Inclusion of Women Composers in College Music History Textbooks

Article excerpt

In recent years a heightened interest in the roles that women have played in the history of music has led to an increase in research about and recognition of women musicians. As a result, more written material is now available, including biographies, histories, bibliographies, and biographical dictionaries. The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (1) includes the lives and works of 875 women composers of Western classical music throughout history. Aaron Cohen's International Encyclopedia of Women Composers (2) lists over 6,000 women composers. In December 2003, Macmillan plans to publish Women Composers: A Historical Anthology, a twelve-volume set of music by women from the ninth through the twelfth centuries. (3)

Support for women in music has evolved in a number of arenas. Publishing companies, such as Hildegard Press, Leonarda Publications, ClarNan Editions, and Arsis Press have been established to promote music by women composers. A number of female symphony orchestras, such as the Women's Symphony of Boston, the Women's Symphony of New York, and the Women's Philharmonic Orchestra in San Francisco, feature works by women composers. (4) More women are now conducting symphony orchestras and are programming pieces written by women. (5) Organizations such as the League of Women Composers, American Women Composers, Inc., and the International Alliance of Women in Music have been created to support and promote women composers and musicians. (6)

Women composers are growing in number and are receiving greater recognition. As early as 1979, American Women Composers estimated that approximately 1,200 women composers were actively writing in the United States. (7) In 1983 Ellen Taaffe Zwilich had the distinction of being the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music Composition for her Symphony No. 1. Colleges and universities report an increase in the number of women teaching composition, along with a rise in the number of women majoring in theory and composition. (8)

As the number of women actively involved in composition grows and the availability of resources increases, to what extent does this information filter down to the classroom? Has instruction about women composers in college music history classrooms kept pace with the recent surge of research and information?

As a result of the wealth of information about women composers that has become available in recent years, Women in Music courses are now being offered at a number of colleges and universities. In 1979, Jeannie Pool observed that Women in Music history courses were beginning to be offered in high schools, colleges, and conservatories. (9) Calvert Johnson, music professor at Agnes Scott College, a women's liberal arts college in Decatur, Georgia, maintains that great strides have been made in the advancement of women in music in the past ten years, not only on his campus, but at academic institutions across the nation. (10) The International Alliance of Women in Music Journal has featured a number of Women in Music syllabi in its "Educators' Enclave" section. (11)

Although Women in Music courses are invaluable in educating musicians about the contributions of women to music, some educators feel that such a segregated, supplemental approach is not helpful. Margaret Wilkins and Caroline Askew do not agree with the "Women's Studies" approach. Instead, they prefer to integrate women's music alongside men's music in the music history curriculum. Wilkins and Askew say that "putting music into boxes labeled 'Men Only' and 'Women Only' is not the correct way to treat music." (12)

They go on to state that music history classes "which fail to mention any of the women musicians of a period give an unbalanced and untrue picture of events as they really were." (13) Peggy Vagts notes that "some musicians are concerned that by talking about women composers as a separate group we may be dumping women into a sort of cultural ghetto. …