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“Thematic Aspects”: A Design Strategy for the next CMS Report on the Status of Women in College Music by Judith Lang Zaimont

As delivered at the International Conference of the College Music Society, Toronto, Canada -- Fall 2000


Distinguished composer Judith Lang Zaimont has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in Composition, and a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in musicology. Formerly on the Theory faculties of Queens College, CUNY and Peabody Conservatory, from 1991-2005 she was Professor of Composition at the School of Music - University of Minnesota.

A great deal of primary information has come forward over the past 20-plus years pertaining to women’s contributions to music. Although we’re still sifting through much of it, I’m glad to have been responsible for bringing some of this information forward, particularly in my capacity as creator and editor-in-chief of the Greenwood Press books series, The Musical Woman: An International Perspective. Our three volumes were developed essentially throughout the decade of the 1980s, and appeared in 1984, 1987 and 1991.

As editor in chief I had the exciting task of configuring the books, fixing particular topics and areas of inquiry, and then working with individual authors collaboratively to design the essays, while looking to do primary research and data discovery on several topics not previously explored in print. Several of the volumes’ essays were devoted to informational studies and surveys (most now needing replication and updating) that overlap with some of what the next CMS report on the Status of Women in College Music could probe into appropriately. Three examples:

= Dr. Carol Ann Feather’s essay on “Women Band Directors in Higher Education” (Vol. II: 388-410), in which it was noted that of 275 members in the American Bandmasters Association, a single woman member was admitted for the first time in 1984.

= Sylvia Glickman’s article on “Women in Music Competitions” surveying Performance, Composition and Conducting competition results worldwide over a twenty-one year period, 1967-1988 (Vol. III: 293-320). While women earned approximately 45% of prizes in competitions overall, the results in Composition and Conducting are much more unequal: women Conductors - 9% overall, women Composers - c. 18% overall. Yet, in a country-by-country analysis of percentages of women entrants compared to women winners for 13 countries, there is a direct correlation between the two percentages; and in several instances percentages of women winners exceed percentages of women entrants. This prompts reasonable speculation that women may self-select more harshly then men at the very gate of admission, when deciding whether to enter a competition at all.

= Professor Emma Lou Diemer’s article on “Women Professors of Composition” in the USA, Europe and Asia (Vol. III: 714-738), surveying raw numbers of women Composition teachers country by country; as an array within institutions at various tiers (including a comparison of conservatory and university); and according to salary information (there being a broad band of salary levels actually pertaining to individual academic rank). Only one female Composition professor in this survey (completed in 1989) posted a salary of $70,000.

As a composer, I’m naturally most curious about keeping tabs on how women fare currently in the two musical leadership capacities of Conductor and Composer, and I hope to see updated statistical pictures of these professions emerge from the CMS Report to compare with figures already available pertaining to other music specialties. It is clear that in recent decades women have found opportunities for employment in significant number on the organizational side of our art, where jobs to be filled coincide well with the traditional feminine strengths: good organizational skills, attention to detail, and good interpersonal skills. For instance, at this time women serve as heads of the Concert Music divisions of both ASCAP (Frances Richard) and BMI (Barbara Petersen); as artist representatives and managers in healthy numbers; and as orchestra managers for more than half of the 30 major American orchestras.

Within the academy and without, women Composers and Conductors are clearly visible, at a percentage that’s held pretty steady within a 12-20% range -- a percentage not dissimilar to that already established from early in the 20th century:

= Women composers constituted 12% of the total number of composers published by the Arthur P. Schmidt Company (1876-1958); particularly in the company’s first 45 years, these were the chief American composers of the time. [Adrienne Fried Block’s article on the company, TMW Vol. II: 145-176]

= Comprehensive figures documenting the first 10 years of the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Residency Program (1973-1983) show that women comprised 10-15% of total applicants, and 17% of conductors actually appointed to residencies. [Jesse Rosen interview, TMW Vol. II: 91-119]

(Interestingly this corresponds well with Germaine Tailleferre’s one-sixth “share” of Les Six, roughly equaling 17 percent.)

The 12-20% figure also correlates interestingly with fairly recent figures for American women visual artists -- 16% of all artists represented by New York City’s top 33 galleries (April 1990) -- and are also competitive with national percentages for American women in some other jobs or the professions. What is missing for women in music, however, is documentation of a dynamic curve of increasing percentage of women’s participation over the years, something clearly present for other professions in the United States. Some figures follow (1971-1986):

Agriculture: from 5 to 33 percent
Law: from 7 to 40 percent
Architecture: from 12 to 36 percent
Communications: from 14 to 59 percent
Physical sciences: from 14 to 27 percent

We need current data for musical women, and comparisons with the earlier CMS Reports, in order to ascertain whether this dynamic trend is also present for academic musical women.

