Bay Area Women in Creative Music

By Ouzounian, Gascia | Women & Music, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Bay Area Women in Creative Music


Ouzounian, Gascia, Women & Music


Bay Area Women in Creative Music (http://music.mills.edu/bawcm/). Web site maintained by Mills College, Oakland, CA.

In 1997, when the Internet was still in its infancy, American composer and educator Pauline Oliveros invited students in her Women in Creative Music class at Mills College to create a Web site that would document the increasing visibility and vitality of local women musicians. (1) The resulting Web site, Bay Area Women in Creative Music, should be considered a pioneering effort, and it remains an important, dynamic resource today. More crucially, the Web site serves as a model for other communities, acting as a kind of virtual call to arms for musicians and scholars who wish to support the work of women musicians in the global arena.

Bay Area Women in Creative Music is constructed as a list: it compiles, in alphabetical order, the names of women musicians ("composers, songwriters, improvisers, and sound artists") who work in the Bay Area. Each name links to either the personal Web site of its owner or a page about her--comprising interviews, biographies, discographies, and other resources--created by one of Oliveros's students. (2) Following this initial list of names are two additional lists. The first of these, "Internet Resources for Composers," links visitors to the Web sites of organizations that support music by women. These include New York Women Composers (a networking organization that supports performances and recordings of music by its members) and Hildegard Publishing Company (a publishing house that exclusively publishes music by women and that features an extensive, impressive catalog). (3) The next list, "Email Resources," connects visitors to the inboxes of representatives from these and similar organizations, like the International Alliance for Women in Music (a group that hosts annual congresses, competitions, and festivals of music by women). This third and final list also links to individual, institutionally unaffiliated women who support other women musicians.

In her introduction to the site Oliveros writes: "If you are a Bay Area woman in creative music not listed here please send your name and information.... You will be welcomed to the list as it is updated." The nondiscriminating ethos of Bay Area Women in Creative Music is possibly the site's most salient feature. The musicians it lists work in genres that range from "queer homohop punkrock" (Lynn Breedlove) and "Klezmer Punk Balkan Funk" (Jewlia Eisenberg) to "neo-romantic, avant-garde music, text-sound works, and musical theater" (Beth Anderson) and "jazz, western classical music, traditional Japanese music and free improvisation" (Miya Masaoka). (4) One member identifies herself as a "poet/guitarist/singer-songwriter" (Marina Lazarra), while another is a "noisician" (C. J. "Reaven" Borosque); one is described as "an avant-pop, chamber punk trailblazer" (Madigan Shive), while still another is dubbed, somewhat improbably, "a one-woman musical hurricane" (Amy X Neuburg). (5) Between them they span three generations and belong to a diverse group of ethnic, cultural, political, social, and religious-spiritual communities.

In spite of this diversity there are striking threads that link these musicians' stories: many received their initial musical education from a female relative or female teacher; many report a sense of alienation or marginalization (deriving from gender) in their subsequent formal or institutional training; many cite the lack of women composers in the academy as a determining factor in their professional development; many seek out and rely upon professional solidarity with their female peers. The composer Beth Anderson, who produces the annual concert series Women's Work, recalls:

   Regarding my childhood, my grandmother
   could play by ear and she loved to hear me
   practice and would say after every piece,
   "That was pretty. Play that one again." She
   was a booster. … 

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