Women composers in the Gaudeamus Prize

Last week I published a run-down of the shortlist for next year’s Gaudeamus Prize. Shortly after posting, comments began appearing on Twitter about the shortage of female representation in this list (2 out of 13). Thea Derks (@tdrks) was particularly concerned:

She went on to ask Gaudeamus directly how many women composers there were among the original scores submitted, and therefore get an idea of how representative this shortlist was of the gender make-up of composers who were engaged with the Gaudeamus prize.

Well, the staff of Gaudeamus Muziekweek (@muziekweek) are to be thanked for their efforts. Over the last couple of days they have hand counted 220 submissions by 189 composers, and today announced that of these 189 composers, just 36 were women:

And so while 2 out of 13 in the final shortlist may not be great, it is entirely representative of the submissions received, and the judges should be considered blameless for the number of women composers featured.

(Edited to add: Of course – and I had forgotten this – GP is judged blind in any case. So the fact that proportion of shortlisted female composers is roughly the same as proportion of entered composers shouldn’t be a surprise. But still, nice to see the stats working out.)

But this throws up a new set of questions: How representative are these figures of the general population of young composers? (They don’t sound right to me.) And if they aren’t, why aren’t more women entering competitions like this? And what difference does this make to the overall visibility of women composers in the wider new music culture?

Update: Composer Lauren Redhead has posted some interesting preliminary responses to the questions I pose above.


14 thoughts on “Women composers in the Gaudeamus Prize

  1. Hmm. I don’t think that the entries to one competition are enough to make a larger world-wide judgement about how many young women are writing music.

    If the above sound samples are representative of the preferences of the judges for this particular competition, Gaudeamus seems to favor music that is experimental and abstract in nature, so perhaps a larger number of men happened to have pieces that reflect the preferences of the “kind” of music that would justify making a submission.

    The stylistic possibilities for musical composition are really varied these days. There are composers like me, though I haven’t been under 30 for more than 20 years, who embrace tonal and modal writing, and write for (somewhat) traditional combinations of instruments using (somewhat) conventional sound production. I have no way of knowing how many women under 30 enjoy writing music using the kind of “toolbox” that I use, because there doesn’t seem to be an international forum with the visibility of Gaudeamus that promotes that kind of new music. And I believe that all newly-written music it is still new music, regardless of style.

    Making a gender judgement from such a small sample in such a specific musical realm is kind of like taking a public opinion survey on a New York City subway car. The people on that particular subway car have chosen to live in New York or visit New York, and they have chosen to have gotten on that particular subway at that particular time. You can get accurate results from that particular time and that particular place, but the results certainly do not reflect the opinions of the larger world.

    1. Glad to see the thorough audit from Gaudeamus and that they took the time to do it. (I discussed a similar audit at IRCAM earlier this year following my International Women’s Day post — http://j.mp/zZS7fc — but it never came to fruition.)

      @musicalassumptions — Gaudeamus is arguably the most high-profile award of its kind so I feel it is still a point for discussion and in fact a reasonable sample of this specific corner of music production. After all, 189 composers under 30 is actually quite a large number in this domain. Also, though it leans as you say towards the ‘experimental and abstract in nature’, it is (again, within certain boundaries) relatively diverse.

      It would be wonderful to be able to track these figures over time — even if rooting through the archives is too much work, I hope this basic breakdown will also be made public in coming years.

      1. To clarify what I mean by ‘reasonable sample’: a sample from which one might draw conclusions about the type of person applying for the prize.

        I agree, Tim, that this seems unrepresentative of the number of young female composers, but I have noticed that these proportions vary hugely from institution to institution, from country to country. For example, I suspect that Germany could boast of something approaching parity, though I’m just guessing. On the other hand, I was discussing with some friends recently that I have never met a young female French composer — and this group of four composers with probably 15 years experience of living in Paris between them couldn’t help me out either. Similarly, I have attended courses where the proportion is 14:1 male:female and courses like Darmstadt which (though too large for me to have actually counted) seem more balanced.

  2. Thanks for the attention to the list. Be aware that the Gaudeamus composers’ competition is anonymous, so the jury only hears which composers they eventually have selected are female or male at the end of their work. So around 15% female composers entered the competition and that’s indeed roughly (by coincidence?) the same percentage as what the jury picked out of the pile. However, have a look at the edition of Gaudeamus Muziekweek and start counting how many female composers are on the program: because there you will see that in total over 125 works are programmed and the percentage of female composers and visual artists is much higher (but still not more than 1/4). Performances are more important than lists of selected works…so keep an eye on the developments of the 2013 program! And since yesterday we know our new government in the Netherlands will have a female Minister of Culture!

