Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Haiku Wednesday: Women in Music

music note with feminist symbol (ankh) below

They threw away half
Of all the great music that
Might have been written.

They threw away half
Of all of the great music
That could have been heard.

No time to write for
The hand that rocked the cradle
And maintained the home.
No baton left for
A matron, mom, or maiden
On the podium.

For lack of training
And of opportunity
We lost their voices…
Nearly—just a few
Managed to break down the walls
And make themselves heard.

Today is more than
Women’s Day—it’s time to rise,
Conduct, play, compose.

Today is International Women’s Day.  You may see any number of articles on Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, maybe even Hildegard von Bingen or Amy Cheney Beach.  You can follow the links to articles on each of these remarkable women in this blog.

Women were traditionally underrepresented in classical music.  What’s the situation now?

If you look at an old photograph of any orchestra, you’ll see a sea of tuxedos, and not a woman in sight (wait…maybe there’s one hidden behind the harp).  Look at a current photo, and you’ll see some women in the orchestra.  So, progress is being made.  But you’re still unlikely to find an equal distribution.

When we turn to the topic of female conductors, everyone first thinks of Marin Alsop—and then perhaps there is a long pause.   However, journalist Jessica Duchen has compiled a list of over 100 female conductors.  Duchen includes links to the conductors’ websites as well as brief bios, and these are fascinating.  But if we can name only one out of a hundred, there is still a long way to go.

Sadly, a search using the words “women classical music soloists” yields articles with titles containing the words”hottest,” “sexiest,”  and “pin-ups”…and I’m going to be ill now.

While there may be more women composers now than in previous times, a 2014 study11 found that women constitute only 15 percent of composition faculty in the top 20 music schools in the United States.  More than half of these schools have no women among the composition faculty at all.  Women constitute less than 15 percent of living composers whose works are presented by orchestras and in new-music series.11


Are things better than they were?  Yes.

Has the problem of underrepresentation been solved?  No.

We still have a long way to go, but the progress that has been made is somewhat encouraging.

Below you will find a number of articles on this topic that may be of interest.


  1. Gregory, Alice, “A History of Classical Music (The Women-Only Version),”  The New York Times, December 2, 2016,
  2. “The Great Women Composers,” Classic fm,
  3. Rivera, Jennifer, “Where Are All the Women in Classical Music?” The Huffington Post, September 21, 2016
  4. Tsioulcas, Anastasia, “What is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” NPR Classical Deceptive Cadence, October 9, 2013
  5. Pentreath, Rosie, “9 of the Best Contemporary Female Composers,”, March 8, 2017
  6. Cooper, Elinor, “10 Female Composers You Should Know,”, March 8, 2016
  7. Duchen, Jessica, “Why the Male Domination of Classical Music Might Be Coming to an End,” The Guardian, February 28, 2015,
  8. Tilden, Imogen, “’This is not a woman’s issue’—Tackling Conducting’s Gender Problem,” an interview with Marin Alsop. The Guardian, February 6, 2017
  9. Beer, Anna, “The Sound of Silence: Classical Music’s Forgotten Women,” The Guardian, April 2, 2016,
  10. Elizabeth, Jordannah, “10 Black Female Women Composers To Discover,”
  11. “Her Music: Today’s Emerging Female Composer,” WQXR, August 20, 2014,!/story/her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/


Hildegard von Bingen: Medieval Composer, Extraordinary Woman

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was a remarkable woman.  She was a composer, a mystic, a writer, and a significant figure of her time.  She was the leader of her community of nuns, and made an unprecedented move to relocate them to retain independence and her authority over the order.  She regularly corresponded with powerful church figures, virtually unheard of for a woman of that time.  She also wrote about the natural world and the practice of medicine.  The music page of says it best when it states that her music is distinguished by its soaring notes, and a much broader range than was typical for plainchant.  Hers is the music of a mystic.

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen

In case you were wondering about the image, that is a medieval depiction of inspiration, not tentacles.  Cthulhu was in no way involved in this.  And now, moving on…

The above illustration is from the Liber Scivias, one of Hildegard’s books containing her visions.  You can see all the pages of this beautifully illuminated manuscript at the University of Heidelberg’s digital library website.


Inside the front cover of the book, which is not devoted to music, is this wonderful example of early written music:


There are numerous recordings of Hildegard’s compositions, some traditional, some with unconventional backing tracks, such as the CD VisionVision is also the name of a powerful movie on the life of Hildegard von Bingen written and directed by Margarethe von Trotta.  For more about Hildegard’s music, visit the music page of

Here is a traditional rendition

and an unconventional one

Here is the official trailer for the film Vision