Today is International Women’s Day, and as usual I have updated the Radio Rambler Spotify playlist with all-women composers.
A year ago, the PRS Foundation published an evaluation of the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative, which revealed that 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the music industry.
At the time I described this as ‘shocking’. A year on, and in the wake of all the revelatory horrors that 2017 and 18 have given us, I’m no longer shocked by that statistic, for all that it remains appalling. This simply is, it is now abundantly clear to those of us fortunate enough not to have had to experience it, how the world is and has been for very many people.
But not how it should be, or can be.
The pace of change in the last year has been exhilarating to watch, with record labels, publishers, competitions and festivals all coming under the spotlight regarding their equality practices. Some good things: Huddersfield Contemporary Records committing to 50/50 representation ‘within five years‘ (ie 2022); the PRS’s recently announced Keychange pledge, which ties 45 international music festivals to the same commitment; the louder dynamic level of reports like Rebecca Lentjes’ from the Ostrava Days, which make for uncomfortable but necessarily sobering reading.
But, as some older composers, such as Nicola LeFanu, have cautioned, we have been here or somewhere like it before: in 1972, the Society of Women Musicians (founded 1912) finished operating, concluding that its job had been done and equality achieved. In 1987, LeFanu and others noticed that women had suddenly, and once more, disappeared from the new musical landscape. For a few years, their lobbying bore fruit: women composers and conductors began to achieve some degree of prominence once more. And then after five years or so, she says, ‘the bandwagon rolled by’.
There is certainly much still to be done. The appearance of an all-male shortlist for this year’s Gaudeamus Prize startled many, and provoked a lot of head scratching – how could this happen with an anonymized judging process? Well, clearly it did. And something needs to be fixed, whether that solution comes from lowering the barriers to entry, introducing quotas, or rethinking the whole idea of competitive composing. The comments made in the wake of Keychange by Sally Cavender, vice-chair of Faber Music, that ‘the playing field is relatively level in terms of opportunities and encouragement’ while her own company (one of the UK’s leading music publishers) includes only one woman (Tansy Davies) among its 26 ‘house composers’ should also give pause for thought.
A tide may be turning, but tides have a habit of coming back in. We must use the present moment of advantage to build the structures we need to stop that happening again.
So, as ever, it is with as much solidarity as I can muster that I offer this year’s playlist.
Previous playlists can be found here:
(I failed to make a playlist for 2016; sorry.)
P.S. On a more lighthearted note, I’ve been enjoyably listening my way through Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast; readers of this post might like the 15 December episode with Clemency Burton-Hill, which also touches on this topic.