Maestra Music was founded by composer/lyricist and music director Georgia Stitt to give support, visibility, and community to the women who make the music in the musical theater industry. The organization’s initiatives include monthly educational seminars, mentorship programs, technical skills workshops, networking events, and online resources and partnerships that aim to promote equality of opportunity and to address the many historical disadvantages and practices that have limited women composers and musicians in the musical theater. We wanted to find out more about this organization and how it is helping their membership of female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming composers, music directors, orchestrators, arrangers, copyists, rehearsal pianists and other musicians who are an underrepresented minority in musical theater.
CMT: What made you want to step up and do something about the issue of gender parity in musical theatre?
Georgia Stitt: As a female composer in this business, I’ve always been aware that I’m in a male-dominated field. But the pivotal experience for me came when I music directed Sweet Charity Off-Broadway in 2016-2017 and our director, Leigh Silverman, asked us to hire an all-female band. Aside from my own job (conducting while playing the piano), that meant I had to hire five women, and Mary-Mitchell Campbell (orchestrator/supervisor) and I found it really difficult to find women who weren’t already working who had the skill set we needed to play this show. I thought, “That’s not possible. These women are out there in New York City. Why can’t we find them?” And once we DID find them, the women told me that they’d been trying to play in theatrical orchestra pits for a long time but hadn’t been able to “break in.” Something about the pipeline is broken for women, and after Sweet Charity I began trying to figure out how to illuminate the problem and fix it.
CMT: You began Maestra as a community for female composers, but the mission has now expanded to include female music directors, orchestrators, arrangers, copyists, rehearsal pianists and other musicians. What made you decide to add those communities?
GS: Oh, the communities were all growing at the same time, but they grew in separate ways. Our composer group in NYC meets regularly and the music director group exists mostly online. I wanted to include all of these women in the same group because so many of us do all of these jobs and have all of these skills, but they tend to be kept separate in the industry. You’re either a composer or a music director. And yet it’s the additive property that allows you to have a career; you have to be able to compose AND play piano AND conduct AND orchestrate AND transpose AND use Finale AND sight-read AND play with good time AND AND AND in order to work. So often composers are grouped in with other kinds of writers, but that denies the parts of our brains that speak fluent music. I knew that if I introduced the composers and the music directors and the orchestrators and the players, community would form, and community leads to work. The whole point is to get these women working at the highest level.
CMT: How are you hoping to connect your national database members with the musical theatre professionals who can hire them?
GS: It’s all about visibility. Two years ago I was getting regular emails asking me if I could recommend a female music director or bass player or orchestrator, and I was spending a lot of time wanting to be sure I was serving both the person asking the question and the woman hoping to be recommended in my answer. But I’m not an agent, and I always worried I was overlooking someone or recommending someone who wouldn’t be the exact right fit for the proposed job. So I created the Directory hoping to remove myself from the middle of the conversation. Someone looking in the Directory still has to do research on the women the Directory suggests, but at least nobody can say, “I just couldn’t find any women qualified to do this job.” At Maestra we have a commitment that the Directory will always be free. Signing up to be in it will be free, and using it as a search engine will be free. Visibility does not hide behind a pay wall.
CMT: Why do you think the field of musical theatre been so slow to support and encourage female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming artists?
GS: I don’t know why musical theater has been slow to support and encourage some groups of people, but it’s clear that the problem is not limited to our field. It’s a seismic sociological shift our culture is making. I played a concert at Carnegie Hall recently and one of the regular musicians there told me she remembered when she started playing there weren’t any women’s bathrooms on the orchestra level because no one had ever considered that there would be a woman musician. So that shift has been in her professional lifetime. If you look at the Timeline that Shoshana Greenberg built for our website, you’ll see that what we call the “Golden Era” of Broadway theater is a big empty space with Mary Rodgers being the only notable woman composer in about forty years. Things picked up in the 1970s, which was also a highly active period for women’s rights in America — the ERA, bra-burning, Ms Magazine, Gloria Steinem, Ntozake Shange, etc. We’re having the same conversations that the rest of the gender-parity-aspiring nation is having in 2019. We’re just the first ones having it at this level of our industry. As far as programming, we’re offering technical workshops in very specific areas of our field (percussion, copying, conducting), we’ve started a group for Maestra Moms, we run a weekly blog series called “Women Who Wow Us” that shines a spotlight on a woman doing fantastic work in her field, we have a mentoring partnership with the New York Youth Symphony, and we’re working with the musicians union to do statistical research into the actual numbers of who’s getting hired (and who’s not) in our industry. Plus we have all sorts of social groups on Facebook (Maestra Music, MaestraMDs, Maestra Southern California, Maestra Music UK) and active Twitter and Instagram accounts that post job opportunities and competitions and publicly applaud the achievements of our members.
CMT: Maestra has a very impressive Steering Committee and Advisory Board. How did you go about building your network?
GS: I’m going to tell you: I asked my friends. I thought about the women who are making an impact in their fields. I thought about diversity — diversity of mindset, of expertise, of ethnicity and perspective, of socio-economic class. I asked people who had told me that these issues mattered to them, and I asked people who I knew would show up. Starting a not-for-profit is a lot of work and I was looking for people who would thoughtfully answer an email or a phone call from me! We are now building a volunteer network, so we encourage anyone who is moved to get involved to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow us on social media. Thanks!GEORGIA STITT is a composer/lyricist, music director, pianist, and music producer, and the Founding Director/President of Maestra Music. For more information on Maestra Music visit their website at maestramusic.org.
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