Arnold Schoenberg, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig von Beethoven, Paul Hindemith – all great composers, but there’s something missing: not a woman in the bunch.
And that’s nothing new, according to Serena Vaquilar, of the Oviatt Library’s Special Collections unit, who just graduated with a master of music degree and was the driving force behind the library’s “Women In Music” exhibit that ran through June 1.
Vaquilar said she was inspired to mount the exhibit because there was no dedicated inventory of women in music in the library. Now, in addition to a permanent collection of women in music, she said, there will be a catalog of all students’ graduate recital programs.
“I wanted to showcase the women behind the music,” Vaquilar said, adding that even though she is aware that historically women have been woefully underrepresented in the music world, perceptions are changing.
She doesn’t believe in any kind of corrective measures -like a musical affirmative action – that might help put women musicians on a more equal footing with men, saying that it is ultimately about the music, the quality of the performance and the written notes.
“I don’t believe that just because you’re a girl, you should get special treatment,” Vaquilar said.
That sentiment was echoed by fellow musician, flautist Lindsay Hansen, CSUN’s music librarian, who assisted Vaquilar with the exhibit. She also is aware of the short shrift women in music have been paid historically, but listed a number of female musicians who have made it to the top of their fields, such as Marin Alsop, music director designate of the Baltimore Symphony, and Joana Carneiro, assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Hansen also believes that one’s standing in the music world should be based entirely on merit instead of artificial benchmarks based on gender.
Vaquilar seems to be particularly qualified to speak about women’s progress into the world of music. Her degree is in string bass, an unwieldy instrument nearly 6 feet tall traditionally reserved for male-dominated sections of most orchestras.
Vaquilar described a practice sometimes used in auditions of prospective players in CSUN’s orchestra. It’s called “screened auditions,” she said, where the student musicians position themselves behind a screen that keeps their gender and identity hidden from the judges.
She said this practice is important because the judges may have pre-existing opinions about the applicant regardless of his or her gender.
“They might have failed their class or something,” she said.
Vaquilar reiterated that it’s the quality of the music that should be the only judge of a performance, citing the fact that there are dedicated rooms within the Disney Concert Hall where one can enjoy a concert without seeing any of the musicians.
Taking steps to hide a musician’s gender doesn’t stop there though. Dr. John Roscigno, CSUN’s director of orchestral studies, wrote in an e-mail that for the last three years women have won the Northridge Composition Prize in CSUN’s international composition contest, wherein scores are submitted anonymously in an effort to safeguard against any preferential treatment based on a judge’s knowledge of gender.
It’s no secret that women have been passed over in favor of men in just about every area from the beginning of time, and both Vaquilar and Hansen are keenly aware of women’s historically minor standing in the music world. But they both believe women are making progress. They have put their faith where it belongs: the music.