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Put women in A level music

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women composers, A level music, set works, petitionThat there would be ‘very few’ female composers that could be included ‘is not true’.

The current 2008 Edexcel A-Level Music syllabus has a total of 63 different set works from a variety of musical genres and eras – yet not a single one of these set works was composed by a woman.

Jessie McCabe  a 17 year-old A-Level Music student currently studying the Edexcel syllabus started a petition recently aiming to change this.

Earlier this year, she explained, she was part of a programme exploring gender inequality in society.

Among other things, the programme looked into the way in which we are desensitised from noticing the lack of representation of women in different aspects of society.

It was during this programme, she said, that she was shocked to realise she had never before noticed that there are no female composers included in her Music A-Level course.

So she decided to do something about it.

She first thought the issue could be solved easily – by contacting Edexcel directly and drawing their attention to their omission of women from the A-Level syllabus.

After all, they do say: “The aims of the Edexcel Advanced Subsidiary GCE and Advanced Level GCE in Music are to enable students to: …engage in, and extend the appreciation of the diverse and dynamic heritage of music, promoting spiritual and cultural development…”.

She thought the lack of women was simply a mistake, an oversight, as clearly their aim cannot be fulfilled without the representation of women.

However, a series of emails highlighted that Edexcel oppose any possibility of change to the syllabus and of ultimately meeting their own goals of creating a richer, more diverse music world.

In the emails, Edexcel’s current Head of Music claimed: “…given that female composers were not prominent in the Western Classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included [in the A Level specification]”.

While it is true that female composers are not as well known as their male counterparts – unsurprisingly, as women composers are rarely studied in schools – the above assertion simply isn’t true.

On 8 March 2015, BBC Radio 3 managed to do a whole day of programming of female composers to honour International Women’s Day.

And the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers has more than 6,000 entries.

Surely, if BBC Radio 3 can play music composed by women for a whole day, Edexcel could select at least one to be a part of the syllabus alongside the likes of Holborne, Haydn and Howlin’ Wolf?

After a further email to raise their awareness of this large-scale women on radio event and the 6,000 female composers in history, Edexcel later said: “We don’t disagree with your comments … Our assessment team are keen to involve more work from female composers…”

And yet, despite this, they evidently aren’t that keen; Edexcel’s proposed 2016 syllabus, currently awaiting approval from the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), does not, once again, include even one female composer.

This has got to change.

How can we expect girls to aspire to be composers and musicians if they don’t have the opportunity to learn of any role models?

How can we accept that the UK’s largest awarding body doesn’t adequately acknowledge the work of female musicians?

Although, as Caroline Criado-Perez pointed out in the Independent recently, Edexcel is hardly alone in its bias.

Out of the 27 composers listed in OCR‘s current specification, there is a lone woman, who appears right at the end: Norah Jones. AQA‘s A Level includes only two set works, both by men; the remainder of the specification only includes suggested composers. These are all men too.

And, Criado-Perez continued, the problem extends into the practical exams set by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

Please sign this petition to urge Edexcel to take seriously their responsibility to create a more equal musical world through their educational material and to include at least one female composer in their A Level syllabus.

And please write and let Ofqual know about this too: email or write to Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s CEO and Chief Regulator.

Edexcel needs to meet its own mission statement and include female composers in the new 2016 A Level Music syllabus.

And then you could also email or write to OCR and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

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