“NO ONE CAN FIGURE OUT YOUR WORTH BUT YOU”.
What are the words of that song, “THIS IS A MAN’S WORLD” sung by a man of course, (James Brown), Well is it? A man’s world that is? It certainly seems to be in many respects within the film and TV industry, and also it has come to the surface recently on the BBC in the U.K. because of the difference in rates of pay between Male and Female presenters, actors and even producers and directors, but before anyone starts to shout, that I am stirring this already well mixed pot, why not read on.
IS FILM MUSIC A MANS WORLD?
I think that as film music collectors or soundtrack music enthusiasts, we all realise just how important music is within films. It is a component of the film making process that is vital and also integral to the workings of the film, and at times the music can elevate and underline scenes, scenarios and certain aspects of the storyline in a way that no other medium is able to. However, music is very often the last thing that is considered by directors and producers. Outside of the film music collecting fraternity it can be difficult for others to appreciate fully just how much effort and artistry goes into crafting a musical score for a film or a television show or series. It’s a fine line that the composer walks when scoring a movie, if they go too far or become to romantic, dramatic or even understated then things can very often end up not working at all. So, when you think of great and illustrious film music composers who comes to mind? Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, John Williams or maybe Hans Zimmer, Brian Tyler, Alan Silvestri. Yes, the usual suspects I hear some of you say. But have you noticed something about the list of names I just reeled off? No, well look again, yes that’s it all Male composers. I think most of us can write a fairly long list of Male composers who work in film, but can we write a list of female composers who also create film scores, better still can we write a list or off the top of our heads name six or more Female composers who have scored films in 2019? Or a Female composer from the Golden age, from the Silver age, from the 1990’s?
At the recent Oscars ceremony composer Hildur Guðnadóttir won a coveted golden statue for her darkly atmospheric work on the movie JOKER, she had won also the Golden Globe award and the BAFTA for her score. This was an important win especially as this year the Academy had failed to nominate any Female Film makers.
I am not however saying that She won because of this, because her score is remarkable and innovative and so richly deserved to be given this accolade. But Female composers in film and TV are few and far between, and in my opinion it is only in recent years that Women composers have at last received the recognition that they so richly deserve, the scores created and fashioned by women composers are in my ever so humble opinion some of the most ground breaking and original to be penned for cinema and television.
So, I thought I would explore the world of the Female film music composer or as I like to call them Film Music Composers, because for me it matters not if a score is written by a Male or a Female, whether it is symphonic, synthetic or even performed on a solo triangle or a rubber band, because as long as the music is good and more importantly it supports and gives greater life and creates the correct moods and atmospheres for the movie, is all that matters.
But firstly, to get a fuller picture we should travel back in time just few hundred years but a long while before the advent of the flickering magic lantern that would eventually become the silver screen. It is back to the era of what we call the great master’s we go, and yes, we call them this because they were mostly Male. Beethoven, Mahler, Strauss, Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and their like, are all I suppose well-known names and are referred to regularly by connoisseurs of classical music. But, were there any Female composers that were active at the same time as the Gentleman I have already mentioned. The answer is simple and short, Yes! but we very rarely hear of Clara Schumann (1819-1896), a talented pianist and composer and the wife of Robert Schumann.
Or indeed, Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847).
A pianist and composer, who just happened to be Felix Mendelssohn’s sister. Felix arranged to have some of Fanny’s songs published under his name, because at that time attitudes towards women publishing music was somewhat frowned upon. This was a practise that led to an embarrassing moment for the composer. On one occasion Queen Victoria received him at Buckingham Palace and expressed her interest in performing her favourite song which She thought had been written by him. He had to then confess that it was the work of his Sister Fanny.
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) was France’s first female composer. She was born into a family of sculptors but displayed early glimmers of talent in music and studied under such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Hummel. Like other female composers around her time, she was primarily a pianist and wrote many works for the instrument. However, after focusing on writing for piano in 1834 she turned her attention to writing for orchestra and penned three symphonies, a wind sextet, several vocal and choral works, plus chamber music. Unlike Schumann and Mendelssohn, Farrenc’s works remained largely forgotten until the late 20th century during a surge in interest in women composers.
Francesca Caccini (1587-1640) was a noted Singer, lutenist, poet and teacher, she was the daughter of the great Renaissance composer, Giulio Caccini and became one of the most influential female European composers but very little of her music has survived, She also wrote for the stage. And it is thought that she was the first woman composer to write an opera.
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) it is said that this female composer, was one of, if not the most prolific composer of her time, and not just amongst females but males also, during the mid-seventeenth century. Her innovative output only contains vocal music, except for just one volume of sacred songs. Most of her compositions were written for soprano.
Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704), At the age of just sixteen, Leonarda was enrolled in a convent, a place where she was to remain until her death. She is said to have been one of the most productive female composers of her time, as well as composing music she undertook the task of teaching the other nuns at the convent music. She is thought to be one of two women composers that focused upon the writing of instrumental music.
Moving forward a few years and I feel that mention must be made of.
Florence Price (1887-1953), who was not only a female composer but was also the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and the first female composer to have her music performed by a major orchestra. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, her mother was a music teacher who guided her early musical training. She had her first piano performance at the age of four and published her first composition at the age of 11. Price’s music fuses, African-American spirituals, Southern State themes, and also takes its inspiration from the blues, which in turn is influenced by urban sounds and African-American church music.
