Female brass band composers and arrangers

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Brasspenguin, Apr 11, 2017.

  1. Brasspenguin

    Brasspenguin Moderator Staff Member

    Few women feature as composers of music for brass bands, It is a sad reflection of the male dominated band world that the relatively few works that do exist rarely seem to get performed in concerts. The contribution of women to the brass band movement cannot be understated, in the early days supporting their husbands and families, and more recently taking up instruments and playing critical roles in running banding organisations.

    The Harrogate Band in leading a campaign to promote the music of female composers and arrangers, and is featuring at least one such piece of music in all of its performances.

    More details of the campaign, together with its links to the PRS Women Make Music initiative, can be found at www.harrogateband.org/wmm.htm

    A list of women who have composed and arranged for brass band is also given there, together with their music. Any additions to this list would be very welcome - as you will see it is very small at present!

    We would love to hear from any female composers/arrangers, and would welcome any other bands to join us in supporting us this endeavour. Contact details on our website.
    DublinBass and katieeuph like this.
  2. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    I'd never dislike / like or choose / not choose a piece of music based on the gender or the composer or arranger. This initiative suggests to me that this does happen though. It's a sad state of affairs if a 'campaign' like this is needed these days.
  3. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Classic potential can of worms here but not one that can be ignored or dismissed lightly.

    The brass band movement as a whole had a big problem with sexism until the late 80s/early 90s. I personally voted for women to be allowed into the City of Manchester band (ex CWS) in 88 – a vote which actually ripped the band in 2 and possibly led to it folding a few years later. To a young lad from Norfolk, the idea of NOT allowing women into your band was completely bizarre – my local community band had a strong female contingent – but there were a lot of voices against the idea.

    I’d say there are still pockets of issues around the country but nothing on the scale of what it was – most bands that I have seen on contest or concert platforms have some female membership and my own band is 2/3rds female in its membership, with the Principal Cornet, Flugel, Sop, Rep, Solo Horn, Solo Trombone and the entire Euph/Bari line being female.

    In terms of the composition subject I don’t think there is any issue with sexism – I think the main issue is that most of the names are unknown. But I would argue that the majority of male composers and arrangers are also unknown – I’d not heard of many of the Pennine Music arrangers for example prior to buying some of the arrangements. Doesn’t mean the pieces are good or bad, it just means as a movement we like familiar names – Philip Sparke, Alan Fernie, Howard Snell etc. You know you are generally going to get a certain “level” with these people and that the pieces will generally be both playable and listenable to. New names are coming to the front over time as well – Dan Price for example – and to be fair if this campaign helps some female composers and arrangers get recognised and moved into “mainstream” that can only be a plus. Which is I think along the same lines as 4th cornets comment?

    One other point to note on the list – its set up as women that have “Composed or Arranged” for Brass Band (or at least that’s how I read it) but there are a number of composers on there that didn’t actually write their music for band but someone else has arranged it – in the case of the Floral Dance, that was Derek Broadbent for example. That’s fine, but if youre going to include female writers that have had works arranged for band then there are a number of female songwriters who have had works arranged for band – Adele and Skyfall for example (she co-wrote as well as performed).
    Jack E, MoominDave and 2nd tenor like this.
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

  5. MissBraz

    MissBraz Active Member

    Completely agree with Euph lite above.... Much of my band is female (perhaps you would say to the previous generation all having daughters but that's besides the point..)

    Being female in this 'male dominated world' as you put it doesn't bother me one bit and as for female arrangements not being there I don't think that has anything to do with the fact they are female...
    Accidental, Jack E, Mesmerist and 3 others like this.
  6. Brasspenguin

    Brasspenguin Moderator Staff Member

    We are trying to help raise awareness of the music of women. There are no doubt many reasons why women are poorly represented as creators of music, but if we can highlight those that have succeeded, help to promote their music and, hopefully, encourage the next generation, it will be a worthwhile exercise. The list is a starting point, and does include some composers that had their music arranged for band by male arrangers.

    Any and all suggestions are welcome. Our own library is very deficient in works by women and I'm sure we'll be looking for more to acquire to keep our concerts "fresh" under this campaign! For example our last concert featured A Little Prayer by Evelyn Glennie and Pater Noster by Rebecca Lundberg.

