The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

The Composer’s Daughter

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on February 28, 2010

Strangers say she has the slender fingers of a pianist. She grimaces at minor seconds and is lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the pounding drums. She cries as cluster chords play electronic strains and is fascinated by the simple strumming of the mandolin. She smiles as her mother sings a half-forgotten lullaby and shuts her eyes at the clash of cymbals. She is the composer’s daughter.

As I hold her tiny, pink, pillowy body closely to my gently beating heart, I wonder if the nearly ten months she spent in my womb has left any permanent musical impressions on her. I remember the kicks she gave me from within when I stubbornly insisted on playing drum set seven months into the pregnancy, my bulging belly only a centimeter’s distance from the piercing snare drum. I think of the hours I performed on the congas, each tap and slap creating a rhythmic lullaby for my sleeping unborn, unseen, child, and I think of her tiny ears hearing sorrowful ballades when hormones and stress and nausea brought me to tears.

I remember giving composition lessons in the music studio and her abrupt kicks when a student’s dissonant electroacoustic piece roused her from deep slumber. Experts say that Mozart increases a child’s intelligence, but the study is still out on Stockhausen, Reich, Oliveros, and Varese.

What symphony did she hear in the peaceful chamber within me? Synthesized external sound waves, the gentle beating of her mother’s heart, the churning and gurgling of the stomach, the quick rhythms of her own tiny heart, the subtle sucking of a microscopic thumb, and the gentle rush of amniotic fluid – not even Mozart could create music so divine.

Yesterday, at three months of age, my daughter had her first piano lesson. Holding her high above an electronic keyboard, I laughed as she pounded out her first improvisation with her chubby feet. Perhaps she would have enjoyed the exercise more if her big toe could reach the major third instead of just a second. For her first drum lesson, she seemed more interested in throwing the makeshift instrument than playing it. My hope for this child, born out of love and music – that she enjoys each musical moment of her existence, that she learns to love and be loved in perfect harmony, and that she experiences to the fullest this symphony we call life.


Sabrina Peña Young is an Intermedia Composer teaching at Murray State University and an experienced blogger. Her specialties are composition, technology, world music, percussion, and film & video.


The role of virtual musical instruments in our music

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on February 19, 2010

Everyone of us has surely encountered computer music. Whether are we singers, composers, instrumental players or theoreticians, we listen to artificially-created sounds every day. We only need switch on the TV to hear the stream of signature tunes and music from advertisements. But the question is: what role do these sounds play in our life?

I’m a composer; computer technology is very important for me. Everyday I work with software to notate my music and I listen the notes played by virtual instruments–but just for a reference. I really think it is important to be aware of the influence of virtual instruments and to keep hearing your own natural sound ideas.

Even thought most people would expect that every live performance will sound better than a virtual one, it isn’t always true.

Once I composed a work for woodwinds. The virtual flute sounded perfect with perfect technique and I got used to this. How I was later surprised! I got used to perfect technique and I expected that my musician would not only technically play as well as the computer but also have a better sound, of course. I found out that the technical aspects I had written were too difficult for the musician and therefore the piece didn’t work as well as the computer rendition had.

Nevertheless virtual musical instruments can be very helpful. Especially if we use professional high–quality musical instruments which work in software like Cubase, Nuendo or Logic. I know composers who write music for advertisements and documentary films by using only computer samples. It works quite well, and if you are not a professional musician you won’t recognize it. Composers can also afford to use special musical instruments (temple block, wind chimes, celesta, cymbalom etc.) without any problems–no calling to orchestral players, no matters about money.

Even thought I belong to the group of composers who compose music at a table or with piano and holding a pen in the hand, I sometimes use virtual musical instruments. For me it’s very helpful to send a MIDI recording to my musicians. It’s so easy to extract a .mid file from notation software and replace the sounds with high-quality virtual instruments. But sometimes, I just use my dictaphone and record a live piano version to send to the musicians.

So I’d just like to say at the end: virtual musical instruments can be very helpful for us but they will never be as rich and nuanced as music played by live musicians.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music.

Experiences in the Classroom: Equality

Posted in Jen_Baker by iawmblog on February 7, 2010

One student I taught from Kindergarten through 4th grade had always been tight-lipped and grimacing in just about every class I had with him. He never offered his opinion and only participated willingly if his friend was in his group. After four years of this I had grown accustomed to his behavior but always hopeful that one day he might come out of his darkness. One day he did. It seemed sudden on the surface–he looked me in the eyes and asked questions, offered suggestions and his opinion on activities, and engaged fully in class projects. Even though there were very likely other life issues at play of which I wasn’t aware, I had a sense of accomplishment from his achievement because I kept the door open for him to participate at all times. There were no guarantees that this would happen, but I didn’t ever want to take that opportunity away from him.

I firmly believe that giving kids ownership in the classroom leads to self-discovery, which in turn leads to greater respect for others and social awareness. As a couple of commenters alluded to in my previous post (Introduction), some kids are even thrown off at first by the possibility that they a have a say in what has happened in class (or private lessons). I may get paid to be a music teacher, but the potential for teaching human lessons is limitless. Since my approach is based in holistic teaching, I take full advantage of my role to offer as many opportunities for my students’ self-growth as possible. This is of course exhausting –and worthwhile.

As exhausting as it can be to create curriculum, plan a day’s lesson, or get my materials together, the really valuable work happens when I am face-to-face with the kids, helping them navigate through their own individual processes of self-awareness. It can be tricky to deal with an entire classroom and yet treat each kid as an individual who is equal. In order to do this fairly, I pay close attention to their mannerisms–both in my class and at play times–and keep in mind their character traits (i.e., oversensitive, bold, detailed, leader, hard-worker, etc). I wouldn’t treat a leader the same way I would treat a sensitive kid, or a detailed kid the same way as a bold kid. I find that bolder kids need firm structure and repetition, and sensitive kids would appreciate it very much if you would just talk to them individually about something they had done.

Treating kids as individuals reaps its benefits. They learn to trust their learning environment, and they learn to listen to others’ opinions, for they may be different from their own. They learn that when they offer suggestions, they will be heard. When kids are heard, they are at their happiest, and can grow much faster.


Jen Baker
Jen is a trombonist who specializes in new music and freelances in New York City.  She also teaches composition, improvisation, and homemade instrument making to children, and she’ll be blogging about experiences in the classroom.