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In Her Own Words

In Her Own Words: Conversations with Composers in the United States

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    In Her Own Words
    Book Description:

    This collection of new interviews with twenty-five accomplished female composers substantially advances our knowledge of the work, experiences, compositional approaches, and musical intentions of a diverse group of creative individuals. With personal anecdotes and sometimes surprising intimacy and humor, these wide-ranging conversations represent the diversity of women composing music in the United States from the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first. The composers work in a variety of genres including classical, jazz, multimedia, or collaborative forms for the stage, film, and video games. Their interviews illuminate questions about the status of women composers in America, the role of women in musical performance and education, the creative process and inspiration, the experiences and qualities that contemporary composers bring to their craft, and balancing creative and personal lives. Candidly sharing their experiences, advice, and views, these vibrant, thoughtful, and creative women open new perspectives on the prospects and possibilities of making music in a changing world.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09483-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chronological List of Birthdates
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    This sourcebook contains interviews with twenty-five contemporary women composers in the United States. With interesting personal anecdotes and sometimes surprising intimacy and humor, these conversations represent the range of women composing music in the United States from the mid-twentieth century into the twenty-first.

    As a conductor, performer, and teacher, I am keenly interested in exploring musical intention, with the goal of bringing a more informed performance to an audience and more informed discussion into the classroom. In these interviews, composers expound on the details of compositional technique, inspiration, creative process, and the composer-performer relationship. Beyond the details of bringing musical...

  6. 1 Joan Tower
    (pp. 9-26)
    Joan Tower and Jennifer Kelly

    Numerous composers, including Jennifer Higdon, credit Joan Tower with helping to eradicate the glass ceiling for contemporary women composers. Born in New York in 1938 and spending most of her youth in South America, Tower has become a respected composer, performer, conductor, and educator. With degrees from Bennington College and Columbia University, her earliest works in the mid-twentieth century incorporated serial techniques. Thereafter, Tower developed an approach based in lyricism, colorful orchestration, and a rhythmic energy derived in part from her years in South America. With a productive career spanning over fifty years and with abundant recordings of her music,...

  7. 2 Shulamit Ran
    (pp. 27-41)
    Jennifer Kelly and Shulamit Ran

    Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1949, Shulamit Ran was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1991 for Symphony. She was the second of only four women to be given this award by 2012. Spending most of her youth in Israel, Ran came to the United States at age fourteen for advanced musical study while on scholarship from the Mannes College of Music in New York and the America Israel Cultural Foundation. Today, she is an active composer and the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago. During our conversation, she expounds on the...

  8. 3 Jennifer Higdon
    (pp. 42-60)
    Jennifer Kelly and Jennifer Higdon

    Jennifer Higdon shares the company of Shulamit Ran as two of only four women recipients to date of the Pulitzer Prize in music. Higdon was awarded the Pulitzer in 2010 for her Violin Concerto, and she credits Joan Tower and Libby Larsen as composers who helped eradicate the glass ceiling for women. Born in Brooklyn in 1962, Higdon spent most of her formative years in the southern United States, and she grew up with the culture of the South and the sounds of popular music on the radio. Her youthful attendance at contemporary “art happenings” with her family inspired discussions...

  9. 4 Gabriela Lena Frank
    (pp. 61-77)
    Gabriela Lena Frank and Jennifer Kelly

    A self-described “old-fashioned” composer, Gabriela Lena Frank writes for acoustic instruments in familiar forms and takes inspiration from her Latin American roots. Born in Berkeley, California, in 1972, she has a strong connection to her family identity, especially her Andean/Peruvian heritage as passed down through her mother. Frank considers the exploration of her Latin roots a lifetime project, and she recognizes the responsibility that project instills when her works inspired by Andean music are held up as authentic examples. During our conversation, Frank expresses why and how she holds women and other historically underrepresented groups to higher standards, having experienced...

  10. 5 Alice Parker
    (pp. 78-100)
    Jennifer Kelly and Alice Parker

    Alice Parker was born in Boston in 1925. The bulk of her catalog is composing and arranging for choir. Having grown up with the sounds of past centuries based on tonality, melody, and folk song, Parker was college-educated in twelve-tone technique (emphasizing the absence of a tonal center). She did not enjoy composing in this atonal manner, and she questioned what she had to offer twentieth-century musical language. Influenced at first by a teacher who said that she should not compose unless her intention was to write great works, Parker turned to choral conducting and earned a master’s degree from...

