Which music is on the programme of Danish orchestras, choirs, operas, ensembles, and festivals? How diverse is the repertoire which is presented to the Danish audience, regarding the proportion of male or female composers, Danish or foreign composers, or new music versus earlier classical music? These questions were the starting point for a report on Danish repertoire statistics, released in 2018, which aims to give an overall and concrete understanding of the profile of the composers who were being played by Danish ensembles and at festivals at that time. At the time of writing, we have just started to collect data again on the repertoire from the concert seasons 2018/2019 and 2020/2021 in order to bring the statistics up to date, and to continuously nudge the classical music environments in Denmark towards taking diversity and gender balance seriously in their concert programming and taking on the responsibility of nurturing musical environments with equal opportunities for all.
The institutions included in the statistics are all supported by public funding on a governmental and municipal level and are therefore expected to present a varied repertoire which is relevant to as many as possible. Diversity and especially gender balance have been a strategic focus in the political work of the Danish Composers’ Society since 2016 and nudging is precisely the tool that gives inspiration to our work and is the underlying basis of our different activities, initiatives, and projects.[i] In brief, we believe that if we shall succeed in creating a change in the classical music environments, it is crucial to shed light on patterns, routines, and unconscious bias as a starting point for discussing and suggesting ways to change these and do things differently. Initiating dialogue, debates, and seminars is one approach, releasing statistics on repertoire is another one. From now on, we plan to update the statistics every year and release them online in order to ongoingly be able to show the state of diversity in the repertoire. Every fifth year, we intend to publish a printed version showing repertoire statistics five seasons in a row in order to show whether diversity has actually improved or not.
The Origin of the Statistics
On 18 May 2017, the Danish Composers’ Society hosted the seminar “Repertoires in Balance—A Summit About Music.” The meeting was between decision makers in the Danish classical music scene. The cause behind the initiative was the desire to create a qualified debate on how to get Danish festivals, orchestras and ensembles to program more music by female composers. The current reality was and still is that Danish orchestras and ensembles are performing much more music by male composers than by female composers, Danish festivals for classical and new music are programming many more compositions written by men than by women, and the music of German and Austrian composers takes up a significantly larger amount of space in the statistics than music by Danish or other, e.g. Nordic, composers.
This is not only the case in Denmark. This tendency is reflected in most other countries, e.g. in Sweden, as documented in repertoire statistics completed in 2014/2015 and again in 2019 by the two Swedish composers' societies: FST (Society of Swedish Composers) and KVAST (The Association of Swedish Women Composers), and in Norway in 2019 by the Norwegian Society of Composers. The Danish repertoire statistics emanate from the summit held in Copenhagen, where the first Swedish repertoire statistics were taken as a direct role model. The statistics report was initiated by the the Danish Composers’ Society along with the publishers Edition Wilhelm Hansen and Edition S as well as SNYK (the Secretariat for Contemporary Music) and is supported by Musikforlæggerne (Society of Professional Music Editions in Denmark).
Content and Procedure
The statistics include Danish music institutions and are divided into the categories of symphony orchestras, operas, ensembles, and festivals. The statistics contain information about the music that has been performed during the last three seasons: 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18. They outline the proportion of new music versus earlier classical music, Danish music versus music from abroad, as well as music by men versus women composers—all categories are calculated by the number of minutes each music receives.
The three-year timeframe was a necessity, not only to give a snapshot of the current situation at that time, but also to look into if this was a tendency in the music scene and to also see if the numbers change over the years. The title, composer, gender, nationality, length, year of composition, and date of the performance of each piece was notated as a reference. Furthermore, it was also noted if the piece was performed as a premiere. If a work was performed in multiple concerts, it appears more times in the statistics. However, a composition was only noted as a premiere one time.
What Did the Statistics Indicate?
Three years ago, we had the feeling that only a relatively limited part of the history of music was taken care of in Danish concert halls, and that not least the music of professional women composers rarely found their way to the repertoire. But sensations are not proof enough in themselves.
After the summit, we were convinced that we needed data and a clear picture of the classic music repertoire, if we wanted to engage with the executives and gatekeepers who set programmes and decide what repertoire the audience should experience, about whether or not it is an image we reconcile with, or if there is a need to change this image.
