Despite the apparent prominence of stars like Taylor Swift, Camila Cabello, Charli XCX and Beyoncé, the number of women who have achieved critical success in the music world is low. Per a January study by the University of Southern California, women make up less than a quarter of performing artists, one eighth of credited songwriters and just 2 percent of producers.
In the world of classical or orchestral composition, the numbers are even bleaker. Overall, only 1 percent of performed works are composed by women.
If you look at only pieces by living composers, women make up just one sixth of the cohort. The disparity extends to education: 4 out of 5 faculty members at prestigious conservatories nationwide are men.
Erin Busch, adjunct music composition professor at Temple University, wants to close the gender gap in her field.
Her proposed solution for creating a more equitable music sector? Empowering and educating the next generation — something she’s sparking this summer with a new program for teens.
This month, Temple is hosting the inaugural Young Women Composers Camp. Eighteen teenage girls from Philly and all over the country (South Dakota, Kentucky, Oregon, etc.) are getting the opportunity to be instructed in high levels of music training by learned professors, go on field trips for cultural enrichment and learn from other women in the field.
Guest artists to give demonstrations and lectures throughout the two-week camp, which runs through Friday, July 20, include Mizzy Mazzoli, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Sō Percussion. At the conclusion, there will be a world premiere concert of student-produced works for a string quartet and a chorale performance at Klein Hall.
Busch, who acts as artistic director of YWCC, got the idea of creating a composers camp for girls ages 14 to 19 from her own experience navigating the male-heavy music industry.
At age five, Busch was taking piano lessons. By eight years old, she was learning how to play the cello and beginning to compose music. When she was a junior at Pennsbury High School — Busch is a Newton native — and thinking about applying to colleges, she almost didn’t apply to any composition programs because she couldn’t see how a woman could be successful in the field:
“I hadn’t played a single work by a female composer in the 13 years I had been studying instruments,” she said. “I hadn’t learned about any female composers in my music theory classes.” Worse, she noted, was when her teachers and advisers told her she should study something “safer” like music education.
Despite the odds (or to spite the odds), Busch went into music composition at Temple and eventually earned a masters degree in the field. This fall, she’ll start studies for a Ph.D. in music composition at the University of Pennsylvania.
Yet throughout her entire course of advanced study, she has only had one woman composer as a professor. That was Dr. Cynthia Folio, who Busch tapped to become instructor at the YWCC.
By means of the camp, Busch is hoping to lessen the feelings of isolation and disparity she herself felt as a teen.
“It can be discouraging to not see women in high places in any field,” Busch explained, “and that’s very much the case with music composition. In music history classes, we learn about the well-known composers throughout the ages — all of them are male, and 99 percent of them are white dead guys.”
Though she would never say that studying the music of Beethoven, Mozart or Schubert isn’t essential, Busch clarified, she notes that women throughout music history have not been fairly represented, regardless of how great their music might be.
(She suggests this quick test: Off the top of your head — no Googling — can you name any orchestral women composers?)
For all of the 18 girls at camp, this is the first time they’ve been in a room with all-female musicians, and the first time that most of them are meeting with women composers. And judging from two evaluations Busch has given since the camp’s start on July 9, the students are having a fantastic time. “All of the comments have been incredibly positive,” she said.
No surprise: along with rigorously studying various aspects of music composition, including music theory, electronic music, jazz improvisation and song-writing, the girls have been introduced to Philly culture via excursions to museums, shows and trips to John’s Water Ice.
In future years, Busch hopes to expand class offerings and hire more faculty — the camp received many more applications than it could accommodate.
Renowned organizations such as the Kaufman Music Center’s Luna Composition Lab and Women in Music are already discussing future projects with YWCC, and Busch has high hopes for more interest and collaboration.