  11. 6 Chen Yi
    (pp. 101-120)
    Chen Yi and Jennifer Kelly

    Chen Yi was born into a musical family in Guangzhou, China, in 1953. Raised with a respect for European- and Russian-influenced classical art music, Chen learned piano and violin and spent years listening to her father’s classical-music collection. Her knowledge and practice of classical music helped carry her through the events of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. During our conversation, this normally vivacious and enthusiastic woman softens her voice and drops in pitch as she describes the extraordinary efforts made to hide and preserve the music she loved in spite of the revolution’s repressions. Her journey eventually led Chen to be...

  12. 7 Tania León
    (pp. 121-136)
    Jennifer Kelly and Tania León

    Tania León’s connection to her birth country of Cuba is evident in her music. Born in Havana in 1943, her family has always been a great source of encouragement to her. Her formal music education began when she was four years old; her grandmother, noticing León’s musical aptitude, insisted that the Peyrellade’s Conservatorio de Música accept her as a student. León’s awareness of global culture was cultivated at the conservatory. She explains that her school celebrated all composers, past and living, from distant countries and local Cuba, making traditional and contemporary sounds. This early influence of familial support, cultural fusion,...

  13. 8 Hasu Patel
    (pp. 137-151)
    Jennifer Kelly and Hasu Patel

    Hasu Patel’s identity is shaped by her family, her experience growing up in northern India, and subsequent decades in the United States. Despite her early blossoming as a sitar player, Patel’s life circumstances parallel those of many women composers around the world, and she is just now gaining the recognition she has earned. Privately, Patel has been composing ragas for years within the Indian system of music and improvisation. Publicly, she is just beginning and enters the field of formal composition with the fear that others may consider her entrance too late. Her musical expertise, creativity, perseverance, and dedication to...

  14. 9 Pauline Oliveros
    (pp. 152-174)
    Jennifer Kelly and Pauline Oliveros

    Pauline Oliveros’s creative process accepts that everyone is part of the composition. Widely considered one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, she encourages deep listening, being open to what comes, and she has spent a lifetime actively creating communities of participation so that anyone can be part of the music-making experience. Born in 1932, Oliveros is a composer, performer, author, and philosopher known around the world as an explorer of and experimenter with sound. Raised in Houston, she grew up listening to radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Orchestra. During our...

  15. 10 Meredith Monk
    (pp. 175-194)
    Jennifer Kelly and Meredith Monk

    Born in 1942 in New York, Meredith Monk is an artist who has been defying categorization for decades. Often labeled a performance artist, she prefers the term “composer,” because the core of her interdisciplinary art is born out of the music. Inspired as a young artist by the ability of Jean Cocteau to combine many art forms, Monk began her own integrated artistic training through her early introduction as a child to Dalcroze Eurhythmics. She credits her family with exposing her to the “powerful, plaintive, and very honest” singing of women like Peggy Seeger, Jean Ritchie, and Cynthia Gooding. While...

  16. 11 Svjetlana Bukvich
    (pp. 195-210)
    Svjetlana Bukvich and Jennifer Kelly

    Svjetlana Bukvich was born in 1967 in Sarajevo, in the former Yugoslavia. A composer, producer, performer, and teacher of electro-acoustic and multimedia works, Bukvich describes her influences as a hybrid of culture, inspiration, and art. Her music is the result of an amalgamation of her experiences before the Bosnian War, her immigration to the United States during the war, and her subsequent time in the United States. She studied piano performance in Edinburgh and earned two bachelor’s degrees in composition and musicology from the Sarajevo University’s Music Academy before the war. During our conversation, she describes how the Bosnian War...

  17. 12 Pamela Z
    (pp. 211-227)
    Jennifer Kelly and Z Pamela

    Pamela Z is a multimedia artist who fuses varied components into her work: voice, live electronic processing, body movement, sampling technology, found objects, and video. A composer-performer, Z works in alternative performance spaces that celebrate artistic community. Our conversation took place in the lobby of 3-Legged Dog, an experimental media and theater space in New York City. Born in 1956 and raised in Colorado, Z had limited access to much of the new music being produced in the 1960s and 1970s in metropolitan areas like New York City and San Francisco. While in college at the University of Colorado at...

