MP3: Music Theory Examples by Women
AboutThe “Music Theory Examples by Women” Working Group seeks to explore and extend the presence of female composers in music theory curricula and to support and engage other scholars and students working in this area around the world.
Active since: 2019
Open to New People
- University of Rochester
- Cornell University
In collaboration with Fourscoreandmore, founded by Mark Gotham (formerly of Cornell University and now an external member), we seek to democratize access to music theory with free access to digital-age resources for teachers and students. This year, our goals were to continue developing work done in conjunction with Fourscoreandmore and to promote the scholarship and performance of music by women.
Two events coordinated with Fourscoreandmore were the Scores of Scores international crowdsourcing of score encodings and an analysis-a-thon. These events continue our work in two ways: (1) to expand on the existence and availability of scores by women in computer-readable formats that enable easy, efficient, and versatile inclusion into classroom activities; and (2) human analyses of those scores to the same ends. In previous work, Music by Women (formerly: http://musictheoryexamplesbywomen.com/) has acted as a focus for international attention to this matter, and Fourscoreandmore has begun the process of encoding and analyzing.
Each year, through events timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, we coordinate a particularly intense extension of this score encoding effort and performance of works by women composers from our base in the CNY Corridor at Cornell-Eastman. Two additional activities, “A Voice of One’s Own: The Cornell Vocal Program Celebrates International Women’s Day” (hosted by Cornell University) and the Florence Price Symposium (hosted by the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester) expanded our mission to promote scholarship and performance of music by women considerably.
Minehan Family Professor, and Professor of Music Theory at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Rochester
Associate Professor of Music, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Assistant Professor of Music Theory, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester
Non Corridor MembersMark Gotham, Professor of Music Theory, T.U. Dortmund (to 2022); Assistant Professor in Computer Science, Durham University (from 2023)
Collaboration with Fourscoreandmore: Scores of Scores and Analysis-a-Thon Our score corpus has expanded considerably. The collection now includes songs not only in English, German, and French, but also Swedish (several songs by Helena Munktelland Laura Netzel), Italian (Gabrielle Ferrari), Hawaiian (Liliuokalani's ‘Aloha Oe’), and Brazilian Portuguese (Chquinha Gonzaga). The corpus now contains over 1,300 individual songs by 105 composers of which 59 are female (46 male). These have always been hosted publicly under the maximally permissive CC0 on MuseScore.com where they have attracted tens of thousands of uses (downloads, plays, etc.). Additionally, there is now a Github ‘mirror’ for the scholarly community; the publication announcing this mirror won the Music Encoding Conference 2021 Best Poster Award (https://doi.org/10.17613/1my2-dm23).
Buoyed by the success of encoding the Lieder, we have begun the task of creating a similar collection of string quartets – again selected partly based on the potentiality for positive work to be done in this area in terms of highlighting works by women composers. The total number of scores is lower for two reasons. First, is the length of the works: quartet movements are typically much longer than songs. Second is the complexity of the task: the quartets we are transcribing are only available in manuscript and require real, scholarly editing to bring them into a usable state. This latter issue is closely connected to their origin as works by women and the practical challenges of getting those works edited and published professionally in the past. We take great pride in taking on those challenges and bringing these works out into the public domain, some for the first time since their creation over 150 years ago.
The collection of analyses also continues to grow and provides the basis for significant public-facing resources, not least being the Open Music Theory Anthology, which draws together hundreds of repertoire examples for various musical topics in a convenient resource, again linking the encoded scores: https://viva.pressbooks.pub/openmusictheory/chapter/anthology-harmony/.
This year, we expanded the analysis task remit to encode analyses of a different kind, focused not on the harmony, but the melodic and motivic content. This was a first-time, experimental venture. As such, we limited the number of participants to facilitate real-time group analysis and discussion led by several group leaders on Zoom. It was highly successful and led to public-facing resources that will follow soon and feature prominently in our 2022–2023 report.
A Voice of One’s Own: The Cornell Vocal Program Celebrates International Women’s Day:
- Cornell University hosted several events scheduled around International Women’s Day, from March 7 to 11, 2022. The work leading up to the March 2022 performances, however, began (on the part of students and the professors supporting them) in the Fall 2021 semester: students began to research repertoire – in one case working with libraries in Europe to track down scores – and to plan their engagement with the materials. This work continued in the Spring 2022 semester in individual lessons as well as in studio classes, was further polished in a master class, and culminated in a student concert on March 8, 2022.
