Where Are The Women In Music Composition?

Where Are The Women In Music Composition?

The lack of women composers in the 20th and 21st century

Once a year, the University of Dayton has a day called Standard Symposium. Standard Symposium is when students have no classes and instead have a day of recognizing and celebrating academic excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. Students have the opportunity to present research in many different forms.

It's a really incredible opportunity to present and even if you're not presenting, you get to attend so many interesting sessions for things you may not have learned about in class. This semester, I presented at Standard Symposium on the topic of the lack of women composers. After doing much research, I have grown even more passionate on this topic and would like to share some of my findings.

Considering I am a female music performance major, the lack of women composers is concerning. However, although this is my major, I never really thought to look into the lack of women composers. I am a soprano, which is a woman who sings in a higher register. A lot of lead roles in operas and musicals are soprano parts.

However, there are so many sopranos out there who are also looking for that lead role like me, making my career all the more difficult. However, tenors are less common, making them more desirable. Tenors are male singers who sing in a higher register. Because of the ease, some men receive in the music industry and the unequal balance of the number of sopranos vs tenors, I've only thought of how the music industry lacks males.

But when I think about it, I can't even think of any women composers at the top of my head. From an early age, you learn about the iconic composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. Typically all of the composers you will hear about are white males. But what about women?

For Standard Symposium, me and the other music performance majors all chose one composer to research and perform a piece by her. I chose Libby Larsen. The sad part is, I didn't even know who she was. Someone else suggested her to me. However, after researching about her, she has really changed my perspective on this lack of women composers.

Libby Larsen is an extremely successful composer, but she is also known to be a speaker and philosopher. One of the things she studies and discusses is this lack of women composers. She actually wrote a letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer about a question regarding the lack of women composers and Larsen said some very interesting things. Here are just some of the things she said that sparked my interest:

"You've noticed that its difficult to hear live performances of abstract classical works composed by women. And you've noticed (I'm assuming) that media tells us that the situation has "gotten much better" for hearing this repertoire, but in reality its appears not to have gotten better, and perhaps its gotten worse over the past decade."

"Women have been steadily learning how to find and maintain artist/champion relationships, but it really only has been the last 20 or so years that our society has allowed itself to accept female/male-artist/champion relationships in which the artist is the female, the champion is male and the relationship is about the work and nothing more."

"In the 70's and 80's, if a student wanted to look up a woman composer in the library system, she could not be found by name under the category "composer". Instead the student had to look under "woman - composer". Strange, but true."

"The tragic part of all of this is that if its true that any composer working in any genre organizes sound in time and space in order to communicate something of what it is like to be alive, then in our world of instrumental "classical" music we are missing out on most of the vigorous, truthful and passionately talented voices our time - and in not performing music composed by women we have missed out entirely on what half our population has to say to us through music."

"If thirty years of consistently working in public, on a national and international scale, and speaking my professional mind out loud in public combined with raising a family can be considered feminism, then yes, I consider myself a feminist."

Larsen makes so many interesting and true points. The lack of women composers is threatening to society. Women composers and this injustice are overlooked, but it needs to be brought to peoples attention. If you look in the news, some of the latest headlines are about women rallying for justice. Women empowerment shirts are in stores everywhere.

Women are really trying to make a stand. Doing a study like this just adds to the proof that women are not always treated equally. A composer is a composer, regardless of sex, race, religion, etc. These women composers should be praised just as much as the men. Even if you aren't musical yourself, you should push to advertise this injustice and we should continue to work on giving women these equal rights.

Cover Image Credit: pexels.com

Popular Right Now

13 Movies Every Couple Needs To Watch Before They Get Married

Let's be honest, Rachel McAdams is in all the best love stories.


These 13 movies are the foundation of any long-lasting relationship, and I'm not joking. Each movie will show you something new about your partner, and make you ask each other the hard questions. How many kids do you want and how are you going to raise them? What would happen if you got into a horrible accident? Some are less serious though, like what if you could time travel?

I promise that not every one of these movies is a Nicholas Sparks classic, and I also promise that not every movie has Rachel McAdams in it!

