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What Do Women Musicians Want?

Its protest put women in the Vienna Phil, but the International Alliance of Women in Music is about art as well as activism.

May 25, 1997|John Henken | John Henken is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Exhibiting some of the traits of both an academic society and a labor union, the International Alliance for Women in Music mixes art and activism with rare intensity--and cyberspace knowhow. Just ask the august patriarchs of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the previously all-male bastion that was dogged with protests over its discriminatory hiring practices at each step of its March U.S. tour, including performances at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"Our strength has been communication," says IAWM President Deon Nielsen Price, a composer living in Culver City. "The IAWM worked quicker, got things going, internationally and locally, because of the Internet. The VPO protests were organized on-line. For local demonstrations, we had to connect with other groups--our people are so scattered--and we did, through our Web site and constant e-mail."

But these veterans of electronic communication occasionally gather to communicate corporeally--indeed, their annual meeting this year takes place Saturday at CalArts, as part of their weekend-long Tenth International Congress on Women in Music.

The Vienna Philharmonic protests--which resulted in the formal admission of the first-ever female member of the VPO, its harpist of 26 years--brought the 850-member IAWM its first public attention. Formed two years ago, the IAWM united three well-established groups: the International Congress on Women in Music, American Women Composers Inc., and the International League of Women Composers. The mission statement calls for the IAWM to support women's performances, recordings, research, competitions and broadcasts, to facilitate communication and to initiate advocacy work on behalf of women in music.

"The only umbrella is our mission statement," Price says. "All of our projects come from members and local chapters, not the board of directors or the executive committee. We're like an amoeba, which can go in any direction. We're on the brink of other advocacy projects, ones that might not be as public as the VPO. We'd like to reach women composers in Asia--we sent a representative to the festival of the Asian Composers League in Manila, where there were 150 women--and young women in this country."

Conference coordinator Jeannie Pool, executive director of the L.A.-based Society for the Preservation of Film Music, who organized the first National Congress on Women in Music in New York in 1981 and took it international the following year in Los Angeles, agrees. "One of our other strengths has been that we are so decentralized and diverse. I really feel that we are trying to represent many, many people. So naturally we have many different views and attitudes."

The diversity of the IAWM is reflected not only culturally and ethnically, but also professionally. The congresses have always had a strong academic bent and the other organizations were primarily for composers. Now the united alliance is bringing in performers and administrators, among others.

The agenda for the Tenth Congress, which runs from Thursday through next Sunday, confirms this. Major speakers include MacArthur Grant-winning musicologist Susan McClary, film composer Shirley Walker and Fran Richard, founder of the Meet-the-Composer program and head of ASCAP's concert music division. Workshops range from new technology through publishing and recording to sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

"I'm a musicologist and I'm going to talk about how we might discuss music by women critically," keynoter McClary says. "The title of my address is 'Does Gender Matter?: Theorizing Music by Women.' I don't think you can push gender out of the window, but there isn't a single specific thing that means 'woman' in music. Music by women, of course, is as diverse as music by men. I'm going to discuss the music of Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, and Joan Tower--all very different in their music and the ways they position themselves."

Concerts at the congress include full evenings with the CalArts New Century Players Thursday and Friday, a trip to the Long Beach Symphony Saturday, and many smaller recitals and lecture-demonstrations.

"Instead of just protesting what the Viennese aren't doing, we're putting our bodies in the seats in support of organizations that are doing the right things," Pool reports. "The Long Beach Symphony has a woman music director, a woman executive, a lot of women in the orchestra, they're doing a piece by a woman composer, and they've been artistically successful and have a lot of support in the community."

All of the congress events are open to the public, in person or on-line. (To receive conference updates during the event, send e-mail request to listproc@shoko.; send postings to After the event, all conference postings and other congress information will be available on the IAWM Web site (

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