In more or less the same period of time, composer Amy Beach (1867-1944) who was also a pianist, was active and making revolutionary moves into music. She thought of as the first successful American female composer of art or serious music.
She was a child prodigy, able to sing forty songs word perfect by the age of one. She began to write simple compositions when she reached five years of age and had formal training for twelve months by her fourteenth birthday. In later life when she married her husband disapproved of her career and she was limited to two performances a year and was not allowed to study music further formally, So, she was mostly self-taught and read nearly every book that was available on theory, composition and also orchestration. Her first success came when her Mass was performed by the Hayden and Handel Society Orchestra, which was the first piece that the orchestra had performed composed by a female. After which she began to write more regularly and composed, a piano concerto which she performed as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In total she was responsible for writing some one hundred and fifty compositions, which included Chamber Music, Choral Works, Solo Piano pieces and also songs.
Cécile Chaminade was born in France in 1857, her music was largely financially successful. A native of Paris, she initially studied music with her mother and then took piano and violin lessons. She then started to focus upon music composition with an array of notable names. She began to compose simple pieces at an early age and at eight years old played some of her music for Georges Bizet who was very impressed. Chaminade wrote character pieces for piano and also produced salon songs many of which were published. Her piano compositions received good reviews from critics and were favourites with concert goers in Europe and America. When the composer travelled to America in 1908, She was somewhat surprised to discover that her Scarf Dance and the Ballet No. 1 were in the music libraries of many piano music lovers.
So, there were Women composers, who were active and successful at the time of and after the era of the so-called Great Masters. Other names of note that are worthwhile investigating include.
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944).
And coming more up to date Jennifer Higdon who is in my opinion a rare talent. That is a just brief look at women composers from the world of classical, concert or as it is sometimes called serious music. But it is the female film score composers that are the focus of this article. I am not sure what happens in the world of film music regarding Female composers, but as I have already stated I don’t even consider if a composer is Female or Male, gay or straight, black or white etc, I focus upon the score, the music that is in the movie and if that score works and does what it is supposed to do all well and good.
I read a comment recently that Hans Zimmer had been assigned to WONDER WOMAN 1984, and the author of the article remarked that it was a missed opportunity because a Female composer would have been better suited to the project. Well there are two ways of looking at this, I personally think that the actual remark of a female composer being been better suited to the project is itself maybe somewhat sexist. Because why would a female composer make a better job of scoring a film with a female lead? Jerry Goldsmith seemed to handle SUPERGIRL ok and Debbie Wiseman excelled when scoring WILDE, a film with a central character who is male. It’s like saying Female composers cannot score action films or Male composers should not do rom-coms. Or maybe a little like a director saying to Jerry Goldsmith on one occasion “OK, THIS IS A FILM ABOUT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, SO I WANT LOTS OF FRENCH HORNS IN THE SCORE”. There was a study carried out by a University in Southern California in 2018, it concluded that of the top one hundred fiction motion pictures at the box office between 2007 and 2017, only sixteen were scored by a female composer, which is a minute figure compared with the one thousand two hundred and eighteen scored by men. This was backed up with information from The Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television which established that ninety four percent of the two hundred and fifty movies at the box office in 2018 were scored by men. It’s a staggering and quite unbelievably shocking difference. In a period when organisations are looking at how women are paid in comparison with men and also in the wake of the establishment of the organisation TIMES UP which was set up to ensure equal pay and also better conditions and more opportunities for women in all walks of life and employment, things in film and television music do not seem to be keeping pace or at least not as yet. It does seem that female directors, producers, actors and composers etc are all still overshadowed by Male dominance in the industry, and it’s something that is certainly not hidden or apologised for.
So where to start, well at the very beginning if that is at all possible. Who was the first female composer to write music for film?
Well one of the first was French composer Germaine Tailleferre, Her work in film music included the drama Le petit chose, directed by Maurice Cloche which was released in 1938. She was also known to have worked on a series of documentaries. Which although not features were still movies. She was born Marcelle Taillefesse at Saint Maur des Fosses. She changed her name Tailleferre to enrage her Father who had refused to fund her musical studies. She then began to study piano at her home with her Mother, then went onto undertake a formal musical education at the Paris Conservatory. It was whilst there that she became friends with Loius Durey, Arthur Honneger and Georges Auric amongst others. Also, whilst at the conservatory she composed eighteen works for Caroline Luigini who was the assistant professor of harp at the institution.
In 1923 she began to spend more and more time with Maurice Ravel, he encouraged her to enter her music into the Prix de Rome which she did. In 1926, she married an American Ralph Barton and travelled to the United States where she remained for just under a year, after which she and her husband returned to France where they divorced in 1927. She was particularly prolific during the 1930.s but when war broke out in 1939, she was forced to leave her home in France and escape via Spain to the United States, sadly leaving most of her music behind. After the war she returned to France and continued to compose right up to her death in Paris on November 7th1983, she was 91 years of age.
