In November 2017, Dean Brenda Ravenscroft won the the Society for Music Theory’s 2017 Outstanding Multi-Authored Publication Award for the first volume of Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers (in collaboration with co-editor Laurel Parsons). We recently spoke to Dean Ravenscroft about this publication, as well as issues she’s encountered in regards to diversity and accessibility in the global music community.
Can you tell us about what inspired you to edit a four-volume series devoted to compositions by women across Western art music history?
I’ve always been conscious of the gender imbalance in the field of music theory, where, for example, the ratio between female and male members in the Society for Music Theory is about 3 to 7. But I gradually also became aware of how rare it was at music theory conferences to hear analysis papers on compositions by women. It’s not uncommon for a multi-day conference to include not a single paper on a piece composed by a woman. This seemed both peculiar and alienating to me.
When my longtime friend and colleague, Laurel Parsons suggested that what was needed to address this was not isolated articles on music by female composers, but a critical mass of scholarship, I was immediately interested. We decided to collaborate on a book project with the goal of bringing music composed by women into the scholarly discourse – which in turn would influence its inclusion in performance and teaching.
Although our initial concept was a single collection of essays on music by women composers from all periods, our call for proposals resulted in a surprisingly high number of submissions, and we realized that we had enough material for several collections. This expansion in scope and scale is important: a single volume suggests that music written by women is rare and focuses attention on the gender of the composers. Four volumes organized by time period and genre shifts the focus to the range and depth of their compositional activities. Working on multiple volumes simultaneously is not a small task, however, and the collaborative approach has been essential in sustaining the project!