A Musical Tool for Change: New Database of Women Composers Launched


Several years ago when composer Rob Deemer was writing regularly for online platform NewMusicBox, he noted the number of articles and discussions online about the plight of women composers. Chiefly the discussion on the NewMusicBox site centered on how music written by women is woefully absent from concert programs and music school curricula.

And so Deemer, who is on the State University of New York at Fredonia faculty, decided to address the issue in a post for NewMusicBox that featured a list of 202 women composers and links to their websites

“I had heard many times from conductors and performers that even if they wanted to program works by women composers, they didn’t know where to begin” says Deemer. “I figured that my list would at least get the ball rolling to help that situation.”

It certainly did.

A few months after his article posted, Deemer noticed that the comments section had blown up, with people suggesting another 400 names of women composers.

It was time for more than a list, Deemer realized. “I had the idea of creating a browsable database that included life status, genres, race/ethnicity, and location — categories that conductors and programmers might want to search for composers.”

[su_pullquote]The Women Composers Database is open for public use[/su_pullquote]

By the time he had completed 800 entries for his database, Deemer also had collected an additional 2000 names. So he recruited the help of several of his students. When the database debuted earlier this year it included more than 3000 women composers.

The Women Composers Database is open for public use, and includes a Google Form that allows composers to submit their information. While the database is geared to performers and concert programmers, the general public can easily use it to discover new composers, especially within specific genres. Many of the composers will have recordings listed or linked to their websites.

Deemer suggests a short list of women composers of color the general public might find interesting to explore: Courtney Bryan, Valerie Coleman, Reena Esmail, Vivian Fung, Bun-Ching Lam, Tania León, Angélica Négron, Florence Price, Gity Razaz Kamala Sankaram, Chen Yi and Du Yun.

Deemer says an updated website that will host a cleaner version of the database is under construction. And as news of it has spread, the names of more than 200 hundred more women composers have been submitted through the Google Form.  

A database is only a tool for change, Deemer says.

“I hope the composers in this database receive more attention, advocacy, and performances as more programmers decide to make diversity a priority. Hopefully, they will find this tool useful to help make that priority a reality.”

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is an arts and culture journalist who has covered visual art, performance, film, literature, architecture, and just about any combination thereof. She was the staff arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman for 17 years. Her commendations include the First Place Arts & Culture Criticism Award from the Society for Features Journalism. Additionally, Jeanne Claire has been awarded professional fellowships at USC’s Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and NEA/Columbia University Arts Journalism Institute. In 2022, she was awarded the Rabkin Prize in visual art journalism. Jeanne Claire founded and led Sightlines, a non-profit online arts and culture magazine that reached an annual readership of 600,000. And for two years, she taught arts journalism at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Architecture magazine, Dwell, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Art Papers, and ICON design magazine, among other publications.

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