Author: Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti

Building Curriculum Diversity: Technique, History, and Performance

I believe in the power of music as an art form to create a space for people to communally experience empathy. Classical music is a field that historically began in Europe, but I find it vital to think about the future of classical music. How do we serve our communities? How do we serve our art form? Commuting in New York City, I see the global community in a single subway car. How does classical music reflect, include, and give voice to all of these life experiences?

Violinist Jennifer Koh speaks with great clarity. She and I are sitting in her living room, the faint sound of traffic a gentle reminder of the city. We’ve been talking about commissioning and programming as advocacy for diversity over the past several days, and I’ve been bouncing some ideas off of her for this series. I’m nervous—as I always am before my writing is published—and her encouragement to speak about these issues is centering. She continues:

It is our responsibility as artists to advocate for artists and composers who happen to be women or people of color. I feel that we as artists and as an industry need to model and advocate for our entire community. And frankly, diversifying programming is the only way that classical music will survive. If our programming does not reflect the diversity of our society, then we are not serving our community and by extension, we are actively making ourselves irrelevant to society.

Jennifer Koh

Jennifer Koh

In this series on curriculum diversity, I’ve discussed how stereotype threat impedes performance, and suggested that students need role models and precedents to fight that threat. I interviewed various scholars, performers, and educators to show examples of people who are creating resources to help build curriculum diversity. As stated in the previous posts, many of these scholars noted that in order to make curriculum relevant to our students and our communities, we need to not only help them find role models, but also give them permission to achieve. In this final installment of the series on building curriculum diversity, I focus on how the inclusion of achievements by musicians that reflect the students’ racial and gender diversity empowers this younger generation of musicians to have permission to be successful.

By not only commissioning new works, but also programming historic ones and writing about composers of the past, Jackson is contributing to the body of knowledge that celebrates the precedent of great composers of color.

Ashley Jackson is another performer who has used both her scholarship and her decisions about programming to advocate for diversity. Her doctoral dissertation is an examination of the collaboration between composer Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes within the greater context of the New Negro Movement (here is a wonderful article Jackson wrote for NewMusicBox earlier this year, and she is looking forward to expanding her research to include a biography of Bonds). Jackson noted of her scholarship on black composers that it was important to “tell their stories in the same way, with the same honor.” As a performer, Jackson advocates for diversity both by programming her own concerts and by working to build a community of musical activists. Her latest performance project, Electric Lady, is a series devoted to works by female composers. In addition, she is the deputy director of The Dream Unfinished, a collective of classical musicians whose concerts promote civil rights and community organizations based in New York. By not only commissioning new works, but also programming historic ones and writing about composers of the past, Jackson is contributing to the body of knowledge that celebrates the precedent of great composers of color.

Ashley Jackson

Ashley Jackson

The experience of concerts celebrating diversity is a topic close to Jackson’s heart. In our interview, she described the first time she went to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra when she was a little girl. Ann Hobson Pilot, the first black woman hired by the BSO, was playing harp. Jackson said, “When you see role models that look like you, that leaves a strong impression. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of that experience, but in retrospect I realize it was a brilliant move on my parents’ part. That inspiration goes a long way—not just seeing someone do it, but seeing them succeed at such a high level.”

One electronic musician who has both inspired and paved the way for younger generations is Wendy Carlos. Carlos is perhaps most famous for her 1968 work Switched-On Bach, a reimagining of Bach’s work on Moog synthesizer that won three Grammys (and will be the subject of an upcoming book in the Bloomsbury 33 ⅓ series by Roshanak Kheshti). On her website, Carlos says of the work, “I began my young experience as a composer realizing that what I had to offer [electronic music] was generally hated. But I thought that if I offered people a little bit of traditional music, and they could clearly hear the melody, harmony, rhythm and all the older values, they’d finally see that this was really a pretty neat new medium, and would then be less antipathetic to my more adventurous efforts.” Even if you’ve never heard of Carlos, you’ve probably heard some of her “more adventurous efforts” in music for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or her scores for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange or the 1982 Disney film Tron. Her example and her success show that audiences were ready for new sounds and new ways of presenting music, and her unique perspective allowed for an entire generation of listeners to become enthralled with contemporary music made by the latest technology through her film scores and records.

