VERMILLION, S.D. – For University of South Dakota music professor and pianist Susan Keith Gray, celebrating women composers is a passion.
In 2018, Gray and her longtime performance partner violinist, Laura Kobayashi, will release their third CD of music featuring a variety of women composers from around the world. All of the pieces on the CD will be world premiere recordings.
“None of these pieces have been recorded, that we can find any evidence of,” Gray said.
The Kobayashi/Gray Duo as the two are known, started more than 25 years ago in 1990 when they were both in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gray had just finished her doctoral degree at the University of Michigan and Kobayashi had just started her doctoral degree.
“We just started to put together programs and seek out opportunities to perform. We were looking for repertoire that was a little bit different. You know, everybody plays Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, and all of those composers that someone has heard of, but we were looking for something different,” Gray said.
That’s when the duo came across a sonata by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for music.
“We played her sonata and then we started getting on this other kick. ‘Oh wow, this is by a female composer, I wonder what other pieces are out there by female composers?’” she said.
So began a decades long search for music written by women. The duo has travelled to the U.S. Library of Congress and the British Library, and have searched the collections of other libraries around the world and networked with other musicians about leads. The duo has found and performed a wide assortment of music ranging in date of composition from about 1850 to the present.
Gray said that women have been discriminated against in the field of music composition. Over the course of particularly the 20th century, there is evidence of a slow progress where women are being recognized for their work.
“Historically they (women) were discouraged from being composers in the professional sense and especially of larger works,” she said. “However, there were always some women who persisted no matter what. It’s really interesting to hear the stories of women who did persist. Some did compose symphonies and other large works. And from time to time some managed to find performances of their works or even to get them published.”
While there’s no set date for when the CD will be released in 2018, Gray said she’s excited for others to hear it. By recording and sharing the music of these women, she hopes to move the field of music a few steps forward in the long march toward women’s equality.
“It’s a wrong that’s slowly being righted,” she said.