Exploring choral repertoire and experimenting how songs connect to create a compelling and meaningful program is one of my favorite pastimes. But crafting choral programs can be tough, especially if you have committed to not reprising the songs you sang in college. Let’s be honest for a beat--the music we sang in high school and college was primarily composed by white males. And it is easy to locate this “tried and true” choral repertoire, also known as the choral canon, because it is widely available in our institution’s choral music libraries, music anthologies, and music publishing websites. In fact, there is a very good chance you can score a composition (pun intended) from the choral canon in the public domain for free. Thus, programing diverse repertoire can be difficult because access to the music has not been equitable. Five years ago, I gathered the courage as a choral conductor and artistic director to find my own voice by conscientiously programming music by women-presenting composers for the choirs I directed and also began reconsidering the choral literature taught at the graduate level. By conscientious I mean scouring, researching, listening, making lists, studying, and teaching choral music composed by women. Although my diligence in repertoire exploration extends to other historically excluded composers, this article focuses specifically on music by women composers to help us celebrate “Women’s History Month” this March by sharing some great resources to find repertoire.
Over the last few years, I have started polling our audiences to inquire the aspect(s) of the concert they enjoyed most. The positive comments were centered around the variety of repertoire. Now, one of my favorite comments is, “where did you find that music?” I wish there was one comprehensive list or database that referenced all music by historically excluded or composers not currently being amplified due to their gender. Unfortunately, such a resource does not exist… yet. Therefore, I often visit individual websites of my ever-growing list of women composers to explore whether one of their compositions will fit an upcoming program. When I have been unable to locate a particular score, I have contacted other ensembles that have performed it to inquire where to find it. As you can imagine, the task is time-consuming but worth it. There are several great resources starting to emerge that aid programming music by women-presenting and women-identifying composers. Here are a few resources to explore this March for Women’s History Month:
An online resource dedicated to promoting the vocal works and stories of historical female composers who have been overlooked for centuries (particularly historical composers). Each composer page includes recordings to explore.
This searchable database has over 400 compositions by women composers listed.
An excellent resource for using music composed by women to explain music theory concepts.
Publisher dedicated to music from the Italian convents of the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of the music was scored for SATB voicing and the website includes insight as to how the nuns sang the bass part.
General Exploring Resources
Phenomenal. This list features more than 5,000 women composers from pre-medieval to 21st century singer-songwriters. You can filter your search to choral music and by era. When you access the composer’s page, be sure to click the “External Reference” button as it will send you to info on the composer or the composer’s website. This list would be ultimate resource if recording examples were included for each composer.
Empowering Silenced Voices Database (compiled by Chorosynthesis Singers)
You can search by social conscious themes to find options.
This project has the potential to be that searchable database we are seeking, but it appears to still in the building process, but it almost 200 songs by women composers (you can search by a number of gender marginalized composers).
You can narrow the search by women composers by clicking the link. CPDL is free!
Arkiv Frau und Musik (new!)
An extensive spreadsheet of choral compositions by women composers from across the globe.
Choral Facebook Groups
Join one of the many choral groups on facebook, such as “I’m a choir director” and “Choral Music” . Utilize the search option and type “women composers”. These resources offer a plethora of crowd sourcing options from your colleagues. If you have an obscure programming theme, create a post and ask for assistance.
Treble Choir Resources:
Repertoire Lists of Women Composers (as performed by Elektra Women’s Choir)
This list is an incredible resource of women composers, including many Canadian based composers.
This list has a balanced offering of repertoire, with a dedication to women presenting composers.
This ensemble has shared several obscure and underperformed early repertoire.
A comprehensive resource as there is considerable information included on each work.
Sacred Music Resources:
Published three anthology volumes of music by women composers (historical and living) to be used in a church setting. The website offers perusal scores and listening links to most of the repertoire.
The website has recordings of music composed by women for every day in Advent and Stations of the Cross. A great resource for church musicians.