The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Early Czech Jazz

Posted in Eliška_Cílková by iawmblog on March 23, 2010

As my third report to the IAWM blog I would like to introduce you to the early history of Czech Jazz. We all know that Jazz originated in the early 20th century in African American communities in the South of the United States. Its evolution in the USA was different from Europe. I come from the Czech Republic – the small state located in middle of Europe whose population is only about 10 million people.

Czech jazz also began in the early 20th century. Its most significant early proponent was Jaroslav Ježek, “JJ”. Ježek was born on 25/09/1906 in Prague and he died on 01/01/1942 in New York City. He was almost blind from a young age and he had chronic kidney disease. He studied composition at the Prague Conservatory under Josef Suk. He began studying at the Conservatory when modern dances and American jazz music were first becoming popular in the Czech Republic. Ježek worked with the rhythms and instrumental features of jazz. He also collaborated with Voskovec and Werich, and thanks to them, he performed in the Liberated Theatre. This theatre performed original and lively revues filled with topical political satire against Fascism and social injustices. I could write thousands of words about Jaroslav Ježek, but I just want to say that he left a large catalog (orchestral, chamber, piano works, and songs) and he is regarded as the founder of Czech jazz and popular music.

Nowadays the Conservatory in Prague is named after him. This Conservatory has been existing only for 19 years. For 33 years before that, it had been basic school of arts. The school attracted many excellent students, but in the communist state there was ideological opposition to granting it the stature of a conservatory. The Jaroslav Ježek Conservatory officially opened in 1991. It is hometown of important Czech jazz musicians and is very proudly named after JJ.


Eliška Cílková recently moved to Bratislava, Slovakia where she is in her first year studying composition at Academy of Music. She blogs about her experiences as a student at the Jazz Conservatory in Prague


Encounters with Contemporary Women Composers part 1

Posted in Theresa_Sauer by iawmblog on March 19, 2010

Last November, I was down in Denton, Texas on invitation from Dr. Lynn Job. Lynn happens to be one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. She is also a dedicated and talented woman composer. Lynn kindly accepted my sincere request that she contribute to the Notations 21 anthology. She arranged lectures for me at the University of North Texas and showed me around town and campus. We ate at the best places, had lunches with the UNT faculty and listened to jazz at Sweetwater’s. Local book events at the ice cream shop and the Art Six coffeehouse left me with so many wonderful memories. Along the way, I met many incredible people. Thank you Lynn!

One very special person that I met from my visit to Denton was Da Jeong Choi. She is a Teaching Fellow, in the Division of Composition Studies and in the Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology. She is President of the Composers Forum at UNT as well. She was introduced to me after my first lecture about Notations 21 and graphic score notation. I asked her about her work, and the more we spoke, the more I realized she had fascinating things to share with me about being a contemporary composer.

When I returned home after that whirlwind trip, we were able to find out more about each other through email, and I found that Da Jeong’s work was so inspiring and intriguing. ‘Reflection in the Glass’ for Vibraphone and Interactive Electronics (2008) was the first of her works that I explored.

pg.1 of Reflection in the Glass by Da Jeong Choi.

I recommend that you have more of “a look and listen” here.

Reflection in the Glass’ has been selected for the 2010 International Computer Music Conference, and will be performed at NYU and Stony Brook University, June 1-5, 2010. I am hoping to meet with Da Jeong this June in New York to share a lunch or dinner and maybe discover more about her ideas on new notation.

Da Jeong recently told me about her composition series, entitled Cantus Curatio (‘Healing Melody’ in Latin) for solo instrument, which is similar to the solo composition series by Luciano Berio and Vincent Persichetti.  Each piece is dedicated to victims who are diagnosed with a different disease. The inspiration for this series originated from a meeting with a dancer, Debra Keller (Keller is on the Dance faculty at Rutgers, New Jersey State University) with whom she was working for in a dance class in 2003. Da Jeong recalled “One day in 2006, she asked me whether she could use one of my works, ‘Healing Melody’ for Violin and Marimba (2003) for her dance project ‘to Mother’ in Princeton, New Jersey, because this particular piece reminded her of her mother who died of breast cancer. After the performance, I ran into several people who have suffered from breast cancer, which inspired me to write the first Cantus Curatio series piece, ‘Cantus Curatio I’ (2008) for Alto Saxophone and Piano dedicated to breast cancer patients.”

So far, Da Jeong has written six of them. ‘Cantus Curatio VI’ for Cello Solo was just premiered on March 1, 2010 at UNT. She says, “I would like to have a new piece of the Cantus Curatio series that consists of musical and theatrical elements with non-traditional notation in the future, and to talk about how graphic or abstract notation speaks to the new generation of composers, who are strongly engaged to (visual) intermedia.”

In addition, she is working on a Piano Concerto, ‘Dream of A Thousand Keys’ for Piano and Orchestra.  As she has been thinking about notation for theatrical space, she describes her thoughts on how to notate the pianist’s gestures, motion and touch level on the keyboard in this new piece.

