Virtuoso Japanese koto players. Iranian jazz fusion. Hip-hop infused with Son Jarocho. Bluegrass from northern California. That’s just a sampling of the acts who had Mount Saint Mary’s downtown L.A. Doheny Campus moving and shaking on March 25 during the University’s first-ever Women in Music Festival.
The purpose of the Women in Music Festival was to highlight the diversity of music and the excellence of female musicians, as well as to showcase the power of music as a vehicle for positive social change. Created by the Mount’s Music Department, the free afternoon festival offered a diverse array of performances under the Doheny Mansion’s Pompeian Room dome, as well as interactive musical workshops and lively talks in venues across campus.
The festival was headlined Grammy-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens, who opened the festival by leading a masterclass with emerging artists, and closed the festival with a performance alongside pianist Lara Downes with a setlist that included overlooked or forgotten women musicians and composers across a wide variety of genres, including spirituals, Broadway and Americana tunes — all embodying the optimistic view of social justice that has been a cornerstone of Giddens’ career. The concert included some of Giddens’ original songs, like “Julie,” which is based on a conversation between a female slave and her mistress. The duo closed the festival with a moving rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s song “Somewhere” (“There’s a Place for Us”), from the famed musical “West Side Story.”
Other musical acts during the day included:
- North Country Blue bluegrass ensemble
- Maya Jupiter and Los Cambalache
- L.A. Women’s Koto Ensemble
- Sibarg Ensemble featuring Niloufar Shiri
- VOX Femina women’s choir
- Stella Voce
- Mount Chorus
- Julia Johnson ’18…and more.
Another unique element of the festival was a fascinating panel discussion on “Music, Women, Diversity,” by a distinguished group of musicologists, scientists and historians. Participants on the panel shared their research, their routes to their current positions, and how they either use music or research music’s effects on fields such as healthcare, childhood development, social justice movements and community identity. The panelists, who also gave individual talks on their specific topics of expertise throughout the day, included:
- Shana L. Redmond, associate professor of musicology at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music.
- Fredera Hadley, visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin College and Oberlin Conservatory.
- Jessie Vallejo, assistant professor of ethnomusicology and mariachi director at Cal Poly Pomona.
- Assal Habibi, assistant research professor of psychology at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.
- Kristi Brown-Montesano, chair of the Music History faculty at Colburn Conservatory of Music.
- Rhiannon Giddens, singer-songwriter and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Giddens shared during the panel how she appreciates being able to build on and promote the work of music historians in her own concerts.
“I’ve long read research and history books on music because I love learning the context behind songs,” she said. “I kind of consider myself the performing arts arm of the research community. Because what I do is read these books and synthesize them into songs, which I then perform and can put them in context and talk about on stage. What I’ve noticed is that people are coming up to me and they’re not saying ‘shut up.’ They’re saying, ‘we love the history, tell us more.’”