“Compose Like a Girl”: Celebrating and Empowering Women Composers


Jocelyn Hagen’s new composer series and accompanying podcast, Compose Like a Girl, offers a fresh perspective on the world of composition and women’s voices in music. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the heart of the podcast and its mission to amplify the voices of women composers.

J.W. Pepper: Tell us about the title, Compose Like a Girl. What does it signify about the content and mission of the podcast? What do you hope this podcast will accomplish?

Jocelyn Hagen: The inspiration for the slogan came from an Always commercial that was featured during the 2015 Super Bowl. It’s an extremely moving advertisement that discusses how confidence plummets once young girls hit puberty. It’s about reclaiming the confidence we have when we’re girls, before we start feeling the pressures and insecurities of becoming a woman. In the beginning, for me and for Graphite Publishing, it was a way to celebrate the incredible women composers on our website. Most of our top earners are women.

Women still need to work quite hard to get their work on the concert stage. Large commissions from prestigious ensembles, orchestras, and opera companies are still mostly offered to men. Women composers with more experience are often passed over for the “young, hot” male composers who are getting a lot of attention. This podcast highlights the women composers who have made significant contributions to the field. We also take the time to listen to their music together during the podcast, which is something I always wished other podcasts did! My hope is that these incredible works will get programmed more often.

JWP: How do you select the composers to feature in your series?

JH: There are so many women composers that I admire. I have a very long list of potential guests! It’s really fun for me to get to ask them the questions I’ve always wanted to ask.

JWP: Can you tell us about the background music in the podcast?

JH: The background music is a collaboration with my talented friend, cellist Cicely Parnas.

JWP: Your podcast touches on representation and reflection. How do you see your work influencing young women composers today?

JH: It was very important for me to study with a woman during graduate school—I made that a priority. I wanted to work with a woman who had faced similar challenges and who could relate to me and my work in that way. I know that many young female composers would choose to study with a female composition teacher. Unfortunately, there aren’t many programs out there that have women as the head of the composition department or that even teach lessons.

JWP: What themes or challenges emerge when discussing female composers’ careers?

JH: For many years, it was just something you didn’t talk about. You just kept your head down and made sure your work stood out and was of excellent quality. That was the only way to get noticed.

Unfortunately, I think we also have to worry about our appearance way more than male composers do. The way we present ourselves on social media is important, and the pressure to be beautiful is high.

JWP: Any exciting upcoming episodes or featured composers you’d like to share?

JH: YES! I’m excited about all of them, really. My conversation with Rosephanye Powell was quite spectacular—I think she’ll be the final guest of the first season. Normally, the interviews last for an hour—we spoke for nearly two hours!

JWP: Do you have any notable anecdotes or advice from your episodes so far?

JH: Dale Trumbore and I talk about the idea of taking up space. I’m naturally a pretty quiet and introverted person, and I really had to learn how to speak up and advocate for myself. I think getting more comfortable with that has been key to my success. I think these conversations give us the opportunity to proudly advocate for our work and take up space. I think it also encourages others to sit back and listen, allowing and inviting us to take up more space.

JWP: Collaboration within the music industry is crucial. How does your podcast explore female composers’ collaborative efforts?

JH: I’m hoping to help create a broader network of women composers helping other women composers. I desperately wanted a female mentor in my 20s and 30s to help guide me—or at least just to talk through some of my larger ideas. I’m hoping that the Compose Like a Girl initiative eventually grows beyond me and becomes a wonderful resource for composers of all kinds.

JWP: What advice would you offer young female composers?

JH: Don’t give up. It’s a hard career choice, that’s for sure. But I knew I would be unhappy if I tried to do anything else. I never would have had the same passion for anything else.

JWP: How do you envision the impact of Compose Like a Girl on the broader music community?

JH: People who aren’t fans of this initiative love to bring up the fact that things are way better than they used to be. Excellent. I’m telling you—I’ve been paying close attention all my career—there’s still a long way to go. Our country still has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights. You’ve seen Barbie, right? I’m so grateful for that movie, and that it brings up all these issues again. Women are so used to staying quiet and merely accepting what the world gives us. Not all of us strive for more. I hope this initiative encourages women to follow their dreams, whatever they may be.

JWP: What message or call to action do you want your listeners to take from each episode?

JH: The message is simple: “I can do this.”

JWP: How can listeners support your podcast and the Compose Like a Girl initiative?

JH: I hope that many of you reading this will decide to support the Compose Like a Girl initiative on Patreon. Subscribers receive access to the full podcast interviews, listening playlists, extra content from our guests, and the chance to hang out with me on Zoom every now and again and ask their burning questions. They also get that warm, fuzzy feeling knowing that they are helping women’s voices be heard and supporting emerging women composers with mentorship.

Pepper has served musicians since 1876. We hope you find our blog posts informative and a wonderful gateway to news in the world of music.


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