Music and Women

Music and Women

Amy Miller

Missy Mazzoli differs from many contemporary composers of her day, not solely due to her musical aesthetics, but due to her extreme passion for self-empowering women through community engagement. She adopts characteristics of Beethoven reflected in his life and music as inspiration for herself because she writes for a larger purpose than mere music creation. Her involvement within her community focuses on advocating for young self-identifying female composers, irrespective of birth identification, because she believes continued male dominance in the classical world continues to have a huge yet disproportionate impact in society today.  Her upbringing in a small town outside of Philadelphia and her studies at Yale University, The Royal Conservatory of Hague, and Boston University, offered her little exposure to female composers.[1]

Mazzoli is one of the leading female contemporary composers of the 21st century who not only composes beautiful music that is both “cinematic and intimate”,[2] but also tells a story that is relatable to her audience’s present-day struggles.  Both Beethoven and Mazzoli are similar in their ways of getting their audiences’ attention, not only through their compositions themselves, breaking the norms of musical decisions of their time, but also by sharing stories that impact them through their music to portray the struggles of everyday life.  She takes on the topic of inequality between men and women in classical music and works to change that. She quotes, “What I see a lot is that men are given opportunities based on potential.” and “With women people are always waiting to see proof. They want to see that you’ve done something before they give you an opportunity.”[3]  It is through the lens of inequality of opportunity and mentoring in the field of composition for self-identifying females that she separates and sets herself apart from other contemporary composers.  She attracts the public eye not only through her contemporary musical styles, but in the liberties she takes to bring awareness of female composers. Her ambition is to break the glass ceiling hovering over female composers in the classical world through her own mentoring and support to effect change.

One of Mazzoli’s greatest accomplishments to promote young female composers in her community is “Luna Composition Lab,” a program founded in 2016 in Brooklyn with her co-composition partner, Ellen Reid. This program aims to encourage young women composers or those who self-identify as women to compose more and to publicize their works.  An article published by the “Women’s Media Center” talks about how in previous years only “1.8 percent of the total pieces performed by the 22 largest American orchestras were composed by women.” [4] This meager statistic does not imply orchestra programmers are intentionally against women composers, but the fact remains that there are not many female composers to begin with.  In 2019, Luna Lab will be on its fourth year and has successfully branched out to other areas of music, not just composition, promoting the same objective of support for female musicians. Its impact has inspired more young female composers and artists to come forward with their music and provided them with the support they need. This program has cast a unique public image for Missy Mazzoli in that not only is she be a very talented composer, but she is also one of the few entrepreneurs, mentors, that role models to female composers all over the world.[5] She portrays a strong woman who shows if a woman is passionate about something, she will achieve optimal success, whatever shape or form.


[1] “About Missy.” MISSY MAZZOLI. Accessed March 28, 2019. http://www.missymazzoli.com/about-missy.

[2] Brookes, Stephen. “Missy Mazzoli Has a Different Take on Classical Music – and People Are Listening.” The Washington Post. May 07, 2011. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/missy-mazzoli-has-a-different-take-on-classical-music–and-people-are-listening/2011/05/03/AFxMPV9F_story.html?utm_term=.50eb259510dd.

[3] Madonna, Zoë. “Missy Mazzoli Is The 21st Century’s Gatecrasher Of New Classical Music.” NPR. November 16, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2018/11/16/668403281/missy-mazzoli-is-the-21st-centurys-gatecrasher-of-new-classical-music.

[4] Zeilinger, Julie. “An Interview with Groundbreaking Composer Missy Mazzoli.” Women’s Media Center. September 10, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019. http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/an-interview-with-groundbreaking-composer-missy-mazzoli.

[5] Oterion, Frank J. “Missy Mazzoli: Communication, Intimacy, and Vulnerability.” NewMusicBox. March 01, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/missy-mazzoli-communication-intimacy-and-vulnerability/.

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