She Speaks: Why I’m representing female composers

With ANAM cellist Gemma Tomlinson


ANAM fellow Gemma Tomlinson has created three-concert series She Speaks in honour of female composers. The cellist blogs about her inspiration behind the series.

She Speaks is a series of concerts, self-directed as a fellow of the Australian National Academy of Music. Spanning three concerts – Voice of Time, Home, and Nations – the series has explored and celebrated the music of female composers from different eras and nationalities.

The series was centred around a concert featuring the music of Australian female composers, which was initially inspired by a collaboration with Melbourne composer Lisa Cheney. Her work When We Speak explores themes of gender inequality in the compositional world. Working with Lisa to recreate the frustration and fight of female composers was the catalyst for this series, leading to my own personal investigation of more repertoire and composers.

In my mind, this music deserves to be programmed regularly, but sadly this is not always the case.

Having performed works by various females in the past, either by premiering the works of my colleagues at university or through more established repertoire, I was always inspired by the diversity of the music presented to me. The goal of this fellowship series was to highlight this diversity, and to create a platform to overexpose the extraordinary talents of some lesser-known composers. In my mind, this music deserves to be programmed regularly, but sadly this is not always the case.

With an unconscious bias toward male composers within the music community, concerts lack diversity and the voice of such a large portion of composers. Often, females choose not to promote their work due to the fear of how the industry will accept them. This is exactly why I felt it necessary to put this music on the pedestal it deserves.

In selecting the repertoire for the concerts, I thought it best to categorise the music into different themes; composers from the past, Australian women, and contemporary classical music from Europe and America. It has been a huge thrill to explore and learn so much fantastic music this way. I’ve been delighted to discover new styles, textures and techniques that I had never explored previously on my instrument, all that had been developed by the composers themselves.

The process of curating and performing in these concerts has taught me so much about the industry. Firstly, I am now somewhat aware of the extreme organisational skills that are required to promote, schedule, book artists, obtain music, budget and prepare music for such events. I’ve learnt how to deal with various arts organisations such as ABC Classic FM, the National Gallery of Victoria, artists management, and even gained a fresh perspective of ANAM.

More importantly, however, I have learnt that a year of work dedicated to the cause of promoting female composition is simply not enough to support a sustainable balance in the industry. This work needs to continue throughout my creative career, and should be something to be encouraged through all arts institutions in the future.

Images supplied. 

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