    Harrogate Band is lucky to have had a couple of the ladies on the list as members in the past.
  7. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    I wish you well, but I'm out.
  8. John Brooks

    John Brooks Well-Known Member

    There's a composer from Ottawa who has written a couple of great works for Hannaford Street Silver Band - check out Kelly Marie Murphy. Possibly not a name that has reached Harrogate and the rest of the UK yet but one that should.
    Euphonium Lite likes this.
  9. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Hi Gavin

    I certainly haven’t got a problem with what you’re trying to achieve but I think it would perhaps be better pushing for some of these works to be published for public consumption rather than putting an angle of under-representation being a female only problem. Looking at your Website you also bemoan how there is a lack of female adjudicators – but there were actually 3 on duty at the regional contests this year.

    Marieka Gray (Yorks S4)
    Sheona White (Scot S2 / 4)
    Simone Rebello (NW S4)

    Appreciate that this is a small percentage but is perhaps an indication of how many women want to go into adjudicating or not – we live in an age where most people I think accept the idea of equality, but that means an equal opportunity – there are people of both genders that perhaps could or should be encouraged into looking at such roles. To promote one over the other destroys the idea of equality as you are not promoting both equally – and you are highlighting differences which again means that equality can’t happen.

    Perhaps the way to lead is to put your band’s money where your mouth is. Note that Ruth Mellor is one of your players as well as being listed as a composer/arranger? Perhaps pay for her work to be published? Or make it widely available to bands to play so that her name becomes known? Something like a crowd funding exercise can help. If she’s good then bands will inevitably want to play more – bands turn to the composers and arrangers I mentioned above because they know what they get. If you see a new work by Dan Price you know you’ll get a very descriptive piece – Alan Fernie will be generally thickly scored and suitable even if your band is missing a few players. Surely its better to get out there and get known – so if a librarian sees the new Ruth Mellor piece on a trade stand or a website they’ll buy it without question. And then you can expand from there – the ilk of “there are other very talented arrangers including …. X…. rather than a vague scattergun approach that perhaps turns people away in some cases
    Accidental, Tom-King and 4th Cornet like this.
  10. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Well said.
  11. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    I think Euphonium Lite nails it here:
    Too many people these days, in all kinds of different contexts, seem to conflate "equality of opportunity" and "equality of outcome" - the one is actually equality in that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and the other is a dogmatic insistence on creating certain outcomes, relying on discrimination to achieve that goal.

    Promote (preferrably good) compositions and arrangements by less well known composers and arrangers - Absolutely.
    Encourage people to take up composing and arranging - Absolutely.

    Promote the compositions and arrangements of one gender/race/(insert other arbitrary characteristic here) to address some kind of demographic "imbalance"? Absolutely not.

    In the referenced websites own words:

    Hear, Hear!
    Let's not waste any talent and not deprive any audience of the best possible musical experience.
    Let's not deprive audiences (or ourselves) of historic compositions and arrangements just because the majority of titles in our current libraries happen to have male names on the top.
    Let's not deprive our audiences and ourselves of up and coming composers and arrangers and their works purely on the basis of what they have between their legs.

    Judge the quality of the music, not the gender of the composer/arranger or indeed performer.

    Let equal opportunity run its course - if we wind up with equal representation along all imagineable demographic lines at the end of it then all well and good... if/when we don't there will always be someone telling us we need to discriminate and rig the system to produce their desired "equality" of outcome, but at least if we stick to equality of opportunity we have both a defensible position and the moral high ground.
    Mesmerist, Jack E, 4th Cornet and 2 others like this.
  12. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Few women feature as composers of music for brass bands, It is a sad reflection of the male dominated band world that the relatively few works that do exist rarely seem to get performed in concerts. The contribution of women to the brass band movement cannot be understated, in the early days supporting their husbands and families, and more recently taking up instruments and playing critical roles in running banding organisations.
    Above as extracted from the original post.

    Initially I thought the use of the word 'dominate' to be OTT so I checked the definition and found it not too far out really :dominate Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary . Men do have control and influence over the Brass Band World but as they don't act as a group or with a collective agenda isn't that all a bit academic? In my own humble corner of the Brass Band World gender just isn't an issue and you are judged upon what you do rather than the 'polarity' of the frame in which you live. Gender is not particularly indicative of ability, practice and commitment is.

    Our conductor picks pieces upon their musical merit and availability, non of us really give a 'tinkers cuss' about the gender or even sexuality of the composer - times have changed, debate has happened and attitudes have shifted. I think that that is all good and want there to be a level playing field for my female relatives but please also be beware of the gross injustice of positive discrimination too. Though there is doubtless some way to go before the two genders are equally treated today's 'girls' are able to and do assert themselves and many have better jobs and pay than their male siblings too - well that's my experience anyway.

