Michael Slayton

Editor’s Preface

Women of Influence in Contemporary Music: Editor’s Preface

Women of Influence in Contemporary Music was a collaborative project, a collection of nine chapters contributed by eight authors about nine prominent, living American composers: Elizabeth R. Austin, Susan Botti, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen, Tania León, Cindy McTee, Marga Richter, Judith Shatin. The idea for this book stemmed from my own work with the music of Elizabeth R. Austin. I had been writing extensively about her harmonic language, her intriguing “windowpane” method, and her penchant for weaving the music of the past into a contemporary tapestry. These scholarly, analytical endeavors inevitably led to a personal friendship with Austin herself, and we began a series of discussions that led to pertinent questions quite outside the realm of theoretical analysis: What exactly is the state of American culture concerning women who seek to develop careers as composers? What stories would women tell who had chosen this path, say, in the early 1950s? What about now? How have things changed over the past fifty years? Are there things that haven’t changed? And how may such issues be addressed without drawing further, undesired attention to gender differences? The composers selected for this book are representative of several different impulses in American music. While they have much in common, not least of all their dedication to their art, their individual stories reveal some of the paths that any American composer may follow. The women in this book have grown up in various circumstances, made various employment decisions, and faced diverse opportunities and obstacles; they demonstrate a variety of stylistic traits and a wide range of physical ages, experiences, and current levels of public prominence. The contributing authors were chosen in collaboration with the composers themselves. And because each author brings specific expertise and insights to the life and music of the composer with whom he or she is paired, the chapters are able to take an approach that is, above all, a personal one. Each chapter includes a biography of the composer, an interview, and a detailed theoretical and stylistic analysis of one major work. The composers have been asked to reflect openly on their individual journeys. The authors, like the composers, represent a wide range in the spectrum of contemporary musical scholarship. They are as follows:

Michael K. Slayton (Austin, McTee)—Vanderbilt University
Carson Cooman (Botti)—Boston, MA
Deborah Hayes (Frank)—University of Colorado, Boulder, emerita
Donald McKinney (Higdon)—Interlochen Arts Academy
Tina Milhorn Stallard (Larsen)—University of South Carolina
James Spinazzola (León)—University of Indianapolis
Sharon Mirchandani Richter)—Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Judith Lochhead (Shatin)—State University of New York, Stony Brook

The nine chapters of Women of Influence in Contemporary Music seek to reflect the contexts of the shifting societal landscapes in the United States over the last seven decades, as well as different stylistic approaches to writing music. The chapters benefit from the insights of recent cultural studies approaches that contextualize the creative output of composers rather than understanding it as having a source in genius alone. This book will therefore fill an important gap in the scholarly literature, as its combination of biographical information, interviews, discussion of compositional style, and analysis of a specific work presents a unique approach to the topic of American women in music. Dialogues between composer and author, which led to each contribution, situate the studies of these composers in the grounded reality of the composer’s own experience. It is hoped this approach will complement those found in other essential resources and will be a welcome update, helping readers find another path to discovery of the important contributions made by American women through its personal approach and clear focus on theoretical and analytical aspects of each composer’s style.

Because gender is crucial to personhood, gender issues arise, particularly in the interviews, and there is little uniformity in our subjects’ responses to feminism in its various historical manifestations. Composers themselves resist most kinds of labeling because it takes away from a focus on the music; composers who are women, like composers who are men, want simply to have their music considered as music. This book is intended, then, to provide perspective on these issues from the personal vantage point of the composer; plainly put, this book is about music and the people who create it.