The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Daring Divas: An Introduction

Posted in Julie_Cross by iawmblog on January 21, 2010

What does it mean to be a female performer?  What does it mean to focus on women’s music throughout your performing career?  How do others perceive you as a woman performing women’s music, or a woman performing music in general?  How do you choose and program repertoire?

A friend once said that one could identify mediocre singers by their focus on the music of women composers and/or new and contemporary music.  This opinion is not unique to my friend: many musicians have heard it before, whether spoken directly or implied.  How does this affect those who wish to focus on such music?   Furthermore…women’s music has continually been labeled as a separate entity in many performing circles. How do women composers infiltrate the mainstream?  Where is the balance between “niche focus” and assimilation?  How many groups are regularly programming the music of women composers?  Are there any generational tendencies?

I’m a voice professor and performer who tries to find balance on these issues.  I try to introduce my students to the songs of women composers while assuring that they study the so-called “standard” male composers as well for their own depth of knowledge base.  I sing some song recitals consisting solely of female composers, some of male composers (by default), and most incorporating both genders.  As a female singer, I encounter fewer biases considering voice types than those who play various instruments.  I will be writing from the perspective of a vocal performer, but will converse with others for an instrumental point of view.  There are many wonderful publishers and recording companies/artists who focus on the music of women, and I will mention their offerings from time to time as well.  I have a passion for song literature, and will discuss themed recitals, women poets whose words have been set to song, and issues of women singing songs originally intentioned for men (such as Schubert’s Winterreise.)

I’m thrilled to be able to blog about these issues, to unearth preconceived notions, tendencies, thoughts, concerns, celebrations, and joys about performing women’s music, choosing repertoire of female composers, and being a woman in the performing arts world.  There’s so much to discuss!  It is my goal to approach these topics with a positive, proactive attitude.  We are not victims, but dedicated musicians interested in the highest possible artistic integrity for all in our field.  This is essential!   If you have any special requests for discussion, please feel free to leave a comment.  I can’t wait to begin to navigate through these questions and more, to set up a large-scale dialogue about women and the performing world.  Let’s begin!


Julie Cross teaches voice at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and is Treasurer of IAWM.  She recently recorded a CD entitled Songs of Forgotten Women, with songs of Giulia Recli, Bertha Frensel Wegener-Koopman, Mathilde von Kralik, and Adela Maddison.


Teaching “Women and Music” in a Liberal Arts Setting: an Introduction

Posted in Susan_Borwick, Teaching by iawmblog on January 9, 2010

Thirty-five years ago, it happened.  In my first full-time teaching job post-Ph.D., at my alma mater (full-time music jobs weren’t so rare then!), I sat on a master’s oral committee, along with three others: a choral director, a religion professor, and my mentor in music history.  I was “the kid” committee member and the only woman.

My question to the master’s student, a conductor-to-be, was simply “Tell us a little about a woman composer of your choice.”  Long silence.  “Well, just name a woman composer.”  Deadly silence.  Unbearable silence.

Then the music historian, my mentor, spoke up: “Well, women don’t really compose much, you know.  Their creativity goes into mothering their children.”

I was stunned.  Not only had the student not been able to answer a fairly broad [!] question; my mentor had had an issue with the question!  That mentor’s comment dropped my respect for him down several notches.

As a young second-wave feminist who had seen gender bias against several female students in grad school, I set about to design a “women and music” course, to educate the next generation’s musicians and their mentors about women composers, yes, and also about the dynamics behind stupid assumptions (my term!) about women and composing.

Musicians now early in your careers doubtless witness more nuanced challenges that undermine women.  I guess earning 79 pennies for every man’s dollar, U.S., isn’t all that nuanced, but let’s consider today’s more subtle challenges.  Ellen Malcolm, president of the U.S. women’s political action committee Emily’s List, describes today’s U.S. political scene as “corridors of power where more attention is paid to the tap of a woman’s high heels than to the ideas she champions; reporters who waste ink and airtime discussing women’s clothes instead of their character; the men who call themselves liberals but always seem to reach back into their network of guys when an opportunity for advancement materializes.”