ELIZABETH LUTYENS, is a name that many have heard of especially when discussing the music for Horror movies, THE SKULL in particular. Born Agnes Elizabeth Lutyens on July 9th, 1906, in Bloomsbury London. She began her musical studies in Paris and then continued these at the Royal College of Music. She was to become the first Female composer to write music for films in Gt Britain. During the early 1930s she made various attempts to break into the world of film scoring, but it was finally via the efforts of Muir Mathieson that she actually became involved in film music, it was because of this well know British movie music icon that Lutyens was given her first scoring assignment in 1944, this was not a full motion picture score however, but was for a Royal Air force newsreel film for which she provided a march entitled BUSTLE for WAAF,s. The march which was similar in style to the quirky theme and scores that Malcolm Arnold composed for the St. Trinians films was received well. It was at around the same period that Lutyens also composed music for Crown Film Unit productions in which the composer decided to give the documentaries she worked on music that has more of an epic sound abandoning at this time her normal 12 tone style approach to composition. After this she became in demand and worked on a further four documentaries and with these completed, she was commissioned to work on numerous short films.
Her approach to scoring movies was somewhat different from other composers working in film during this time, Lutyens preferring to wait until the movie was completed or in its rough cut stage before even viewing it and then deciding what music should be provided, her outlook and opinion of music in film was that it should not be overpowering or overbearing but should underline and maybe punctuate discreetly. Whilst other composers at this time such as Bliss, saw music as a more integral component and an equal part of the film making process with composers being involved at times long before the cameras had started to roll. In 1960, Lutyens began to work more regularly on actual movies her first foray into this area of music for the moving image being DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK, it was at this time that Phil Martell began to work with Lutyens and he would conduct the majority of her work for the cinema and was of the opinion that She had a natural flair and aptitude to create music for film. It was Martell, who eventually mentored Lutyens and guided her in the art of film scoring and at times was the voice of restraint when Lutyens occasionally employed a more experimental style. But it was her 12 tone system that attracted Hammer films to Lutyens as a composer as her sound and style proved to be more than effective and the collaboration between Hammer and the composer was a very productive one and it is probably true to say that it was Elizabeth Lutyens music for horror films that brought her recognition and also monetary security. DR TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS, THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING, THE SKULL and TERRORNAUTS all benefited from Lutyens original and distinctive sound. She passed away on April 14th, 1983.
Another composer who was active during the 1940’s and throughout the 1960’s was DOREEN CARWITHEN. She wrote the suitably robust and swashbuckling soundtrack to MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST in 1954 which was conducted and supervised by John Hollingsworth as it was a Hammer films production and it was in my own personal opinion a case of the music being far better than the film it was intended to support. She was born in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire on 15 November 1922. As a child she began to take music lessons from her mother who was a music teacher the young Doreen starting both piano and violin with her aged just four. Her Sister Barbara was also highly musical, and the two siblings had perfect pitch. At age 16 Doreen began composing by setting Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (Daffodils) to music and wrote a piece for voice and piano. In 1941 she began her training at the Royal Academy of Music and performed cello in a string quartet and also would at times play with orchestras. She was a member of the harmony class that was overseen by British composer William Alwyn, who after seeing her enthusiasm and potential also taught her composition. Her overture One Damn Thing After Another, received its premier performance at Covent Garden under the baton of Adrian Boult in 1947.
In the same year she was selected by the Royal Academy to train as composer of film music on a scheme that was sponsored by J. Arthur Rank. In 1961 she became William Alwyn’s second wife, and decided to change her name to Mary Alwyn, as she disliked the name Doreen, and took her middle name Mary as her Christian name. She later worked as a Sub Professor of Composition at the RAM. She was devoted to her husband and acted as his secretary. After he died in 1985, she established the William Alwyn Archive and William Alwyn Foundation to promote his music and initiate related research projects. She then also returned to her own music. In 1999 a stroke left her paralysed on one side. She died in Forncett St Peter, near Norwich, on 5 January 2003. During her time as a film music composer she wrote over thirty scores her first scoring assignment being for segments of the documentary short THIS MODERN AGE (1946). Other assignments soon followed and she was particularly busy during the late 1940,s through into the mid-1950,s when she also acted as assistant to Muir Mathieson and at times often acted as an arranger or orchestrator on film scores by other composers and was used many times to assist composers who were running out of time on certain assignments, most of these she received no credit for. She also composed the music for Elizabeth is Queen in 1953 which was the official film of the coronation her other documentaries included Teeth of the Wind(1953), The Stranger Left No Card (1952) and On the Twelfth Day (1956) where her music took the place of dialogue.
But who was the first female composer to be the sole composer credit on a major movie produced in Hollywood?
Well according to most sources that would be SUZANNE CIANI, who was not the first woman composer to work on a Hollywood movie but the first to be credited in her own right. Yes, the movie THE FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) was partly scored by a female composer, BEBE BARRON, but she shared the composing credit with her husband, Louis.
Both pictured below.
SUZANNE CIANI. Is not considered by many as a composer of film music. Because She is probably better known for her highly original music as well as the many albums that she has released containing a wide range of experimental styles and innovative sounds. Her music has steadily grown in popularity throughout the world and her experimental and ground-breaking creativity encompasses electronic, orchestral, solo piano, piano with orchestra and jazz ensemble. Often referred to as New Age. her compositions have become respected and renowned by many for having calming, romantic and healing qualities.
