Today is the anniversary of my father’s death, so to mark the day I unpacked one of the many unopened boxes of his papers that I’ve got up here in Vermont. The box was materials relating to a project he led in the 1960s.
The Contemporary Music Project, funded by the Ford Foundation, put young composers in schools around the country, where they wrote music for the school bands and choruses and sometimes a bit of chamber music as well. The roster ultimately included something like eighty composers (of whom the most well-known is Philip Glass, one of whose pieces is a childrens’ chorus number called Dreamy Kangaroo, something I’d really like to hear!)
According to the files I have in front of me, there were precisely two women composers on the roster: Emma Lou Diemer and Elaine M. Erickson, although it’s interesting to note that Lisa Bielawa‘s father Herb, and my own father were both participants, so maybe the program fostered women composers one generation removed? I hope so! (If you were a student at one of these schools and grew up to be a musician, I’d love to hear from you.)
One interesting outgrowth of the program is that it clarified how comprehensive musicianship skills are needed to work happily with contemporary music. My father gave a talk on that subject of comprehensive music education in 1966, something I was too young to read or remember at the time, but I very much enjoyed reading today. If you work with students or you are a student of music, you might like to read it yourself!