- Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Women Making Music
What a pleasure it is to be here as a plenary speaker for the twentieth anniversary of the Feminist Theory in Music Conference. It has been so heartening to experience the new work in the field as younger generations continue to rise to the challenges of our discipline. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. My remarks come at the end of an extraordinary four-day conference of scholarship about women making music. "Do look after my music," Irena Poldowski—a still obscure composer—wrote, and Jane Bowers and I quoted her for the opening line of Women Making Music.1 Now so many of us have accepted that genteel request as a responsibility. Even though Poldowski herself did not benefit, she lent her deathbed wish to us as a vital mandate.
The official title of my talk today promises reflections on Women Making Music, acknowledging its twenty-fifth anniversary year of getting and staying in print. And it happens that on Amazon.com there are only 450,269 books that sell more copies than this one. (This chart position improves by 300,000 that of a few years ago.) Not bad. Women Making Music (WMM) has accrued cultural capital. An interest statement conveying that other kind of capital called money is also a good thing. Every year I go out for a nice lunch on the royalty check.
I would like to use WMM as a "prism of women's history," this time "to look after" the past and offer an informal overview of feminist scholarship from the 1970s and 1980s—what we now call "second-wave feminism." I offer this through my own eyes as a scholar of American music studies and will be suggesting links between scholarship and the larger society. [End Page 133]
Now it's time for two backstory anecdotes.
WMM began with an intrepid traveler who had just returned from searching archives all over Europe for music by women composers. Visiting me in New York City in the spring of 1974, Jane Bowers realized she could not write a single-author narrative on the history of women composers in Western music. As graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley, we were formed by a generation of scholars who themselves were trained by mostly German émigré scholars. We practiced traditional musicology, needing the security of "control over the material." We believed—and still do—in grounding research in data and archival discovery. Of course it was overwhelming to think of writing "Ms. Grout" at that point. I suggested instead an anthology of essays as a starting point. I don't remember the time lapse between that thought and her response, asking me if I would sign on as a co-editor. Jane has recently reminded me that she wanted the larger story of institutions and social history and asked me to collaborate particularly for that reason. Jane has also reminded me how many more essays we solicited than eventually got published. Reader reviews for our first publisher, the University of California Press, forced out an excellent essay on jazz by Lewis Porter; a creative overview of medieval music production by Edith Borroff; a long, pioneering, analytic bibliography of orchestral compositions by Laurine Elkins Marlow; and Ellen Lerner's essay on French song composers, including the Boulanger sisters. We kept right on. And I learned a lesson about criticism, namely, that sometimes well- and not-so-well-meaning criticism from reviewers who demanded foundational comprehensiveness from scholarship intended to map out new territory could constrain the exploration of new ways of thinking. It took us a long time, but we ended up with a strong list, including essays by two senior male scholars in the field.2 There were six essays on early music, a foreshadow of its prominence in the field today, including Bowers's pioneering research on female composers in Italy.
By the time we handed in the manuscript to the University of California Press, its academic board membership had changed. On to the board came a cranky composer. "'The Voice of Barbara Strozzi?'" he scoffed. "Why not 'The...