In music, the nuances involve not knowing or including music written by women; choosing texts and methods that hardly allow for discussion of women’s compositional creativity; devaluing musical contributions that are by or about a woman; measuring a female colleague’s or student’s feelings as her “problem” rather than her frustration at the different treatment she experiences compared with her colleagues who are male.  All of us, men and women, carry these biases as cultural baggage.

In the face of the politics of today’s educational scene, then, how can we organize a “women and music” course that is academically viable and effective?  After all, we’re in an art whose participants often, perhaps usually, identify with being a musician above even being gendered.

I’ve found that including the powerful politics of gender—even beginning a women-and-music course with a theoretical model for gender politics—allows students and instructors to sit in our discomforts, whatever they may be.  Including musical politics at the get-go sometimes offends the music majors while making the liberal-arts majors more comfortable.  It’s a good place to begin.


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’ll be blogging about teaching “women and music” in a liberal arts setting.

Experiences in the Classroom: an Introduction

Posted in Jen_Baker, Teaching by iawmblog on January 7, 2010

Hi!  Thanks for reading my blog.  I’m really excited to be sharing my thoughts here because I feel that my experiences-both as educator and as performer- are unique and interesting.  I hope you will enjoy my posts.

I have taught music for nearly 17 years.  During this time, I have evolved enormously in my philosophy and outlook in terms of what a teacher is and does.  Prior to 2004, my teaching experiences were limited to private music lessons and chamber music/sectional coaching.  I had never had any interest in teaching classroom music, and had never even considered formal studies in music education.  (Blessed be, I’m a delusional trombonist.)

When I finally realized that I was interested in teaching, I brainstormed my ideal classroom setting and lessons.  These ideas came out of thinking over how to relate better to students so that whatever the age group, the whole person, not just the mental aspect, could participate and contribute to the class. I realized that I needed to have more information about how kids of all ages learn and what the various stages of learning look like.  I believe quite strongly that as teachers, we can better access the minds of our students when we have an understanding of each stage of development, starting as early as two years of age.  At that point most of my students had been high school or college-aged.  My goal then was to create a music class for young kids ages 4-12 that would allow their ideas to be an integral part of the curriculum and would nurture their spirits with compassionate teaching so they would feel free to be their authentic selves.  At the time I believed (accurately, as it turns out) that teaching younger kids would strengthen and enrich my development as a teacher so that when I returned to the high school and college-aged students with whom I had been familiar, I could reach them more easily and be a better teacher.

Here are a couple of the basic concepts that direct my activities.  I will expound further on each of them in upcoming blog posts.

A great way to send a message to a kid that their ideas are just as valid as the teacher’s is to sit in a circle.  I find that this seating arrangement feels better spiritually as well.  Everyone has eye contact with one another, and even though nothing in the circle indicates superiority of one person over another, the implicit understanding is that the teacher is the one in charge.  Besides, it’s not so easy to talk behind the teacher’s back or play with toys when everyone is equally exposed.

Hands-on Projects
Kids aren’t interested in learning theories alone.  They learn the theories by means of physical practice and by making mistakes.  I always include a major component of hands-on learning by using the body, musical instruments, or composition in class.  As much as as possible, I break the group into smaller groups or partners so learning (and making mistakes) can be less intimidating.


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.


Posted in Admin by iawmblog on January 7, 2010

Welcome to the IAWM blog. The IAWM (International Alliance for Women in Music) is a global network of women and men working to increase and enhance musical activities and opportunities and to promote all aspects of the music of women. You can find out more about the IAWM as well has browse through a large repository of useful information at our website, Dig in; there is a remarkable amount of material available there.

Six bloggers form our inaugural team. They represent a wide range of experiences and will be blogging about diverse topics. If you are an IAWM member and are interested in blogging for us, please contact the IAWM Blog Coordinator, Carolyn Bremer: For information on how to become a member of the IAWM, visit our membership page.

This blog was created as a way to share our experiences. Comments are welcome. If you have a story to share, please do! But be aware that spam and disrespectful comments will be deleted.