During the mid to late 1980’s and also into the decade of the 1990’s Ciani founded Ciani Musica, which was based in New York, this was a company that became the leading light in the world of sound design and TV spot scoring. And it was via the work she did with her company that the composer was able to finance the release of her albums, by creating music for the likes of AT &T, COCA COLA and many more, in fact she had over five hundred clients. She composed the music for the Joel Schumacher directed movie THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN in 1981 and provided the score for the documentary MOTHER TERESA in 1986, as well as scoring one episode of the TV series ONE LIFE TO LIVE in 1992. After re-locating to California in the early 1990’s the composer based herself at her Sea-Side studio, and would tour the United States and also the U.K. as well as visiting many European and Asian countries. She holds a Masters in Music Composition degree from the University of California and Berkley, she has been recognised for her originality via five Grammy Nominations for Best New Age Album, Numerous Clios, a Golden Globe, an Indie award for Best New Age Album and the MOOG Innovation Award which she garnered in 2017. Her albums SILVER SHIP and THE VELOCITY OF LOVE are wonderfully melodic, purveying a romantic and mysterious aura throughout, with recordings such as her SEVEN WAVES album containing haunting and affecting themes which are totally absorbing and relaxing.
DOLORES CLAMAN is best known for composing the theme song, known simply as ‘The Hockey Theme’, for Hockey Night in Canada, a song often regarded as Canada’s second national anthem, which she composed in 1968, and for ‘A Place to Stand’, the popular tune that accompanied the ground-breaking film of the same name at the Ontario pavilion of Expo 67 in Montreal. Both songs were orchestrated by Jerry Toth who, along with his brother Rudy Toth and composer Richard Morris, all worked together at Quartet Productions from 1965-1970. In 1971 she wrote the music for the ‘Theme from Ontario Place’ for use in Ontario Place’s multi-media exhibitions celebrating the grand opening. Claman and her writing partner and husband, lyricist Richard Morris, composed over 3000 commercial jingles in a thirty-year period and won more than 40 awards internationally for their work. In the 1950s, Claman composed music for ITV while living in Britain and wrote songs for West End musical revues. In the mid-1970s they began to divide their time between Europe (usually London and Spain) and Vancouver. They also composed scores for feature films (eg, THE MAN WHO WANTED TO LIVE FOREVER, CAPTAIN APACHE plus a handful of Spanish westerns), documentaries, and themes for CBC TV’s Hockey Night in Canada and House of Pride, and other TV series.
The name of Shirley Walker was one that many film music collectors will be familiar with, her scores for live action and animated movies was always innovative and entertaining, She wrote some of the most haunting and interesting film scores to come out of Hollywood during the 1990.s. She was also respected as a conductor and worked with so many composers some of which have since become A list film composers. She was known as one of the very few women film music Maestro’s in Hollywood and a pioneer of female film composers. Born in California on April 10th, 1945, she was piano soloist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra while still at high school, later Walker attended the San Francisco State University on a piano scholarship. After which she studied music composition with Roger Nixon and piano studies with Harald Logan at Berkley. She began to compose music for a living by writing the scores for industrial films and writing jingles.
It was in the late 1970’s that she progressed to motion pictures, but not as a composer, but as a performer playing the keyboards on the score for APOCALYPSE NOW for composer Carmine Coppola. In 1992 she was given the opportunity to score a film in her own right as sole composer, this was for John Carpenters MEMOIRS OF AN INVISBLE MAN which starred Chevy Chase. It was unusual for Carpenter not to score his own movies and this first foray into film scoring proper led Walker to collaborate with Carpenter on ESCAPE FROM L. A.
She worked on numerous projects for both cinema and TV which included, WILLARD, FALCON CREST, SPACE ABOVE AND BEYOND,CHINA BEACH and THE FLASH, the latter being one of the many collaborations she did with composer Danny Elfman, Walker often conducting for the composer on scores such as BATMAN and SCROOGED. She was often associated with DC comics, scoring BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES, THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES and BATMAN BEYOND the composer setting a musical standard and also creating a sound that will be forever associated with DC and its many superhero characters. It’s a sad fact that considering her many contributions to the world of film music, she was not after her death recognised in the IN MEMORIUM section of the 79TH Oscar Ceremony. She passed away on November 30th, 2006, after suffering a stroke. She is considered as one of the most important film music composers of all time.
What I am attempting to look at in this article is have things changed for Females in film music, have they improved, remained the static or maybe altered for the worse? So, I have spoken to a handful of FILM MUSIC COMPOSERS who just happen to be women to get their views. But before we go further, I was just the other day listening to the latest James Bond song, which is performed by an 18 year old talented young lady Billie Eilish, NO TIME TO DIE is the 25th so called official, James Bond movie, that’s not counting the 1960’s version of CASINO ROYALE and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, but think about it, most of the songs within the official series have been performed by Female vocalists, names that come to mind when discussing James Bond soundtracks include, SHIRLEY BASSEY, GLADYS KNIGHT, TINA TURNER, MADONNA, SHERYL CROWE, CARLY SIMON, SHEENA EASTON, ADELE, ALICIA KEYS, RITA COOLIDGE, CARLY SIMON, NANCY SINATRA and the superb K. D. LANG (“Surrender” from TOMORROW NEVER DIES). So just a few outstanding artists. But, ponder this, a female composer has never been invited to score one of the movies, or if they have then their music was not used. Why?
