It is Women’s History month! In March we celebrate women’s contributions to culture and society, spotlighting women and their vital role in American history. This is a time to reflect on new, old, and overlooked contributions of women. In 1978, a week-long celebration of women’s history was organized in Sonoma, California within a local school district, with students participating in essay contests, presentations, and even parades. This celebration spread through organizations and school districts across the country, and in 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. The national women’s history project then passed a petition 6 years later declaring the holiday would extend throughout the entire month of March.
In this blog post, we will be honoring women and their contributions to the history of music and in music therapy, while also providing ways you can celebrate too!
Women’s contributions in the history of music:
Throughout history, women composers, musicians, and performers have overcome obstacles and pushed past barriers. Although not fully recognized at the time, women started to make notable contributions within the history of music dating back to the Middle Ages with Hildegard von Bingen, who set her own poems to music, accomplishing more works than any other Medieval composer. Moving along, Fanny Mendelsohn Hensel (1804-1847) went through intense musical training, following the same path as her brother, Felix Mendelsohn but was not encouraged to pursue music. With support from family and placement in a higher socioeconomic status, Hensel was able to use her time to compose, as a very talented pianist, and her works were published near the end of her life. Clara Schumann (1819-1896) a composer and virtuoso pianist, unlike Hensel, was forced to create her own path having very little support and no mentor to look up to. These are just a few examples of women within the early history of music, but it’s also important to recognize women who have equally outstanding contributions in the present .
For years, women in the music industry have proved to be influential in a variety of ways, truly shaping modern music. These are women such as Whitney Houston who, over the years, received high accolades, being the only artist to chart seven consecutive Billboard Hot 100 hits, eight consecutive platinum albums, having over 200 million combined albums, and so much more. Others are Beyonce, having attained 28 Grammy Awards, with a commitment to charitable causes, one of which for mental health, and Alicia Keys who Billboard named “Top Artist of the 00’s decade”, also passionate about advocating for women’s empowerment. Jazz artist, Norah Jones, has won 9 Grammy awards and is iconic within the genre, having her music streamed over 6 billion times, also collaborating with other well known artists. Lastly, Taylor Swift, with notable contributions to the country and pop genres, is the only female musician to win Album of the Year at the Grammy’s three times, while also being voted artist of the year and women of the decade in 2010. The list goes on.
Women’s contributions in music therapy past/ present:
The 2022 National Women’s History Theme According to the National Women’s History Alliance, is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope”. This theme honors the work of caregivers and frontline workers during the pandemic, recognizing women of all cultures who have worked to provide healing, and continuous hope throughout history. These individuals are artists, doctors, teachers, nurses, mothers, and women in and out of all workplaces who strive to relentlessly provide support, advocate, and lead the way. Among those are music therapists.
We want to recognize women who have made strides in the field of music therapy such as Eva Augusta Veselius, who founded one of the first associations for music therapy in 1903 ( the National Society of Musical Therapeutics ) and Harriet Ayer Seymour, who founded the National Foundation of Music Therapy in 1941. Music therapist, Helen Bonny, developed the Bonny Method for Guided Imagery in Music (GIM) in the 1970’s, which is a music- centered psychotherapy. Along with Bonny, Fran Goldberg has contributed to the realm of psychotherapy and GIM as well, as a GIM fellow and trainer. Diane Austin is also a big force in developing and specializing in vocal psychotherapy, the first model of music therapy that focuses specifically on the voice. Mary Priestly developed Analytical music therapy, which helped to shape music therapy practice (1970’s). Barbara Wheeler and Cynthia Briggs have both received AMTA Lifetime Achievement Awards (the former in 2019 and the later in 2021). Barbara Wheeler has many accomplishments within the field of music therapy, producing hundreds of publications, journal articles, and presentations, influencing music therapists in the US and internationally. Cynthia Briggs is a long time teacher and therapist who attained an outstanding faculty award for her work with Maryville University, while also creating a community songwriting program for children with cancer, and being involved in multiple associations and boards. Carolyn Kenny largely impacted the field, incorporating a more qualitative perspective, being well known for The Field of Play theoretical framework. Last but not least, Susan Gardstrom, a professor at the University of Dayton has many publications and experience in clinical work in a wide range of settings, including adults in recovery from addiction, with publications and research focusing on women in recovery.
Songs to celebrate women’s history month/ experiences and therapeutic application:
These chant books, created for women, were crafted to promote togetherness, instill strength, and foster courage. The material included can be applied in a variety of settings such as in music therapy (individual and group therapy), choral ensembles, support groups, drum circles, and much more, while also holding specific importance with individuals who have experienced marginalization, abuse, and powerlessness.
Check out this song from Miss Jessica’s world about women’s history month! This song can provide the listener with more information about why and who we can recognize in Women’s History month and how they shaped the world today.