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August 11th 2017 print

Roger Franklin

Every Good non-Boy Deserves Fellowship

Classical music is a hotbed of masculinist oppression, according to a professor at Sydney Conservatory, who is calling for each and every concert bill to be split 50:50 between male and female composers. Performance quotas, she asserts, are needed tools to "re-imagine legitimacy"

ears blocked IIPresented below as received from Sydney University’s PR unit, Professor Liza Lim‘s demand that music be valued, ranked, promoted and, of course, publicly funded on the basis of the composer’s sex. By way of background and to establish just what sort of music Professor Lim produces with the unique assistance of XX chromosomes, two tastes of her oeuvre:

Machine for Contacting the Dead

Positions of a Memory Theatre

Now for the good professor’s thoughts on the prominence female composers might achieve if only their male counterparts’ output could be suppressed (emphasis added):

Give women composers a break!

The University of Sydney’s Professor Liza Lim at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music is appealing to festival and concert programmers in Australia for an equal gender split in music commissions and performances.

A leading Australian composer, Professor Lim makes the call in her keynote address at the Women in the Creative Arts Conference in Canberra today.

She points to four major European festivals in new music that have recently committed to a 50:50 gender split in programming over the next five years, and calls on Australia to do the same.

“In year 12 and at the beginning of tertiary studies, we see a 50:50 gender split but this dwindles to around 20 to 25 per cent participation by women in the industry, and even less for composers,” said Professor Lim.

Sexism is structural in our society and as a result, so is the magic ingredient that allows an artistic practice to thrive – what we call ‘luck’.

“For the luck mechanism to kick in, it requires that you’re given a go in the first place. It requires multiple opportunities to try things out, to practice, to fail, to partly succeed and to keep trying.”

During her talk, Professor Lim coins the idea of ‘structural luck‘ as a key factor in determining success in the arts.

“Rather than luck arising randomly, I would like to see luck structured in a way that gives women in music the same opportunity as their male counterparts to be heard and to shine.

“The gendering of access and inclusion in the music business means that women overall make fewer such gains and tend to have less structural luck,” she adds.

Professor Lim notes the recently reported gender inequality problem for women composers locally and internationally, citing the University of Sydney’s ‘Skipping a beat’ report that found women are chronically disadvantaged in the Australian music industry.

“It is heartening to see a number of important shifts in response to statistics and reports on gender inequality, with APRA AMCOS now requiring a split of 40 per cent female, 40 per cent male and 20 percent male/female participation in music projects to be considered for funding.

Quotas create pathways to careers, skills and to re-imagining legitimacy. Quotas create a space for talent to rise up! If we envision a culturally vibrant future, it’s absolutely imperative that we make space for and invest in a diversity of artists right now,” she says.

But why stop at quotas? Why not reform music from top to bottom and do a thorough job of making it female-friendly?

Musical notation is obviously sexist, inherently so. Music is written on a stave, synonym for “staff”, which might conjure in an oppressed female mind disquieting and career-crimping phallocentric imagery. And foul crotchets, what a gendered insult is that notation’s idiogrammatic resemblance to male genitalia!

As to classical music’s hobbling of female careers, look no further than the breve — the ovum-like symbol that commands a wait of four beats before the next note can be played. Meanwhile those masculinist one-beat crotchets skip ahead and their testosterone-tainted authors snaffle all the limelight.

Clearly, it is only more gender-filtered grants that can end this injustice and give us the “culturally vibrant future” for which Professor Lim yearns.

Comments [16]

  1. Salome says:

    Takes me back to a place in my past whither I’d prefer not to return. My Emperor’s New Clothes detector got a massive workout on the ‘music’ in that video. If it really is compulsory to showcase the music of female composers, why not at least put on the decent stuff like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y62CP0GeyQQ

    The stuff being written now I can well do without.

  2. Cathy Berberian got there first in the 1960s, with much more style & humour – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmOwX1xTAak

  3. Bill Martin says:

    “…, with APRA AMCOS now requiring a split of 40 per cent female, 40 per cent male and 20 percent male/female participation in music projects to be considered for funding.”