Is Bond such a Macho/Male series that there is no room for a woman in the scoring department? But there is certainly room for women in the Bond storylines, just a thought, and also another observation, the Bond series is now co-produced by a woman, so maybe a woman composer will soon be given an opportunity to contribute music to the famed franchise, but I think this is highly unlikely don’t you? Recently BIRDS OF PREY was released, the movie, which is based upon a DC comic series, features female characters that are central to the plot, was it scored by a woman?
No of course not The music which is great by the way and was written by British composer Daniel Pemberton, again we are back to if the film is about a woman or has a woman or women as its central character/characters, should a woman score it, maybe that is more of a sexist question than a lot of what is going on in the film industry at the moment. We will see in the following article what the opinions are.
THE COMPOSERS TALK.
HOLLY AMBER CHURCH, is the first composer I spoke with, She Is certainly one the most talented composers working in film today, and became interested in music for film because of the music of James Horner and was a devotee to the movie AN AMERICAN TAIL when she was a child. But it was not just the music or the film that interested her, it was also the thought of an orchestra working together to create a score that she was drawn to. She composed her first orchestral piece at the age of sixteen and remembers writing in a book at school that her favourite music was MOVIE BACKGROUND MUSIC. She has scored numerous movies, all of which contain fresh, innovative and vibrant music that supports the movie and is able to stand on its own as entertaining medium away from the images it was written to enhance, which is a rare thing in film music these days. Her score for WORRY DOLLS is a superb work as are her soundtracks to THE RITES OF SPRING and RUIN ME. I have already interviewed the composer for the MMI website, but I did not ask the questions about women in film music or how she thought women in the film music industry were treated.
A lot of your film scores are for horror movies, do you think that once you are successful in one genre of film, the offers you get from then on are also within this genre?
I do think that this happens for many composers and I guess it would make sense since you would have a track record in a specific genre, so people would have seen and heard your work within that genre. I think that gives film makers confidence that you have that experience behind you and that you could write a cool score for their movie in that same genre as well. I have certainly become known more for my horror scores and films than anything else and I do get the most offers for work in that genre. I don’t mind this one bit as I love writing music for horror films, and I must say that the horror community is absolutely wonderful and has been very good to me! That’s not to say that I don’t get offers in other genres too and I am excited for several upcoming projects in all kinds of different genres.
I was thinking the other day about the James Bond series, as I listened to the new Bond theme song that the franchise has some great songs and I include the latest offering amongst these, a great number of which are performed by Female artists, but there has never been a score written by a women for 007, why do you think this is, is it because Bond is seen as a Male dominated series, even though the producer is now Barbara Broccoli?
This is a great question. It might be more likely because it is a big studio franchise and research has shown that once you get into that level of films, the percentage of women scoring these types of films is quite bleak for some reason. I do know there are some incredible women out there who can write some fantastic action music so it would be very cool indeed one day to see a woman score a Bond film!
Do you feel that sometimes you have maybe been overlooked for an assignment because producers or even studios favour Male composers within the film industry?
It’s possible that this has happened on some projects, but I can’t say for sure. What I think producers and studios favour more than anything are credits – fancy, big movie credits that they’ve heard of and herein lies the main problem. The research and numbers show that women are just not getting the same opportunities as men when it comes to scoring films at a certain level. Therefore, it’s tougher for us to get the bigger credits. So if we are lucky enough to be one of the composers considered for a studio film, the odds are that we are not going to have the impressive list of credits that some of the male composers have who are also up for the project. Who do you think the studio will feel the most comfortable with?
What do you think about the recent comment that WONDER WOMAN 1984 was a missed opportunity by the film’s producers to engage a Female composer, giving the assignment to Hans Zimmer instead? Another example could be, BIRDS OF PREY, again female leads but Male composer, do you think a Female composer could possibly make a better job of scoring a film with Female leads? But of course, it is well known that Hans Zimmer has given women opportunities within his collective of composers and arrangers etc.
I mean, look – Hans Zimmer is a fantastic composer and I’m sure plenty of composers, male and female, have lost out on projects to him. Jesus himself could decide to walk the earth again and be a film composer and he would lose gigs to Hans Zimmer. I personally don’t think it makes any difference whether a man scores a film with female leads or a woman scores a film with male leads or what type of genre the films are either. It’s all about who’s the right fit for the project based on music. That said, this goes back to what I said about opportunities.
I don’t know the stories behind the composer hiring of either of these films, but I certainly hope that these films at least considered some female composers and I certainly hope that more upcoming films with male directors and male leads will consider some female composers as well.
I will say that I have seen lately several series and films that make a big deal about having female directors, producers, writers, leads, etc. but nearly all of them still have male composers. I don’t know if women were considered or not. I don’t know if this comes down to the credits again. I don’t know if it could be simply that they don’t know where to find us or that we even exist. I know on a few indie films that I have scored where the director and producers made an effort to hire a high percentage of female cast and crew, they told me that they had the hardest time finding a female composer for some reason. There are many wonderful women out there that I know, and this is why The Alliance for Women Film Composers exists so that we can be more visible and hopefully easier to find.