Da Jeong says, “In a couple of sections throughout the work, the pianist’s hand gestures, motion and touch level on the keyboard will be unambiguously notated on the score and will be choreographed by the composer (me).  The space between soloist and piano will be designed as if gestures of prayer are delivered. This recalls Stockhausen’s thorough guideline for dance as in ‘Lecture on Hu,’ as an introduction to the composition ‘Inori’ (1974), for one or two soloists and orchestra. The piano soloist can be interpreted as a dancer and the black and white keyboard can be treated as a two and three-dimensional black and white floor.”

I know that I am looking forward to seeing your major work when it is completed, Da Jeong.

For more information on Da Jeong Choi’s work, and her upcoming performances, please visit: and

My book has given me the opportunity to make new friends and to find out more about women with extraordinary gifts that I hope to advocate with another project. The Notations 21 Project is ongoing global research discovering new notational systems and musical communication methods. It has been the beginning of the most exciting journey of my life.


Theresa Sauer is the author/editor of Notations 21, an anthology of innovative visual notation from around the world. She is the Director of the Notations 21 Project. She lectures, curates exhibits, produces concerts, and also composes music using innovative music notation. She is in the process of developing a documentary about Notations 21.

For more information visit: website and blog

Daring Divas: All for One and One for All!!!

Posted in Julie_Cross by iawmblog on March 12, 2010

A few weeks ago I ran into a male composer from out of state who, after grilling me on my choice of research on women composers, puffed out his chest and said with pride that he could not wait to start his own American Male Composers concert series.  He was gleeful at the thought that it would garner much press, considering the controversial nature of said series.  He then proceeded to generously inform me that singers were a unique breed…”not very bright” but interesting nonetheless.  I gave him two opportunities to redeem himself by gently and jovially saying “hey now”, but he did not jump at the opportunity to remove me from the “not very bright” category.  I bit my tongue and did not seek further dialogue with said composer.  Still, this is a well-known person who teaches at the university level and influences young minds.

I counter that attitude with an exceptionally well-written article by one of my dear mentors, George Shirley. In this article, Shirley discusses the subordination of the voice in the larger-than-life art form of opera “to the shallow realm of visual looks.”  While he is addressing the black singer in particular, his article mentions the universality of his concerns.  When African-American singers are not allowed to express themselves fully on the opera stage (particularly tenors as love interests), this is unfair.  At the heart of this inequality is racism, ageism, sizeism, sexism, etc.  If the black tenor cannot be the love interest, and the fat lady must be too large for anyone to consider her attractive, then the old woman could not possibly be the sassy maid, the large-bellied bass is destined for comedy only, and the Japanese woman must always play Madame Butterfly.  Instead of art defining life, life becomes compartmentalized and standardized and defines the unrealistic realm of opera.  The virtuoso requirements of operatic vocal writing then must submit to typecasting, to the detriment of all involved.

I return to the introductory questions of this blog series: What does it mean to be a woman who performs music by women?  What does it mean to be a woman performer in general?   The aforementioned composer was closed to all possibilities that felt threatening to his success within the status quo, to anything outside the “box”.  George Shirley, on the other hand, is able to look beyond his own individual concerns and see the universality of need for equality.  Those who view the fight for equality as threat against their turf are unable to see the larger picture…that we are all interconnected in a desire for high caliber artistry, plain and simple.  Are we true to our art form as musicians — whether composers, performers, or teachers — when we do not seek to challenge ourselves to our very limits, to the ultimate integrity of our artistry?

When we work to bring equality to one group through the medium of music, it assists other groups as well.  This is an interconnected process.  When we seek out the music of women composers, this is not to the detriment of male composers.  This is not an “us vs. them” world, unless we make it such through exclusionist attitudes.  No matter how many valuable artists and musicians are out there, the world always needs more.  By assuring that underrepresented groups get full attention in the arts community, we are setting the stage for future performing artists to move forward boldly.  If this were an artistically finite world, I could see the aforementioned composer’s concern.  Since nothing is threatening our individual artistry, his comments are without validity.   George Shirley says: “Barriers of one sort or another will always be players…given this verity, one must determine to destroy, go around, go over, or go through them in order to realize one’s potential and live the life one is given.”  In addition, as each barrier is knocked down, the way is paved for others to follow suit.  We work together for a world of equality, one step at a time.  We are truly interconnected.


Julie Cross, Treasurer of the IAWM, is a mezzo teaching voice, diction, and vocal literature at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. She blogs about how performers choose repertoire.

Homemade Instruments and Affordable Music

Posted in Jen_Baker by iawmblog on March 10, 2010

As it turns out, kids have a natural fascination for re-using objects for new purposes.  I think about how so many of us found it natural as youngsters to make an orchestra out of kitchen pots, pans and utensils.  It is, or was (for many of us) so natural to spontaneously create sound with whatever tools we have available.  What happened to that curiosity?

