On Friday March 16, I had the pleasure of hearing yet another outstanding student recital performed by two students from the department of music. Third-year soprano Emily Steers and third-year flutist Lucie Bauby performed a combined recital that not only evoked emotion through the music, but also sparked interest in an intellectual idea about female influence in classical music. Bauby displayed fantastic technique, tone and clarity in her playing as well as created a warm atmosphere for audience members through her music. On top of the performance itself, it is interesting to note that this recital was made up of work written predominantly by female composers. In fact, all repertoire sung by Emily Steers was written by women, which begs the question – why isn’t this type of recital organized more often?
Recitals of mainly female composers are a challenge because women were excluded from the classical music canon for a very long time. Out of the hundreds of composers taught in music history classes on campus, only a handful of them are women and it wasn’t until recent years that this handful of women were included at all. Although more and more female composers are being introduced in classrooms at Mt. A, there is still a lack of awareness of these women throughout music schools all over the world.
Emily Steers’ program featured many female composers including Barbara Strozzi, Libby Larson, Fanny Hensel, Violet Archer, Francesca Caccini and Pauline Viardot. On top of that, Lucie Bauby included one selection written by Katherine Hoover, a twentieth-century female composer. An important step for music schools everywhere is to recognize that classical music doesn’t just stop at white men from Europe. There are quite a few female composers and their work is often considered far more impressive than some of their male counterparts. This should be celebrated and not overlooked. For example, Pauline Viardot was an incredible performer, composer and pedagogue who was connected at every level of artistic society across all of Europe and Russia. Hector Berlioz (a very famous male composer) even referred to her as “one of the greatest artists who comes to mind in the past and present history of music.” So why is she excluded from all of the textbooks in music history courses? Even Berlioz thought she was notable!
After spending two years at a liberal arts school, I have learned a lot about the importance of diversity in all fields of study. After catching up with Emily Steers after the performance, I learned that celebrating diversity in music is the main reason she chose to perform this program. “I think it’s important to highlight women’s contributions in every field, particularly fields that rely so much on history and past traditions like classical music,” said Steers. “All the women I featured in my recital were tremendous contributors to music in their own day and wrote lots of influential stuff, but it’s staggering how few people know about them!”
On top of the unique recital program, it is well worth noting that the performers themselves were, to say the least, exceptional. Steers’ stage presence was phenomenal and she did a wonderful job of expressing just what each piece meant through her use of body language and props. It was clear that she was abundantly proud of all that she had accomplished and had fun showcasing her work. Bauby’s portion of the recital was dazzling. Her program blended extremely well with Steers’, and together they performed a cohesive and well rounded performance that should be celebrated both for its execution as well as its emphasis on women composers.