I know you were inspired by the music of James Horner, but were you aware of Female composers in film when you were younger?
I was not actually aware of any female composers when I was a kid. It wasn’t until Rachel Portman’s score for “The Cider House Rules” that I became more aware that women were out there scoring films as well and I remember being very inspired by her. However, for some reason up until that point I hadn’t really thought about it. Probably because I was a kid with a big dream who just loved film music and I had no idea what the realities of the business were. I’ve always loved film music and it was always what I was determined to do from a very young age.
DEBBIE WISEMAN. OBE.
Debbie Wiseman is probably the best-known female composer of film and TV music, her scores for both motion pictures and TV series is regarded by almost every discerning collector of film music as the creme de la crème. She has received many awards for her music and has also become a familiar face on TV being interviewed by the BBC etc. She not only writes for shall we say the moving image but has written music to enhance and accompany stories and poems which have been relayed by the likes of Stephen Fry and Alan Titchmarsh. Her score for WILDE which starred Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde is particularly outstanding, with the composer creating emotive and eloquent pieces that are intertwined with elegant tone poems which are haunting and beautifully romantic in a melancholy sort of way. The music she penned for LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS too was a triumph, and although essentially a comedy the composer scored the movie as a serious and dramatic project, thus creating robust and ethereal sounding passages that not only enhanced the action on screen, but made for good and entertaining listening as just a recording of symphonic music. The composer is probably one of the busiest in the industry and her name is regularly seen on screen on television for series such as FATHER BROWN, SHAKESPEARE AND HATHAWAY, RED ROCK and many more. Her credits also include, PC 49, TOM AND VIV, TOMS MIDNIGHT GARDEN, HAUNTED, ABSOLUTE TRUTH, WARRIORS, THE PROMISE, LIGHTHOUSE, WOLF HALL, FLOOD, ARSENE LUPIN, UNCLE SILAS, MIDDLETOWN to name but a few.
She is in my opinion a gifted and highly talented composer, arranger and conductor, with her soundtrack for EDIE being well received last year and her score for DICKENSIAN causing more than a ripple of interest. One of her more recent works is for the Stephen Fry album THE MYTHOS SUITE, on DECCA records, which is drawing much attention. The composer agreed to answer a handful of questions for this article.
Do you think that the recent Oscar/BAFTA win for the joker score will heighten awareness of female composers in film and tv?
I would hope that such an awareness already exists – after all, women composers have been awarded Oscars, BAFTAs and Golden Globes before, as far back as the mid-1980s; but Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Oscar win will certainly play its part in heightening still further the collective profile of female composers, and I thought her score was the perfect emotional accompaniment to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker – chilling and impactful.
Is it more of an uphill struggle for women composers to break into film music than men if so, have you any thoughts on the reason why this is?
I can only speak for myself, obviously, but I’ve never encountered any blatant sexist obstruction during my career. Maybe I’ve been lucky. I believe that talent is all that matters in the end.
When you were first becoming aware of music. Did you realise there were other women who wrote for film?
Of course; I knew the work of composers such as Doreen Carwithen, Elizabeth Lutyens and Shirley Walker as I was growing up, but I didn’t focus on them as women and aspire to be like them exclusively – I looked upon them – and the men – solely as composers, and admired them equally.
Do you think that there are times that female composers have been overlooked in favour of male composers for certain movies?
I think there’s a misconception among certain circles both within and outside the industry that men are better suited to horror and action movies and women are good at costume dramas and romcoms; but I’ve written scores for a couple of horror movies and thrillers, and women have written such scores in the past; and what’s particularly encouraging about Hildur Guðnadóttir’s awards success this year is that it will serve as a reminder that women can excel at this type of score too.
Juliet Merchant is an emerging talented and versatile composer who has written for television, film and online productions. She is signed with EMI, Finger Music and Motus Music and her music can be heard on BBC, CBBC, ITV as well as on a number of international short films. Her style can be described as a hybrid of the traditional classical genre fused with a modern electronic twist however she can prove that she is adept in writing in a wide variety of genres. She is a classically trained pianist and achieved grade 8 piano ABRSM by the age of 16 and went on to perform professionally. Her recent TV credits include Country File (BBC), Horrible Histories (CBBC) and Jeremy Kyle (ITV). She also created the audio logo for In-Crowd in the USA that has an international online platform.
She has worked with a variety of filmmakers and has been commissioned for the feature film Bathroom by Hansal Mehta. Her short film scores include: Glove (dir. Joel Court), Bad Wolves (dir. Robert Barron), A Bad Summer (dir. Samiira Garane), Fill The Silence (dir. Brock Elwick), The Last of ‘43 (dir. Ibad Shaikh), Dissociation (dir. Jenny Collins) and The Inevitable (dir. Ibad Shaikh), which was shortlisted for the BFI short film selection. She is comfortable playing and composing in a variety of genres including: classical solo and orchestral, soundtrack, electronic, ambient, neo-classical, jazz, traditional Indian music, ethnic Eastern European music, medieval and ancient music.
James Bond movies are a very Male dominated franchise especially when it comes to the scores, but it’s a surprising fact that the majority of the BOND songs are performed by Women artists, and every one of these have been a hit, So why no Female composer for te score, do you think we will ever see a JAMES BOND ﬁlm scored by a women?