In addition to programming, another way performers can share the knowledge of their craft is by creating technique books or videos. This not only highlights their presence on stage as individuals, but shows how they are experts. Sound artist and abstract turntablist Maria Chavez’s wonderful book Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable explains different techniques that Chavez has developed through her career as a performer. What I love about Chavez’s music is that she takes found objects from the environment and finds their beauty through focused listening and attention in her sets. The records Chavez uses are mostly found damaged and would otherwise have been discarded. Taking these objects and turning them into a vital part of avant-garde DJing is what makes Chavez’s music so unique. Giving the objects a new voice points to the idea that forgotten or discarded peoples can be empowered to have a voice through advocacy.

Maria Chavez

Maria Chavez

When I asked Chavez why is it important to include women and people of color in curriculums or histories of electronic music, and why it is important that those contributions are visible, she responded:

I don’t think it’s necessarily important to have them in curriculum, I think it’s simply short sighted to ignore the fact that works by different humans EXIST. . . . We are past the time when European cultures were questioning whether the indigenous people had souls or if African slaves should be considered people. To be in a part of history where it’s clear how asinine these kinds of questions truly are, I think asking the question of importance should be redefined as a question of why the original history was allowed to be discussed without including the works of others in the first place. To say something is important, in regards to this question, is to still say the works are unique to the history. I disagree, the works were always there, they just weren’t given the focus as the other works were given. When works are presented equally then the beauty of the true history of electronic music can really shine for what it really is.

Once you hear that silence, you hear it everywhere.

One author who has helped refocus history to highlight forgotten composers through her recent work is Anna Beer. Beer teaches creative writing at the University of Oxford. While she is not a musician by trade, she studied music until she was 18, and she has continued to listen to and research music as a part of her life. As she was doing research about Francesca Caccini, she realized women composers were rarely represented in concert halls. Beer said, “Once you hear that silence, you hear it everywhere.” She decided that she wanted to write something that gave a voice to women who had been silenced in the past. Her advocacy became her recent book Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music. The book details the lives of composers such as Barbara Strozzi and Lili Boulanger. Beer said that her favorite piece that she discovered out of the research was Fanny Hensel’s Das Jahr, which Beer called an “amazing, rich, astonishing work.”

While Sounds and Sweet Airs began as a standalone project, it has turned into lecture appearances and other engagements. Beer said that it has felt important to do concert lectures alongside live performance because it meant talking directly to people. She continued, “Music has to live; it needs a platform and it has to be voiced—that is the most important task. One lieder or anything small that is programmed and heard increases momentum. It helps it live.” Beer reiterated the importance of “giving permission to the next generation to validate their curiosity. It’s not just about having role models but actively giving them permission. It enables people.”

We need to show students the achievements of all people in music. To do that, we must build greater gender and racial diversity into curriculums and concert programs so that students may see themselves in history. By taking concrete action to provide this context of both living role models and historical precedent, students can be empowered to go on to achieve in any area they are interested in. Perhaps, they will even become the positive role models they needed when they were younger.

Building Curriculum Diversity: Analytical Essays

While much of the public debate about diversifying classical music has been about discovering the composers themselves and what makes them unique as people, there has not been as much attention drawn to the lack of academic resources that show the incredible craft and process behind their compositional output. Therefore, this week in this series on building curriculum diversity, I’ll focus on resources for music theory classrooms—specifically, analyses of works by women composers.

Laurel Parsons and Brenda Ravenscroft are the editors of Oxford’s new series Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers. This exciting new series will consist of four volumes, the first of which was recently published on Concert Music 1960–2000. Future volumes will collect other historical essays, and my personal favorite, Electroacoustic, Multimedia, and Experimental Music, 1950–2015 (forthcoming), will include essays on works by Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros, and Björk. Parsons and Ravenscroft graciously agreed to answer some questions about their inspirations and current projects.

Anne Lanzilotti: What inspired you write/edit Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers?

Laurel Parsons: In the late 1990s while writing my dissertation on the music of British composer Elisabeth Lutyens, I began to notice how rare it was at music theory conferences to hear analysis papers on compositions by women, and by “rare” I mean one or two, but often none. The 2002 CSW Special Session with analysis papers on the music of five women composers was the first time there had ever been more than two in a single conference, but then the numbers dropped again. And the representation of female composers’ music in major music theory journals was even lower.

