After reading responses to my last post, I’ve been thinking about whether or not as composers it is possible to speak directly from our experience, as playwrights and visual artists often do. Or are we more akin to architects, who seem to work more with pure functional forms?
This is the slippery slope when discussing women composers, as it points to a particular life experience. Some assume that to enter into this discussion at all implies a “male vs. female” essentialist point of view. Other responses point to distinct experiences that are less often experienced by men—particular forms of violence, for example. The question arises as to whether we access our life experiences or not when composing, or if we have a choice about it.
There was a time in my life when I chose to compose more like an architect: pure form, beautiful abstractions—music purely of the mind. I still find music with these leanings extraordinarily beautiful. But in my own composing, ignoring physical and emotional realities began to make my work feel too one-dimensional to me.
So if I was to compose from all of my experience, then I had to face the fact that I was a woman—this probably sounds very curious to say, but it was something that I had been able to ignore in most of my musical training. Now I am actively writing from that experience. It does not make my music “feminine” or “not masculine,” but it does make it the work of a woman composer (as opposed to a composer who is a woman).