Alumnae composers discuss gender inequality

Alumnae composers panel participants
Left to right: Tawnie Olson ’99 M.M., ’00 A.D.; Missy Mazzoli ’06 M.M.; Loren Loiacono ’10 B.A., ’12 M.M.; Jane Ira Bloom ’76 B.A., ’77 M.M.; and moderators Hannah Lash ’12 A.D. and Martin Bresnick. (Photo courtesy of Yale School of Music)

On Oct. 25 the Yale School of Music welcomed alumni and members of the Yale community for a candid discussion of gender inequality in the world of music composition.

The panel, held in Morse Recital Hall, was moderated by faculty composers Martin Bresnick and Hannah Lash ’12 A.D., and featured four distinguished alumnae of the School of Music: Jane Ira Bloom ’76 B.A., ’77 M.M.; Loren Loiacono ’10 B.A., ’12 M.M.; Missy Mazzoli ’06 M.M.; and Tawnie Olson ’99 M.M., ’00 A.D. Topics of discussion included the changing experience of female composers over time, the inequalities and issues of representation still present in the field, and potential strategies for enacting progress.

Mazzoli said that as a student she often felt isolated, the only woman in a room full of male musicians. Other panelists echoed her sentiment. Bloom said that a woman attending the School of Music in the 1970s “had to be more than 100%” if she wished to be taken as seriously as the male students. Olson remarked that she belonged to the “in-between generation,” in which schools promoted inclusivity but taught the same all-male canon of music.

The panelists described their frustration with the lack of representation of female composers in the classical canon. When asked why music curricula so often lacks female composers, Loiacono said it’s not a question of talent.

I believe it’s important to acknowledge that … the canon did not unfold simply because these were the best composers,” Loiacono said. “There were social forces at play.”

The panelists suggested multiple avenues for improving gender equity in composing. They advocated for outreach and education for young people who are curious about music and composing. Lash said, “We need to start educating kids at a younger age with the idea that anyone can be a composer.”

Mazzoli discussed her New York City-based organization, Luna Composition Lab, as an example of a successful mentoring program that provides young, female-identifying composers with resources for success, including performances, networking events, and masterclasses with composers like Julia Wolfe ’86 M.M. and Du Yun. She’s excited, she said, to support the development of a community of female composers.

If I had a text chat with 10 female composers as a teen, that would’ve been heaven for me!” Mazzoli told the audience.

Olson talked about using her art to express her frustration with gender inequality. She talked about her piece “Something to Say,” which includes spoken word and tabla, as an example of the cathartic power of music.

Above all, the panelists agreed that supporting and uplifting one another is crucial to making progress. Recalling her own experience as an applicant for a job, Bloom said that it was a woman who hired her, after seeing that the search had been too biased towards men. Acts of solidarity like these, Bloom asserted, are integral in advancing the status of women in composition.

Once you’re in a position of power, that’s how to do it,” she said. “We always remember and help other women.”

The discussion was presented as part of the Yale School of Music’s 125th anniversary, a celebration which will last for the 2019-2020 academic year and concert season.

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