The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

The Failure of Superwoman?

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on October 10, 2010

My friends call me Superwoman. Singlehandedly I juggle work, music, and motherhood, and still manage to get dinner on the table before my husband comes home at night. You can find me lecturing on Baroque Music and Beethoven in the university, composing electronic music until the late hours of the night, teaching my baby girl proper fingering on the piano, and trying to find ways to buy organic vegetables while cutting my grocery budget by another ten percent.

I appreciate the empowerment my mother’s generation gave to Generations X and Y. We grew up believing that we could have it all. Despite all of the bad publicity for being “slackers”, we believed that a woman could perfectly balance work, her dreams, and her family without a cost. My parents taught both my sister and me that we could be the best, and that we were the best. I am the overachieving product of an immigrant family, another alien wondering about this lost land.

I am Superwoman. I am tired.

Several months of putting in full time hours in my spare time has sucked me dry. I want to hang up my superhero cape, put away the neat utility belt, and just blend in with everyone else. Musical ideas nag me constantly, but who has time for a symphony when baby has an ear infection, there are fifty papers to grade, and time with hubby is already nonexistent? So many notes flying around in my head, floating and dying, with no creative outlet, like a million snowflakes in a blizzard. They disappear, and I hope that someday I will again have the time to write something great, or just have time to breathe.

I am Superwoman. I am not alone.

As the economies of the world crumble to dust, and millions more join the short path to poverty, billions of Superwomen keep each nation alive. They feed the world’s children, till the barren soil, attempt to help the fledgling generation that is our children have a fighting chance in a rapidly decaying environment.

How much longer can the Superwomen fight before kryptonitic exhaustion robs them of their waning powers? Are we the shadows of women’s liberation, or are we the soldiers of the New Great Depression? Are we forging a new path or are we simply trudging along a well-beaten trail? Only the herstory books a century from today can tell.

Look in the mirror, my sister. You might find the face of a Superwoman staring back at you.

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 Internet: Patron of the Arts

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on June 21, 2010

Western classical music has historically depended on patronage for artistic creation. The Church, kings and queens, presidents, the wealthy, and even educational institutions have previously played an important role as patron to the arts.

With the current crashing economy, in the United States at least, where supporting the arts is supplanted by everything from subsidizing agribusiness, lining the pockets of wealthy corporate executives, and supporting greedy and shortsighted elected officials, musicians have had to depend on public institutions like the university or even secondary education to receive any sort of funding and support. However, with schools and universities dooming arts education to oblivion by cutting budgets by enormous percentages, where can the professional musician turn? Who will fund the arts in the 21st century?

The answer is not a who, but a what: the Internet.

The Internet provides professional musicians with literally thousands of unique opportunities for performance, teaching, writing, and publishing that no longer exist through traditional music industry practices. All a professional musician needs is a fast internet connection, a convincing multimedia website, and time to network.

Do you want to reach thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of eager classical music fans with your new solo album? Don’t waste your money on an agent and a record company unless you are “pop” enough to be “popular” to the masses. Instead, you can record and publish your album, sell it through dozens of reputable music distribution sites, market through social networking sites, and even set up live gigs with online contacts. What is even more phenomenal is that you can accomplish all of this for about $100.

In the last year alone, networking through the internet has given me the opportunity to design a music course for an online university, write hundreds of articles for various websites, compose a music theory album, and teach a virtual music history course. Next up is a film score for an independent film, another hundred articles, and possibly three more albums. Oh, and I also design clothing and am working on a bilingual music education website.

p.s. I am a full time mom who only has time to work in her “spare” time.

Why do I think this is important? Because too many classical musicians have convinced themselves that if they cannot perform in a professional orchestra, get a record deal, become a tenure-track professor, or become a highly-paid music director that they need to throw in the towel. What’s worse is that many of these classical musicians convince their students that the arts are dying, when the opposite is true. The arts are thriving, yes, thriving despite economic disaster.

So I encourage you to create a snazzy free website, to start a music blog, to post a video of your last concert on U2B, to self-publish a book or two, connect with musicians halfway across the globe, twitter away, and take advantage of our new patroness’s generosity.


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 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.

Decomposing Composers

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on January 30, 2010

“So, what do you do?”

With reverential mystery I answer, “I compose.”

Invariably eyebrows raise. I used to think that being a composer surprised people because I generally defy the stereotypical idea of a composer – a white-haired European corpse.  Being a young  Latina composer with an obsession for science fiction, drums, zombie makeup, and computers, I am already used to sticking out in a crowd.  Just add on experimental composition to my list of costly addictions. But it is not my gender, ethnicity, or passion for Star Wars that makes my being a composer surprising. It is that I am a living composer. Period.

