If you’re going to respond by informing me that the only reason for that 1.8% is because women like me decide not to write classical music, then you can go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. That isn’t what’s behind that 1.8% and you fucking well know it.

The end of the road

“Female composers account for only 1.8% of the works performed. When only looking at works from living composers, they account for 14.8%.”

Fuck you, classical music.

Really, we’re done.

This isn’t a sudden decision although it may look like one. And I imagine there are people out there who have read my blog who will jerk back in surprise to learn that I’m a woman. Yes, I am. A big part of the reason why I haven’t been that forthcoming about it is because:

  1. I know that my natural style of expression tends to read as male anyway. Well, it reads as “male” if you think I’m a man. If you know I’m a woman, then it reads as “mega-bitch.” (You’d have better chances if you were just nicer and more ladylike!)
  2. 1.8%. Or sorry, a whopping wonderful 14.8%. I’m so pathetically grateful! Stockholm Syndrome is so pink-n-sparkly.

Any woman composer who tells you that she hasn’t been kept up nights with the lead weight of this on her chest is lying to you. (No, not performers. Composers.) Should I publish my music under my own name? Should I use a male name?

1.8%, people. Yes, a male name helps a great deal. Genius, despite what we’d like to tell ourselves in our most pollyanna moments, is not always recognized for what it is.

But this is soul-destroying. This is like giving birth and being forced to tell your child that it must never tell anyone that you’re its mother.

I’m really and truly done defining myself as a classical musician. I’m also done worshiping male composers at this point, even the ones that I like. Even my favorite Georg Frideric. I’m really done. Yes, I like his music, but the last thing these (or any) dudes need is one more woman banging on about how very brilliant they are.

I’m done with classical music as a composer. I am now officially new age or folk. And this means that I finally have to bite the bullet and get myself that lever harp. Woman folk harpists have a lot more room for advancement in what is a far more niche culture, although I’m hardly giving up the piano. It’s too useful a tool. (Well, I also want to have more money in the bank before I grab myself a good-sized lever harp, so it may be a few months timewise.)

But I will go where I can make progress. Sorry, but I’m almost 50 and that means I’m done with this throwing myself on grenades bullshit. I will no longer be kept up nights agonizing over whether to tell anyone that I actually wrote the music that I actually wrote and what damage it will do to the music itself if I dare to get girl cooties on it. I have, as Ernest Hemingway called it, “one and only life,” and no one has the right to expect that I will waste it on things that cause me pain and keep me awake, as I’ve been for months if I’m at last — at last! — honest about it.

Least of all, me.

Again, this isn’t a sudden decision brought about by getting pissed at one link. This is the culmination of months of agonizing back-and-forth. I remember a long Soundcheck interview with Tori Amos — another classical refugee — where she explicitly stated that she knew and was told that she would be crippling her career if she wrote classical music since there was no room for women composers in that world. In fact, I think it’s been a big part of why the Haendel project sort of just … stopped after the third aria intro. It’s hard to fire up your enthusiasm for getting knocked up when you know you’ll have to warn your kid to tell everyone they’re not yours.

Well, being crippled sucks. I’m not crippling myself. I’m not living like that. I want to go to bed at night happy with the music I’ve written and at least somewhat confident that it will be judged on its merits.

1.8%. Holy fucking shit. (Oooh, but it’s a whopping 14.8% for living composers! Woo-eee! I’m fucking drowning in equality. Maybe in another century or two, we’ll reach 25%. I’m dizzy with the possibilities.)

I suppose it’s all because women just haven’t learned how to write music yet, the poor dim little dears. When they bring themselves up to men’s level, I’m sure the boys will be perfectly happy to welcome them into the club!

Or maybe it’s because I’m just such a huge mega-bitch and I’m not nice and ladylike enough about that fucking 1.8%. I suppose all women composers since the dawn of time have just naturally been horrible ball-busters, and all the men have been sweet, accommodating darlings.

