Women and Music: a Journal of Gender and Culture has just released a new volume, which includes my review of Jennifer Kelly’s book In Her Own Words. The journal is available from the publisher or from digital services such as Project Muse, but here’s an excerpt from my article to get you started:
In the introduction to In Her Own Words: Conversations with Composers in the United States, Jennifer Kelly states that she asked each of her interviewees “whether she thought that there is a need for women-only concerts, festivals, and recordings” (6), a query that could easily be extended to books including only female composers. In the past two years, this controversial subject has received much debate in online new music circles due in part to articles on NewMusicBox and in the New York Times’s opinion series “The Score.” Throughout those writings and the present collection of interviews, three distinct perspectives appear on the existence of women-only concerts, recordings, books, and similar projects: the first views such activities as a potential counteragent to poor representation in other venues; the second recognizes them as the celebration of a particular tradition within a larger community; and the third believes they actually contribute to the marginalization of women.
In Her Own Words grew out of the first position, yet the second underlies both the author’s attitude toward the project and the conversations she has with her subjects. In the introduction, Kelly includes an account of how she came to write the book, recalling:
As late as the 1980s in my high-school curriculum, women were not addressed as creators of music, and into the 1990s, when discussing women composers in college, the professors brought in “special” books. When I later became a professor myself, the standard textbooks still did not yet adequately represent my own gender; so I, too, brought in “special” books for the class. (2)
The author’s frustration with her limited exposure to female composers led her not to write a standard text better integrating women but rather to create another “special” book.
In Her Own Words—a book I believe is indeed special, extraordinary even, on many levels—contains twenty-five interviews that present a diverse overview of American women composers across the past eight decades. The book provides an unprecedented exploration of these composers’ music, experiences, philosophies, and more, with the goal of “bringing a more informed performance to an audience and more informed discussion into the classroom” (1). With this collection, Kelly clearly hopes to ameliorate the ignorance concerning female composers that she herself experienced. She reveals: “Without the benefit of having studied women composers as a matter of course throughout my education, I mistakenly believed that the number of talented women in music was small and their few musical scores worthy of study were already on the library shelves” (2). While the situation may be improving, women are still not adequately represented in textbooks, libraries, concerts, or other outlets through which audiences learn about music. Ideally, this text and others like it will mark an important step toward greater inclusion of women in mainstream studies of works while also encouraging musicians to program more music by female composers…