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WSRC celebrates 25 years of Women Making Music

Published: February 8, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.


The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center celebrated the 25th anniversary of the anthology, “Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition 1150-1950,” compiled by Judith Tick and Jane Bowers last Sunday. At the event, Judith Tick, the Matthews Distinguished Professor of Music at Northeastern University, spoke with grace and clear passion, detailing her life as musicologist as well as a lifelong dedication to promoting the work of women in the field of music.   The anthology came out of the Civil Rights Movement and “what was then called, women’s liberation,” Tick explained. As fellow graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, Tick and Jane Bowers’ political activism emerged into cultural feminism. Tick noted that Gerta Lerning had inspired her to feel that teaching music could be a tool for women’s emancipation.   In 1994, Tick and Bowers coupled their “strong ideological passion for the humanities” and made the new idea of cultural feminism their own domain. However, they were taking a risk.   At the time, women were hardly mentioned in the music sphere. Tick and Bowers believed that their anthology would act as a starting point for talented female composers to earn the participation and recognition they deserved. They studied female composers and musicians who, despite their objective musical prowess, were not acclaimed simply because of the dominance of male professionals in society. Tick explained that gender, like class and race, was the anchor of their restrictions.   Their work, however, did not go without criticism. Tick noted that they faced “sharp skepticism and uncharitable assumptions” as they were trying to promote their work. The two fighters did not allow ruthless criticism to hinder their success. A combination of their belief in music, willingness to learn from criticism and their persistence, accounted for the ultimate publishing of their anthology.   In her lecture on Sunday, Tick offered several detailed examples of the women featured in her anthology. For example, Tick played a song by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1664), describing it as “a hypnotic work.” She also played songs by Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847), who was originally discouraged from composing, although her work has been revived in the last 10 to 15 years. Tick described Mendelssohn, the sister of German composer Felix Mendelssohn, as the poster child for the discouragement of female composers at the time.  Tick also discussed her current project on Ella Fitzgerald. She played a song sung by Fitzgerald in 1946 at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. The audience at the theater was familiar with Fitzgerald, for she regularly performed there. In the performance, Fitzgerald impersonated Slam Stewart and the audience erupted with cheers about two minutes into the song when she began to poke fun at Stewart’s eccentric singing style. Tick described the audience as “frighteningly hip.”   The room was full of Brandeis alumni, devoted musicologist fans and friends and admirers of Tick. As Tick played samples of musicians’ works that have been showcased in the anthology, the excitement and appreciation was palpable. Later that evening, Brandeis hosted a gala concert at Slosberg Recital Hall open to the Brandeis community and the general public.   The entire day was a celebration of women’s roles in music, marking the progress in the field of musicology as a result of the work done by musicologists such as Tick and Bower.