And still today the statistics speak their clear language—there is a need to change the picture:
Only 3.6% of music in the repertoire of Danish orchestras, ensembles, opera houses, and new music festivals from 2015 to 2018 was written by women. 18% of the repertoire was Danish, 20% was German, 14.7% was Italian, and 4.4% of the repertoire was Nordic.
Only 1% of the symphony orchestras' repertoire were first performances, in other words newly written works, over three seasons.
Over 50% of the works were written in the period between 1800 and 1950, and only 11% of the total repertoire from 2015 to 2018 was written within the last thirty years.
If we take the relationship between music written by women and men, then it is not good enough that just under 4% of all classical music performed by the established orchestras, ensembles, opera houses, and at festivals is written by women. That equates to a total of 10,486 minutes of music, while 283,706 minutes of music during the period were written by men.
The picture in Norway and Sweden is very similar to the Danish one, as the statistics from Norway show that 3% of the music is written by women, and in Sweden the most recent statistics show that 6.4% of the music in Swedish concert halls is written by women. When it comes to Nordic repertoire, 6% of the repertoire in Norway was written by composers from other Nordic countries, and in Sweden it was only 3.4%.
Arguments for Status Quo and Tools for Change
I see several actions going on internationally trying to change the image, and in Denmark we see an increasing awareness and recognition that, as a manager, artistic director, ensemble leader, or promoter in 2020, you must work with diversity—both for the sake of those who create the music and whose stories and works also deserve to be brought forward, and for the sake of all those who need to hear and experience the music and the stories. One thing is to recognise it and talk about it, another thing is to do it in a way that makes a real change now and in the future. It takes courage and will to think outside of the box, spend extra time on familiarising oneself with what works are out there and to dare program a different and to the loyal audience a possibly unknown repertoire.
Several arguments defend the lack of action taken on changing the picture and imbalance that the Danish statistics mirror. Below is a partial list followed by suggestions for tools to turn these arguments into action.
Argument One: “There are not so many professional women composers.”
Within a national context, there might be a grain of truth in this—14% of the members of the Danish Composers' Society are women. But that is just in Denmark. And as today’s classical music field and the labour market of composers is international—just over 80% of the repertoire in Denmark of the last three seasons was written by foreign composers—it does not make sense to explain the lack of women composers in the programmes with the lack of women composers in Denmark.
There are several recognised and talented women around the world who write both orchestral and chamber music, operas and electronic music and make sound art and performance.
1. Finding the music from the past and the present: Two databases prove this and offer a great deal of inspiration to artistic directors, conductors, and ensemble leaders looking for music by women:
The Swedish association KVAST, which deals with women and new music, has a database of close to 2,000 works written by women from a wide range of countries, extending from Hildegard von Bingen to the present day;
Donne – Women in Music is a website and database presenting more than 6,000 female composers and offering articles, daily portraits, and lists of works by the composers in the database.[ii]
A variant of Argument One is that there are not so many works written by women—the databases of KVAST and Donne in Music are proof of the opposite. And regardless of the fact that there are more men than women composers in Denmark, i.e. for historical reasons, there are enough works to choose from.
2. Commission new works by women: One concrete tool for increasing the number of works by women for the future is to commission new works by women composers.
The statistics show quite clearly that the percentage of music by women is a lot higher when it comes to music written within the last thirty years. Also, the ensembles and festivals that play a high amount of new music and regularly commission new works have a bigger proportion of works written by women in their repertoire than those that do not. And that number is fortunately increasing, and I see more and more ensembles using this tool and prioritising to commission works by women.
For instance, on a national level over three seasons, 14.1% of the repertoire from within the last thirty years was written by women composers. On the contrary, music written over thirty years ago is 0% when it comes to music by women—it is simply not in the repertoire in Denmark today.
Argument Two: An argument about artistic quality almost always pops up as a defence when you ask an orchestra, ensemble leader, or artistic director why a programme does not include works by women: “For us, it is primarily a question of artistic quality,” many answer. But how can one speak about what artistic quality is, if one has almost never put works by women in the repertoire? Or, put another way: how can you claim that what you program is quality and what you exclude is not, if the repertoire from season to season is more or less identical?
Furthermore, audience research show that diverse programming creates better and relevant concerts and attracts a larger audience, as you offer more opportunities of relating to the music being performed.
