takes on the music industry’s ingrained gender imbalance
The sexism entrenched in the music and art worlds has been highlighted repeatedly by the media.
But while platforming these deeply established issues is worthy to an extent, it is arguable that making practical moves to shift perceptions of women’s role in the creative industries is an even more effective method of reframing female creative work and making these sectors a more accessible space for women.
One musician that has recognised this gaping disparity, and is taking them on personally, is Anna Meredith. As a respected classical composer, she earned her stripes as a composer-in-residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. More recently, weary of classical music’s infamous pretension, she ventured into art pop, electronica and experimental rock territory with her critically-acclaimed album Varmints, which won the Scottish Album of the Year award. This month she is taking on the male domination of the music industry by leading a four-day residency encouraging young women to develop their musical and artistic experience with guidance from Anna’s sister and illustrator Eleanor Meredith and Anna herself. It’s an important move – using the demonstrable skills they’ve learned throughout their creative careers, the Merediths are creating a much-needed addition to a cast of visible female role models to a new generation of musicians and artists.
This residency has taken place in partnership with Brighter Sound, a producer of creative music projects and events based in Manchester. The participants, who have been chosen from a variety of creative backgrounds, have created a multi-sensory work that will be performed tonight at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry. We caught up with her ahead of the event this evening.
How did the idea of this residency first come about?
The initial idea came from Manchester-based producers Brighter Sound. They run a regular residency programme where different musicians direct a few days of workshops. Recently they’ve been working with the Museum of Science and Industry, and they suggested that as a partnership for my residency and an additional visual element, I should bring in my sister, illustrator Eleanor Meredith.
Have you taught anything of this type previously?
Yup, I’ve taught everything from drums to orchestration to composing, and I’ve run several residential courses like this in the past – working with everyone from nursery-age children through to adults.
What do you hope the attendees have gained from the four days?
Bringing people together for the first time to work together is always an unknown, but I hope everyone can try something new and we can challenge our perceptions of what inspires us as creative artists and how we make our music or art. I’ve done a few of this kind of residency, and this short but intense timeframe is the ideal situation to take some risks you might normally over-think.
What sort of guidance did the class members experience?
It’s not so much a class as these artists are already practising artists and musicians, so they’ll be creating their own materials with some guidance from me, but I want this to be their own creation. We’re making two big group pieces that we’ll be writing collaboratively.
Which mediums do the chosen attendees work with?
We’ve got musicians from a range of backgrounds, from producers to songwriters, to composers studying for PhDs, to school-age bassoon players. Our four visual artists work in a variety of mediums too: live action, textiles, illustration and more.
Why did you chose to make this residency female-only?
The initial suggestion came from Brighter Sound but I was happy to get on board – I’ve run female-only residences before and it’s been really positive. It gives space to highlight some of the amazing female talent we have and encourage female artists who might not normally apply for this kind of thing.
Apart from female-only residencies like the one you’re leading, which other solutions would you suggest to improve the music industry’s male domination?
For classical composers, I think there’s a lack of role models and awareness of women writing music. I imagine it would be easy to go all the way through early-stage music education and for women only to factor into syllabuses and lessons as singers from the 60s onwards. A change in education would be a good place to start.
Science in the City – Late – featuring two live performances by Anna Meredith and the Brighter Sound Artistic Directors series participants – takes place tonight at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester