Widening Inclusion & Visibility Of Women In Music

by Christina Rusnak

During the biting cold of the January 2018 blizzard in New York, I ducked into a restaurant on 37thStreet for dinner with my husband. A trio of was performing some great jazz – a blending of standards and original music. Startlingly, the trio was all women. Today, a string trio comprised of all women is no longer unusual enough to even register in our consciousness. And while it shouldn’t be, a jazz trio of women still is. As an alum from the University of North Texas, and a member of the board of the International Alliance of Women (IAWM), the lack of visibility of women in jazz, especially composers, had been on my mind for a while.

The IAWM was formed in 1995 from the merger of three organizations that arose during the women’s rights movements of the mid-late1970s to combat inequitable treatment of women in music[1]. This union brought together several disparate activities to increase the awareness and visibility of women in music including a Journal, a competition for composers, concerts and recordings, radio airplay and congresses. The mission of the International Alliance for Women in Music is to foster and encourage the activities of women in music, particularly in the areas of performing, composing, and research in which gender discrimination continues to be a concern. The organization has members in 19 countries, with four represented on the board.

Over 20 years later, the IAWM continues its efforts to achieve its mission of gender equity in music.The IAWM sponsors an annual Search for New Music by women spearheaded by composer Ingrid Stolzel. Prizes are offered in a number of categories[2]. In addition, through a competitive call for works, with a theme that changes annually, IAWM presents a concert of new music by living women composers. The organization also sponsors the Pauline Alderman Award for musicological and journalistic works on women in music, and convenes a conference every three to five years. The next one will be in 2019 in Boston.

For years, IAWM membership was predominately from classical and academic music circles, but in recent years the board, recognizing that significant numbers of women in other areas of music are equally lacking visibility sought to become more inclusive. Following New Music USA’s lead, IAWM published its Statement of Equity and Inclusion in 2017. In addition to social equity, IAWM seeks to ensure that the organization welcomes women across genres and disciplines,[3]bybeing explicit in our commitment topromote cultural and professional musical diversity and inclusion within our board and membership.Women in Music work as performers, composers, arrangers, media artists, conductors, theorists, producers, musicologists, historians and educators. We know that a diversity of ideas, approaches, disciplines and musical styles are essential to inclusion and equity.

In re-evaluating our membership and the musical landscape, the IAWM board realized that we needed to expand support and relevance for our members, our advocacy efforts and our commitment to diversify the recognition of women in music. Articles of bias against women in classical music have been widely circulated,[4]but in Jazz, it seems to be more of a well-known secret. Erin Wehr, who has conducted extensive research in gender and jazz, recently wrote, “The reality is that negative stereotypes of women still persist in jazz today. Even if such biases are a minority, negativity is so powerful that even great amounts of positive social support often can’t take away the sting of one pointed, judgmental comment.”[5]

Often, a woman jazz musician is an anomaly in the group, and is discouraged from lead performance or compositional roles. In response, women are starting their own ensembles, in order to have the freedom to create and perform with their individual voices.[6]  Chamber Music America has given out awards for NEW JAZZ WORKS since 2000. Out of 362 awards, 14 have been awarded to women.

In October 2017, the IAWM Board voted to create two new composition awards, for Jazz and Wind Band, which rolled out this spring with a deadline of April 30th.Sponsored by a consortium of jazz musicians in Portland Oregon, the PDX Jazz Prize[7]is a competitive award of $300 for women jazz composers for pieces of any duration from small ensembles to big band. The adjudicators are out of Berklee’s and UNT’s jazz departments. As the membership of IAWM is becoming more diverse, so will our awards. IAWM will soon be rolling out a Performer award, and an Education grant targeting K-12 music educators.

As the champion of the jazz award, I sought to find an organization with whom our goals aligned, with whom we could build a relationship going forward. The Jazz Education Network, with the Women in Jazz Committee, dedicated to building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences, is a great fit. IAWM is thrilled to be a new member and we are looking forward to learning more about the great jazz women are composing and the efforts JEN is making on behalf of educating budding jazz musicians.

Back to that restaurant on East 37thStreet: inspired by their wonderful performance and intrigued by works I’d not heard before, I introduced myself and told them about the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) and the new award from for women jazz composers. I hope they and many more apply. Unbeknownst to them, they made my night a memorable evening.

[1]               https://iawm.org/about-us
[2]          https://iawm.org/search-new-music
[3]               https://iawm.org/about-us
[4]               Fairouz, Mohammmed. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/01/525930036/women-composers-not-being-heard  Accessed April 3, 2018.
[5]               Wehr, Erin. http://jazzednet.org/resources/jazz-gender-iowas-female-jazz-orchestra/Accessed April 19, 2018
[6]               Russonello, Giovanni, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/arts/music/year-in-jazz-women-musicians.htmlAccessed April 18, 2018
[7]               https://iawm.org/search-new-music

Passionate about composing about place and the human experience, Christina Rusnak integrates context into her music from the world around her.She strives to compose thought provoking music that engages both the performers and the audience. Ms. Rusnak’s works include a wide range of genres including jazz. She serves on the board of the International Alliance for Women in Music and writes essays advocating for the music of living composers. Her music is available on Parma Recordings. http://christinarusnak.com