Kendra Leonard (Loveland, OH)
What does it mean to be a “female composer”? Even today, in our music history books, women who compose music are often called out because of their gender; in some books, women hardly even get mentioned at all. The reason isn’t because we don’t know much about women who write music—we know lots and learn more every year—but because the traditional story of music history has marched along from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Brahms for a very long time, and that path has worn a groove in the way we talk about music history. Lots of composers never make it onto this path and disappear, including composers who are anything and everything except the familiar white, European men. We lose black composers, Asian composers, Hispanic composers, women composers, disabled composers, and so many more. And in losing those composers, we lose an incredible amount of amazing music that we would know, perhaps, if the composer had not been one of those “Others.”
Women have always been composers, but they haven’t always gotten their fair share of attention. And it wasn’t always easy being a composer in a world where they were a minority: some music schools wouldn’t accept women as students until well into the twentieth century; conductors didn’t want to program their music; critics wrote more about what they wore than how well they played (a phenomenon that hasn’t changed). So when we talk about “female composers,” we’re referring to a whole history of exclusion from the mainstream music world, and the work that earns them a place on the path of all great composers: into the books, where they belong.