I certainly hope so. I agree that the franchise is very male dominated, however, we do also see powerful female ﬁgures in leading roles, such as ‘M’. It is interesting how a female artist always sings the title music and how we interpret what it contributes to a hyper-masculinised ﬁlm. Bond’s personality is based on his emotional austerity, physical prowess, the beauty and quantity of the women he sleeps with and his material wealth alongside his expensive cars. In this case, I think the immediate go-to answer is that it might highlight the sexuality of Bond. However, on the contrary, we could say that it highlights the female involvement in the ﬁlm. I personally think the female roles represent women in a powerful and autonomous light, unlike older action ﬁlms where they often play the damsel in distress. In the Bond ﬁlms, women ﬁght alongside men and are not solely pigeon-holed into damsels or eye candy.
Do you get the impression or have you seen anything that might indicate that Female composers are being overlooked in favour of a Male composer because the ﬁlm is say an action movie or a war ﬁlm etc?
I don’t think the inequality of women in the industry functions on this much of a conscious level of sexism. I think it’s due to nepotism and closed circles in this ﬁeld. The ﬁlm industry is based on connections and nepotism, and what belies this is familiarity. There are myriad amounts of fantastic musicians out there worthy of credit, but the industry relies on constructed reputation to gain traction for funding. I think regardless of genre, there is a general statement to be made that male composers are chosen more frequently than female because people within the industry know more men already established within ﬁlm itself. The solution to this would be to create more openings for women to start working in the industry, which would consider outsiders inside. However, more subconsciously, there might be a misconstrued stereotype that female composers create a certain type music, sometimes centring around the idea that it is more emotional, soft or experimental sound. This precedes the notion that male composers create more dramatic, traditional music and are therefore better at the “Hollywood” sound. I can understand that these can be seen as masculine or feminine traits, however I would argue that both of these traits are found in either gender in varying intensities.
There was a statement made recently that the new WONDER WOMEN which is being scored by Hans Zimmer, was a missed opportunity by the movies producers to engage a female composer, Do you think that it works like that, a male composer would make a better job of a ﬁlm with a male role so it follows that a Female composer would therefore make a better job of scoring a movie with Aa Female lead?
Yes, I do think it is a missed opportunity! For a ﬁlm that so boldly empowers women, I think there was a space here to empower a female musician as well. However, as I discussed before, I do not think that it is gender that deﬁnes someone’s capacity to eﬀectively create music in a certain genre. I think that each musician is diﬀerent and you will have to look at their own individual portfolio to see where their strengths lie. Perhaps there is a male composer out there who writes beautiful, delicate, soft music and a female composer who likes to write music that could prepare your ears for war. Or both at the same time, that’s the beauty of it.
The lack of nominations for female directors this year at the Oscars stuck out like a sore thumb, but the award for best score was given to a women, and well deserved it was too, do you think that because a women won the Oscar this year maybe the demand for female composers will rise and it could be the turning point for women in ﬁlm music?
Potentially, I certainly hope so because there are many fantastic female musicians that deserve to ﬁnd award winning places. I think what could really help the problem is highlighting the deﬁcit of female artists and then making it either a requirement as they have done in other business and then speciﬁcally opening up opportunities for women so that there is an entry into the industry. The ﬁeld is a closed circle, so the more female composers we have circulating, the more ﬁlms will be composed by them.
Is the utilisation of women composers or the lack of it restricted to just the ﬁlm and TV music arena?
No, it also extends to the video game industry as well but to a lesser extent. However, what I think is very, very cool is that female composers are behind some of the most proliﬁc AAA games. There’s Xenoblade Chronicles written by Yoko Shimomura, Winifred Phillips wrote the OST for Assassin’s Creed III, God of War and LittleBigPlanet, then there’s also Eímear Noone who wrote Overwatch, Hearthstone, Diablo III and World of Warcraft, all of which have unbelievably powerful and moving soundtracks. I’ve played all of these games and I could whistle them all to myself. She even conducted the Legend of Zelda soundtrack on their 25th anniversary, so at that point she really is my idol. I would love to write for game soundtracks because there’s a real appreciation for it. I think it’s because the music repeats so much that it gets stuck in your head, then in your heart. I would say that gamers know and appreciate the composer for a game more so than your average cinema goer. I grew up listening to game soundtracks all throughout my childhood so it’s deﬁnitely the inﬂuence behind my music today. Before I nerd out too much, I just want to say, did you know Sarah Schachner wrote the Call of Duty soundtrack? So, when we ask ourselves can women create “masculine” music, let’s answer that with the woman behind one of the most popular war games ever created.
Recently Nainita Desai won breakthrough composer of the year from the International Film Critics Association, (IFMCA). An award that was well deserved, her music is so emotive and descriptive, it is an integral part of the story telling of a movie, documentary or TV show. She is one of the most sought-after composers of music for film in recent years, her musical style is to use a cliché “chameleon like” as she is able to adapt and tailor her sound and music to any genre of film. On each occasion creating something that is special, supporting and entertaining. Her score for UNTAMED ROMANIA is a perfect example of variety and of how music should work within film. With its highly emotive and dramatic pieces that are both haunting, powerful and majestic. The cue A CHRYSALIS AWAKENS for example, is such a poignant and emotive piece of music, that gets right to the heart of any listener. Her music for the documentary FOR SAMA is stunningly delicate and effecting and did much to add atmosphere to an already emotional movie.