  18. 13 Toshiko Akiyoshi
    (pp. 228-246)
    Jennifer Kelly and Toshiko Akiyoshi

    Born in 1929, Toshiko Akiyoshi came to the United States from Tokyo in 1956 as a young woman who played jazz piano. Akiyoshi is considered a pioneer in many respects, including her use of timbral color in big-band composition, leading her own band playing her own music, and incorporating her Japanese heritage and sometimes Japanese instruments into her charts. Her expanded use of color and fronting a jazz orchestra with her compositions influenced later composers such as Maria Schneider, whose interview follows. Akiyoshi’s albums have received fourteen Grammy Award nominations; her discography is large and respected; her piano playing is...

  19. 14 Maria Schneider
    (pp. 247-264)
    Jennifer Kelly and Maria Schneider

    Maria Schneider is known today mostly for her big-band compositions and for leading her own ensemble, the Maria Schneider Orchestra (also known as the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra). Like Toshiko Akiyoshi, Schneider’s band focuses on Schneider’s compositions, to which she adds color by incorporating instruments uncommon to the jazz orchestra, such as the accordion. Schneider differs from Akiyoshi in that her music does not often use the standard jazz forms and may be through-composed or sound programmatic. Nevertheless, she is fine with being called a jazz composer: “It’s the best way to describe what I do. Non-jazz musicians could never...

  20. 15 Augusta Read Thomas
    (pp. 265-280)
    Jennifer Kelly and Augusta Read Thomas

    The composer and professor Augusta Read Thomas treats her scores with a meticulous hand. When composing, she is always thinking about the conductors and performers who will interpret them. Thomas is drawn to the details of notation, explaining, “My scores are highly nuanced, certainly detailed, every note having a dynamic, articulation and/or adjective. The notation explains exactly what I heard.” Unlike composers such as Alice Parker or even Gabriela Lena Frank, Thomas believes that all the information one needs is provided in the score, and she prides herself on crafting such a detailed score that few questions are left unanswered....

  21. 16 Hilary Tann
    (pp. 281-297)
    Hilary Tann and Jennifer Kelly

    In 1947, when Hilary Tann was born, the coal mines were still open in South Wales. The landscape was green, yellow, and brown, the mountaintops bare, and the sky close. Born and raised in the town of Ferndale, high up in the enclosed valley of Rhondda Fach, Tann makes music that is inspired by the natural world around her. In fact, much of her varied musical catalog can be illustrated as the composing out of images and landscapes. Tann began writing music at age six because she had a waltz-like melody in her head, and she wanted to remember it....

  22. 17 Libby Larsen
    (pp. 298-321)
    Jennifer Kelly and Libby Larsen

    Libby Larsen’s musical inspirations derive from our dynamically changing American culture, as she asks herself when she sits down to write, “What is music itself today, to me?” Born in 1950, Larsen has spent most of her life in Minneapolis. Her work is filled with performance directions drawn from common language, such as “Bring it!” designed to encourage conversation among performers. Larsen’s more than four decades of work depict the changing American culture and vernacular, and she hopes that depiction will facilitate a deeper understanding and performance of the music.

    Larsen has long recognized the cultural impact of technology. Her...

  23. 18 Laura Karpman
    (pp. 322-341)
    Jennifer Kelly and Laura Karpman

    Born in 1959 in Los Angeles, Laura Karpman first established herself in concert music with degrees from the University of Michigan and Juilliard, studying with Milton Babbitt. She was among the first composers selected as a Sundance Institute Film Scoring Fellow (at the recommendation of the forward-thinking Babbitt). Attending the Sundance Institute was a life-changing event for Karpman, introducing her to the possibilities of computers in music production. She remarks, “I saw computers and music work together, and I flipped. I thought that this was the future of music … and I wanted to be involved in an aspect of...

