“Victoire” for All

In our time, women have become increasingly vocal about gender-equality and they hope to create more opportunities for careers outside of “normal” female job positions. Certainly, there has been some growth and additional options for women to have a career in male-dominated positions, yet female musicians, conductors, and composers still have a difficult time with this particular matter. While there is some level of recognition, in regards to female musicians (typically non-classical), female composers are often ignored within their own community. Most individuals in the world, regardless of gender, can name off a few well-known or obscure composers but they are typically male composers; even female musicians struggle to list any female composers, despite understanding the gender disparity themselves. Missy Mazzoli, a female performer and composer, has assisted in creating an environment that is geared towards teaching and including more female musicians while promoting gender-equality in the musician’s workplace.

According to a 2014-2015 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra survey, relating to the number of featured women composers in American orchestras, only about 1.8% of the performed works were from female composers and only about 14% of them were living composers. While these statistics are about 5 years old, the survey has brought attention to the lack of diversity, not only in the composition field, but towards female musicians in general. In a recent Donne- Women in Music report, Europe had about “97.6% of classical and contemporary classical music performed in the last three seasons written by men, leaving a paltry 2.3% written by women”. In Niese’s article “Women Composers: Why Are So Many Voices Still Silent?’, we are shown how past female musicians, Clara Schumann and Alma Mahler, were negatively affected by sexism. Clara and Alma were expected to give up their musicianship for a marriage, both their husbands dismissive of their musical intellect and compositional skills. In the 1994 article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Composers?,” Gates shows us that women have largely been left out music history and music classrooms despite evidence of capable female musicians and composers from the past. While the statistics rack up, it is undeniable that women have had a mixed relationship in musical careers and lifestyle but there is current evidence that women are becoming vocal about this gender situation.

Mazzoli, a living female musician and composer, often commissions music for operas, orchestras, soloists, and chamber ensembles. When she was a young girl, she was pianist but a revelation guided her to choose a composition lifestyle at the age of ten. Thus, for college, Mazzoli attended the Boston University and Yale School of Music for her B.M and M.M., and received a graduate study at the Royal Conservatory of Den Haag. In her most recent years, Mazzoli has gained traction as a musical educator to both youths, and college-level students. She is currently a faculty member at the Mannes School of Music teaching compositional lessons to any gendered undergraduate and graduate-level students. In 2016, Mazzoli and another female composer, Ellen Reid, partnered with the Kaufman Music center in order to create an organization called the Luna Composition Lab (LCL). The organization LCL has a mission to “[provide] mentorship and professional opportunities for female composers”, but they also open their doors to nonbinary and gender-conforming teen students as well. Interestingly, Mazzoli is also the founder of an all-female band called Victoire,which features a chamber-pop instrumental set up and performs in an indie classical music style. Even her operatic works, such as Song from an Uproar and Breaking the Waves, feature female-leads whose lives dealt with sexism, but their roles go beyond the simple “domesticated housewife” or “damsel-in-distress” character type; of course, Mazzoli was commissioned for these works and she understood the storyline beforehand, but she chose these works due to the unique female roles.

Overall, it is clear that Mazzoli is a strong role-model as she teaches young female students that it is possible to go beyond gender stereotypes within the musical world as both a performer and composer. She has expressed annoyance due to gender issues, often stating that “With women, people are always waiting to see proof…before they give you an opportunity” but she challenged and fought against the odds (even becoming 1 out 2 female composers to receive a commission from the Metropolitan Opera). She does not feel that she is a risk, due to her gender, as “[she’s] sold out every opera [she’s] ever put on the stage” and desires to diffuse the stigma that female musicians and composers “aren’t capable” of becoming well-known. It is encouraging, as a fellow female musician, that there are women who seek to establish equality among this musical field and provides a sense of encouragement to future women musicians and composers.       

– Ashley Venegas


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