26 February 2016
Female Australian Composers on 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne
On Tuesday 8 March - International Women's Day - 3MBS will be presenting a day of programming celebrating the work of female composers and performers. Callum Moncrieff, the producer of the project, explains how the experience opened his eyes.
I have only been involved in radio since the end of 2013 but I feel like I've found my home. 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne is a community radio station that is run by volunteers, with the assistance of about 10 staff. What I immediately liked was that my cobbled-together knowledge of classical music (through study and working as an arts manager at a number of orchestras) was respected and valued, but what I have come to love are the stories.
Radio is the perfect story-telling medium. Like music, it exists for a second and then it's gone. A listener can chose to pay attention, or it can be in the background. For me it was the first time I was able to combine my love of music, of writing about music, of production, and of talking to people. The Female Australian Composers Project has been the pinnacle in my role as Special Projects Producer. I have been privileged to work with a number of our volunteer producers and presenters, who came up with the idea, but also honoured to interview such musical luminaries as Helen Gifford, Anne Boyd, Mary Finsterer and Elena Kats-Chernin. I've met and interviewed a number of emerging composers too: Anastasia Pahos, R.E. Smith and Alice Chance. The joy of being the producer of a radio program is, however, aside from juggling multiple tasks and herding the proverbial cats, listening to all of the interviews and putting them into a two-hour long program (called Notes on a Page) that somehow expresses the brilliance of the scene here in Australia. The interviewees include Liza Lim, Cat Hope, Katy Abbott, Peggy Polias, Lisa Cheney, Melody Eötvös and Matthew Hindson.
My colleagues will confirm this: every time I'm working on an interview I can't help but laugh, cry and share what I'm hearing - snippets of wisdom that floor me. Anne Boyd was told that women can't become composers because they are not powerful enough. During Helen Gifford's formative period, women were told by prominent figures in the arts community that they simply couldn't be by themselves - the irony? This was after the horror of World War I and many women were, tragically, alone. Some of the current generation of successful women talked about the glass ceiling that exists in this country - which seems to become more oppressive over time.
On the more positive side, statistics from Rosalind Appleby's insightful book, Women of Note, along with figures from the Australian Music Centre's Music Resources Manager, Judith Foster, suggest that Australia is at the top of the list (second only to Estonia) in our support of women in this industry. It's not good enough though. The highest figure available was 30% - and this is the amount of material available by female composers and sound artists on the AMC's website. For some, including myself, equality and parity is not the final goal. Ultimately gender would never be an issue - the quality of the work, not the person who creates it, will be the deciding factor.
The result of the twenty interviews we've conducted over the last three months will be a two-hour documentary that is broadcast at 8pm on International Women's Day, Tuesday 8 March. I'm also working on a series of shorter segments (about 5-8 minutes long) that will cover the process of commissioning and includes interviews with Mary Vallentine AO (the commissioner), Sally Greenaway (the composer) and Laila Engle (the performer, with Syzygy ensemble). These will be aired throughout the day.
The presenters of the various regular programs happening that day are also getting involved by programming works written by female composers or performed by women. I'm very excited to be facilitating two live-to-air performances as well. The first at 11:00am, performed by members of Plexus ensemble (who are very supportive of new commissions and female composers - donating all of their income towards more new music!), and the other featuring the jazz vocalist, Olivia Chindamo, at 10:00pm.
The most encouraging outcome for me is that some of the interview subjects have told me that a younger generation of composers are not noticing a gender divide. The hard work of women in this country is paying off but, until this is shown in all areas of our lives, I won't stop. I'm proud of this project, there has been so much support offered, but what I really want is to raise awareness. We can't do this alone. You can support International Women's Day at: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/ and you can support 3MBS Fine Music Melbourne.
Full works programmed on the day include: Look at the Stars by Ann Carr-Boyd; A Lyrebird in Paris by Jane Hammond; Julian Suite No.1, 'Nobility' by Mary Finsterer (live performance), Fantasy Trio in B minor by Miriam Hyde. Works from the composers mentioned as part of Notes on a Page will be included in that program.
> 3MBS website (https://3mbs.org.au/)
© Australian Music Centre (2016) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Callum Moncrieff is Special Projects Producer with 3MBS.
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