BTW, if you want to witness a litany of asshole behavior, read a detailed biography of any male composer in history. It’s the inevitable, predictable difference between:

  • “Sure [MALE COMPOSER] was a raging asshole, but he’s still remembered and revered today because he was a genius.”
  • “Sure [FEMALE COMPOSER] was a genius, but she’s not remembered and revered today because she was a raging asshole.”

(Where “raging asshole” in the second case means either “didn’t respond to that 1.8% with a dough-faced snivel of resignation” or “once deviated from utter perfection where someone could see.”)

And don’t anybody dare try to tell me this doesn’t happen in precisely 100% of cases. It damned well does.

Fuck them, and fuck their club.

Accompaniment masterclasses — “Works and plays well with others”

This came up while I was reading this post on accompanist masterclasses at Erica Sipes’ blog Beyond the Notes. (I always feel wrong when I don’t put the full ‘s after anything when using the possessive, but I force myself to do it anyway. Makes my eyelid twitch, though.)

It hit me while I was reading her post that the whole idea of masterclasses and workshops for piano accompanists seems to be nonexistent, or at least I’ve never heard of it from my isolated little non-musical universe (which doesn’t make my impression all that trustworthy, I know).

I keep thinking of the article The Juilliard Effect: Ten Years Later that occasionally surfaces in online discussions, and one throwaway line that struck me immediately when reading it but that often goes unremarked upon: “They were among the 44 instrumentalists who graduated in 1994, excluding pianists, who generally follow a distinct career path of their own.”

The bread and butter of a working pianist is going to be accompaniment, mostly for all those kids who anticipate rocketing to clarinet stardom. It’s very ironic that an instrument that is so perfect for accompaniment, and so often used for it, is so often practiced and taught to one person in a room, alone.

Of course, this ability to stand on its own is what makes the piano the perfect accompanist; most pianists will earn their daily bread playing the ultimate standalone instrument in a supportive role behind others.

I just think that a masterclass or workshop like this, rather a whole series of them, is probably vitally and badly needed at most music schools and conservatories and should be required, especially at the top ones like Curtis and Juilliard where all the pianos students think they will be the next Andrรฉ Watts.

That’s why it needs to be required, because having been in my early twenties some time ago *whistles vaguely* I can guarantee you that far too many kids would see such classes in the schedule and think, “Oh, I won’t need to know that.” I wonder how many of Sipes’ experienced adult students sit there and soak up what she has to say while thinking to themselves, “I wish I’d had the opportunity to take classes like this twenty years ago — and the brains to realize I needed to.”

So STEM folks don’t have a Plan B, huh?

Yet again, this whole don’t-have-a-Plan-B horseshit continues to stink just as much as it ever did.

If having a Plan B is good enough for an astronaut, then having a Plan B is good enough for you.

And here’s another one from Chris Hadfield, who went into the same career just as clear-eyed as Seddon about the need for a Plan B.

This bullshit belief among Ahtists that no one else has a Plan B in their lives, and that the constant exhortations to them to have a second choice in place reflects some kind of lack of confidence is … well, a bullshit belief. Every successful person, even in the most demanding STEM jobs, has a Plan B. They generally have Plans C, D, E, F, and so on.

The only people who don’t have Plan Bs are people with Grandpapa’s railroad investments behind them, or who married wealth — or both.

The next time someone exhorts you to “live your passion!” and “take a risk!” by not worrying about how you will pay your rent with your art, I want you to do the following thing:

Ask them how much money their parents are worth. Ask them their spouse’s net worth and annual salary.

Then, you wise up and you do what Rhea Seddon and Chris Hadfield did — you get yourself a Plan B. Never stop moving toward your goal, but make sure you can pay your bills and put food in your stomach on the way there.

I know I keep harping on this, but it is never pointed out anywhere else, and needs to be. I’m not saying there is anything morally wrong with being born on third base, but it sure does seem to make one fairly clueless about the value of the life lessons they can teach other people. The rest of us cannot learn how to hit a triple from listening to their earnest advice. And if you do not have family wealth as a safety net beneath you as you leap off that cliff, you will get destroyed if you try to apply their advice to yourself.

