Luminescence: Harmony for women in music

Lilly and AJ talk us through the opportunities they create



Lilly, 21, and AJ, 22, help to bring the Luminescence Chamber Singers and its newly formed Children’s Choir to life. They tell us why they find value in honouring the achievements of women in music, and the importance of equality and harmony in the music industry.


As a young woman, Clara Schumann (b.1819) was an accomplished, passionate and skilled musician.

She composed her Piano Concerto in A minor when she was just 14 years old, and performed it at 16 in a concert conducted by Mendelssohn. It was the beginning of her long and distinguished career as a pianist. However, Schumann lost confidence in her career as a composer as she entered her 30s. She had written in her diary, “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea. A woman must not desire to compose – there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”.

It is common knowledge that today, women remain dramatically underrepresented in the classical music industry – particularly in leadership and director positions. The pages of concert programs are still overwhelmingly dominated by the names of men, and many women continue to fight for equal pay and treatment in their workplaces, including in the arts industry.

However, unlike Clara Schumann, we have been able to look to a myriad of women in music who have come before us and helped carve a place in classical music for themselves and for us. Establishing the Luminescence Chamber Singers and the new Luminescence Children’s Choir has been a process eased enormously by the examples set by women who have paved the way, and their ongoing encouragement and advice.


My experience: AJ America (Luminescence founding member)

Growing up, it never occurred to me that women couldn’t be conductors or professional musicians. My earliest encounter with the classical music industry was through the Sydney Children’s Choir, where I went to rehearsal each week and witnessed Lyn Williams create a superb sound with passionate and talented young people, while Sally Whitwell’s fingers flew across the piano – often playing the piano part as well as all the choral parts (and sometimes simultaneously singing or speaking!). Growing up in the Gondwana Choirs, I never needed to look very far for inspiring women in the arts, or for evidence that young people were capable of leadership, initiative and incredible artistic outcomes.

Watching women such as Karen Gills, Elise Bradley, Elena Kats-Chernin, Simone Young, and Jessica Cottis constantly affirms my assumption that women could (and should) conduct, compose and create. Though our age and gender never gave me pause when we first embarked on our efforts to establish Luminescence, the knowledge that so many of the musicians I have known and admired are women makes it immeasurably easier to imagine that I might one day join their ranks.

My experience: Lilly Hannock (Luminescence manager)

In contrast to AJ, my influences have been slightly less musical. My history teacher and year 12 mentor Peta Watters had the most significant influence over my post-school life. She used her immense intellect, dedication and passion to teach both history and life lessons to the next generation of women. During my career as a federal political staffer, there are countless women who work in high-profile politics that have proven to me that age and gender should never a barrier. On the musical side, my flute teacher Hilja Siren is an embodiment of what women are capable of. A generous genius, Hilja committed her life to giving young women musical power, knowledge and respect that stays with them for their entire career.

Despite the arts being a generally progressive industry, there are sometimes moments in which my age and gender will impact a certain interpersonal interaction, whether consciously or unconsciously. However, I believe that empowering the next generation – as my year 12 mentor and flute teacher did for me – is the only way to champion the arts in the long run. I have a great respect for the ability of the industry to advocate for young and diverse administrators, and applaud organisations that allow young artists to thrive.

At Luminescence, all of our musical work is underpinned by an unwavering confidence in the capacity of young people to contribute significantly to the creative arts. The Chamber Singers offers young singers the chance to conceive, create, direct and perform musical projects from beginning to end, and to be musical leaders and teachers in the Canberra community. Similarly, the Luminescence Children’s Choir is dedicated to showcasing the unique artistic capacity of young voices.

We also prioritise creating opportunities for women to raise their profile in the arts industry. We are particularly proud that women make up the majority of our Board of Directors, and that we regularly perform music by female composers. In 2016, the Luminescence Chamber Singers performed multiple pieces by founding member Olivia Swift, and commissioned a new work by composer Alice Chance about women and the witch-hunts. In December 2017, Luminescence will premiere a new commission from another young female composer, Meta Cohen.

As Luminescence evolves and expands, one of our hopes is that all the remarkable young women and girls we work with will never view their age or gender as a barrier to achieving their ambitions; that they’ll never give up on the idea that they possess creative talent.

About Luminescence

Founded in 2013, Luminescence Chamber Singers is a virtuosic ensemble comprised of eight young vocalists. In addition to being soloists as well as choristers, many Luminescence artists are also conductors, composers, instrumentalists and teachers. The new Luminescence Children’s Choir is a treble choir for singers aged 10 – 17 and is conducted and directed by AJ America, a founding member of Luminescence Chamber Singers. You can support Luminescence Chamber Singers by keeping in touch via social media, donating or attending a concert.

About AJ, Founder and Artistic Director of Luminescence Children’s Choir; founding member of Luminescence Chamber Singers

AJ grew up in Sydney as a member of the Sydney Children’s Choir and Gondwana Voices. She has toured across the United States, Canada, China and New Zealand, performed at events such as World Youth Day, APEC, and the ISME conference, and recorded for a number of Australian film soundtracks. In 2012, both her vocal performances and choral composition were nominated for Encore. AJ performs regularly as a member of Gondwana Chorale and The Australian Voices, and is the artistic director and conductor of University of Canberra Chorale. In addition to her musical life, AJ is completing her Honours in history at the Australian National University and working as a research assistant.

About Lilly, manager of Luminescence Chamber Singers and Children’s Choir

Lilly spent her childhood in Port Macquarie with the arts, politics and history as her biggest passions. She performed widely in orchestras and as a solo flautist as well as ballets and competitive dance. She relocated to Canberra in 2014 to study a Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours).


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Images supplied.

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