Then in 2006 a grad student told me how she’d been discouraged from doing her dissertation on a female composer because her advisor said her research would be considered marginal and she wouldn’t be able to get a job. That made me think something really needed to be done to signal that this kind of research didn’t have to be marginal, that it could be a legitimate and exciting research path. Writing my own articles wouldn’t be enough—there needed to be a critical mass of scholars publishing all in one place.

Since I hadn’t done anything like this before I needed a collaborator and thought Brenda Ravenscroft would be ideal. So I was thrilled when she agreed, and it’s been a fabulous partnership. We’re still friends!

Brenda Ravenscroft: The collaboration has been particularly important as this project has developed and expanded. Our initial concept was rather modest: a single collection of essays on music by women composers from all periods. However, our first call for proposals resulted in a surprisingly high number of submissions, and we realized that we had enough material for several collections. This evolution in scope and scale is important: a single volume suggests that music written by women is rare and focuses attention on the gender of the composers. Four volumes organized by time period and genre shifts the focus to the range and depth of their compositional activities. But working on multiple volumes simultaneously is not a small task, and that’s where our partnership has been essential!

AL: Why is it important to include women in curriculums or histories? Why is it important that women’s contributions are visible?

In less than a decade, we’d like to see the term “female composer” seem as ridiculous as “lady doctor.”

BR: It’s tempting to say “because it’s 2017!” But it’s not just about equity. I believe strongly in the phrase “if she can’t see it, she can’t be it.” Women need to be represented so that younger generations—both female and male—know that being a composer is a viable ambition for a young girl to have. If women are not included in curricula and histories, we run the risk of their absence being accepted as some kind of unquestionable natural state. We need to actively resist this by ensuring women and their music are present in our classrooms and concert halls. In less than a decade, we’d like to see the term “female composer” seem as ridiculous as “lady doctor.”

AL: How did womeninmusictheory.wordpress.com start?

LP: During my term as CSW chair [Committee on the Status of Women (CSW) of the Society for Music Theory], one of our members, Jane Piper Clendinning, came up with the idea of an online situational mentoring program where SMT members who needed to talk through a gender-related career issue could contact a volunteer mentor directly and anonymously without having to go through a program administrator. Around the same time, a friend of mine who is a female philosopher had introduced me to the blog “What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy?,” a forum where women could post anonymized accounts of their experiences in the field. I’d been thinking that something like that would be useful for the music theory community, so the CSW decided to launch our own blog. Stefanie Acevedo, our grad student member, did a beautiful job of setting it up, launching, and managing it in those first couple of years.

Chen Yi’s Symphony No. 2, one of the pieces analyzed in Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music from 1960-2000.

AL: Could you describe your involvement in the CSW, and how that evolved into this resource?

BR: We’ve both been involved in the leadership of the Society’s Committee on the Status of Women; I chaired it from 2006–2009 and Laurel held that position from 2012–2015. Our engagement in the CSW gave us the opportunity to create conference sessions focused on relevant topics—professional development for female theorists, analysis of music by women, feminist theory—to advocate for women within a Society that has a 70/30 ratio of male to female members, to support female theorists, and to build resources such as the blog.

LP: In addition to CSW mentoring programs, announcements, and posts about various issues, the blog provides a space for resources such as the SMT Guidelines for Non-Sexist Language, the CSW guidelines on preparing and answering interview questions, its Wiki Bibliography on Women and Gender in Music, and sample course syllabi for courses on women and music. There’s a lot to explore.

AL: Could you talk more about the mentoring program?

LP: The CSW actually offers three mentoring programs. The Proposal Mentoring program, launched in the early 2000s, pairs junior female scholars or grad students with experienced mentors who will read their draft conference proposals and provide constructive feedback. I was the grad student representative on the CSW at the time, and we developed it out of concern for the fact that women were giving a lower proportion of the papers at our annual conference than their proportion in the Society. The Article Mentoring program rolled out in 2012 and works in a similar way for drafts of articles for publication, since there’s been a similar discrepancy between membership and publication rates. It’s been great to see these discrepancies narrow and hopefully this trend will persist.

The newest addition is the situational mentoring program called Ask Me!, the brainchild of Jane Piper Clendinning that I mentioned earlier. Launched in 2015, it allows any Society member with a gender-related career problem to directly contact a mentor whose own experience and expertise best matches their own situation, while protecting their own privacy to the degree they choose.

AL: What are some resources that each of you use for discovering new (or forgotten) composers?

