Think of three mega-star women in music. Women such as Aretha, Madonna, Beyonce, or Celene may come to mind. But one star hails from a different genre. Her name is Beth Anderson and she is a contemporary classical composer.
Anderson’s body of work includes more than 150 original compositions including pieces for orchestra, opera, stage and film. What makes her able to do what she does is her natural talent combined with her education: a bachelor’s degree in music from U.C. Davis and master’s degrees in composition and piano performance from Mills College. Another of Anderson’s accomplishments is less obvious but more rare: she is a woman with a career in classical music.
According to a report by the National Endowment for the Arts, women account for only 36% of all musicians. In classical music the percentage is even lower.
When it comes to classical, “it’s not that [women’s] music is so different,” said Anderson. “It’s just that they’re not heard at all. It makes young girls feel like there’s no women composers out there and that they shouldn’t write music.”
Young women are being shortchanged with a lack of visible female mentors and shrinking arts education opportunities. Sunday’s CNN special “Girl Rising,” illustrates how making relevant education available to a girl can change her life, her family, her community and the world. Locally, Culver City-based Vox Femina Los Angeles is dedicated to making women like Beth Anderson more visible and helping young women find their musical role models.
Vox is committed to commissioning new works by contemporary composers and raising awareness about issues that affect women. The organization’s founder and artistic director Dr. Iris S. Levine is another female standout in the world of music: a choral conductor with a Masters degree in Choral Conducting from Temple University, a PhD in Choral Music from the University of Southern California, and the Department Chair and Professor of Music at California State Polytechnic University.
Dr. Levine has lead Vox Femina, an all-women’s choir, to a legacy of performing and commissioning work that tells the story of women around the world. Vox is one of the foremost commissioners of new work and uses their 16-year tenure to give voice and visibility to women in music with community programs that help girls experience professional choral performance.
“Vox Femina is a beautiful chorus,” Anderson said. “Choral music is very exciting. You can see how much beauty a whole bunch of people can make together without any instruments.”
Anderson, Dr. Levine and Vox Femina are a precious, visible few women across the country working toward keeping choral and classical music alive, and making known women’s role in it. The fact is, girls don’t, “just want to have fun.” They want to be equally educated and respected for their contributions in the world and in music. Beth Anderson has done it. Dr. Iris Levine and Vox Femina have done it. Now they’re helping and hoping to pave the way for more girls to follow their talents, reach for their dreams, and achieve new heights in the world of song.