  24. 19 Winifred Phillips
    (pp. 342-354)
    Jennifer Kelly and Winifred Phillips

    Winifred Phillips is a media composer who lives and works in Los Angeles. From 1996 to 2005, she composed the music for Radio Tales, a series of dramatic programs airing on National Public Radio affiliate stations and SiriusXM Book Radio. Through Radio Tales, she met her working partner, the producer Winnie Waldron. Together they have won four Gracie Awards from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television and continue to work as a team on most of Phillips’s projects.

    Today, Phillips works predominately as a composer of video-game music, and she is known in part for composing for...

  25. 20 Deborah Lurie
    (pp. 355-370)
    Deborah Lurie and Jennifer Kelly

    Deborah Lurie is a collaborator at heart. Born in 1974, this composer of commercial media, known for her feature films, was named one of the top young composers to watch by the Hollywood Reporter. She was born with perfect pitch as well as the rare condition synesthesia, which allows her to identify every note by seeing a specific, corresponding color in her mind’s eye. Her career path was defined when her high-school drama teacher gave her the opportunity to write her first score, adding music to the school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Immediately after this collaborative experience,...

  26. 21 Jeanine Tesori
    (pp. 371-384)
    Jennifer Kelly and Jeanine Tesori

    Jeanine Tesori, like Deborah Lurie, considers herself both a composer and a collaborator. Most known for her music in live stage productions, Tesori’s celebrated scores include Shrek the Musical, Caroline or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Twelfth Night, and Violet. During our conversation, Tesori openly discusses motherhood and the choices she continues to face as an active composer and a mother. Born in 1961 to parents in the medical profession and growing up on Long Island, Tesori was raised in a household enriched by science and music. She began her young-adult life intending to enroll in medical school but was introduced...

  27. 22 Beth Anderson
    (pp. 385-401)
    Jennifer Kelly and Beth Anderson

    As the founder and producer of Women’s Work, an annual concert series in New York City featuring women composers, Beth Anderson openly discusses what it means for her to be a woman composer in the twenty-first century. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1950, Anderson recalls how her compositional influences began when she was a young teenager and her piano teacher, Helen Lipscomb, showed her how to take two different musical ideas and put them together into a short composition. At the University of California at Davis and Mills College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Anderson’s influential teachers also...

  28. 23 Janika Vandervelde
    (pp. 402-419)
    Jennifer Kelly and Janika Vandervelde

    Janika Vandervelde truly enjoys teaching composition to her students at Perpich Center for Arts Education, a statewide, innovative arts high school with a composition-based music program. During our conversation, Vandervelde discusses the importance of teaching the creative process through composition, as opposed to using the standard levels of theory and analysis. She explains, “This is the sort of thing my students are hungry for. Not theory for its own sake, but theory as applied to the craft of composition. And not composition that others engage in, but composition they themselves engage in.” She continues to have success with the composition...

  29. 24 Mary Jane Leach
    (pp. 420-435)
    Jennifer Kelly and Mary Jane Leach

    Mary Jane Leach’s music has evolved from instrumental music for multiples of the same instrument to an embrace of technology and on into music for vocal ensemble. Today, her compositional output varies, yet she focuses on advanced music for multiple voices as commissions dictate. Like Libby Larsen, Leach foresaw decades ago the technological shift in our culture and recognized its power within music. Leach’s early electro-acoustic works demonstrate this understanding. She has always embraced the exploration of acoustics and sound, seeking the fundamental pitch as well as created partials. Like Svjetlana Bukvich, each piece of Leach’s music has its own...

  30. 25 Emma Lou Diemer
    (pp. 436-460)
    Emma Lou Diemer and Jennifer Kelly

    The prolific composer Emma Lou Diemer has been writing music for over seventy years, and she still exclaims, “I think I’m the happiest when I’m writing!” Born in 1927 and growing up in and around Kansas City, Missouri, Diemer was exposed to big-band music, the American Songbook, 1930s radio broadcasts of orchestral music, and music from the Christian church. She and her siblings were encouraged as children to pursue their artistic natures, and Diemer began composing music at age thirteen. She gravitated to the organ she heard in church as a large machine capable of innumerable shades of color and...

  31. Notes
    (pp. 461-462)
  32. Selected Resources
    (pp. 463-466)
  33. Index
    (pp. 467-476)
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 477-478)