Composing : Scored by a woman by Arhynn Descy

Arhynn Descy

Scored by a woman

Of all the films you've watched over the last year, how many were scored by women? And supposing there were a few, could you name the composers? There's been a lot of talk about the number of women being given opportunities in the film industry. The statistics are bad right across the board and particularly bad for composers. According to a 2015 Variety article ‘Women accounted for 1% of all composers and 5% of all sound designers and supervising sound designers.’ Last week I pledged to watch 52 films directed by women in the #52FilmsByWomen campaign started by Women In Film-LA. It’s one film a week for a year. And that got me thinking.... I decided to take it one step further….to watch one film scored by a female composer each week for the next year. When I mentioned this to a friend, his first reaction was ‘But are there enough films to watch?!’ Now, of course there are, but the very fact that such a reaction is possible or that one even needs to think about it for a moment is enough of a comment on the situation. So over the next 52 weeks I intend to cast a spotlight on some of these film scores. I’ll post about it here and my hope is that you'll be inspired to join me in watching, discussing and sharing. This is the start of the conversation...please add your voice. Also, please feel free to suggest any films to watch. I have a list, but I’m sure there are many films that I haven’t come across yet..... many gems to discover! So, to begin....The film for week 1 is below. Week 1 Film: Mansfield Park (Patricia Rozema) Composer: Lesley Barber The film I found for this week is loosely based on the book by Jane Austen as well as some of her early writings and journals. I have always been a Jane Austen fan, so was really looking forward to watching this and I certainly wasn't disappointed! The film ranges from the downright comic to the beautifully romantic, from the light sophistication of the Jane Austen world to the dark world of slavery. Lesley Barber's score for this film is a revelation. The sometimes intimate, sometimes sweeping music perfectly reflects all the changing emotions and moods on screen, adding a wonderful sumptuousness to the film. It starts out as a seemingly traditional string score in keeping with the period of the film, and then very quickly starts unloading its surprises. In one scene we hear a Glass Harmonica being played and in another a Hurdy Gurdy accompanies a quaint fireworks display. Then in another surprising twist Fanny Price (the heroine) discovers horrific drawings of slaves and the music turns dark, a frantic solo violin figure and the voices of slaves contributing to the horror. Unexpected touches of percussion add colour to the comic moments, flutes turn up to illustrate doves in the fireworks scene and minimalist piano figurations add to the interest and energy of the music as a whole. I love the scene in which Fanny Price rides out into the rain on horseback, the music beautifully reflecting her turmoil of emotions and the mad rush through the wet night with sustained strings and an insistent piano figure. This is a very fresh and modern take on a period score.

Number of Female Directors Falls Over 17 Year Period, Study Finds
Number of Female Directors Falls Over 17 Year Period, Study Finds
Hollywood's gender gap is growing wider. "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and "Unbroken" director Angelina Jolie may be earning critical raves, awards and strong box office returns for the dramas they ma…
Naoise David Sheridan

Here's the site for a composer I like. She's a regular contributor on Scorecast. And yes, the playing field borders on vertical. http://www.anastasiadevana.com

Jonathan Price

Not a film, but the tv series Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar, also features songs by her. IMO, she's one of the best musical theatre (even though it's on tv) songwriters to come along in years.

Bill Costantini

It's a tough business, to be sure. Here's a list of great female composers from the Alliance for Women Film Composers, with links to their credits. Not on the list is Rachel Portman, Laura Rossi, Lisa Gerrard, Wendy Carlos, Suzanne Ciani, Debbie Wiseman, Michelle DiBucci, Debra Lurie, nor the late Shirley Walker (RIP), nor Angela Morley (RIP). http://theawfc.com/directory/ There are many great film scores composed or co-composed by these women. Keep playing, ladies!

Arhynn Descy

@Naoise - thanks for the suggestion...I'll look her up! @Jonathan - what a pity.....for this I am focusing on film, but who knows...maybe I'll move on to TV when I'm done!! Lots of good music coming from TV. @Bill....great names! I have some of them on my list, but a few I haven't yet. And thanks for the AWFC link. I'm listed on that site too.

Bill Costantini

Arhynn - I noticed. Congrats, and keep up the great work!

Dana Solomon

You know what's interesting is that I've always wondered this question myself. And I guess it's really two questions in one: are female film composers under-represented in the industry because not as many women are interested in that as a profession compared to men; or is it because mostly men are running the industry and don't give a serious thought of including women as viable composers compared to men?

Arhynn Descy

Dana, I don't know what the statistics are re women interested in the profession. I have read that composition classes in colleges are 50/50 male/female, so one would assume that there would be a similar ratio wanting to enter the profession. Everything points to it being for the same reason that there's fewer female directors, cinematographers, etc...women are just not being hired.

Dana Solomon

That's really wrong for that to be happening for so long. Sounds like the good ole boys club to me. For the life of me, why should people care about a person's gender, race, or age when it comes to music? You're listening to music, not watching it on tv. If you write great music, why should they care who it's coming from! That is sad on the part of the industry. I wonder if there could possibly now be an element of women not seeing hardly other women composers in the industry, so they just don't even bother to make an effort to be apart of the entertainment industry; with the feeling that it'll only be them in a sea of men all the time. I can somewhat relate being African-American.

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