One of the most interesting aspects of the project was the interview component. “What the girls found was that a lot of the information online was limited to a name, a blurb, and what they recorded and when,” Twining explains. “They really wanted to ask questions to find out more.”
He allowed the students to put together a list of questions for their composers, which he then sent via email on their behalf. More than half of the women – 23 in total – responded. “They were delighted,” says Twining with a smile. “First of all, that seventh grade girls wanted to report on them, and second that we were even doing the project, and that their music would be relevant to young people.”
Lydia Sides ’23 was one of the students who was able to connect with her composer – Heather Schmidt, a graduate of Indiana University and Juilliard. “I tried to ask her questions that I figured people would want to hear about and that interested me too, and things that weren’t already on the internet about her,” says Lydia. One of the most interesting things she learned was that Schmidt was the youngest student to receive a Doctor of Music degree from Juilliard, at the age of 21. “It was cool to see that she could do these amazing things,” Lydia says. “And I thought it was really cool that she responded to my questions.” Schmidt went a step further as well, sending Lydia an autographed copy of her newest album, “Shimmer.” Hallie Triplett also received a gift from her composer, Juliana Hall – an autographed copy of a folio of her work entitled “Music Like a Curve of Gold.”
Over the course of the semester-long project, students produced a three-page essay about their composers, as well as a three-minute iMovie that they screened for their classmates. “It’s their own little ‘Hidden Figures’ movie, and it allows us to see and hear the women’s works,” says Twining. The movie also served a dual purpose, since by having the girls present to each other, Twining was able to maximize the impact of the project. “They have each learned about their own composer, but if there are 16 students in the class, that’s 15 more women composers they didn’t know about before,” he says.
Julia Velculescu ’23 says that the project will have a lasting effect on her. Although she was not able to connect with her subject – the composer she chose was Agathe Ursula Backer Grøndahl, who died in 1907 – she loved having the chance to tell Grøndahl’s story, and to learn about the many accomplishments of women in music. “I really liked how we were doing female [composers], because most of them were hidden figures, so we were bringing their stories out,” says Julia. “Especially for the older composers, back when they were living there was a lot more misogyny, and it was brave of them to step up and show that they could compose music too.”