Conference at OSU celebrates women and music

by | Jun 1, 2022 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

Dana Reason, the pianist, composer and Oregon State University assistant professor, says this week’s conference of the International Alliance for Women in Music at OSU will “introduce Corvallis, Oregon to the world, in a way, and we’re bringing the world to Corvallis.”

As far-reaching as that sounds, though, it doesn’t quite capture the full extent of what will happen starting Thursday, when 50 or so members of the alliance gather at OSU, joined virtually by another 150 or so who will log in from locations around the world.

For example, the conference features three concerts – one in Corvallis, to be sure, but the other ones will take place in Antwerp, Belgium, and Sydney, Australia.

Reason, the conference chair, and the other volunteers who have worked to put on this week’s conference, with its global reach and technological challenges, say the event will allow the alliance to “solidify our investment and our commitment to global voices and to the multiple ways that women can make music and think about making music.”

Dana Reason, a composer, pianist and assistant professor at Oregon State University, is the chair of the International Alliance for Women in Music conference this week at OSU. (Photo courtesy of Dana Reason.)

In other words, much of the conference reflects this fact: Female and female-identified musicians are working around the globe to create, perform and think deeply about music. But it’s work that often requires them to struggle against well-documented gender bias.  The International Alliance for Women in Music – formed in 1995 in a merger of three different organizations – has been focused from the start on battling against the inequitable treatment of women in music.

That’s a heavy lift, considering that the biased treatment dates back now for centuries. Reason said one desired result of this week’s conference will be to generate a bit more energy to lift that rock, “to try to switch that bias a little bit.”

The alliance’s last conference, three years ago (before the COVID pandemic), was held at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. As Reason and a team of volunteers started thinking about how to stage the 2022 conference, with its complicated blend of in-person and virtual events, Reason and the alliance’s president, Portland-based composer and writer Christina Rusnak, decided it made sense to keep the in-person event close to home: “It just made sense logistically,” Reason said in an interview.

It also helped, Reason said, to have strong support from OSU and its College of Liberal Arts.

“We’re really thrilled that the college recognizes and supports this initiative that’s on the campus,” she said. “It’s really significant for our students, whatever gender they identify with, it’s important to see these voices moving forward. I’m really hoping that some of the students get excited and meet some of the visitors and have some conversations.”

And Reason said the conference nicely ties in with an overall transformation she sees taking place at OSU: “Oregon State has been on this mission about diversity, equity and inclusion, and this matches what we’ve been trying to do at our school, and it’s perfect.”

Like any academic conference, this week’s event will feature the presentation of academic papers on a variety of topics. (Click here for a full list of conference events.)

But Reason said most interest from the general public likely will focus on a handful of events – all of which are being offered free to Benton County residents thanks to a grant from the Benton County Cultural Coalition. (Click here for a list of the free events.)

Thursday’s featured concert, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be livestreamed from New South Wales University in Sydney and will feature works by Australian female and female-identifying composers. The event, which will be moderated by conductor Monica Buckland, can be viewed in Room 303 of Community Hall, 1650 SW Pioneer Place on the OSU campus.

The Friday concert, part of OSU’s Music a la Carte series, features OSU’s Bella Voce choir, the OSU Jazz Ensemble, and a variety of conference attendees. This special edition of OSU’s Music a la Carte series starts at noon and goes for 90 minutes in the Family Lounge of OSU’s Memorial Union, 2501 SW Jefferson Ave. on the OSU campus. The concert can be accessed on a livestream, which you can access by clicking here.

Friday’s keynote session, featuring UCLA musicologist and researcher Nina Eidsheim, is open to county residents. Eidsheim’s research interests include multisensoriality, production and perception of vocal timbre, 20th and 21st century music, vocal music and opera, and critical studies in race and gender. Her presentation, titled “The Body as Music’s Terrior,” gets underway Friday at 2 p.m. in The LaSells Stewart Center, 875 SW 26th St. on the OSU campus.

The Saturday concert, scheduled for 10:15 a.m., features Antwerp’s all-female Virago Symphonic Orchestra, with founder Eline Cote and conductor Pascale Van Os, performing a program of works by female composers – with one exception: The orchestra will perform the second movement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, but with Emma Willis handling the soloist duties – a role typically filled by a male guitarist. This concert and panel discussion can be viewed in the Horizon Room of OSU’s Memorial Union, 2501 SW Jefferson Ave. on the OSU campus.

Reason herself takes the spotlight at another session of note. For years, she’s been part of a project, “Cinema’s First Nasty Women,” aimed at collecting silent movies that prominently feature women as performers or directors or other key roles. As the music supervisor for the project – due to be released as a four-DVD set this August from Kino Lorber – she’s been overseeing the scoring of the 99 films selected for inclusion. (She’s also written two scores for the films, including one feature-length work, “The Snowbird.”)

On Friday at 7 p.m. in Community Hall 303, Reason and some of her colleagues – Kendra Preston Leonard from the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive in San Francisco, along with musicians Deborah Saidel, Teil Buck and OSU student Maria Duong – will discuss the project and will perform about 15 minutes of live scoring as a selection of the shorts unreels.

In addition, four supplemental concerts will be playing in a virtual listening space in the Family Lounge of the Memorial Union. People listening will be able to chat with the composers, many of whom are scattered around the world.

As Reason worked this week taking care of last-minute details for the conference, she expressed gratitude for the volunteers who helped put it all together. “I couldn’t do this without the people working with me, for sure,” she said.

Reason praised the “amazing” volunteer team on the conference committee: Morgan Davis, Gaby Alvarado, Teil Buck, Deborah Nemko, Christina Reitz, Eline Cote, Jane Rigler, Buckland, Saidel and Rusnak, the president of the alliance, in addition to OSU’s Arts and Education Complex and its School of Visual, Performing and Design Arts.

And she was studying the schedule to see how many of the discussions and events she could attend during the conference. “I’m like, oh my gosh, how can I be in five places at once? I want to take in all of this.”

But something else is just as important, she said: “I think this collective sigh of sharing something as beautiful and as profound as music-making is really almost enough. Just to see these faces coming out to celebrate and learn about music.”

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