1. "The Time Traveler's Wife"

This movie is both heartbreaking and amazing.

2. "About Time"

Let's be honest, Rachel McAdams is in all the best love stories. It's on Netflix right now, so grab some snacks and turn it on!

3. "Like Crazy"

This infamous Tumblr gif came from "Like Crazy." It's about a couple who goes long distance and build their life together. I used to cry every time I watched it, and I'm no crier! It also has the (now famous) Felicity Jones in it.

4. "The Notebook"

Every girl wants this kind of love.

5. "The Last Song"

Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth are literally married now so if that isn't good luck, I don't know what is.

6. "Safe Haven"

You guessed it! This is another Nicholas Sparks classic. This movie has a dark twist as well, which men will love.

7. "Inside Out"

You may be thinking that this one is a bit weird. Well, this movie will help both you and your partner understand each other's emotions better.

8. "The Choice"

This movie is great because the female lead is feisty and extremely intelligent, which usually doesn't happen in love stories. How do you keep the love alive with a woman who is hard to get, and even harder to keep entertained?

9. "The Longest Ride"

Originally I could not stand the main female lead (Britt Robertson) but now she is in one of my favorite shows (For The People), so I have no choice. This movie had me on the end of my seat, and as a rom-com it is a must.

10. "The Age Of Adaline"

I began loving the name 'Adaline' thanks to this movie. This unlikely love story and self love journey really gets me.

11. "The Vow"

Imagine falling in love with someone and building a life, but an accident forces you to start all over?

12. "Titanic"

If they don't have any sort of reaction to this movie, they are probably not the one for you.

13. "Yours, Mine, & Ours"

Yours, Mine, & Ours is a true classic. Are you Helen or Frank Beardsley? You should figure that out before you tie the knot!

You're welcome!

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

15 Thing Only Early 2000's Kids Will Understand

"Get connected for free, with education connection"


This is it early 2000's babies, a compilation finally made for you. This list is loaded with things that will make you swoon with nostalgia.

1. Not being accepted by the late 90's kids.


Contrary to what one may think, late 90's and early 00's kids had the same childhood, but whenever a 00's kid says they remember something on an "only 90's kids will understand" post they are ridiculed.

2. Fortune tellers.


Every day in elementary school you would whip one of these bad boys out of your desk, and proceed to tell all of your classmates what lifestyle they were going to live and who they were going to marry.



You could never read this book past 8 o'clock at night out of fear that your beloved pet rabbit would come after you.

4. Silly bands.


You vividly remember begging your parents to buy you $10 worth of cheap rubber bands that vaguely resembles the shape of an everyday object.

5. Parachutes.


The joy and excitement that washed over you whenever you saw the gym teacher pull out the huge rainbow parachute. The adrenaline that pumped through your veins whenever your gym teacher tells you the pull the chute under you and sit to make a huge "fort".

6. Putty Erasers


You always bought one whenever there was a school store.

7. iPod shuffle.


The smallest, least technological iPpd apple has made, made you the coolest kid at the bus stop.

8. "Education Connection"

You knew EVERY wood to the "Education Connection" commercials. Every. Single.Word.

9. " The Naked Brothers Band"


The "Naked Brothers Band" had a short run on Nickelodeon and wrote some absolute bangers including, "Crazy Car' and "I Don't Wanna Go To School"

10. Dance Dance Revolution


This one video game caused so many sibling, friend, and parent rivalries. This is also where you learned all of your super sick dance moves.

11. Tamagotchi


Going to school with fear of your Tamagotchi dying while you were away was your biggest worry.

12. Gym Scooters


You, or somebody you know most likely broke or jammed their finger on one of these bad boys, but it was worth it.

13. Scholastic book fairs


Begging your parents for money to buy a new book, and then actually spending it on pens, pencils, erasers, and posters.



Who knew that putting yogurt in a plastic tube made it taste so much better?

15. Slap Bracelets


Your school probably banned these for being "too dangerous".

Related Content

Facebook Comments