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Upper Valley Wind Ensemble Looks to Break 'Brass Ceiling'

Rob Strong / Dartmouth College

The Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble will celebrate women composers Saturday night with a concert featuring works exclusively by female artists. The show, titled “Music, She Wrote…,” is one of several social-justice oriented performances this season at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

(Editor’s Note: We strongly recommend listening to this story.)

For most of history, stretching all the way through the middle part of the 20th century, orchestras were almost exclusively male, said Matthew Marsit, director of bands at the College. “Men celebrating men — male conductors, male composers,” he said. Wind bands, while more modern, have grown out of that tradition.

Marsit knew he wanted to program a piece by composer Julie Giroux this fall, and was looking to build thematically around that work. Given the HOP’s focus on social justice this season, he said, “it seemed to only make sense to celebrate women composers, who sadly are grossly underrepresented in our field.”

That focus resonates deeply for Janet Proctor, a french horn player with the ensemble and retired middle school band director. “These women, more or less, are my contemporaries,” she said. "When I was in music school, we didn't play music by female composers. I can't recall any female students majoring in composition — it wasn't happening." 

The concert will feature works by four women: Giroux, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen and Sally Lamb McCune. Marsit hopes audience members will walk away with a new appreciation for these artists. “I want them to understand that these are great names and great talents whose work should be celebrated in their collections just as much as any other composer,” he said.

“It’s not women’s music,” Proctor said. “It’s wind ensemble music at the highest level.”

The concert is Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. 

Music featured in this piece includes selections from Giroux's Symphony No. 4, “Bookmarks from Japan” and Larsen's Short Symphony.