August Read Thomas comments on gender identity

July 4, 2002

The comments below are from an interview of Augusta Read Thomas at:

Ms. Thomas appears to not want her gender to even be mentioned in regard to her music. Since this is the first generation of women that have been able to successfully work as composers, and since they are still something of an anomaly, isn't it natural that their gender would be discussed from many different perspectives? Do these discussions of gender put things in "nice little boxes" as Ms. Thomas says, or do they serve to increase understanding and bring social change? At what point does the suppression of gender or sexual identity become a form of denial? Or does music ultimately exist in a form of genderless "purity"? Do some women reject their identity as women composers because they do not want to be associated with the inferior status of the feminine in our culture? Or do they fear their success will be associated with "pandering political correctness?" To what extent are such fears a result of the backlash against feminism?

William Osborne

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DB: Let me ask you something. I don't want you to take offense by this, but the program that the Miami Quartet is playing also contains music by Clara Schumann. Was it their intention to showcase women composers with this program? 

ART: You know, I really don't know. Marc Neikrug would be in charge of that department. He put the program together and he would've had the vision for what that should be. I was never given the impression that thats what the agenda was. They simply commissioned me to write the piece. 

DB: Understood. In your case, your career certainly hasn't suffered for your being (a) a woman and (b) a living composer. In your experience, have you ever had your works ghettoized in these so-called women's concerts where the whole raison d'etre for the concert is to present music by women? 

ART: I don't really market myself that way at all. If somebody's put a piece of mine on some concert like that, I wasn't there and am not aware of it. I purposely and aggressively do not - well, I dont market myself anyway, as I told you. Im not sending stuff out. But if I were to, I wouldn't market myself that way because first and foremost, I'm a composer. I've been with music my whole life. I will be with it. It is my whole life. I have no other life. It is who I am. I happen also to be female. But for me, its not primary in my mind because the passion to make music is so burning hot inside of me and its so real. It's much more powerful than my gender or my age or my resume for anything like that. So I tend to, I don't try to get on women's concerts. For example, in my bio or anywhere on the website, it doesn't say anything about gender. The word woman is not even on it. And nothing Ive ever put out has ever had that word on it. I mean, I am a woman. But you don't go to a website of a male composer and find, John Adams, male composer, wrote 75 commissions. So why should it say, Augusta Read Thomas, female composer, etc. I know a lot of women would disagree with me and tell me that I should be doing things differently, but that's just the way I do em. 

DB: Obviously, what works for you has worked for you pretty well up this point. 

ART: I care deeply that people think of me as a composer. Period. That's actually the best testament I can be for the art or for my gender or for the human race. I mean, I'm a composer. You know how everything comes in these nice little boxes nowadays. 

DB: Right. This is the era of identity politics and identity art. 

ART: Exactly. And I don't want play into that. And certainly, people who know my music, it doesn't pander at all. It's hard-core. It's passionate. It's very gutsy. And so it all ties in together to me.