This is a message for all those orchestras out there playing one concert of women composers then sitting back and patting themselves on the back thinking the job is done. It’s no good just playing music by women composers in one concert or even one season of women composers. Gender parity, or the work towards creating gender parity in music needs to be consistent, a constant consideration in every programme, every concert, every season.
We can’t just play one concert full of women composers then forget about them the rest of the year. It’s not enough, one concert could be said to be tokenism. One concert to satisfy the raging masses, pretending that gender parity is a consideration, only to go back to the usual programme of mostly dead white males for the rest of the year.
2018 has been great, there have been lots of concerts with female composers including a major performance of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D at Southwark Cathedral. Having said that, I can’t help thinking that it’s not so much to do with genuine thought towards gender parity but more to do with the Vote 100 anniversary. It’s been 100 years since some women got the vote in the UK and lots of orchestras have celebrated that by playing a concert of women composers.
Everyone loves an anniversary or birthday. Peter Maxwell Davies got an entire Proms concert on his 70th, John Williams’ 85th was the same plus you have the birthdays of long dead composers being remembered with whole concerts or programmes dedicated to them.
In particular this year there have been a lot of performances of Dame Ethel Smyth, a composer and suffragette. I also wonder if performances of her work are more because of her connections to the suffrage movement? She is known in both camps, classical music and feminism so playing her music makes sense.
And what about whole seasons of music by women composers? Are they any better? Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing and Kings Place Venus Unwrapped seasons are both one year programmes playing music by women composers in every concert. But what about next year, will it just go back to the usual? Or will people have got used to hearing women composers in every concert that they will start clamouring for more of the same?
Then there are the orchestras themselves. The English Symphony Orchestra is playing two concerts in Venus Unwrapped at Kings Place next year, 2 out of 13 concerts next season. That being said these 2 concerts are the only concerts that contain works by women composers. Are they just jumping on the bandwagon, thinking being involved will make them look progressive or diverse when in fact the rest of the time they don’t have to bother with thought toward gender parity or don’t want to?
Lot of questions, lots of things to consider. Some of these decisions may not be as conscious as orchestras realise but it needs to be conscious. If we hope to change things we need to consciously think about the messages we send by the music we choose to play.
I hope this year is not just an anniversary year, I want this year to be a stepping stone towards a 2019 season that plays even more women composers. Let’s work on making that happen. Donne, Illuminate and Scordatura are just 3 of the amazing organisations committed to playing music by women composers plus I’m continuing with my weekly radio show playing women composers, listen to past shows here. We are not going anywhere, we are spreading the word.
Just a few thoughts I needed to express, I’ll be back with some more blogs on gender and music soon.