nathalie Joachim’s “Blood Sisters” explores sisterhood and bloodlines in the wake of the loss of one of her own biological sisters. Iranian composer Gity Razaz’s selection, “She Sings,” will shine a light on the Iranian prohibition on women performing music in public. Paola Prestini will draw from an 1890s text of “don’ts” for women riding bicycles. Anjelica Negrón will explore internalized patriarchal views that shape the life of women in Latin America, juxtaposing memories of phrases said to her in her own childhood in Puerto Rico (“Girl, close your legs”) with liberatory verses by the Puerto Rican poet Julia De Burgos (“I am the essence”).

If You Listen (Brooklyn Youth Chorus)
A multi-composer project featuring works by women composers that aim to amplify the voices of women and members of all marginalized communities, written for the predominantly young female voices of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. If You Listen Composers: Julia Adolphe, Olga Bell, Anna Clyne, Paola Prestini, Toshi Reagon, Shaina Taub, Shelley Washington, and Bora Yoon.

BABA (Kitka Ensemble)
BABA is an extension of Kitka’s urge to tell stories of unconventional women, while stretching the creativity of our powerful and versatile vocal ensemble. BABA is inspired by the disappearing group of gender-nonconforming Balkan burrnesha, also known as “sworn virgins.” BABA will investigate constraints and choices relating to gender, sexuality, and power now coming to light in contemporary liberal societies through a new lens.

Iron Shoes (Kitka Ensemble)
Involves the dancers from the ESP Project, 50+ female voices from Kitka’s Community Choruses, as well as encourage the involvement of girls drawn from the Kitka and ESP Project community and The Crucible industrial arts center’s GEAR GIRLS program (which trains low-income girls in welding and blacksmithing arts) in both the generation, set design, and performance of “Iron Shoes”.

The artist and mother

Diametrically Composed
While Diametrically Composed revels in the exuberance of being a mother and an artist, the work also confronts the notion that motherhood and professional life can be limiting factors in their interaction. The artists of Diametrically Composed are mothers and renown artists in their field. They include composers Paola Prestini, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Jessica Meyer, multi-dimensional mezzo-soprano and composer Alicia Hall Moran, flutist/composer Allison Loggins-Hull and pianist Gabriela Martinez. Their contributions reflect personal experiences, exploring diverse themes related to being a mother and an artist.

Women’s strength in song
Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, Mariami Bekauri, Anne Kissel, Sandra Leary, and Jamie Leigh Sampson have collaborated on Sample Rate, a song cycle with 8 different phone conversations throughout one woman’s life, and American Mother, with text by Pamela Hart on the imperfection of motherhood.

I, A.M. – Artist Mother Project
The women I’ve chosen to collaborate with for this recording have committed to be dedicated mothers while still pursuing their goals and dreams in music and art. Each artist will be interviewed about this topic and their reactions will make up the liner notes for the album. The music will stand alone on its own merits but will invite listeners to examine the practical realities and societal position of the artist-mother.

These projects were referenced in the I Care if you Listen article, 5 Questions to Vanessa Reed (President and CEO, New Music USA).