By focusing on the two music specialties in which women have had a particularly uphill struggle for recognition -- Composition and Conducting -- it is possible to articulate three proposed Thematic Aspects for the upcoming CMS Report to be probed into via both the initial methodological design and subsequent statistical sifting:

#1: A focus on GROUP DYNAMICS assayed statistically (rather than profiling the accomplishments of particular, perhaps exceptional individuals). As appealing as anecdotal evidence in individual instances may be, it is the overall situations and trends the study should concentrate upon.

Why? Because research on Women in Music has now progressed into early stage two of the three successive paradigms for historical inquiry postulated by feminist scholar Gerda Lerner. According to Lerner, stage one is Compensatory history, in which notable individual female contributors are recognized, but they are not absorbed into the field; their significance to society as a whole is not assessed nor does it percolate forward meaningfully to inflect eras beyond their own lifetimes. Stage two (in which our inquiries at present reside) is Contribution history: It begins to examine relations and probe for explanations. Contribution history focuses on why and how women have been under-recognized, and their contributions drastically under-appreciated in terms of clout, importance and continuing impact.

[I insert two caveats here concerning the figures the Report might produce: (A) Composers and Conductors with academic appointments don’t necessarily hold titled positions in their chosen field. (A number of women composers actually hold academic appointments in applied music, theory and music education.) (B) It’s a slippery assumption to identify high professional rank with coordinate academic appointment. Many conductors don’t teach. And there’s a growing current trend for composers not so automatically to discover their kindest home in the academy.]

#2: Both the sheer numbers and derived percentages the CMS Report will provide can also be sifted to determine how far women have progressed towards achieving CRITICAL MASS in each music specialization.

To achieve critical mass is to move beyond the (relatively few) exceptional individuals to a perspective that seeks to identify women as specific, entire professional cohorts. This concept is key because a presence in numbers is sufficient in and of itself to award that group statistical significance, and concomitant clout. Eloquent here, and very pertinent, are the remarks made a few years ago in the White House Rose Garden by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the time of her nomination to the Court: She termed her nomination “significant because it contributes to the end of the days women -- at least half of the talent pool in our society -- appear in high places only as one-at-a-time performers.”

An accurate census of women’s presence within the various academic musical specialties -- sheer numbers, and the patterns of shift they identify -- will in and of itself be a valuable and persuasive tool for change.

#3: The CMS Report should also undertake to shed light on the crucial ECONOMIC ISSUES of rank and salary, key data in any movement towards professional parity for academic musical women.

A bit of background will provide perspective: By the start of the 1990s women accounted for approximately 28% of total academic faculty nation-wide. Since job security in academia is generally equivalent to the achievement of tenure, it is useful to note that as of 1995 women comprised 38% of tenured faculty nation-wide. However, tenured female full professors accounted for only 23% of the total tenured faculty in that same year; and the situation for women in tenured positions at the most prestigious institutions differed considerably. In 1995 women comprised only 11% of tenured full professors at Harvard University, and an even lower 9.4% at Yale University. And according to a landmark report published in 1999 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during the period 1986-1994, women faculty of all ranks taken together never comprised more than 8 percent of the faculty at MIT’s School of Science.

(Another key finding of the MIT report is that the number of women steadily declines as they progress along their career path. In a conference held last month at University of Pennsylvania at which both the MIT study and a Penn study, begun in June 2000 and still underway, were presented, this pyramidal structure of women’s decreasing presence by percentage as rank increases was an important finding. Overall at Penn right now, women comprise 35% of assistant professors, 23 % of associate professors, and 15 % of full professors; only 8 percent of department chairs are women.)

I look to the current CMS Report precisely for the up-to-date statistical picture it should provide -- tables of data capable of being sifted according to several Thematic Aspects, some of them suggested above -- and for the interpretation of those statistics. As the study progresses and finding s of the current Report are measured against the first two CMS Reports on Women’s Status, Women’s Studies, I would hope to discover improvement for the women musicians professionally situated in the academy, some of it incremental, some of it substantial.

Because, if we are close to achieving Critical Mass, we are no longer “statistically insignificant”. Once we are viewed and absorbed as perceptible professional cohorts, issues important to us are perforce important to our profession overall.

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For more information, and citations for figures mentioned above, see the Editor’s Introductions to Vols. I - III of The Musical Woman, and Zaimont’s other essays


© Copyright 2000, Judith Lang Zaimont



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