- The master class with visiting artists Daniel McGrew (tenor) and Michael Brofman (piano) of the Brooklyn Art Song Society inspired both participating and observing students and faculty of piano and voice at Cornell throughout the rest of the semester, and led to outside engagement of a few students with these performers. The student concert, in Cornell's Barnes Hall, represented the first opportunity for our voice students to return to this performance space since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was in and of itself a monumental occasion. In this concert, students performed on two instruments from Cornell’s collection of historical keyboard instruments, a 1908 Steinway and an 1823 Graf fortepiano. While last year’s CNY Humanities Corridor-supported concert did provide an opportunity for students to engage with Cornell’s historical instruments, it was only through singing along to a recording, and working via Zoom: we were not able to have any singers and pianists in the same room together. This year, we were able to allow a greater number of pianists and many more singers the opportunity to work with historical keyboards – many for the first time – and to truly experience the sound world the composers would have heard when they were writing these works.
- Guest composer Katherine Balch, who was guest teaching at Peabody Conservatory in the 2021-2022 school year and joins the faculty of the Yale School of Music in Fall 2022, presented a mobile-building workshop for Cornell students that used recycled and other found materials to create new musical instruments, also tying into work being done by Cornell’s ReSounds project to invent and compose for new instruments. She ended the week with a Composer’s Forum, which attracted guests from Cornell’s undergraduate and graduate programs, Cornell faculty, and students from Ithaca College. Following the Wednesday premiere of her work, estrangement, a studio recording was made. This will be edited in Summer 2022 and released digitally in Fall 2022.
- Below is an excerpt from a student response following the guest artist and faculty performance of Balch’s estrangement, which was interleaved with Schumann’s Dichterliebe. “This presentation really made me think about what it means to respond, especially in the context of Women's History Month, and thinking about all of the examples of grand "classical" romance that are so often hailed as the best of classical music history… Both in their musical, linguistic, and poetic separation, and in all the ways those elements were similar, it felt like such a new form of what I consider a musical response, and yet such a clear one.”
Florence Price Symposium:
- As part of the Eastman School of Music’s Centennial Celebration, Sylvie Beaudette revived the Women in Music Festival of which she is a co-founder. The festival featured a full week of concerts and panel discussions centered on women in music, and culminated with a day-long symposium dedicated to the life and works of Florence Price. The symposium brought together scholars and performers who shared their knowledge of Price’s life and music with an audience of faculty, students, and the general public.
- The daytime topics included presentations on “Black Idioms in the Music of Florence B. Price” (Cory Hunter, University of Rochester); a viewing of The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price with pre-film presentation and post-viewing Q&A with the documentarian (James Greeson, University of Arkansas) over Zoom; a panel discussion “No Gender Equity without Intersectionality” (Eastman School of Music Student Panel); “The Rebirth of the Piano Concerto in One Movement” (Stephen Spinelli, Cornell University); and “Archival Work and Analysis of Florence Price’s Art Songs” (Stephen Spinelli, Cornell University; Tamara Acosta, Ithaca College; Charity Lofthouse, Hobart and William Smith Colleges; and Sarah Marlowe, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester). The day concluded with a Florence Price Legacy Concert featuring performances by Eastman School of Music faculty and students.
- The event was a huge success in many respects. It was very well attended throughout the day, fostered new academic friendships with significant possibility of future collaboration, sparked continuing and new research on Florence Price and related topics, and was a very powerful learning experience for many of the students.
- Sarah Marlowe required her sophomore theory students to attend at least one event throughout the day and to report back on what they learned. Here are some of the student responses:
- “I thought it was interesting how, on one hand, easy to claim music to be lost, but how easy, on the other, it is to truly lose music. Every musical example brought up today, from the concerto to the setting to Langston Hughes, was claimed to have been lost. They were found with enough digging, but it is also disheartening to think that Price's concerto may truly have been lost if the owners of the Illinois home had not checked carefully enough.”
- “Something that I learned during this session that intrigued me and encouraged me to explore the music of Florence Price is that she incorporates so many different styles and harmonic variations into her work. I remember the words musical theater, jazz, pentatonic and modal were mentioned. I’ve always been interested in music that explores styles and textures that are out of the ordinary in classical music, and I think Price’s music would be perfect to pursue that interest.”
- “I learned how Florence Price incorporated African American spirituals into her classical works. It was really interesting to participate in guided listenings of her pieces and hear how she used some of the defining characteristics of slave spirituals, such as the pentatonic scale, blue notes and call and response to pay tribute to her African heritage in her composition.”
- New research is developing from this symposium as well.
- Stephen Spinelli was awarded a research fellowship next year at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, where he will explore the music of Margaret Bonds with the goal of increasing the visibility of her remarkable legacy.
- As co-founders of ONEcomposer, Stephen Spinelli and Tamara Acosta continue their advocacy of underrepresented composers.
- Sarah Marlowe and Charity Lofthouse will present their analysis of two songs by Florence Price and Margaret Bonds again in July 2022 at the Newcastle Music Analysis Conferencein Newcastle, UK, with plans to submit for publication thereafter