In a recent phone conversation with my niece, she told me about her progress in her piano lessons. At six years old, she is still a beginner, but is quickly learning to recognize notes and follow time signatures.
My niece often requests that her father play classical music as they travel in the car. Whenever he teases her by playing songs with lyrics, she again asks for "composer music."
"You know, Aunt Patricia, all composers are boys," she stated.
I was taken aback at her definitive statement. I knew that wasn't true, but in racking my brain for what I learned from the piano lessons I took as a teenager, I found I could not come up with a single female name with which to counter her assertion.
Even those unfamiliar with classical music recognize the names of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Claude Debussy. I am sure my niece's piano teacher is not purposefully leaving out the names of composers who were women. History has not done a good job of recording and recounting their stories.
For help, I turned to Amazon, typing in a search for children's books on "women composers." What came up were numerous titles on female musicians — Madonna, Christina Aguilera and Brittany Spears. It took several minutes of scrolling to find a book that was not about a pop singer from the past few decades.
While the women composers of the 18th and 19th centuries may not have been well documented, they did exist. They made music, exerting a more subtle influence on the arts than their male counterparts because of the views of that time, which allowed the exceptionally talented to perform in public, but often disparaged compositions that were not hymns or children's songs.
I think it is especially important to research and share the stories of these women — read biographies about female politicians, attend a play about female artists or go see a movie about female explorers, and learn just what part they played in our world's history.
Though I have yet to see the movie "Hidden Figures" (which details the achievements of female African-American mathematicians), I will never forget watching the gripping "Iron Jawed Angels," a film portraying the women who fought for women's right to vote in America.
"The Miracle Worker" and "Evita" are stage productions that show the lives of two very different women. In the play "The Miracle Worker," the struggle for Annie Sullivan to teach one child, the blind and deaf Helen Keller, is detailed. In the musical "Evita," audiences are taken through the life of Eva Peron, from her youth growing up in a small town to her rise to power as the wife of Argentinian president Juan Peron.
After seeing Newton High School's powerful production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," I found the book on which it was based and added it to my "to read" stack.
I'm eager for my niece to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series. When she is older, I'll recommend she read Elisabeth Elliot's "Through Gates of Splendor" and biographies of Condoleeza Rice, Corrie Ten Boom, Annie Oakley, Amelia Earhart, Mabel Walker Willebrandt and others.
In the meantime, she'll have a book about a 19th century German female composer to read. The pianist, who gave solo concerts as a preteen, is better known by her married name — Clara Schumann.
— Patricia Middleton writes for the McPherson Sentinel and Newton Kansan.