LP: There are several lists of female composers online, and playlists of their music such as the Spotify list 1200 Years of Women Composers: From Hildegard to Higdon. Of course there are also important print resources such as Karin Pendle and Melinda Boyd’s Women in Music, or the anthologies edited by James Briscoe. The BBC’s Celebrating Women Composers pages are a marvelous resource, as is the Canadian Music Centre’s Composer Showcase although it’s not specifically devoted to female composers. Hildegard Publishing, ClarNan Editions, and A-R Editions deserve a mention here, too, along with societies like Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy and the International Alliance for Women in Music.

But our greatest discoveries have often come courtesy of authors who have responded to our calls for proposals. We’ve often received proposals on music by composers we’ve never heard of, and it’s been tremendously exciting to listen to all this “new” music even if we haven’t been able to accept every proposal. There’s just so much more out there to discover!

Saariaho’s speaks about From the Grammar of Dreams, which is also the subject of one of the analyses in Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Concert Music from 1960-2000.

BR: Because music by female composers is more often performed than written about, I find reading concert reviews from international venues, looking at programs, and, of course, going to concerts can alert one to new names. It’s not systematic, but can be illuminating. Ironically, existing efforts to highlight overlooked composers rarely include a single female name. In an email that went out to the Society for Music Theory list a few years ago soliciting work on neglected composers, 46 of the 47 names were male!

AL: Do you have any words of encouragement for performers/scholars/educators who are trying to figure out how to make a difference, big or small?

Our goal is that the composer’s gender becomes unremarkable so that the focus of attention is the remarkable music.

BR: It doesn’t matter how small your contribution seems to be—including a single work by a female composer in a recital or radio broadcast, using an excerpt from a piece by a woman to demonstrate the German augmented sixth (Molly Murdock’s new website Music Theory Examples by Women is a great resource for teachers). Every effort counts towards making a difference and normalizing the inclusion of music by women. Our goal is that the composer’s gender becomes unremarkable so that the focus of attention is the remarkable music.

LP: Unless of course there’s evidence to suggest gender and music are significantly intertwined in a composition, but that’s another conversation.

You know, when we started out we were doing it out of a sense of equity and there will always be an element of that. But after years of reading all these essays and listening to all this music, we do it now because we’ve learned just how rich that mother lode of music by women really is, and we want other people to have the same terrific experience. So there’s no need to be motivated by a sense of duty—be motivated by the fact that there’s a world of wonderful, fresh repertoire out there waiting for someone to discover and share.

Building Curriculum Diversity: Pink Noises

There has been a lot of talk in the past year about the need for greater gender and racial diversity in programming from large performance organizations. While some change can come from these institutions, there are integral changes that individuals can make by choosing to perform, program, or teach music that upholds these values of diversity. In the case of curriculum, we need to integrate works so that the content actually includes the depth of creativity that so many books/courses leave out by ignoring the contributions of women/nonbinary and people of color. For this series on building curriculum diversity, I interviewed various scholars, performers, and educators who have been creating wonderful resources that highlight these often ignored communities.

Tara Rodgers is a performer, composer, and scholar based in D.C. Her book Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound is a collection of interviews with some of the greatest minds in electronic music today. She generously agreed to an in-depth interview over email that is reproduced below.


Anne Lanzilotti: What is your first memory of creating electronic music?

Tara Rodgers: It was during college, when I was playing in a ’70s funk cover band and got my first synthesizer, a used Roland HS-60 (like the Juno 106). I learned how to program it by studying the sounds of the songs we were playing in the band–by Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, and more. At the same time, I was going out dancing in clubs and hearing the connections—musically, technologically, historically—between funk and early ’90s house music. It took a few more years before I began to formally produce electronic music, but this was when I began to pay attention to connections between music technologies and sonic aesthetics, and sensed that making electronic music was a path to go along.

But several years before, when I was about 12, I spent many months figuring out how to program popular songs in the BASIC language. This was in the mid-1980s; my father was a high school administrator and a computer enthusiast, and he had access to an Apple computer at work that he would sometimes bring home for us to use. This was very different from other ways of making music that I was familiar with at the time. It was more like an odd science project or like solving a puzzle to get the syntax right so songs would run without the code breaking. So I don’t remember it as “making electronic music,” even though it was… In retrospect, it must have laid a foundation for the composing I would do with SuperCollider a couple decades later.