Do you think the industry is now more accepting of women writing music for film & TV than it was in past?
I have definitely noticed a sea change in attitudes. There is indeed more trust in women, more opportunities and people visibly employing female composers.
People still like to put you in boxes though with regards to genre, ethnicity, musical styles as well as gender – there are still many who feel that women are better suited to intimate ‘feminine’ character-based films.
There is also the assumption that women film makers should be
a) Making films about female centric subjects and
b) Obligated to employ female crew and composers.
While that’s great the ideal world situation will be when women are scoring ALL genres and types of projects for all types of directors creating a level playing field.
The world of James Bond, has been something that is very much been Male dominated both in front and behind the cameras: Do you think that a Bond movie will ever get a score by a female composer?
I would LOVE to see a female composer a Bond movie.
Music is a non-judgmental instinctive form of art. It should have no gender attached to it and it transcends all barriers and preconceived expectations. Action, high octane music can most definitely be written by female composers!
What do you think of the recent statement –That the up and coming Wonder Woman movie was a missed opportunity for women composers with Hans Zimmer being given the job.
I don’t think it’s a missed opportunity at all! Of course, it’s a shame that a woman didn’t score the film but by stating that a woman should have scored a female super-hero movie implies that she cannot be considered for anything other than films with female centric films.
Film makers should be free to choose whomever they want. It would be a very interesting exercise to do a ‘blind pitch’, where film makers have no idea whose music has been submitted for a project.
Do you think that women composers can bring something to a movie with female leads that a male composer cannot?
I think that when it comes to music, men and women can bring equal amounts of sensitivity to any type of movie.
The composer’s job is to capture the emotional core of a film and their musical voice is a culmination of their life experience and who they are. They all bring unique musical voices to projects. That is irrespective of gender. I hope that it has definitely shone a positive spotlight on women composers, but my fear is that it may be a flash in the pan where she is a ‘token’ woman and there will be another huge gap before we see another female nominee.
It is important for girls and women to make themselves heard and it is heartening to see that there is wide visibility and moves to include women in the conversation when considering composers by organisations such as the Alliance of Women Film Composers in the US and UK, She Said So and the Composers Diversity Collective.
ANNE KATHERIN DERN.
Is a rising star within the film music fraternity of composer/conductors. She has in recent years begun to work as a film music composer in her own right and has quickly established herself within the film music fraternity and has created an impressive style and sound which is all her own. She has worked on a variety of projects for both television and film. Growing up during the 1990.s Anne was drawn to the music of Alan Menken and soon realised that it was music and writing music for film that was her passion. Aged just twelve years old, she decided that she would pursue this as a profession. After hearing the score for HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHERS STONE she became more determined to become a film music composer and began to research into what a film music composer did. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by Howard Shore convinced her further that this was meant to be. She began to study scores on her own and hoped that one day her dream would come to fruition. I am glad to say it did and thanks to her determination and her already obvious talent and enthusiasm, she began to make her way into the film scoring arena.
One outlook on life as a film music composer is to just do your job as best you can I suppose, which was the attitude of Japanese music-smith, MICHIRU OSHIMA. Who when asked,
“You have scored three GODZILLA movies, this is an iconic series, with so much classic film music attached to it, When you were asked to score the first GODZILLA film, were you aware of the film series musical heritage and of the composers involved on the scores. Or did you avoid watching or listening to any of the previous movies”? replied.
“Being a Female, I had no interests in Godzilla at all; I’ve never watched or was familiar with much music of it before. When I composed the music for those films for the first time, I did not watch the movie or listen to music from the previous ones. The director just told me how big and how scary the Godzilla was. The rest, I just used my imagination”.
Is one of the most talented composers working in film today. Her style and sound are highly innovative, lushly and romantically thematic and certainly melodic and hauntingly beautiful. She can support and underline dramatic, romantic and melancholy scenarios and lovingly add colour to films like applying delicate and subtle colour to a blank canvas, giving the film a greater impact both emotionally and dramatically, and breathing life into each frame of film. The composer adds fragility, foreboding and poignancy to every TV project and video game that she works upon. Plus, she is also able to write rock/pop infused passages and more contemporary sounding pieces, which is a testament to her expertise and her obvious talent as a composer.
There are obviously more female composers writing for film and TV, these include, Oscar Winners Rachel Portman and Anne Dudley plus Helene Muddiman, Sarah Class, Lolita Ritmanis, Laura Karpman, Amelia Warner, Mica Levi, Heather McIntosh, Anne Nikitin, Deborah Lurie, Sharon Farber, Pinar Toprak, Germaine Franco etc, but it was not possible to talk to all of them because of scheduling and their commitments to ongoing and new assignments which to me sounds as if Female composers for the cinema are much in demand, which can only be a positive thing. And if I have omitted to mention any I apologise. But in the future, they may be available for an interview who knows, and a follow up article might be in the wings. I hope the handful of gifted and innovative composers I did manage to ask questions of were of interest, I also hope that the information held within this article on women composers from the past was also of interest and that you will begin to explore and discover their musical wares, if you have not already done so.