Over on http://www.newmusicbox.org/ there is a lively—chaotic, even—debate going on about the identity politics of the “woman composer.”   

Composer Rain Worthington wrote the post below as a comment to Rob Deemer’s post, A Helpful List .  With her permission, we re-post it here.  LC

I joined the New York Women Composers organization in 1997 when I first began notating music for mixed instruments. As a self-taught composer, I was excited to join ALL the composers’ membership organizations that I learned about—AMC, ACF, NYWC, and later, IAWM. I eagerly looked forward to moving within this new cultural network,to exchange ideas with colleagues and listen to the wide variety of contemporary composition happening.

A decade later I stepped up to serve as the Director of Development for the NYWC.

The question has arisen from time to time, whether there is still a need for organizations devoted to the promotion of women composers and women’s concert music.

With this, and a grant application, in mind, I did some informal research into the general representation ratios of women composers in such areas as radio broadcasts, grants and awards, and membership in the two big national composers’ membership organizations at the time: AMC and ACF.

As I mentioned, this was a very informal research undertaking on my part. Personally, since I was aware of many women composers, I expected to encounter some discrepancies in the gender representation numbers, but thought it would not be that large a gap.

I was shocked to find this wasn’t the case. Of the several months of radio broadcasts I surveyed from the four classical stations that I had randomly selected, the ratio of women composers’ music played was less than 1%.

The ratio of women recognized in grant programs and awards that I looked at over the past decade was slightly larger, approximately 10-15%.

But nothing came close to reflect the ratio of women’s membership in the national composer organizations which was about one-third women, to two-thirds men.

While I don’t know why the discrepancies still exist in this day and age and in this country, I do know that it is certainly not because of any lack of quality of music being composed by women.

It would be great if concert programs, radio broadcasts, grants and awards could more accurately reflect the overall gender ratio of composers actively working in the field, and yes, many composing high quality contemporary music.

I absolutely agree with your statement that “It is only through awareness that one can identify that “excellent” music to begin with.”

Increased awareness of contemporary women working in the field of composition is not a limitation, but an expansion of resources and knowledge. This provides an enrichment of perspective, rather than a reduction or narrowing.

I commend you for initiating this list, and to the resulting discussion it has generated, including all the additional names posted in the comments.

FYI, the New York Women Composers website a good resource for music by women composers, (many of whom are listed above) with Composer Profile pages, and searchable Catalog, with pdfs & audio samples.