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Game-Changer: Why I'm Supplementing the Suzuki Books With New Music - by Women!

Claire Allen

Written by
Published: October 30, 2014 at 3:40 AM [UTC]

My teaching life changed tonight, and it's because of something my 7-year-old student, Hannah, said to me. "Why are all the composers I learn about men?"

In my studio, right now, my students are divided into four teams, and those teams are participating in a variety of activities to earn points. I am keeping score for them and the winners will be announced right before our winter recitals - which, conveniently, they will be even more prepared for. They get points for practicing. They get points for completing a certain number of scale bowings, or reaching milestones in their etude books. They get points for attending concerts, and for reading books on music.

Hannah has proven to be a fierce competitor. Her mom ordered several of Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series and she has gone through one of them every single week, bringing in hand-written notes.

Today, she brought me some wonderfully written notes on George Frideric Handel. At the top of the page, she had written: "Question from Hannah: Why are all the composers I learn about men?"

It stopped me in my tracks. I consider myself a thoroughly modern woman. I vote. I own property. I have my own bank account. I have my own business. I drive. I even drive if my boyfriend is in the car.

And yet, my repertoire as a performing violinist and as a teacher, is almost completely written by deceased white males. In keeping with my classical training and tradition, I'm passing this repertoire down to my students.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the music by the famous classical composers. I'm currently learning works by Wienawski, Brahms, and Beethoven. I earned both my college degrees playing their music. I love it. It's so much a part of me that it took my seven year old student to get me to really look at my repertoire.

When I explained to Hannah that a long time ago, women's rights were limited, she looked at me blankly. She was born in the 21st century. Such a world seems foreign to her, and I am glad of it.

In her lesson, I gave her a list of female composers and told her that if she researched them and took enough notes, I would count that as reading a book for our studio challenge. It seemed only fair, and I wasn't sure that I would be able to find children's biographies of female composers.

I came home from teaching and immediately went to Amazon, where I found a few children's books on Hildegard von Bingen, Nannerl Mozart, Clara Schumann, and Fanny Mendelssohn. I instantly sent them to Hannah's mother, and I will look forward to hearing her thoughts on them in the near future!

Then, I wondered if I could find music by female composers at a comparable level to Suzuki Book 1. I googled "violin music by women" and found a treasure: http://www.violinmusicbywomen.com. It's a graded anthology - with four volumes, from beginner to advanced level, all written by women. Some are historic and some are written by living composers.

I ordered all four volumes and am going to work on incorporating them into my teaching. Besides Hannah, who is one of my most outspoken students, I have several other modern young women in my studio who will want to play music written by women closer to them in history. For that matter, there are modern young men in my studio as well, who will learn that women compose music that it is worth their while to play. There will always be a place for the classics, and those wonderful men whose music has endured through the centuries. But from now on, in my studio, music by women will be studied and performed, too.


From Christian Lesniak
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 2:49 PM
Check out Grazyna Bacewicz. There probably isn't much about her written specifically for children, but she was quite the renaissance woman. Pity her music isn't better known, as there is some really good stuff there.

There is a really good recording of a piano sonata and two string quintets with Krystian Zimmerman among others. She wasn't just a fantastic violinist who had an honorable mention in the first Wieniawski competition, but she also was a great pianist, and premiered some of her piano works, such as the second sonata.

http://www.wieniawski.com/bacewicz_grazyna.html

http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/composer/bacewicz.html

Of course, I don't know if she wrote any music that would be appropriate at the Suzuki level, but that doesn't stop me from listening to stuff I can't play yet.

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 6:08 PM
I've seen that...a very nice anthology!

Thanks for giving it a spotlight.

And when you need even more challenging material, do check out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Carmen_Eckhardt-Gramatt%C3%A9

From 66.31.32.35
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 6:37 PM
well, if it's any comfort some people think half of Bach's later work was written by his wife...
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 8:21 PM
Hopefully your student won't object to all these women being European.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 8:58 PM
I feel lucky, especially as a man who came of age at the beginning of the 1970s.

Three of my favorite teachers (recorder, classical guitar, and violin) have been women.

The one that comes to mind is my recorder teacher. This was in the 1980s.

She had a performance degree in recorder but worked as a librarian at place in Austin that "advances the study of the arts and humanities by acquiring, preserving, and making accessible original cultural materials." Her main responsibility being the music documents.

She would periodically give talks on women composers and musicians of the Baroque. I wish I had her notes. Her lectures were wonderful.

From 24.255.211.238
Posted on October 30, 2014 at 9:56 PM
Just to confirm, many of the composers in the "Violin Music By Women" anthology are not European. Many are from China, USA, Canada, etc. The anthology contains a huge amount of music by modern composers as well. It is well-worth a look and the advanced book contains music suitable for professional musicians.
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 31, 2014 at 12:37 PM
@24.255.211.238 good to know! I just went with the names listed in the article, they all looked European to me. It's a historical fact that things were very different for men and women throughout the history of music, and one could argue that to some extent they still are, but the compositions of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, etc., are not thereby diminished. Still, if we can learn more about female composers and especially if we can get access to their work so that we can play it, certainly all the better!
From Claire Allen
Posted on October 31, 2014 at 3:04 PM
@Paul - the names I listed in my blog were indeed European - but those are the ones I could find children's books on.

The composers in the Violin Music By Women anthology are from a variety of historical time periods and countries.

From Swetha Sai
Posted on October 31, 2014 at 4:52 PM
I just read this:
http://www.classicfm.com/composers/bach/news/magdalena-cello-suites-goldberg-variations/
doesn't seem very convincing but here it is! :P

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