AL: You say in the introduction to your book, “Sounds are points of departure to realms of personal history, cultural memory, and political struggle.” Could you elaborate on how your own music relates to these topics?

TR: I will try! One of my research interests has always been: where does musical and audio-technical knowledge come from? There’s a side of it that can be a mystery, especially for those of us born with an ability to pick up any instrument and play or sing. Where does that come from? I don’t know, but I like the story that one of my great uncles, whom I never met, could also pick up an instrument and play… And another story, about the time a woman overheard me playing piano at a flea market, looked very startled, and said, “It is like you have lived before!!” I share these anecdotes to say I’m a believer that making music is at least in part about possible pasts that are not entirely knowable to us. Like we harbor some ancestral sonic spirits—residual habits or joys or traumas or encounters from generations past—that manifest as the music now.

On a more concrete level, I grew up immersed in jazz music, learning to play piano by ear. Jazz recordings were my primary texts for learning music. For example, my ways of thinking about note density and placement are indebted to duets between Count Basie and Oscar Peterson—a study in contrasts. My ways of thinking about tempo and pacing and pause are deeply indebted to Shirley Horn. And I’m sure that exposure to the solo jazz piano historical trajectory in particular—Fats Waller, Bobby Henderson, Art Tatum, Dave McKenna—taught me how to listen for different instrumental parts emanating from a single performer, something that I now recognize as totally kindred with aspects of arranging and producing electronic music. My family was supportive of my musical curiosity but never directive about it. There was a piano and a stereo and recordings to listen to at home, and some time and encouragement to do that. All of these things were foundational for me, and a real privilege.

These ways in which music is a starting point for exploring questions or disjunctures of belonging and nonbelonging, of identity and difference—these have definitely fueled certain political priorities in my research and teaching.

Inside of that I think there were always at least a couple disjunctures for me around music and identity. One, as a woman for whom identification with masculinities is in some ways important to who I am, playing instruments and working with audio technologies was one realm of life where I could feel at ease being who I am—other realms of life weren’t always so straightforward, especially growing up. But, at the same time, you’re still dealing with a culture in which women are not always taken seriously as instrumentalists and technologists, which can be frustrating and limiting at times. And two, as a white person growing up in a predominantly white rural/suburban area in the 1970s and ‘80s, through my father’s musical interests and social networks, jazz was without question the musical canon in our household. At some point I became aware that I was working within Black musical traditions that have particular histories and politics that are not mine to claim, and started that never ending process of figuring out ways to learn from this music and its history and honor it, while also being positioned differently in relation to that history as a white practitioner. So, these ways in which music is a starting point for exploring questions or disjunctures of belonging and nonbelonging, of identity and difference—these have definitely fueled certain political priorities in my research and teaching, and probably also shaped my personal and political commitments over time in other ways.

AL: If you were to introduce someone to your music, what would you share with them and why?

TR: I’m almost ready to share new projects! But until then I’d share a few older recordings that represent different ways that I work…

Butterfly Effects—a generative multichannel composition in SuperCollider, inspired by ecosystem and behavioral dynamics of migrating butterflies. Also this was the first time I worked with randomized, shifting overtone structures—an element I’ve used a lot since, also in electroacoustic and techno compositions.

The Ocean State album—say Woonsocket Pocket and Ocean State—for the piano playing and the production.

And Slow December Beat 2 and Windup Groove on the Analog Tara mixtape, which has excerpts of MIDI grooves from over the years.

AL: Would you share which gear/setup you’re currently using?

TR: Sure. I’m currently working on some techno and atmospheric electronic music. For this, I use an analog MIDI setup. This includes a Vermona DRM mk III drum machine, Oberheim Matrix 1000 and Dave Smith Mopho synths, and an MPC500 for sequencing. Another (non-MIDI) instrument I especially love is the Flower Electronics Jealous Heart noise synth, designed by Jessica Rylan. The range of noises it produces is amazing and beautiful.

Jealous Heart noise synth designed by Jessica Rylan

Flower Electronics’s Jealous Heart noise synth designed by Jessica Rylan

My typical process is to work up drafts in the hardware realm, then record loops and mix and remix in ProTools and Ableton Live. I like using analog sound sources augmented by the detailed editing and effects processing that open up in the digital realm. I use Live when I perform.

