Claire Edwardes performing on vibraphone with Bree van Reyk in the background.

In search of the female composer

In a recent article in The Conversation, The sound of silence: why aren’t Australia’s female composers being heard?, it was proposed that only 10% of Ensemble Offspring’s 2016 programs featured music by women composers. We are unsure of how the authors collected their data, nor why that particular data set was chosen, however over 60% of our 2016 programs feature music created by women — both through notated composition or improvisation*. We question the research methods undertaken by the authors and believe that it is detrimental to quote one incorrect and seemingly shocking number of an ensemble’s activity in one year, without contextualising it. We would also like to draw attention and pay our respects to the many other individuals and organisations addressing this issue mostly in a quiet way, effecting change through their operations and actions.

Ensemble Offspring is acutely aware of the disparity between male and female composers, as represented on concert programs nationally and internationally — it is something we have long considered in our programming and commissioning and it is an issue we are wholly committed to addressing in the long term. Ensemble Offspring is among the small number of organisations led by women, with women making up approximately 70% of core ensemble membership, leadership and governance.

Since our Noisy Egg Creation Fund launched in 2013, we have commissioned work from Elena Kats-Chernin, Juan Felipe Waller, Damien Ricketson, Felicity Wilcox, Tristan Coelho and Simon James Phillips, with commissions in process from Holly Harrison and Alex Pozniak. This is 37% representation of women composers, and much closer to the representation of female composers on the Australian Music Centre website. In 2015 we took three recently commissioned Australian works to the Shanghai New Music Festival; two were by female composers. It is important to also note that not all of our representation is realised through our public, web-listed programs. We have a great deal of activity that falls between genres or is part of educational, workshop and community engagement programs, such as our recent ANU residency in which more than 50% of the work was by female composers.

We wholeheartedly agree with the quote presented in the article by Clementine Ford:

Equality comes from people either sacrificing their privilege or having it forcibly taken away from them. It does not come from waiting for the oppressed to rise up and meet it.

To that aim, and as part of our dedication to the cause, in 2017, 100% of our programming will be of work by women. We will commission ten new works by female composers through our Noisy Egg Creation Fund, and are participating in a collaborative work commissioning another seven new works by Australian women. Following 2017 we will be working towards female composers representing 50% of our overall programming.

Do we think that women composers should demand equal representation? Absolutely. Can we all do more? Yes. This is a conversation that we believe should be collaborative, inclusive and given as much airtime as possible.

* 2016 Ensemble Offspring programs feature music created by women – both through notated composition or improvisation:
Peninsula Summer Music Festival
MONA FOMA appearances
Graffiti Score
Broken Consorts
Tyalgum Music Festival
Kontiki Racket