by Erika Lloyd
As I prepare for the September release of my debut solo album, “Power,” I’ve been enjoying digging in to the meaning and inspiration behind the album’s name and title of the first single. The word “power” has a lot of connotations both positive and negative, as well as a ton of different meanings, which made for an intriguing title. Influence, energy, capability, and strength are the positive meanings that I chose to reference in the song and recurring themes of the album.
Western classical music and musical theater are where I got my start in training and performance. I studied piano, trumpet, and voice, later receiving my Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from Indiana University. In learning about the way music history was recorded, I noticed something peculiar. After taking seven semesters of music history classes, covering over 800 years of music, I can count the number of female composers discussed on one hand. Looking through collections of The Great American Songbook, I find only a few women’s names in the composer indexes. This is even true when studying anthologies of 19th and 20th century American folk, blues, and country music. In the 135 years of the Metropolitan Opera Company’s existence, they have only performed one opera written by a woman! This does not mean that women weren’t composing music all along, it was just attributed to men. Or, it wasn’t printed, distributed, or performed outside of the home at all, because it was written by women.
Okay, so many people know that women weren’t credited for their contributions to music hundreds of years ago. That’s totally in the past though, right? Nope. This year, it was misreported so many times that Björk’s recent album Vulnicura was produced solely by the man who co-produced it with her, that she put out a statement trying to correct the mistake (this had happened regarding previous albums as well). She was recently quoted in a Pitchfork interview explaining, “I learned—the hard way—that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they—men—had the ideas.” The cultural roles of women only being up front singing, and men being the creators and shapers of the art form, were created long ago. They are not based in reality and yet, they are still widely accepted even by other women. This past fall, writer, performer, and engineer, Imogen Heap blogged about her false assumptions about Taylor Swift before co-writing “Clean” with her for 1989, “I had done what I HATE others do of me, which is to pre-judge a person based on assumptions. I had assumed Taylor didn’t write too much of her own music and was likely puppeteered by an ageing gang of music executives…how wrong was I?”
“Power” is not about all of the obstacles created because of sexism in the music industry though. It’s about all of the people who write, record, perform, arrange, produce, engineer, and tour in spite of them. I want to thank all of the female artists who make my life so much better with their music. They are 100% who they are and won’t compromise their artistic integrity for anyone: creating their own roles, on their own timelines, breaking boundaries, and changing the rules for the next generation. These artists are as vital, relevant, and as hip as they want to be at any age, with whatever gender identities they choose for themselves. In the “Power” lyric video I illustrated my top nine favorites: Grace Jones, Björk, Kate Bush, Nina Simone, PJ Harvey, Elizabeth Fraser, Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry, and Tori Amos.
As a music teacher, I want all of my students to know that gender has absolutely nothing to do with creative capacity, intellect, knowledge, or skill. I want to celebrate the power of music and the musicians behind it at all levels of notoriety. I will leave you with one more quote from Björk’s Pitchfork interview, “You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times… I definitely can feel the third or fourth feminist wave in the air, so maybe this is a good time to open that Pandora’s box a little bit and air it out.” We need to first acknowledge the unfair treatment of women in the music industry, and then join our powerful influences in the quest for proper recognition and equality by doing what we do best: making and sharing great music with each other. Now, that’s power.