Caroline Shaw

imagesHow many women composers of serious music do you know?  For centuries the Classical music scene was dominated by male composers and then further promoted by male authors of music history books that took little notice of any woman composer. “A woman must not desire to compose – not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to?” wrote Clara Schumann, a very significant 19th century German composer.  It is very important that we are all informed about gender in our work and professional music production and creation is no exception. Read brief introductory histories about 10 other “famous” women composers to get a sense of the scope of the issue.  Note that this week the Metropolitan Opera in NYC is performing an opera written by a woman (KAIJA SAARIAHO-have you heard of her?; click the link for an awesome trailer!).  This is the first time in over 100 years since the Met has performed an opera by a woman.  Why?   At Xavier University we offer a course, MUSC 116 – Women in Music, taught by Dr. Jewel Smith that focuses exclusively on women composers, all music majors should elect to study this history, as it is truly fills in for the hidden half of our social and cultural creative works that few are aware of and that society continues to hide from us.

In this blog, we focus on Caroline Shaw, a living composer of today.  Her experiences are primarily in the 21st century not the 19th century.  What does this mean for her?  You will find a few of her works are now widely available. Research a bit about her, inform yourself briefly about the marginalization of serious women composers throughout history and then listen to parts of several works by Caroline Shaw.  Pick two works to review.  In your review, critically evaluate her music.  Use terminology and concepts learned in Music Theory I (take a look through all the terms at the end of each chapter and as appropriate use these to guide your reply).  Is her music based on a scale or a mode?  How chromatic is her music?  What type of rhythmic features characterize the work?  Discuss the timbre of her music.  To what extent are 16th century musical lines and techniques employed?  Are there traditional melodies present?  Finally, comment on gender in music from your personal perspective. Do you perform any music by women composers?  Can you name one?

Enter one reply to this post and then later respond to four other replies from other writers.

What’s in a prize? The Pulitzer Prize for Music?

Pulitzer Prize Medal
Pulitzer Prize Medal

The Pulitzer prize for music is an award that started out as a way to recognize an American composer in the later half of the 20th century who was composing “excellent” music in the tradition of Classical European music. The Wikipedia article on the music Pulitzer prize reveals its  challenged American journey to figure out exactly what is “excellent American serious music” (my quotations). Please read the article.  In this blog, we take the most recent two years of Pulitzer prize winners and finalists  in music and discuss if it means anything to be a winner, the best, the acclaimed composer, the selected work.  Please look at the entire list and see if you know one of the pieces!?  Certainly it is an honor to be recognized, yet as with all criticism in art, for every aspect that has been considered  there are many that are overlooked.  For example, jazz was excluded for many years, African-American composers were recognized extremely late in the game, highly experimental music is barely recognized and on and on we could go.  Yet, each of the pieces for 2016 and 2015 have much to recommend them.  They truly are serious, well-composed works that have moved the hearts and minds (might this be the definition of serious?) of the committee and others.  Listen to either the three works from 2016 or the three from 2015 (see links below) and develop your criteria on how a significant work of music should be evaluated.  What makes a piece of music an important contribution to its current culture?  Keep your list brief, explain your list  and then apply a few (say three) of your criteria to either year.  Discuss the finalists compared to the winners.  If a work is particularly long, then listen to it over several sessions, keep some notes and be fearlessly honest. In the end, we all, each of us must decide what we listen to, shouldn’t we have our own reasons?   Enter a reply and then later come back and make four comments to replies already entered.  Before listening and writing do a bit of research on the composer and piece.


In for Penny, In for a Pound

The Blind Banister


Anthracite Fields 

The Aristos

Memories of Xiaoziang (for tape and Saxophone instead of orchestra and Saxophone)