    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
  13. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    The way the campaign has been presented on here suggests there is a political angle, which I'm not really sure was intended.
    Brass bands are delicate places with their own political matters without embracing and being seen to drive other political agendas.
    If I was at a Harrogate Band concert and a piece was announced in the context that came across on here, I think I'd feel quite uncomfortable. Similar to if you were promoting black or gay composers. There is simply no need for it. It suggests that there is a general prejudice, which there isn't. I trust the whole of your band are behind this campaign, because I feel that it has the potential to create divisions. I for one as a member would feel inclined to disassociate myself from the band.
    Jack E likes this.
  14. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I think things are being read into this that there isn't any call to read into it.

    Working in science I see a similar kind of situation - historically this wasn't work that women did, with rare exceptions (up to say 1960). We created a level playing field, but still we do not see women taking up as many of the roles as reason would suggest that we ought. And so we ask why they aren't. There seems no difference in competence between the sexes, and girls perform as well and as numerously as boys at school level in science subjects these days. But they don't yet come through to the scientific professions in the same proportions.
    The slightly subtle answer seems to be that while opportunity is present, most people need something more to go for an opportunity - they need to see people that they think that they can be doing the things, they need to feel that joining in will be to join an activity where they won't feel like an 'odd one out'. And while in principle we should all be gender-blind when looking for role models, in practice people (particularly when not yet fully-formed) tend not to be truly so when looking for personal inspiration.

    So, despite the longstanding equality of opportunity, we must still take the time to make sure that people don't make the casual association 'this doesn't look like it's for me'. In time, things will percolate through - like I say, they already have at school level. And it seems to me that this question of under-representation in certain culturally important aspects of banding is pretty much identical. Everyone is welcoming, but the demographic that makes things happen is still quite limited, and so others don't see the routes to success so easily. It's a much happier problem to have than old-school sexism, and no blame really lands anywhere. But solving it will create a better environment for all of us. The Harrogate band's initiative here is a gentle creation of some visibility, which is great - a little effort goes a long way.
  15. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    I asked that same question of a friend who certainly had the academic ability to work in science or engineering, quoting an interview I'd read of the boss of an engineering firm. The reporter asked him why it was that his firm had taken on dozens of apprentices that year, yet not one was a girl. The boss told him that, of all the applications they had had that summer, only two were from girls.

    "So why", asked the reporter, "didn't you offer them apprenticeships?"

    The boss replied, "We had them both in for interview, we offered both of them apprenticeships - and they both turned down the offer."

    So I asked my friend why she thought so few had applied, and why they both refused the offer of an apprenticeship.

    "With the 'A' level grades I got", she said, "I could have opted for a career in science - but I chose to become a librarian because I wanted to have children."

    She then went on to ask me how my job (as an engineering draughtsman) had changed in the four years I'd been working at the same place - and how much would it change if a woman left it to have children, and didn't go back for about seven or eight years. I told her that the nature of the work I was doing, and the techniques involved, had changed significantly every year, for the last four years - and I saw no sign of that rate of change slowing down. As for leaving for seven or eight years, and then trying to pick up from where you left off, no chance!

    "And that," she said, "is exactly why I opted to be a librarian! I left to have children, went back when they were both well on into primary school, and the only thing that had changed was the introduction of computers - and I'd taught myself to use a computer at home, so re-starting was no big deal."

    So my basic pitch is that, just because the majority of brass band composers are men does not mean that the activity is "male-dominated". I mean, has anyone on here ever felt reluctant to play a piece because it was written or arranged by a woman? Or skimmed across such a piece in a list of possible inclusions in their programme, because of the sex of the composer? And has anyone heard a man complaining about the way petit-point embroidery is "female-dominated"? ;)

    Going on to musical composition, I was watching some 'very famous at the time' singer songwriter (John Denver, Don McLean?) who was playing to a small studio audience, and answering questions from the floor. One young lad said that he wanted to be a singer songwriter, and was shaken rigid by the response:

    "So, who's stopping you?"

    Who, indeed? And who is stopping women from composing or arranging? Nobody.

    As Tom King says, above:
    (my emphasis, JE)

    That is why I'm totally against efforts to enforce equality of outcome, because the only way they can be achieved is by inequality of opportunity - whether it is done by rigging the qualifications, or imposing quotas.

    If I like a piece of music, I like it - and, if I'm capable of playing it, I'll want to play it, too. As for whether the composer / arranger / musician is black, white, English, foreign, male, female, or whatever - who cares? Not me.

    With best regards,
  16. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    And I'm sure, MissBraz, that some of that previous generation must have had sons! ;)

    With best regards,
  17. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Precisely. But I think your conclusion stops two words short. May I add to it?

