The Second International Conference on Women’s Work in Music, Bangor University, Wales, 4–6 September 2019

From the 4-6 September, Bangor University in Wales hosted the Second International Conference on Women’s Work in Music.  The conference celebrated the achievements of women musicians from across the ages to the present day, and aimed to critically explore and discuss the changing contexts of women’s work in music on the international stage. There were 6 research sessions over the course of 3 days, with 2-3 concurrent topics running at once, in addition to lively panel discussions and concerts.

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Day 1:

The conference began with a paper session on female practitioners in popular music. Alice Masterson (York University, UK) presented a paper on Karen Carpenter, demonstrating how expectations surrounding ‘womens work’ in the soft-rock idiom of the 1970s suppressed Carpenter’s expressive freedom.

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I had been invited to present a paper in the same session, entitled “A Mother and a Sister: Pioneering Female Guitar Players and their Influence on the Development of the Lead Guitar in American Popular Music”. My presentation focused on the idiolect and influence of Maybelle Carter and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, two pioneering female lead guitar players in the ealry country and gospel-blues genres.

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The second afternoon paper session focused on performance and reception. Peng Liu (University of Texas, Austin) began the session with a paper on the German piano virtuoso Caroline de Bellville (1806-1880), examining the coexistence of gendered characteristics considered both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ within her performance style, and her reception via an examination of concerts reviews.

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Dr Jaswandi Wamburkar (SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, India) presented three case studies of  female Indian singers in the field of ‘light music’ (Malati Pandi, Jayamala Shiledar and Suma Kalyanpurkar), examining the ways in which the women successfully negotiated public and musical domains which had been historically dominated by patriarchal assumptionsj

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Dr Barbara Gentili delivered a paper on Emma Carelli (1877-1928), an Italian operatic soprano, active in the age of versimo opera, who left a successful performing career to take up the role of impresario at the Roman Opera house.

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Gabriele Slizyte (Sorbonne University and Conservatoire de Paris) presented a paper which offered an overview of the career of Gaby Casadesus (1901-1999), documenting the ways in which Casadesus navigated traditional gender roles and maintained an autonomous performing career, whilst married to Robert Casadesus, a male performer heralded as ‘one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century’.

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Day one concluded with a concert celebrating the work of one of Wales’ most prolific composers, Rhian Samuel.

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Day 2:

Day 2 began with a number of sessions, including a second session on Performance and Reception. Jessica Beck (University of Manchester UK) opened the session, presenting a paper on the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s inclusion of women as composers, performers and administrators. Ms. Beck drew on her research undertaken at the BBC archives, examining programming data and available press reports.

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Madeline Herbert offered an examination of the attitudes toward all- female big bands, with a comparative reception analysis of the ‘International Sweethearts of Rhythm’, a band active prior to and during the second world war, and the contemporary ‘DIVA Jazz Orchestra’. The paper discussed attitudes toward women in jazz, and the ways in which these attitudes may have changed over time.

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Joy Ellis (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) presented a paper focusing on the ‘Tomorrows Warriors’ program, an arts organisation based in London that aims to “inspire, foster and grow a vibrant community of artists, audiences and leader who together transform the lives of future generations by increasing opportunity, diversity and excellence in and through jazz”. Ms Ellis’ paper focused on the strategies deployed by the organisation to help young women access and navigate jazz communities and performance spaces.

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The morning was concluded with a keynote presentation by Dr Liane Curtis, President of the ‘Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy’ and the ‘Rebecca Clarke Society’. Dr Curtis’ presentation argued for the continued historical recovery and robust integration of women composers as part of the fabric of classical music-making, in every respect.

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Thursday afternoon began with a session on Music, Gender and Representation. Claudia Falcone, a PhD candidate at Bangor University, presented some of her research, analysing the portrayal of the guitar and female players in ealry nineteenth century art. Ms. Falcone identified five recurrent tropes of effeminacy, exoticisation, wealth and status, education and romantic courtship, and offered exemplifiers of each.

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Dr Elisabeth Honn Hoegberg (University of Indianapolis, USA) offered a paper entitled ‘Untrammled Imagination: The Women of Wa-Wan Press’. Active in the first decade of the 20th century, Wa-Wan Press was illustrative of America’s search for its musical voice. Dr Hoegberg discussed the ways in which Wa-Wan promoted female American composers as part of a nationalist agenda, through an examination of the visual representation of the women’s music and accompanying narratives.

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Dr Vivian Montgomery (Longy School of Music, Massachusetts, USA), Dr Janet Youngdahl (University of Lethbridge, Canada) and Elizabeth Kenny (University of Oxford, UK) presented a lecture-recital in celebration of the work and life of 17th century composer/singer Barbara Strozzi, 400 years after her birth in Italy.

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The afternoon concluded with a panel discussion ‘Women Composers: Looking Back and Looking Forward’. This panel brought together performers, academics and broadcasters (Diana Ambache, Dr Kate Kennedy, Rhian Samuel, Edwina Wolstencraft) to discuss how they have approached and sought to redress the notable absence of women composers in histories of music, university syllabi, on the airwaves and in concert halls.

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Day two finished with a pre-concert talk with Angela Elizabeth Slater, founder and artistic director of the ‘Illuminate’ concert series, which celebrates the work of women composers from the past and present.

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The talk was followed by a wonderful concert, with a program featuring all-female composers, including Barbara Strozzi, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Rebecca Clarke and Vivian Fine, as well as world premieres by contemporary composers Yfat Soul Zisso, Joanna Ward, Sarah Westwood, Caroline Bordignon, Blair Boyd and Angela Elizabeth Slater.

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Day 3

Friday morning began with another paper session, ‘Perspectives on Women’s Work in Music’. Dr Laura Hamer (Open University, UK) opened the session with a paper entitled ‘Une belle manifestation feministe’: Motivation and Formation of the UFPC (Union des Femmes Professeurs et Compositeurs de Musique).  Dr Hamer’s paper illuminated the contributions of the UFPC, an organisation formed in Paris in 1904 by Marie Daubresse, in order to defend the ‘collective interests of women musicians’.

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Kelly Lynn Christensen (Stanford University) offered a paper entitled ‘Women and Parisian Music Publishing in the First Half of the 19th Century’ , revealing women’s involvement in the music publishing industry in Paris, in particular the leadership of Madamme’s Leduc and Launer.

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Dr. Nancy Washer (The College at Brockport, State University of New York) delivered a  paper documenting  ‘women’s work’ in the Viola da Gamba Society of America, examining the contributions of women to the historical development and current leadership structures of society.

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The morning concluded with a thought provoking Keynote presentation from Deborah Annetss,  Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, entitled ‘100 Years after Womens suffrage: Has music got the message?’ Her presentation included an examination of the findings of a survey taken by the ISM in 2018, which aimed to compile data surrounding issues of discrimination in the British music sector.

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The Second International Conference on Women’s Work in Music was truly an inspiring and empowering conference. Many thanks to the committee at Bangor University, led by Dr Rhiannon Mathias, for bringing together a terrific community of scholars, practitioners and professionals in the field, each with a common focus – elucidating the often overlooked contributions of women in the field of music.

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