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The Power Of Female Composers On Stage At “The Women Who Score”

The participants of “The Women Who Score” gather on stage at the conclusion of the special Grand Performances concert. Photo credit Sherry Barnett

Grand Performances, a Los Angeles based organization dedicated to providing free access to diverse musical styles, devoted an evening during their special 30th anniversary season to a special class of women: female composers. “The Women Who Score” concert, presented August 19th in downtown Los Angeles, featured a full orchestra complete with choral accompanists. With music ranging from contemporary rock to a cappella, the two hour presentation made strides in dispelling a myth that female composers don’t fit in the film and television arena.

Dedicated to Shirley Walker, a pioneer in the scoring field, the event kicked off with a performance of selections from Walker’s Emmy-winning score to “Batman: Mask of the Phantom.” After studying music composition at San Francisco State University, her earliest compositions were limited to commercial jingles and scores industrials. Her involvement with film and television revolved around performance, such as her synthesizer work recorded for “Apocalypse Now.” Never giving up, she received one of the first solo scoring credits by a woman for her work on John Carpenter’s “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” in 1992. Walker continued to score both film and television projects until her death in 2006.

Prior to diving into the even’s program, host Gail Eichenthal recognized Walker’s contributions and shared a few shocking facts. She noted, for instance, that during the 70s, no music written by female composers was taught in any music program.  This in large part was due history’s lack of acknowledging female composer: there were only 20 recorded female composers before the 15th century.  While she noted that there are thousands of female composers actively working in the music industry today, they are still vastly under-utilized.

“Of all the films released in 2015, only 2% were scored by women,” said Eichenthal.

What followed the evening’s sobering statistics was a celebration of an eclectic range of talent that, as Eichenthal noted, was “shattering through the glass ceiling.” The program was broken into six distinct genres to wrangle the styles into a comprehensive study.  “The Protectors” included selections for Lesley Barber’s score to the upcoming release “Manchester by the Sea”, Kathryn Bostic’s score for 2011’s “Safely Home” and Nan Schwartz score to the 1994 television series “In the Heat of the Night.”  “The Seekers” included selections from Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum’s score for the 2015 release “Stockholm, Pennsylvania”, Julia Newmann’s score to the ongoing series “Bones” and Rachel Portman’s main title for 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”

“The Heroes” focused on music composed for action and comic-inspired content, including video games. This section featured a compellation of music composed by Lolita Ritmanis for Warner Bros. animated programs (“Justice League”, “Mystery of Batwoman” and “Superman; The Animated Series”), Germaine Franco’s score for the 2016 film “Kung Fu Panda 3”, Jessica Curry’s 2015 score for “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture” and Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman’s compilation of music from television series including “Nurse Jackie”, “Carnivale”, “Touch” and “Heroes.”

After a short intermission, the program continued with “The Icons” featuring a performance heralded composer Diane Warren who performed her Oscar nominated single “Til It Happens to You” from the 2015 film “The Hunting Ground.” This section included selections from Miriam Cutler and Starr Parodi.  “The Rebels” returned to scores, highlighting a film compilation by Sharon Farber (“Children of the Fall”, “When Nietzsche Wept” and The Dove Flyer”), a selction of Heather McIntosh’s score to 2012’s “Compliance” and Wendy Blackstone’s score to 1997’s “Love Walked In.”  The evening concluded with a section called “The Dreamers” that focused on the future of female composers.  International beatbox phenomenon Butterscotch wowed the crowd with a three-minute original creation, followed by musical highlights from composers Lili Haydn (“Place Between Places”), Penka Kouneva (“The Woman Astronaut”) and Laura Karpman, who, in collaboration with Raphael Saadiq, performed the suite from 2016’s “Underground.”