As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year and reflect on the last 12 months, we caught up with some of the composers who have taken part in PRS for Music’s composer workshops over the past couple of years. Writing music for the concert hall, film and theatre, we heard what they have learned about finding resilience, new collaborations, balancing family life, embracing solitude and finding the space to be creative. Looking ahead, we asked what they would like to change for composers and women working in music, and what they #ChooseToChallenge for International Women's Day 2021.
In these challenging times, how have you been adapting in life and work?
Sarah Lianne Lewis: This last year I’ve certainly learned to hold onto plans loosely, in both work and general life. For someone who has historically planned extensively, it’s been a lesson in adaptability, patience, and acceptance when faced with unexpected change. It’s also been a time that I’ve been able to re-evaluate my work-life balance and explore different formats of music-making.
Kate Marlais: I’ve been taking it day by day, allowing myself the time and headspace to approach work without pressure or anxiety to create. And making sure I give myself enough non-screen time to allow my eyes to cope with everything now being via a screen!
Ella Jarman-Pinto: I've learned that my usual 'all or nothing' way of doing things has not served me. I've discovered the joy of asking for help - from family, from friends, from professionals. I've discovered that I am grateful for all of the things that I have and I work every day to enjoy it. Gratitude has helped me to both discover what I want and help me find more of it. I've learned to really celebrate my successes, and shout them from the rooftops. And I've learned that failures do not mean that it's the end of the line. I've discovered that I'm in charge of my life. If I am unhappy with something, then it's only up to me to change it. This last year has been phenomenally hard, but I've learned a phenomenal amount about myself, my family and the world through it.
Eloise Gynn: Considering the insecurity of these times, I feel lucky to have a few commissions, despite performance dates being up in the air. I’m also a full-time mum to a wonderful toddler who doesn't sleep until after 9pm, and wakes two or three times a night, so my usual composition time is a couple of sleepy hours between bedtime and after midnight. I’m therefore not very good at being resilient, but in order not to fall apart, I have to remember I need to sleep, do some nice things like yoga or gardening, and not have too many hot chocolates! My partner is a cellist with BBC NOW and one blessing of lockdown has been more time at home with him to share the toddler fun and give me a few extra hours of composing time.
'Our job as artists must surely be to sway with the winds of change, stay strong, do our work as well as we can, tech up, and help each other find new ways forward.'
Lola de la Mata: I have been building a more diverse collaborator community through spending more time connecting with artists directly through social media. Much of the year I have been learning from other artist practices and growing as an individual by widening my gaze, looking and connecting horizontally and asking for help and support.
Janet Oates: Music has always been about connecting and sharing. Faced with a year of cancelled gigs and lost jobs, I imagined that I would take the time to reconnect to myself: to write intimate works and reassess my life. That’s partially true: I have written some lovely pieces, fallen in love with a new hobby, and decided not to return to certain jobs. But, surprisingly and importantly, in this past year of a shrunken world my ideas and practices have expanded; in a time of isolation, I’ve initiated and participated in more collaborative projects, with more people, from a wider geographical community, than ever before. We adapt: we find new ways to connect; we respond to the world around us; we continue to reach out and, always, to create.
Zoë Martlew: Living alone and blessedly free from an annoying partner or the burdens of home-schooling cabin-fevered children, for me the quiet and stillness of lockdown has been nothing less than a god-sent chance to completely re-evaluate my entire modus vivendi, cast off old outworn systems, calm the f down, reconnect with Nature and go deep within. The silence at the heart of these multi-dimensional inner landscapes is, for me, the place where creative forces are born, and as the sun draws a little closer to the spring equinox, new ideas have been popping out in a way there just wasn’t head space for before C19 kicked off.
While definitely not the same as the visceral thrill of the live music making experience, the internet is nonetheless providing us all with a platform that can allow new music to reach a far wider audience than ever before, an audience that right now is hungry for quality content, its senses sharpened by fear, loneliness and absence. Concert halls, theatres and art venues might be closed for now, but the human soul can still soar to the heavens.