Lately I’ve been interested in the visceral qualities of electronic sound and am working to compose atmospheres that can be felt, where a certain quality of feeling is hopefully compelling to listeners in the moment and maybe memorable after. I’m thinking about the politics of electronic music that has no words—and that one way this music is political is in its profound capacities to engender feeling, in that feelings can be resources for healing and/or root generators of consciousness and action. So basically I want the sound to be as stunning as possible from the moment it floods the playback system! One doesn’t need particular gear, or expensive gear, to do this—but for me it’s been a useful technical challenge to integrate more pro audio devices into my workflow when I can afford it. A few years ago I added a 500-series channel strip (preamps, compressor, EQ) and a couple different DI boxes to my workflow. I’ve become a fan of modules by Rupert Neve Devices, Radial Engineering, and Kush Audio in particular. I’m always working to get better at mixing and producing and it has been exciting to work with these tools.

AL: What do you love about electronic music?

TR: I love that electronic music foregrounds the relationships of bodies and technologies; that it is often hard to locate where the boundaries are between these elements, and on what side of those boundaries musical agency is happening at any given moment; and that the emerging sounds come from that interplay, often in unexpected ways.

I also love the variety. There are countless and emerging genres. Artists often make their own instruments or unique combinations of instruments. And it is possible for one person to play several electronic instruments simultaneously, and make so much sound in the studio or in performance, and then do something completely different the next time. There is a freedom and flexibility there. I think this helps make electronic music a more capacious field overall—open to a wide range of practitioners—because one doesn’t necessarily have to reckon with the full weight of historical baggage that has attached itself to aesthetics and performance traditions in musical fields that are more entrenched.

AL: Why did you start pinknoises.com?

TR: I was learning how to record electronic music in a home studio in the late ‘90s and finding that the spaces for learning about this, both online and offline, were pretty heavily male-dominated and also not often welcoming for beginners. It was the early days of the internet, in that there weren’t yet the range of social networking options that are in place now; so starting a website to find, promote, and network with other women in the field made sense.

AL: Why is it important to include women in curriculums or histories of electronic music? Why is it important that women’s contributions are visible?

It’s important for curricula and histories to reflect what has actually been done in the field.

TR: Well, it’s important for curricula and histories to reflect what has actually been done in the field—and if they don’t, to explicitly state that they are partial. Too often we see “History of…” survey courses presented as universal when they only cover a select set of white men, for no clear reason other than an implicit bias.

Also, in fields like music composition and music technology in the U.S. at least, where non-male and non-white practitioners have been and still are marginalized in many music departments, it matters that students who embody these forms of difference in these spaces or who are interested in doing work on these issues actually see themselves and their interests reflected in curricula and histories available to them. There’s a politics of representation there, I think, that contributes to shaping the field moving forward. Curricula and syllabi and histories need to be living and dynamic forces for change that reflect what we want the field to be now and in the future, not ossified relics of somebody’s idealized notion of a problematic past…

AL: What are some resources that you use for discovering new artists?

TR: I tend to listen deeply more than broadly… so I’m likely to be stuck on a handful of albums or tracks, listening to them intently for years! But I do gather references to new music I want to check out, and a few times a year I will binge-listen to new things. I rely on friends and social media connections for recommendations. I am lucky to have access to a wealth of collective knowledge there. I like to know what other musicians are listening to especially… We can be a bit crazy in the intense relationships we have to music—a different sort of relationship to music than casual listeners or even music journalists have—so I seek out those recommendations in particular.

AL: Who inspires you?

TR: Pauline Oliveros and Daphne Oram, as women who were composers and philosophers of sound. Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, for their incisive and fearless analyses of arts, identity, and politics.
Maggi Payne is a big inspiration; she was one of my teachers, and she sets such a high bar for attention to detail when working creatively with sound. I am always working toward that.

I also admire artists who work at a high level across multiple realms: Terri Lyne Carrington—as a drummer, producer, songwriter, teacher, and leader of collaborative projects that foreground women musicians; and Carrie Brownstein, as a guitarist, writer, cultural critic and more.

And I am inspired by those super singular artists who pursue their creative visions relentlessly, regardless of what everyone else around them may be doing at the time. Pauline certainly fits this description. Also Miles Davis. Joni Mitchell. Prince. Missy Elliot. Björk. Solange…

Building Curriculum Diversity: Stereotype Threat

My mother was excited when she was accepted into music school on the mainland in the late 1960s for cello performance. She’s told me stories about moving to Michigan from Hawai‘i: almost getting frostbite, eating her first bagel. But, beyond the quaint stories of an islander learning how to survive in winter, there are more somber ones—friends who were told they had to change instruments (“women don’t play trumpet—you’ll have to switch to French horn if you want to stay in music school”) or her own experience being told repeatedly that women can’t conduct.