1. Music by women in the programme: A simple tool for creating more diverse and gender-balanced programmes is to commit oneself to always include works by both men and women in a programme, unless there is a curatorial reason for not doing this that one can defend.
A highly estimated orchestra manager from Sweden has used this tool for years with success. If a conductor suggests a programme exclusively with music by men, he asks if they can suggest a work by a woman as well. And as he said, “The vast majority can, they just hadn't thought of it.”[iii]
2. A 50/50 target: Another tool could be to set a 50/50 target in the repertoire in terms of composers. I have met festival directors in both Iceland and Norway who work with this target when planning their festivals, and they did not find it hard to reach their target as long as they spend time searching for composers in other circles than where they would normally look.
A reflection, though, is whether a 50/50 target will really change the structures that make it so that music by women rarely finds its way to the repertoire. Obviously, overall representation is growing, and it is a statement and a message that creates awareness and is easy to sell. But does 50/50 programming alone really create better opportunities for women composers in terms of gaining more recognition, better career conditions, more visibility, and more commissioning tasks? And does a 50/50 goal seriously affect the perception of what artistic quality is and what sells tickets and lends prestige?
It is important that we pay attention to and address the underlying and more subtle, but nonetheless very strong, structures and barriers to real diversity and equal representation in the repertoire, and that women composers really get the same access and recognition as their male counterparts. When organising a concert, the composition of works is one thing to take into consideration. Something else is the timing of the concert and the place of the concert in the programme, the location, the audience you want to reach, and the issue of broadcasting on radio or television. There is a big difference between an opening concert and a lunch concert, a concert on a Saturday night and on a Monday night, and a concert at a large venue and a school concert.
Opening night at a festival is a prestigious event, to which you often invite press, important partners, and other gatekeepers, and work hard to sell as many tickets as possible. A school concert does not have the same prestige and does not necessarily receive the same attention, even though it is at least as important and meaningful.
Argument Three: “We do play music by women and more unknown composers, but we also have to sell tickets.”
After we released the report in 2018, a couple of the ensembles whose seasonal repertoire appear in the statistics complained to us that they perform much more contemporary music as well as music by women than the statistics reflect. These detailed concert programmes just did not appear on their website or in their seasonal brochure, as they were performed as school concerts, lunch concerts, or the like.
But what signal do you send to the outside world, if in your festival programme—regardless of a goal of 50/50—you do a big opening concert exclusively with music by men, while works of women figure in the festival's smaller concerts. Or if, as an ensemble, you launch a seasonal programme where you only present programmes for concerts with ticket sales, while family concerts and school concerts are not mentioned in the programme? And that the programmes for which you sell tickets are traditional classical concerts with works by well-known deceased composers, while more recent music and works by women and lesser-known composers are played at family concerts and school concerts without printed programmes as documentation and dissemination to the outside world and thus stored away for the public?
It signals that you do not count music by women and lesser-known composers as equal, and that artistic quality and what you expect will sell tickets and generate attention is the well-known music you usually put on to the programme. Therefore, I suggest that when working with a 50/50 target, a couple of other tools could justly be used in addition to this.
3. Question the notions of ‘a prestigious concert,’ ‘good’ and ‘quality’: All music in a programme should ideally be treated equally. Try to question the common narrative about which composers and works lend prestige and sell tickets, and dare put the other and unknown stories and worldviews on the programme. Only then do you really start a movement towards change, where you give even more artists access to the repertoire and to the concert halls, while at the same time making yourself relevant to a larger and wider audience.
4. Set up diverse programming committees: A diverse group of people when it comes to age, professional backgrounds, artistic and programming skills, gender, ethnicity, musical taste, etc., will automatically bring more different views and tastes to the table than a more homogeneous group when planning a festival programme or a concert season. There is a good chance that you will end up with a different programme to what you normally put together and with more options for a diverse and new audience to become curious and interested in attending the concerts.
This audience might have a different view of what is good and interesting, and first of all feel represented and experience being able to reflect themselves in the worldviews that make up the repertoire.
Representing the Present…
Representation is about visibility—about showing and being seen—and thus also about the right, the power, and the privilege of deciding who should be made visible, and what stories we as audiences should reflect ourselves in. It is about role models, and also within the classical music fields in Denmark we need to make the palette of role models bigger, more colourful and diverse than it is today. In general, the classical concert halls could and should present many more different stories about our modern lives in which the broader population can see themselves reflected.