    "Nobody but themselves."

    And it's to address those last two words that consciousness-raising initiatives are aimed. To show women that would otherwise not bother that they can. Your example is an instructive one; workplaces go to lengths these days to make sure that having an interval off to start a family need not be a problem. But still people shy away at the start, frightened of the hurdle. Some of the most brilliant people I've had the fortune to professionally encounter came late to the field; coming back to it involves a certain amount of catch-up, but the ability to do that is the same ability that it takes to enter it in the first place. And if you want a particular career, but 'settle' for something that you personally perceive as less challenging, you're going to have to deal with regrets, particularly as the children grow up and you find yourself feeling limited by it. It has to be very widely perceived that taking time off to start a family is not a professional handicap of any significance before it actually ceases to exert this effect. I'd be interested to know what age your friend is? It feels to me like a conversation not had so often in recent history.

    That's wonderful. There have been - and unbelievably still are some - people who actually would discriminate this way. But this kind of obvious rigging of the game is not actually what is being addressed here - it's an old problem, one basically solved, barring some bonkers holdouts.

    It's about recognising that when where your society has come from was locked into a historical pattern of inequality (as gender/career was earlier in time for ours), putting equality of opportunity down in front of those treated inequitably is not enough. You must also make them truly and systematically believe that they are capable of taking up that opportunity. And current inequality of outcome in the situations being discussed is largely the result of women shying away from trying - we can see it as a diagnosis tool. These things take a long time to turn round, but the good news is that we are getting there as a society on this front.

    So the initiative here is aimed at helping young women really believe that they can do it. Enough so that when they're the only female in their composition class or physics lecture hall at university they don't feel isolated, enough so that when they're sneered at for asking too many questions of their lecturers they have the self-belief in what they're doing not to retreat into a shell, enough so that they persist with the activity into adulthood, enough so that when they miss it after their family has started school they feel supported and equipped to return to their workplace.

    Of course we must also make young men believe the same of themselves. And we must also not let men feel alienated by the effort to make women feel fully welcome in all professions - I do whenever this subject is raised these days get some flavour of alienation from some dissenting male replies - "It's all solved now, come on, give me a fair go" - and that can be a problem. But not a hard one to solve. If we all just take the time to really put ourselves into the shoes of every other person, the alienation magically goes away.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  18. MissBraz

    MissBraz Active Member

    Haha Jack believe it or not.. No. I wont go into great detail, but 10 seats held by men had 1 or more daughter.
  19. Anglo Music Press

    Anglo Music Press Well-Known Member

    I know this is a really picky point and ignores the tenor of the OP, but I'm sure you mean it cannot be 'overstated'. The whole point of your post is the women's roles in banding ARE in fact understated.
    Sorry to be so pedantic this early in the morning, and to interrupt an interesting thread, but the proof reader in me cannot stop myself!!
  20. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    My experience supports Jack's posts above though I do accept many of the good points made by Dave. For either gender the difficulty of rejoining a particular profession after having a few years off for family reasons is often very considerable and it's wise to be guided with that in mind. Some of my employers have positively discriminated in favour of getting women into the workplace, the ladies have added something and some of them were very capable whilst others disappointed.

    A little while ago there was a campaign on the TV to encourage more women to exercise, wasn't the slogan "this Girl can"? I think that such encouragement of the ladies to achieve is a good thing whereas forms of positive discrimination, even to right a past wrong, isn't the way to go. There is, IMHO, a valid argument that showcasing (showcasing is one of the OP's Bands objectives) what disadvantaged groups can achieve is a good thing - it's potentially difficult though for it not to be a subtle form of positive discrimination such as promotion - and that it actually encourages us all to try activities we might have thought were beyond us. For example many ordinary people run Marathons now but before first showcasing the first London Marathon the activity was generally considered beyond all but elite athletes, and the later inclusion of wheelchair users has changed everybody's perceptions about disabilities. For something to be showcased it must be displayed to the target audience, in this case budding or potential female composers, put plainly playing music to the general public is not targeting the group of people you want to influence and encourage.

    Some long time back there was a thread on tmp about why women didn't post much here. The answers were mixed but as I recall one of them was that the place just didn't interest them that much. The music industry now has very successful and wealthy ladies in it and has had for a couple of decades. 'Girls' have also been attending the Brass Band degree courses for decades, well I came across one by chance decades ago and composition was part of her course. One can but think that the only things stopping the ladies are desire, determination and talent - I believe that those limitations apply to men too. With that in mind surely the reason why not much brass band music is currently being composed by women must surely be because they (typically) choose to do other things instead.
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
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