Female Voices in Music Composition is an ongoing course this semester, taught by Ana Alonso-Minutti, Ph.D., an associate professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of New Mexico.
This course, offered through UNM’s Department of Music, focuses on female composers throughout various genres of music, encouraging students to engage with content through readings, listening selections and films.
At the end of January and at the beginning of February, the course covered women in gospel and blues before moving on to jazz styles. Students then covered female voices in the medieval and Renaissance musical periods before moving to modern music. In April, the course will cover protest songs and hip-hop.
“Issues of representation, gender and sexuality inform the close study of selected repertory, taking into account scholarly perspectives from feminism, critical race theory and music criticism,” Alonso-Minutti said.
The course aims to address the imbalance of representation in music studies with content that focuses on the works of female creators. Through an intersectional approach to the course material, Alonso-Minutti said she focuses not only on gender, but on class, sexuality and race.
“The percentage of female composers/creators studied and/or performed in both courses and concerts is significantly small, and even within that marginalized percentage, there is almost no representation of women of color,” Alonso-Minutti said.
She completed a study of Mariana Villanueva’s chamber work during her undergraduate honors thesis. Villanueva, a female Mexican composer, was 34 at that time.
“I remember having to heavily justify my selection by addressing the quality of her work, which was, of course, put into question,” Alonso-Minutti said.
Alonso-Minutti’s music education did not expose her to female composers, she said.
“My piano instructors, for example, never assigned a piece composed by a female. In my music analysis classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I don’t recall ever studying a score by a female composer. And in my music history courses, the majority of the material was devoted to the work of male composers,” Alonso-Minutti said.
While the course does focus on the work of female composers, its extension into social theory and gender inequality provides students with the opportunity learn about and engage with the material in a way that can be applied in practice.
“Learning about the systems of oppression, inequality and injustice that have permeated our world history grants us the tools to activate change in our present in order to shape a better future. When we study the creative work of females through diverse music genres, social classes and ethnic backgrounds, we are encouraged also to activate our own creativity and to practice a feminist life,” Alonso-Minutti said.
Students wrote their first assignment in the course on how females shaped them musically. Their reflections ranged from family members to teachers to pop singers.
“Music is a tool that, consciously or unconsciously, shapes and reshapes our sense of identity,” Alonso-Minutti said.
During the last week of the course, students will cover feminist music festivals and read Alonso-Minutti’s essay on the festival, Gatas y Vatas, which was published this year in Oxford Scholarship Online.
The course will likely be taught again next spring and will be available to both music and non-music majors, Alonso-Minutti said.
“No prior music knowledge is required. The course is a great opportunity for non-music majors to develop listening skills and basic music knowledge,” she said.
Annie Edwards is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @annie_ce18.