The Women Composers Festival of Hartford was founded in 2001 by composer/pianist Heather (Rupy) Seaton. At the time, she was a student at the Hartt School of Music, in the University of Hartford, and she noticed that she had never performed a work composed by a woman—except for her own! So, the festival began as a celebration of the works of living and historical women composers by a group of students seeking to know more music by women.
Over the next decade, the festival became a beloved retreat for folks who wanted to hear music by women composers, learn their stories, and understand why they continue to be underrepresented in the classical canon and in major classical music organizations. Attendees began arriving from all around the world as scholars, musicians, listeners, and supporters. We added a research forum so that we could learn about new composers, unknown historical composers, feminist musicology, and gendered aesthetics (i.e. the role that gender plays in how we understand and appreciate art). We added an ensemble-in-residence so that we could commission new works. We added an international score call competition so that we could hear from people writing music all around the world. We added a yearly composer-in-residence, inviting her to tell her story and to share her accumulated wisdom with our attendees. Most recently, we added a 12-hour Music Marathon to prove that there are so many wonderful pieces of music by women composers that it is ridiculous that many classical music organizations go an entire season without programming any!
Today’s festival lasts three days and is typically held at the beginning of April. We hold an international score call competition and other calls for participation. Many of our attendees our affiliated with academic institutions who can subsidize their attendance. The majority of our budget supports our ensemble-in-residence, our composer-in-residence, and the other local musicians who are hired to facilitate performances of music by women composers. Our festival always includes a Research Forum with lectures and lecture/recitals on the subject of women composers, a Music Marathon with performances of music by women composers around the world and throughout history, and three big concert performances.
We hold outreach events throughout the year and leading up to the festival. Our composer-in-residence and ensemble-in-residence often give talks and performances in the days before the festival. We used to call the festival a “week-long” event, but we discovered that many of our attendees could not afford to spend a full week immersed in our festival, often because of their other work or parenting duties. We are committed to making our festival available to everyone, so we shortened it and also added discount ticket prices. If you ever want to attend our talks or performances and feel like you cannot afford it, let us know. We will do everything we can to get you in the door!
A note on gender: the Women Composers Festival of Hartford was founded because women were (and are) underrepresented in the classical music industry. That has not changed, and we remain committed to advocating for women composers from around the world and throughout history. We believe that gender is socially constructed, fluid, and not always easy to explain or define. When we say “woman,” we mean anyone who identifies as a woman or with the term in a significant way. Sometimes we say woman/femme in order to communicate our openness to interpretation of the word “woman.” We don’t police bodies or identities. We also understand that some women are more privileged than others, that composers of color are also marginalized in the classical music industry, and that women of color experience the double whammy of gender and racial bias. (And don’t get us started on the role that wealth and economic status plays in the lives of aspiring musicians!) We are always interested in composers/performers/speakers who are willing to confront gender and other intersecting identities in their music or in their presentations. We would love to hear from transgender/genderfluid folks about whether and how gender has influenced their art. (We also love to hear from transwomen/femmes who don’t want to talk about their gender at all, but the festival does lean toward activist voices of all types.) We are actively seeking new ways to make our festival open and accessible to people with experiences that are different from our own. We don’t always get it right, but we keep trying.