And possibly the worst part about this is the damage it does to art itself, by ensuring that only a very narrow and privileged slice of humanity will do it for any significant period of time. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The rest of the world will end up having to sell their instruments and give up — and not because they didn’t have “passion” or “dedication,” but because they didn’t have someone else’s money to prop them up while things gelled.

Eew, yucky boo-boo!

If I never hear the following comments again, it will be too soon:

“Eew, I heard an [insert instrument of any kind here] made out of [any non-late-19th century material]. Why, I just thought my delicate golden ears would melt right off my head! How could anyone stand to listen to it! I may faint.”

I especially love it when they are subsequently unable to tell the difference in blind tests. ๐Ÿ™‚ That part is better than butterscotch cake and Beethoven’s 3rd symphony.

Before you start whining up a storm, please check to see that you have carried out this small preliminary step:

1. Make sure you can tell the difference in a double-blind test.

Until then, I don’t want to hear it.

So do all music teachers do this or what?

“I just got a new transfer student who spent X months/years with another teacher, and I’ve never seen anything so screwed up before in my life!

“Their bow hold was completely dysfunctional! I can’t even imagine what I can do with them!”

“Look at he holds his wrists when playing the piano! There’s so much wrong here I don’t even know where to start!”

“I showed her music and asked him what the clefs meant, and she actually said that the top one was supposed to be played by the right hand! Oh my GOD! How stupid can one six year old be?!”

“He was holding his violin straight out to the side! Who plays like that?

“I asked her to improvise a short piece, and she looked at me like she didn’t even know what I was talking about! What kind of ruined, worthless musicians are all other music teachers turning out! She’s already nine years old!

Holy fucking SHIT, people. No, your students are not totally ruined, every other teacher in the world is not an incompetent idiot, and if you are throwing single-digit kids on the scrap heap for having slightly too-flat wrists or not giving you a ten-page thesis on The History and Purpose of the Bass Clef, you are seriously too caffeinated. Calm the fuck down.

The piano pedals — a wee guide

Here’s a brief definition list for the curious:

  1. The damper or sustain pedal: Lifts the dampers from the wires and allows the sound to sustain until it is released again.
  2. The sostenuto pedal: Lifts the dampers from the wires of the keys that are down at the time, allowing for some special effects.
  3. The una corda pedal: Lifts the eyebrows of the listener in direct proportion to their opinion of themselves, and allows them to completely discount your playing.

It is vitally important to never, ever use the una corda pedal. Ever. It’s not really meant to be used. It’s a trick pedal. It’s there to trap and subsequently “weed out” players who are undeserving of the precious and priceless admiration of those who fancy themselves piano experts. If you absolutely must use it, please be sure to present a research thesis of no fewer than 350 pages to support your contention that you can’t plausibly avoid using it.

Well … unless you are actually willing to entertain the idea that a control lever that has been placed on a device is actually meant to be used from time to time, clearly a dangerously uncontrolled notion held only by reprobates who have no business going anywhere near a piano.

I don’t suppose this needs a sarcasm alert. For fuck’s sake, it’s right on the front of the piano. If you want that nice fogbound sound it can impart, then use it.

“But what I’m saaaaaaaying is that you shouldn’t use it if y–”

Oh, shut the hell up.

AGH Notation and playing by ear

How the hell have we gotten to a point in musical instruction where people can’t even fathom how one learns to read music AND play by ear? Holy crap. Are we really that bad off where these things seem so polarized that we can’t even conceive of them coexisting in the same brain without violating some physical law? This is ridiculous. This is beyond ridiculous! Do we really think that musicians are automatically in a situation where we have to choose between being mute or illiterate?!

Anyone who actually asks this question should … well, okay I can’t think of anything that matches the crime in this case. Holy mother of god, people. I can understand how someone would naturally lean in one direction or the other, but to introduce the word “only” or to imagine that it is impossible to do one if one learns to do the other is just … agh.