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  • Writer's pictureSandy Coursey

Including Female Representation in Beginner Piano Pedagogy: A Guide for Teachers

In my last post, I discussed the issue of white male supremacy in beginner classical music education. It is easy to acknowledge an issue, but much more difficult to create an active way to resolve the issue. This post is meant to be a kicking-off point for including more female representation in everyday lesson plans.

· Semantics Do Matter

Children notice things that adults think they don’t. Don’t refer to Beethoven, Mozart, etc. as the “greatest” or “best” composer compared to others. Present all composers in an unbiased way to let your students make their OWN decisions. Whether the teacher notices or not, the student will notice if the only successful composers and performers discussed in lessons are men.

· Show Your Students Performers Who Are Like Them

We are so lucky to live in an age where everything is a google search away. Use this ability to find performers from similar backgrounds to your students— they very well may have never seen people like them performing or finding success in music. Here are some performers I suggest using to inspire your students: Martha Argerich, Yuja Wang, Valentina Litsitsa, Mitsiku Uchida, Hazel Scott, Margaret Bonds, Valerie Capers. Follow this link for a list of female composers by country of origin.

· When Teaching White Male Composers, Give Credit to the Women Who Impacted Their Success.

When teaching Bach, talk about Anna Magdalena. Depending on the age of the student, you may not want to go into every detail, but here they are for those interested: She was a singer, daughter of a trumpeter and organist, and was employed by the court of Anhalt-Cothen. She regularly transcribed Bach’s music, selling the transcriptions for supplemental income. She continued to work as a professional singer after their marriage and regularly organized nights of music, featuring the entire Bach family and friends, playing and singing together. Without her organizing these events, the Bach family house would not have become the musical center in Leipzig that it was. We all know when Bach died— 1750. But, do you know what happened to Anna after? She was abandoned by her sons, left with no financial support, forced to live the rest of her life accepting charity just to get by. She eventually died in the streets and was buried in an unmarked grave. If this doesn’t enrage you, what will? The woman who helped create the greatest musical center of Leipzig in the 1700s was gone and forgotten, even before her death— cast aside as an unimportant pawn of Bach’s famed life.

For continued research, I would suggest looking into Clara Schumann’s impact on Brahms and Robert Schumann, as well as Nadia and Lili Boulanger’s impact as successful composers, performers, and pedagogues of other famed pianists.

· Set the Example:

Program and perform female composers for yourself as a performing musician. Pave the way for future women by putting in the work in your own career. Some female composers I suggest looking into are: Valerie Capers, Florence Price, Cecil Chaminade, Amy Beach, Lera Auerbach, Kaija Saariaho, Jennifer Higdon, Emma Lou Diemer, and Marilyn Shrude. Here are some organizations/websites that I suggest using to search for even more female composers:

· Discuss the Work and Success of the Female Pedagogical Writers that Your Students Play. These women (Melody Bober, Wynn-Ann Rossi, Jennifer Eklund, Carol Matz, to name a few) are no less important than the typical giants in your students’ music education. Make sure your students know when their music is written by a woman— it may seem obvious, but unless pointed out, most students won’t pay attention to who wrote the piece they are learning. These pedagogical composers are at the heart of beginner music education, and without them, pianists would never get to the level and skill required to play Beethoven, Mozart, or any other generally “esteemed” white male composer. Give credit where credit is due!

We can make a difference in how the music world sees female composers and performers, but this change must start with how we are teaching beginning musicians. Without this change, we are training yet another generation of musicians to turn a blind eye to the inequity that women have faced in music for hundreds of years. I commit myself to making a difference for the young girls who are the future. Do you?

Other links I would suggest consulting on this topic are:

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