What Makes Music Woman Oriented:

I used to be obsessed with this idea that odd numbers are masculine and even ones are feminine. So I wrote pieces that used even numbers, as in:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
a b c d e f g h i
j k l m n o p q r
s t u v w x y z

Using that code, you get: cello=3+5+3+3+6=20 and 2+0=2 (a feminine choice) or, flute=6+3+3+2+5=19 and 1+9=10 and 1+0=1 (a masculine choice) and then of course after I would get the instruments I could use, I would decode a text of some sort using some code or group of modulating codes.

The thesis piece for my MA at Mills was called SHE WROTE and it used a text from Q.E.D. by Gertrude Stein. The text was a letter that one character wrote to another about her relationship with a third one. The code may have gone something like this (I would have to look at it to make sure):

a a# b c c# d d# e f f# g g#
a b  c d e  f g  h i j  k l
m n  o p q  r s  t u v  w  x
y z

so the word "dear" would be decoded: c c# a d. Then there were rules about what to do at the end of a word. In this piece I had the players go a half step in the opposite direction from which they last leapt/moved. I also rewrote Stein's letter several times in order to create musical variations, making it more and more reiterative.

In JOAN, my oratorio about Joan of Arc, I used a modulating coding system but the same words each time (a translation of her trial):

a b c d e f g                           (saints=eabgfe)
h i j k l m n 
o p q r s t u
v w x y z
and then :
a b c d e f                             (saints=aacbba)
g h i j k l 
m n o p q r 
s t u v w x
y z
and eventually: (saints=aaabba)
a b 
c d
e f
g h
i j
k l
m n
o p
q r
s t
u (you get it right?)

So that the word saints at the beginning would be played: (saints=eabgfe) and at the end would be played: (saints=aaabba).

In any case I wrote this kind of thing, using women writers & heroines (Joan of Arc and Queen Christina of Sweden) as starting points and sometimes employing the codes for even numbered instruments (if they could be used with a commissioning ensemble, and not otherwise=I am practical).

My current music (since about 1980) is lyrical and comes out on its own without codes. I have a feeling that this is the more "feminine" of the two styles...

I have never been able to understand women composers who do not wish to be called women composers. I understand their argument but it seems so superficial to me. Our strength lies in our identification with women and music. To be simply a poorly paid or seldom played composer seems so tragic to me. But to be a woman composer with all the trials and tribulations that seem to go along with being a woman composer, puts everything in perspective. The struggle becomes heroic--not pitiful. The success becomes a success for all of us in the cause, not something merely egoistic.

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Copyright 1996 Beth Anderson
Last Updated September 2, 1996