Toward the end of last year, La Cañada High School music instructor Jennifer Munday and LCHS 7/8 instrumental colleague Jimmie Myers were discussing the possibility of a concert featuring the music of women composers only.
“It’s just a thing that came up,” said advanced orchestra director Munday after a recent rehearsal. Both agreed it would be a great idea, and she later determined that “we really need to do this.”
The result of the music teachers’ talk is “Forte of the Silenced: Empowering Women in Music,” a free concert scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the LCHS Auditorium.
The LCHS 7/8 orchestra and the LCHS advanced orchestra will perform, and Myers and Munday will conduct.
“I’m just proud to focus on women composers,” said Munday, “because historically they’ve been underserved.” She declined to assign a political slant to the concert, saying only that “you could say it’s a timely issue.”
During a rehearsal by the advanced orchestra, whose members are in grades 9-12, the musicians performed Yoko Shimomura’s “Kingdom Hearts,” one of the pieces in the concert.
Leading the 60-plus members of the orchestra, Munday stopped at times to critique their playing.
“In general, it sounds like — especially when you get up high — it sounds like you’re forcing a bit,” Munday said. “Don’t press as much, maybe.”
While Munday was leading her students in a music room filled with instruments, Myers was doing the same with more than 20 7th- and 8th-graders in a smaller room nearby.
“You’ve got to keep going even if you make a mistake,” said Myers. “Confidence. Now you have to keep that confidence while everyone else plays.”
After practice, some of the older students discussed their upcoming performance, which Sydney Wang called accessible to everyone.
“I feel like with this concert we’re covering a very broad range of genres,” said Wang, 15, who plays cello and piano and has won awards. “There’s some very new pieces. We’re playing a piece by a woman composer, Augusta Read Thomas, written in 2010. And we’re also playing music from the video game ‘Kingdom Hearts.’ And, of course, we’re playing my piece, which was made this year.”
Wang, a sophomore, said her composition, “Gateway to Atlantis,” is about the mythical underwater city.
“I feel like I’ve never outgrown the fantasy, the childhood fantasy stage of my life where I’m super imaginative,” she said.
She said it was important to promote women composers because they are in the minority, despite social advances since, say, the 1800s and the 1900s.
“I think women are equally talented if not more talented than their male counterparts,” Wang said. “It’s really important that we recognize that and give them an equal chance.”
Others in her orchestra felt the same way about the concert’s promotion of women composers.
“In this group we have a lot of female musicians,” said Jared Cheng, 17, a senior who plays cello.
“So it’s not only composers that are underrepresented, but female musicians in general. We’re really trying to get that message out there.”
Lisa Toda, a senior violinist, said many good compositions by women are underrated or never played.
“It shows that they can also make really great music,” Toda, 17, said.
Junior violinist Alexis Suk added that throughout history men claimed most of the power — even in music — and that was just how it was.
“I do think our generation is trying to break that standard, status quo,” Suk said. “And I think this concert is a good way.”
Munday said there was a bit of pushback from some students over the concert’s theme when the group was coming up with possible titles for the concert. She said one student in particular didn’t want the concert to be a “man-hating thing,” and Munday responded that’s not the concert’s purpose.
“I said, ‘No, it’s more of a question why we haven’t played this music. This music is there. Let’s question why we haven’t played it and look into it.’ Let’s play it.”