The average Joe or Nicole has difficulty naming three classical composers outside of the Big Three – Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. Work in any economically ravaged arts-deprived school today, and you will find that many students believe that all classical composers died centuries ago, with the exception of John Williams. Even our university music schools have encouraged this notion about decomposing composers by ending college music courses at the year 1930. (Thank goodness our medical schools don’t follow the same model. I would hate to have an operation using the techniques of eighty years ago!) Hollywood movies further romanticize long gone musical geniuses with schlock like Immortal Beloved or Amadeus, entirely ignoring the amazing triumphs of contemporary composers.

“Yes, I am a composer. And no, I am not dead. PS. I do not wear a powdered wig.”

Many non-musicians regard composers with a reverent awe akin to how I might regard a nuclear physicist or epidemiologist (I will let you Google that one). By some bizarre “magic,” composers create symphonies and operas in our heads. Hiding in our virtual music labs, we sketch little dots on paper which give birth to musical masterpieces. We experiment constantly with sounds, notes, timbre, color, instruments, melody, and harmony. Many, if not most, of us succumb to eccentricities and think on planes of thought that make little sense to someone who has not heard an entire chorus play constantly in their mind’s ear for weeks on end. Our loved ones know better than to interrupt when inspiration strikes, and often we are accused of being mentally absent when our inner workings begin exploring a new musical avenue. Some composers are so content to create masterworks in an intellectually exclusive vacuum that they further promulgate this notion of the composer as the mad scientist of classical music.

Are composers a dying breed? Or is it simply the antiquated definition of the “composer” that has been buried by the last century of the diversified technological globalization of music?

While I do enjoy proselytizing the wonders of avant-garde music and contemporary composition, sometimes I wonder if I myself have put up an imaginary wall. The Information Age has morphed the very definition of composition. Maybe the problem is not that there are too few living composers but that  there are millions and millions of living composers creating music on laptops, the internet, iPhones, electronic instruments, and desktop computers. Maybe by limiting the scope of composition to traditional classical music I have in fact self-imposed this exclusive view of music making, leaving me prey to all of its misconceptions and false assumptions. If I define myself as an “electronic musician,” I soon find kindred spirits that may never have taken Theory III or Orchestration, but create innovative music all the same. Perhaps I need to forget about writing “electroacoustic,” “experimental,” “classical,” “avant-garde,” or “intermedia” compositions, and just concentrate on writing, well, just plain old music. Then I might find myself no longer confined to patriarchal stereotypes and instead part of a larger collective of music lovers that includes every culture, generation, and gender.

So what do I really do?

I make music.


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.

In Defense of Music Technology: Adapt or Die

Posted in Sabrina_Pena_Young by iawmblog on January 23, 2010

Last year after an electronic music concert, I found myself defending electroacoustic music to a fellow composer who did not understand why composers in my field insisted on using multimedia in their works. Her companion agreed, and as both verbally snubbed composers who use electronics, I realized that music technology divides even the most knowledgeable of musicians. In my mind, there are not composers in “my” field of electroacoustic music and “their” field of strictly acoustic (and presumably better) music. Electroacoustic composers simply compose for electronics like they compose for a choir or orchestra, and many can just as easily create a symphony as a computer music piece.

Critics have always shunned innovation, whether it be the pianoforte, the record player, radio, the internet, virtual reality, or electroacoustic music. Whatever their motives – fear, ignorance, embarrassment – these critics wish to maintain the status quo, until their stalwart stance dooms them to obscurity. Unless a composer hides in a cave armed only with a pencil and manuscript, he or she will succumb to the digital revolution. The contemporary composer knows that posting one’s latest clarinet trio on YouTube is as important as learning how to write a string quartet, that a collaboration can mean anything from working with an alternative band down the street to jamming with a Kenyan drumming ensemble over i-Chat, and that publishing a score globally takes only a few clicks and broadband.

The musician who chooses to ignore technology may find that his or her music quickly becomes obsolete, though not for lack of quality. Competition committees pass over works with sloppy handwritten scores and noisy analog recordings, instead accepting polished computer scores with MIDI realizations. Music enthusiasts swipe audio files off an artist’s website instead of attending a live recital. Traditional mediums like physical recordings, music magazines, and terrestrial radio fail as, vlogs and blogs, and Pandora become the music distributors of choice. Composers who insist that they do not embrace technology still need to record their performances digitally, depend on Finale to publish their scores, and use e-mail to communicate with other musicians. Even the artist who reads this blog has chosen to accept new technology.

Today successful composers exploit electronic innovation by self-promoting their music through blogs and internet radio, hosting concert premieres through virtual worlds like Second Life, collaborating internationally through video chat, and composing new hybrid works with live performers and Max/MSP. Revolutionary composers not only utilize existing contemporary technology, but push the artistic envelope by inventing new digital marvels that further transform music. Cutting edge musicians turn to independent companies hosted by a single CPU in a music fan’s basement, and performers reach new audiences as advanced communications shrink the market. A digital tsunami has struck the world and only the technologically evolved will survive.


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.