These seemingly benign comments of dismissal are ones that often wear students down. The extra energy it takes to stand up to someone takes away from focus on one’s craft. In fact, to be self-conscious about fulfilling a stereotype of not being as skilled as another group has been shown to decrease the performance of otherwise equally matched individuals (see Steele and Aronson’s 1995 study Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans).

Last winter, I had the opportunity to see Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de Loin at the Metropolitan Opera House. The production got a lot of attention in the media because it was the first time the MET had programmed an opera by a woman in more than 110 years. Susanna Mälkki was conducting—only the fourth woman conductor in the MET’s history—making the production even more noteworthy. The lights dimmed, and when I saw Mälkki walk up to the podium to begin the opera, I was overwhelmed. Why was I suddenly so emotional seeing this woman conduct? In an interview for NPR, when pressed to comment about the state of women composers in opera, Saariaho said, “You know, half of humanity has something to say, also.”

Spurred by the dramatic lack of diversity in orchestral and opera programming, scholars, performers, and critics have responded in different ways. Some have created databases showing the numbers so that the discussion is not just conjecture. Some have created playlists or written articles featuring women and nonbinary composers. Some have spoken out about the difficulties in making their way in music. Many of these people faced harsh criticism: that their efforts were too extreme, or not extreme enough, that they made everything about sexism, or that they were merely scratching the surface of a deeper issue. Taking a stand does not always mean doing so in extremes, but it does involve concrete action. All of us have to find our own way of addressing social issues: in our careers or not, in our personal lives or not. For me, as an educator, this discussion always comes back to curriculum.

stacks

Photo by Redd Angelo

One of my favorite things about teaching is that curriculum is alive, and therefore must be nourished so that it may change over time. That means constantly reading and learning from my colleagues and students about new music and new approaches to sound. In this series, I will share the stories and voices of scholars that have inspired me in the past year as I continue to develop my voice as an educator.

Part One is an in-depth interview with Tara Rodgers, a composer/performer and the author of Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound. The book grew out of the website that Rodgers created, Pinknoises.com, a collection of interviews with women working in electronic music.

Part Two is an interview with the editors of Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers, Laurel Parson and Brenda Ravenscroft. The first volume, Concert Music 1960–2000, explores the work of composers such as Chen Yi, Sofia Gubaidulina, Joan Tower, and Kaija Saariaho.

Finally, Part Three examines music history and performance resources through Anna Beer’s Sounds & Sweet Airs, performing organizations such as The Dream Unfinished, and performance practice resources like Maria Chavez’s Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable.

Students need role models, but beyond that, permission. I heard this same message from many of the scholars I interviewed: that just seeing the idea of success in the present was not the only important element, but also understanding that there is a precedent. The only way to show students this precedent, both historically and currently in the field, is curriculum that reflects the gender and racial diversity of our society. Relating back to the Steele and Aronson study on Stereotype Threat, when students were not worrying immediately about the stereotypes of not performing as well, they in fact performed equally. I believe another way to counteract “stereotype threat” is to show a precedent of strong historical models representing a variety of people who achieved, so as to build a student’s confidence through new, positive associations: the permission to thrive.

Developing any curriculum, especially one that achieves balanced representation, is a lot of work. We all need resources that help guide us so that the work is less daunting. Whether you’re using the summer to update an academic course curriculum or interested in your own continuing personal research for programming concerts, this series aims to encourage further investigation and continue the conversation. Furthermore, if you feel comfortable sharing reading lists, syllabi, or other resources that you’ve used in the past that you are proud of, please feel free to link to those in the comments below.

All the writers I spoke with for this month’s posts saw a void in curriculum/scholarship that they wanted to begin to fill. Through the network of scholars outlined in these articles, I strive to continue to develop my own classes, knowledge about assigning repertoire, and ability to advocate for all my students.


Anne Lanzilotti

Anne Lanzilotti is a composer, performer, and scholar of contemporary music. In the fall, she will be joining the faculty at University of Northern Colorado as assistant professor of viola.