When I first started introducing homemade instruments into my classroom curriculum, I emphasized the economy and re-use of the materials we would use, and was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the kids expressed how good it was that we were being environmentally conscious.  This is one of the more profound lessons I’ve learned from teaching.  So as I proceeded with homemade instruments made from found objects, the kids helped create the sounds each instrument would be best suited to make.  As a result of students experimenting, a large water bottle became a Guiro, a box with rubber bands became a banjo, a paper towel tube became a rainstick, and on and on.  Students helped one another and shared resources, and in the end created a strong sense of community at the culmination of our project.

So what did we do with our creations?

Some examples include “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” buzzed on Buzzoos made of a small 3 inch PVC tube with beeswax for a mouthpiece, “Frere Jacques” in rounds on the Air Whistles made of straws cut for a C major scale, class compositions for unusual combinations, ie, didgeridoo and recorder, and sound poetry with all manner of swishy, scratchy, plucky, chimy and crunchy found objects.

It is partly because of one school’s tight budget that I have invested so much time in creating “used” instruments.  In this climate of money problems and environmental concerns, I think this method is very attractive–in fact, I have recently done short workshops at a summer camp and at an after school,  and both programs needed me to find free or very cheap ways to acquire materials.  A friend of mine teaches “Junk Percussion” where he teaches all of the fundamentals of percussion while playing on five gallon buckets.

If music is becoming expendable to so many school programs, then why not find a cheaper way to teach it so it can survive?  Why not teach composition, instrument making, improvisation, and music literacy with junk?  Not that I support financial cuts to the music program, but if we have to eliminate band, can’t we have something else in its place?  In the early 20th century, Stravinsky and many other composers downsized their pieces from the full orchestra to octets, quartets, and trios, and it was largely due to the economic necessity.  Well, here we are, having another economic crisis that has been affecting K-12 music for over a decade.  I’m not so sure that the high school band is going to come back in full force for many of these schools, particularly inner city schools.  So should we just give up and let the music program see its demise, or find an alternative path to keep it alive?

Music will always find a way to live.  Let’s be a part of it!!


Jen Baker 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 blogs about experiences in the classroom.

Welcome to International Women’s Day: March 8th

Posted in Susan_Borwick by iawmblog on March 9, 2010

As we celebrate women, I’m thinking about how to organize a course that teaches about women and music—a course for musicians and non-musicians—a course that perhaps fulfills a humanities or a fine-arts core requirement—a course that in some ways is expected to be all things to all people, simply because it will probably be the one-and-only course these students take on the topics of women and music.

After a day or two spent getting the course off the ground, I try to introduce a topic that nobody in the class is expert in.  A useful topic comes to mind:

Introduce kinds of feminism, which gives the students an academic vocabulary for talking about women and music.  I like to use some of the terms in the old standard theoretical text by Alison Jaggar and Paula Rothenberg, Feminist Frameworks: Alternative Theoretical Accounts of the Relations between Women and Men, 3rd ed. (McGraw-Hill, 1993, ISBN-10: 0070322538, ISBN-13: 978-0070322530).  These terms describe some of the lenses we wear when we deal with women and gender: conservative, liberal, socialist, Marxist, women of color, global, radical.  The class learns to apply each of these kinds of feminisms—not necessarily to agree with them, but to apply them.  For example, let’s analyze this conversation:

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, women don’t really compose good music.  They create babies.  Probably if her music had been good we would have heard of it.”

[conservative-feminist lens: The difference between men and women is first of all biological]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, she came from a very musical family and got unusually good musical training compared to most women of her time and place.  She was an exceptional woman, a woman composer.”

[liberal-feminist lens: The difference between men and women is first of all individual opportunity.]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, she was successful—unlike her Indian servant who also composed good music.” [fictional statement]

[women-of-color-feminist lens: Differences are first of all ethnic.]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, composers in the Mendelssohn family were successful—you know, they were from a well-to-do family that could afford to spend time learning to create music.”

[Marxist- or socialist-feminist lens: The differences are first of all economic (Marxist) or social class (socialist).]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, European women have been able to compose and do other ‘manly’ things that Asian women never have been able to.”

[global-feminist lens: Differences are first of all global/colonialist.]

*     *     *

Students can then look for the lenses used by critics, composers, even us.  They have a tool.  They can now begin to ask questions such as “Does this music sound this way because a woman composed it?” or “What makes this music tick, in the context of the life of this composer, male or female?”  They can even role play.

This women-and-music course is becoming juicy!


Susan Borwick

Susan is a musicologist, theorist, and composer teaching at Wake Forest, and she’s also the Secretary of IAWM. Her areas of specialization include women’s and gender studies, and spirituality and the arts. She blogs about teaching “women and music” in a liberal arts setting.