    With respect, professor, there seem to be quite a dilemma here. For a start, gender is a social construct, isn’t it? So, who exactly will qualify to be in which half of the 40/40 male/female split and will they have the option of randomly identifying as one or the other according to their fluctuating moods? Worse than that conundrum is the matter of the LBGT…. etc. people. Is the 20% you allocate for them adequate? Or do you mean something else by “20 percent male/female participation”? Dear professor, please do explain! Surely you do know what you are talking about. After all, you are a professor. So, would you be good enough to profess for the benefit of the hoi polloi?

    • ianl says:

      C’mon Bill, Liza Lim is incomprehensible, incoherent to the old, white, male patriarchy – we’re just too dumb to get it, ever.

      Ladies like Jody, with actual musical taste and discrimination, are clearly traitoresses …

  4. Jody says:

    This is SICK-MAKING, foul, disgusting, authoritarian and Stalinist. Those social engineers who sent people to the gulag for speaking up have spawned a fresh generation of snowflakes who want to COMMAND AND CONTROL all of us. It’s hideous; and yes, there can be psycopaths in the music world; just listen to Scriabin!! It seems we have a new age of psychopaths who wants to dictate to everybody just as the SS did.

    Meanwhile, I’ll remain sane with this which, listen up Miss Lim, requires REAL RIGOUR, talent, study and intellectual HEFT. You wouldn’t know anything about these things:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjtHcOvpYPk

  5. Jim Campbell says:

    OMG – the end is nigh – by the way, are there any decent female composers????

    • Salome says:

      In so far as there are any decent composers these days (apart from those writing film music, who tend to do their job very well), Elena Kats-Chernin certainly has her craft at her fingertips. Otherwise, there were some decent ones–Miriam Hyde, whom I linked to above, is an example, and Dulcie Holland is another. Indeed, if you have to have Australian music, Hyde and Holland are much better choices than much of what passes for music (by males or females) these days.

  6. en passant says:

    How about the possibility that nobody wants to pay to listen to gender-centric composers because their ‘music’ sucks?

    Might I suggest that if the only ‘structural luck’ you equire is to stick your hand in someone else’s pocket the bank robbery or climate change science is the career for you, not music.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yuwhUx35Uc

    Not everyone can be a star, but if you have limited or no talent then a grant-based career is for you.

    It must be something about music academics as we should never forget the Australian musicologist, Richard Parncutt from Graz in Austria who was keen to turn his musical talents into

  7. en passant says:

    How about the possibility that nobody wants to pay to listen to gender-centric composers because their ‘music’ sucks?

    Might I suggest that if the only ‘structural luck’ you equire is to stick your hand in someone else’s pocket the bank robbery or climate change science is the career for you, not music.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yuwhUx35Uc

    Not everyone can be a star, but if you have limited or no talent then a grant-based career is for you.

    It must be something about music academics that makes them fantasise. We should never forget the Australian musicologist, Richard Parncutt from Graz in Austria who was keen to turn his musical talents into managing death camps for climate-deniers. He is probably a danger man super-hero in real-life. Then again, whoever heard of a tough guy musicologist?

  8. johnhenry says:

    The best composers are men. The best instrumentalists are men. The best vocalists are women. There are exceptions to these general rules, but rules they are.

  9. Augustusoz says:

    It’s easy, really. If you want people to listen to your music, write music people want to listen to.

    • IainC of The Ponds says:

      That viewpoint is so sensible, logical and axiomatic, it has to be “the opinion of a far-right hatemonger!!!(TM)”. Slightly OT, modern music, like modern art, is extremely inclusive and embracing – now anyone without the slightest semblance of training or talent can be an artist or a composer. Gone are the days when you had to be born a genius and practise for a minimum of 10,000 hours to create the timeless work of heartbreaking beauty. Now you get a grant and slap something down and hope for some “structurally inherent good luck”.

  10. Keith Kennelly says:

    Must it be time for us to fix a quota?

  11. Blair says:

    What about female composers of popular music? Surely they need a tax-payer hand to pick up some structural luck. There’s not too many successful female composers out there.