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17-year-old successfully campaigns to add female composers to U.K. school syllabus

From a Facebook post about this:

17-year-old Jessy McCabe from London, England was shocked to discover that not one of the 63 works she was expected to study for her Music A-Level exam was written by a female composer — so she decided to do something about it. Thanks to this Mighty Girl’s determined campaign, the Edexcel exam board has announced that they have updated their curriculum — which is used widely in high schools across the UK — to include works by multiple women composers!

When she initially noticed the disparity, Jessy thought that it would be quick to resolve. “Earlier this year, I was part of an in-school gender equality and leadership program for young women [byFearless Futures]... which looked into the way in which we are desensitized from noticing the lack of representation of women across different aspects of society,” she says. So she e-mailed Edexcel, whose mandate advocates that students “engage in, and extend the appreciation of the diverse and dynamic heritage of music” to point out the absence of women from the A-level music syllabus. “I thought the lack of women was simply a mistake, an oversight, as clearly their aim cannot be fulfilled without the representation of women.”

To her dismay, Edexcel’s head of music responded with an e-mail, saying that “Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included.” Jessy refused to have her concerns so summarily dismissed. While she agreed that “female composers aren’t as well known as their male counterparts (unsurprising as women composers are rarely studied in schools),” she pointed out that “BBC Radio 3 managed to do a whole day of programming of female composers to honor International Women’s Day. Surely, if BBC Radio 3 can play music composed by women for a whole day, Edexcel could select at least one to be a part of the syllabus alongside the likes of Holborne, Haydn and Howlin’ Wolf?”


This is absolutely amazing! It honestly took me until I was a sophomore in college before I realized we never studied any female composers in my music history or composition classes.

I was lucky because my first instructor gave me “A Performer’s Guide to Published Music for Unaccompanied Solo Bassoon by Women Composers” but there are many musicians that will play their entire career without knowing a single female composer’s name.

And of course, the same argument is always used. We don’t study female composers because female composers weren’t popular in Western music because we don’t study female composers.

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