    1. Thanks for your reply Henk – I’ve added a clarification about the ‘blind’ judging process.

      It’s great to know that more female composers are programmed at events like the Gaudeamus Muziekweek than might enter its competition. But – and taking note of the caveats from Chris and musicalassumptions above – it’s still interesting that there is that discrepancy. This is perhaps concerning for the ongoing visibility of women composers since, despite the importance of performances (we all agree on that), it’s the prizes that make the headlines.

      “since yesterday we know our new government in the Netherlands will have a female Minister of Culture!”

      You and the UK both!

  3. Also, I would be interested to know how many non-Caucasian composers are on this or any other list – and furthermore, something about the class/socio-economic background of the composers. I wonder if there are many fields drawn from such a narrow sector of society as composition – and would suggest that over and above overt discrimination, we might consider how a field dominated by informal networks is likely to be thoroughly corrupt in all of these respects?

  4. I was a juror in 2012, and I’d like to reiterate that the submissions are anonymous. No name, gender, or nationality is visible to the jurors. I was extremely impressed by Gaudeamus’ ability to create a level playing field for all of the submissions (there were close to 300!) We three jurors (two men and one woman) were surprised and dismayed when it was revealed to us that our nominations were 12 men and 1 woman. Many of the grant panels that I’ve participated in tend to receive around 10 percent female applicants, but closer to 20 percent of those female applicants are selected. Those numbers are not so far off from the Gaudeamus results. It’s not as common to have anonymous submissions in the US, which plays into the final equation as well.
    I’ve never had a problem with being the gender minority in composition. Over the years it’s probably helped more than it’s hurt. I don’t think the answer is to count noses in order to even the score. It can be divisive to put us in separate camps of “woman composer” and “male composer” (although “male composer” isn’t exactly part of a burning issue). Sometimes the numbers don’t add up and we don’t know why. Why are there so few female mass murderers? (I’m joking here, of course, but some fields do tend to appeal more to men than women and there’s no single explanation.)
    It’s important for young women to know that composition is open to them regardless of how many have blazed a trail before them, or how the numbers add up in any genre subset. As for Gaudeamus, Pauline Oliveros was the prizewinner way back in 1962 (when there were very few women composers) and their protocol for the Competition is a great example of keeping the process fair and unprejudiced.
    Annie Gosfield

  5. All credit to Gaudeamus for investigating – but, above all, for their anonymous submission process – and thanks to Tim for following up. For anyone interested, composer Jennifer Fowler has compiled statistics relating to women composers at the Proms here: http://www.womeninmusic.org.uk/proms-survey.htm and going back to 2005 in the archive.
    We appear to be living in a culture of backlash against the identity politics of the ’70s/’80s – which would be fine if it were not for the fact that social and financial inequality remains a huge problem, and not just in gender terms, as Ian points out. How we go forward is, of course, the 60 million dollar question. But I look forward to the day when ghastly terms like ‘women composer’ are a thing of the past.

  6. Are there are any women out there who considered entering a competition (Gaudeamus or anything else) and then decided against it? If so, what was your reason? Because so far it’s all speculation and statistics. I never decided against applying to any program because of my gender. In fact when I first started applying for grants I figured that there were probably very few women applying (because there were so few awarded) and took it upon myself to increase our numbers.
    A related conversation continues here:

  7. I adjudicated a composition competition, and gave the prize to someone who happened to be female. I felt it was the strongest piece.
    Gender is irrelevant.
    I’m totally against positive discrimination within the arts, though it has a place in some walks of life.

  8. I don’t have any figures to offer here, and I think any figures are going to be influenced by the definition of ‘composer’ used, and how the statistics are collected. However, if one were to compare these figures with female composers represented, overall, by other awards, or by female composers who are working, teaching, or resident in institutions they are probably representative. If one wanted to compare the figures with the number of men and women who identify as composers or sound artists, or whose work might fall under a very general banner of ‘composition’ then they seem not to represent the number of women involved in writing music (and Tim, as someone very involved in contemporary music, notes that his experience is that there are more women composers than 2 in every 13, so their music must be accessible in some way).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s