Document (Link to ProQuest) 

Audio Chapter:


With the goal of understanding what experiences and musical identities of women who choose to compose, the purpose of this research was to examine the experience and musical identity of women who choose to compose music.

This study was guided by the following Grand Tour question and sub-questions:

Why do these women choose to compose?

  1. What experiences and relationships have played a foundational role in shaping these women as composers?
  2. What experiences and relationships allowed these women to self-identify as a composer?
  3. What influences, if any, do these women perceive that their gender has had upon their approach to composing?

This investigation was a multiple case study of the learning experiences of three female graduate composition majors enrolled at State University, a large, state university in the midwest. The primary data collection involved four or five interviews between the participants and myself, email communications, one focus group interview with all participants, and field observations at composition studio classes and composition recitals.

Two stages of musician-composer identity were observed: the foundational musician-composer identity and the emerging composer-musician identity. There were four main components at play in the foundational musician-composer identity: family support, positive mentors, multiple experiences, and perseverance/independence. Differing from the foundational musician-composer identity, the emerging composer-musician identity and themes that supported this identity allowed the women the confidence to self-identify as a composer. These three themes—arranging as a creative introduction, interest in music theory, and a need for an alternative to music performance—established a scenario in which all the women felt confident to call themselves a composer, though in some cases the label was fragile. I was unable to identify influences confidently that gender had upon their approach to composing. I was unable to answer this question not because I did not ask it, but because the women themselves were relatively unaware of any influences they faced related to gender in their field.

These women compose because they must. This compulsion happened independently and in conjunction with many of the experiences that allowed for a foundational musician-composer identity and later an emerging composer-musician identity. Implications for music education include the inclusion of more creative experiences in K-8 music education, a need for arranging as a scaffolding device in creative pedagogy, and the inclusion of alternative music classes for which public performance is not the main objective. Implications for composers include collaborating with researchers and practitioners in music education to help nurture future music composers in K-12 music education.