The Women Are Coming
March 3, 2012 3 Comments
Fifteen years ago, on my first Classical Discoveries program on WPRB, I played a work of the Polish violinist and composer, Grażyna Bacewicz. At this time it was hard to find a CD or LP with women composers and buying over the Internet had just begun.
Before my marriage, I had no idea that March 8 was celebrated all over the world as International Women’s Day. My almost wife informed me that she was accustomed to receive her favorite flowers, freesia on that day.
When my first March came along, together with a Hovhaness birthday tribute, I played the music of a few women composers and my wife got a wonderful bouquet of freesia. Actually, to find freesia was easier than to find recordings of music by women, since this was the time of the Philadelphia Flower Show and the region exploded with flowers.
As my CD collection was growing I was able to eventually devote the entire month of March to woman composers. This is how the annual series “In Praise Of Woman” was born and you know the rest.
Every March from 2004, in observance of Women’s History Month, Classical Discoveries pays tribute to music by women composers from all over the world and through the centuries. Every regular scheduled program (that includes the Avant-Garde Edition from 2009) is exclusively devoted to their music.
I heard many times the opinion that women are not capable to compose, write and paint, based on amount of work they left through the ages. On my webpage devoted to this program I quoted a few years ago the following:
History was not very kind to women in the past. They were destined to be wives and mothers, were kept away from education and culture by controlling fathers, brothers and husbands. Women were forbidden to write, compose, or paint and the only way for some to escape that path was to join a convent, however these often had many restrictions imposed by male superiors.
The lucky ones born to wealthy or artistic families were allowed to be creative, often only till they got married. Some of them could not escape the sad destiny of having their works claimed by men. Many women did not sign their works or they used a male name. It has been suggested by many researchers that women are behind many anonymous works.
I think they did pretty well considering all the obstacles they faced and it is time for us men, to admit that we were responsible for those obstacles.
Of course, I did reference to the past, but if you turn on the radio and TV these days you wonder if we are going back in time and if the above comment will apply in the next 10 years. I hope it never comes to that.
Yes, I must admit that it is better for women now. Some have even gotten the recognition they deserve, but that is not enough.
There are not many places where one can learn about woman composers. You definitely won’t learn much by attending most concerts or by listening to your typical classical radio station where most likely the average listener won’t be able to name 5 women composers.
I teach Music History for the Young Artist program at Westminster Conservatory and always make sure to include women composers in my presentations. I get a lot of pleasure seeing young women’s faces light up with pride on the news that we had women composers in all historical periods. You should have seen my surprise after asking if anyone knew who the first woman was who wrote a sonata and hearing the name Isabella Leonarda coming from the mouth of 16-year-old student. In fact, I wonder how many regular classical music listeners know who she was? Yes, my message is getting through.
Preparing for all of my programs of women composers reminded me about a rather disturbing Facebook incident, where I had been accused (not a long time ago) for patronizing women. Since I was devoting a whole Classical Discoveries program to music written by women I was sending a wrong message to a young impressionable women. (sic)
The whole incident started turn ugly and engaged many listeners and composers in my defense. I tried not to get to involved with this, but eventually I had no choice but write the following statement to my attacker to stop her from continuing this farce.
I do consider myself as very sensitive guy, careful not to hurt someone feelings. I have never thought that calling a composer – a woman composer might hurt some. The English language does not give us flexibility like other languages to make that distinction. Is it really so bad to be called a woman composer?
I never thought in my life that a young impressionable woman would get the wrong message listening to only women composers on Classical Discoveries. I wonder why so many of them (young women) wrote to me over the years saying that I opened their eyes showing how many great women composers exist, and that they are very proud being women musicians or/and composers.
Someone does not need to patronize me by telling me that I might have good intentions. I do not. I do the right thing by devoting whole programs to women composers even if one person does not like it. As the creator of this program I have total artistic freedom how, what and when I present it. In my program, considering the limited time I have, I do the best to present unknown composers and that includes men also.
By the way I asked and never heard from you if it is ok for a woman radio host to devote a whole program to women composers. Guess what? Since you never answered, I am not interested to find this from you anymore. I would like to thank you in advance for bowing out and not continuing this farce. I would especially like to thank as well all of my (sometimes insulted) supporters. …I consider this subject closed, it seems that no one who responded agrees with your opinion, however, I promise you that I will respect any wish from any composer not to be played on my program.
At the end, the attacker claiming to be a musician, bowed out, and this is bizarre – she admitted to not having any idea what my program was about and admitted she never listened to it.
I do not expect any more problems like this and she is no more my Facebook friend. So far I have not received even one letter from a composer requesting that his/her music would not to be played on my program.
So here we are on the brink of the 9th Annual “In Praise of Woman” - four weeks of nothing but music by women.
If you have not visited my website, here is the information:
The first two shows of the series will air Wednesday, March 07, 2012 at 5:30am and will be devoted to American Women composers. On March 14, Classical Discoveries will host live, in the WPRB studio, Cuban composer Tania León and on March 21, English composer Roxanna Panufnik
and all that will happen on WPRB 103.3 FM Princeton NJ, or on the Internet at: http://www.wprb.com/listen.php
To find past playlists of the annual series and other programs devoted to music by women composers go to
In Praise of Woman page.
Please check the weekly posting for highlights and upcoming features at http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org
Also, this year you will be able to listen to archived programs for two weeks at: http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org/index_music
If you are on Facebok please join the Event at : https://www.facebook.com/events/361012613933524/