Children and young people who are interested in creating music, and who might have a composer inside their stomach, should meet living professional composers who can help them redeem and develop their talent and support them in realising a dream of living from writing music. Preferably, they should be exposed to as many different composers and role models as possible, in order to be able to meet someone with whom they can bond with artistically, and who can make them believe that a career as a professional composer is possible for them, too.
Composers are also women. They are not just white but have roots all over the world. Composers also make electronic music and build their own instruments. They write nodes and make video. They work with sound, but also with images, materials, with the body, movements, and words. When programming concerts, directors and managers should continuously think about how they can help enlarge the palette of composer role models with their work and, not least, make it broader and more diverse, so that children and young people in the future do not think that a composer is a dead white man, but that it is one who works with sound and creates music in myriad ways.
… and Shaping the Future
In relation to supporting the development of classical music in Denmark towards more diversity, educational environments—music schools, MGK (musical foundation courses), and conservatories—play an important role. The programmes at music academies to become a composer must also be able to embrace a diverse approach to what classical music can be when young people choose to apply. As it is today, access to the academies is very narrow, and the entrance exams are organised based on a specific and very classical view of what music is and what one needs to know to be admitted to the composition studio.
The number of Danish students in composition around the country is declining, and there are only a few women studying composition. The question is whether one way to change this could be to broaden access to the studies—not by lowering the bar, but by opening up the definition of what a composer can be and creating several different types of entrance examinations and auditions. Experience from the UK, for example, shows that giving more opportunities and entries to programmes attracts a greater talent base.[iv]
Women and men must have equal opportunities and access and must be recognised for what they do. Both women and men must be visible in the repertoire. Audiences should not only see and hear the works of men, but also see and hear the works of women. And we should all see that women as well as men can make a career as composers and artists and put their presence in the world into music and art. It takes time to seriously think in new ways and do things differently, and it takes courage to be curious, to give up control and the right to define, and to be open to what is to come. And first of all, you have to open your eyes to the fact that the world can look different, that life can be lived in other ways, can be experienced differently and reflected in stories other than one's own.
Hopefully, there will come a day when repertoire statistics are no longer needed, where diversity is a matter of course in any festival and where the proportion of music written by women is closer to 50% than to 4%. But in 2020, it is still crucial to find and actively use tools to curate this part of our age—women's take on their age—so that also the women's presence, contribution, gaze, approaches, tastes, and experiences help to write the story of the present time that posterity must spring from.
Sine Tofte Hannibal is the general manager of the Danish Composers’ Society. Gender equality, diversity, and the meeting between audiences and live music are topics that she continuously focuses on and work with in the Danish Composers' Society and within the field of new music. She has a background as a project manager for festivals and ensembles for experimental music, projects that engage children and young people in music, and as facilitator of Nordic and European networks on audience development. Recently, she took the initiative in the Danish Composers’ Society of making comprehensive repertoire statistics on live classical music in Denmark. The statistic showed that less than 4% of the live classical repertoire in Denmark is written by women. She is also actively involved in developing strategies for diversity and gender equality within ECSA, the European Composers and Songwriters Alliance, as well as coordinating an initiative within the Nordic Region focusing on career possibilities for professional women composers. Sine Tofte Hannibal holds a MA in Modern Culture from the University of Copenhagen.
[i] We are inspired by the “Inclusion Nudges” change methodology developed in 2013, see Tinna C. Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski, “Inclusion Nudges,” https://inclusion-nudges.org.
[ii] See “About DONNE,” Donne in Music, accessed 11 June 2020, http://www.drama-musica.com/AboutDonne.html. See also a list of all works composed by the women in the database, “The Big List,” Donne in Music, Accessed 11 June 2020, http://www.drama-musica.com/TheBigList.html.
[iii] Stefan Forsberg, “Repertoires in Balance – A Summit About Music” (Seminar, Copenhagen, DK, May 18, 2017).
[iv] Sound and Music (www.soundandmusic.org) has worked seriously with changing the wording and structure in their different artist programmes and applications in England, and have seen a major shift towards a much more diverse group of applicants.