Our job as artists must surely be to sway with the winds of change, stay strong, do our work as well as we can, tech up, and help each other find new ways forward.
Lisa Robertson: These times have stripped away many preconceptions and norms, and in many ways, this has forced innovation. For me, this has meant expanding my skill set, finding new ways to optimise my working methods, forming new connections and creating new opportunities. Going forward with increased resilience into, we can only hope, easier times, it is reassuring to think that the sector at large now has this expanded capacity for resilience and resourcefulness with which to push music-making in exciting and ever-expanding directions.
'After a year of little to no live music concerts, it’s an opportunity to hit reset, and to manifest many of the commitments that our industry has made during lockdown to amplify lesser-heard voices.'
Looking ahead, what changes do you want to see for composers and women working in music over the next 12 months?
Carmen Ho: I don't define myself as a 'female composer' - I am just a composer, same as anyone else. In the next 12 months, I would like to see that everyone has the same opportunities and composers from all backgrounds can realise their full potential.
Kate: Equality in the arts, through visible action and opportunity, not just lip service. The gatekeepers actively seeking to connect with women creatives in the arts, rather than the other way around.
Ella: The biggest change I want to see? More money. Too often, 'opportunities' are given without proper investment. When commissioners set a fee and encourage a true intersection of society to apply, they need to ask themselves: 1. How long will this person spend creating for this commission? 2. What is the true profit minus all expected expenses? 3. Will this feed a family of four? If the answer to number three is no, then they need to change it. It's not just up to an artist to say that a fee isn't enough. It's up to the commissioners to think of the people they're working with not as artists, but as people who have to balance a full emotional and financial life, often with others depending on them for their emotional and physical well-being and safety.
Sarah: I’d love to see a return to live music being accompanied with a commitment to amplifying and diversifying voices in the regular concert programmes, rather than one-off special events. After a year of little to no live music concerts, it’s an opportunity to hit reset, and to manifest many of the commitments that our industry has made during lockdown to amplify lesser-heard voices.
Lola: More opportunities that support women music creators' own ideas, that support them as producers/directors/creators. We are more than capable of wearing multiple hats, but we need the recognition from organisations that we are worth investing in!
Lisa: I would like to see the potential return to live music-making as an opportunity for a fresh start, with which to address the many inequalities within the music sector. This year has provided the space to reflect on the state of how things were pre-pandemic and to examine the gaping holes which existed, preventing women from accessing many career opportunities. In light of the many innovations which arose during this challenging time, I would like to see such innovation sparking radical changes, so that a return to live music-making will not be a ‘return to normal’ but a return to a much fairer, more inclusive and gender balanced music scene.
'This year has provided the space to reflect on the state of how things were pre-pandemic and to examine the gaping holes which existed, preventing women from accessing many career opportunities.'
What is your #ChooseToChallenge pledge?
Rose Miranda Hall: To educate and really challenge myself, in my personal life, in my work and what I create as a composer. To question those around me, even when it is hard to - especially when it is hard. In the next 12 months, I want to see more support for parents within the industry. We have seen during the pandemic how the majority of childcare and housework has fallen on women, and many women in the creative arts have taken this enforced break in their creative work as a moment to start a family. I want these women supported and understood when they return to their work.
Kate: I choose to challenge gender bias in the arts, hoping for more transparency for work opportunities, whilst seeking constructive ways to balance gender imbalance and discrimination in the workplace.
Ella: To change the status quo.
Sarah: I’m choosing to be actively intentional about the voices that I expose myself to. I’ve set myself goals to read more widely and listen more purposefully throughout the year.
Lola: I want the discourse around disabilities to shift. To merge with the mainstream, and for individual nuance to be celebrated.
Lisa: To spread the word about my talented female colleagues, particularly in informal networking settings where, I feel, women’s voices are often still especially underappreciated.