The University of St. Thomas


Thill, Linda

Thill, Linda

A History of Select American Women Composers Applications and Resources for the Elementary Classroom
Linda S. Thill

The purpose of this paper was to include the music of women composers in the elementary music curriculum. Textbooks and materials available often do not represent women well in roles as composers, conductors, and instrumentalists. For this reason, supplementary materials are necessary to include women’s works in the curriculum. This project offered me an opportunity to research and find music that provided my students with an answer to their question, “Why aren’t there any women composers?”

As I began to research women composers, I found many reasons for their often anonymous state throughout history. Understanding these reasons helps us to understand why their contributions have not been acknowledged. The influence of the church and its exclusion of women from participation in church music, as well as perception of women’s domestic roles and their inability to create music with the same logic and critical thinking used by men, are just a few. Before the twentieth century, women in the middle class did not have many opportunities for the education and support necessary to compose. Women in three groups, the nobility, nuns residing in convents, and women from families with musical background had opportunities which were denied to other women.

The first step in finding music for this project was interviewing composers and professors who were knowledgeable in the field of women’s music. Once I had some ideas of music which might be suitable for teaching examples, I purchased compact discs and studied the music. I considered research on children’s listening including tempo and style preferences. In addition, I chose selections which reflected a time span of about 100 years and included a variety of styles and tempos.

The music selected was written by Libby Larsen, Kay Gardner, Laurie Anderson, Amy Beach, Florence Price, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich and Joan Tower. Biographies of these women are included to provide a context for understanding their compositions. Lessons are provided as a model for using their music in the classroom. A variety of activities including movement, instrument playing and exploration are provided to give students an active learning experience. Plans include ideas which use Orff instruments as well as improvisation and movement which are a part of the Orff approach.

In one of the lessons in this project, Joan Tower’s Fanfare For the Uncommon Woman is studied along with Copland’s Fanfare For the Common Man. In this lesson the objective is to explore the musical style of a fanfare. Including Joan Tower’s piece with other examples of this style provides students with the awareness that women and men do write music for the same purposes.

Without the inclusion of women composers in our curricula, we perpetuate the inequity which has existed for women in music throughout history. As educators we must make an effort to inform the practices of music education to include women’s music of all genres in our classrooms. We can make a difference.

Capstone Advisors
Arvida Steen and Terry O'Grady