For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 62: Elinor Armer II (part 3)
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In this week’s episode, we talk to Elinor Armer about her career as a woman composer and the founder of the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Elinor Armer, check her out here: www.elinorarmer.com/. Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 2021, found on Youtube, click here.
This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!
Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021
Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.
Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, artistic executive director of Ensemble For These Times. In this week's episode, we continue with our conversation with Elinor Armer, who join us in January 2021[INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. You talked a little bit about Persephone earlier and I'd really like to circle back to her, because when you deal with mothers and daughters, you really do have to talk about Persephone in some way or another. So for this project, we had somebody setting poetry by Rita Dove on the Persephone myth. And then even though we didn't end up picking any Persephone poems for"Matrix," mostly because of what you said they were either too explicit or too angry or too, whatever, we did get a little bit of Persephone in your cycle, too, because we have at the very end of the Ursula Le Guin poem,"whose footstep is the Spring." I don't know if it was accidental or on purpose, but it might have been accidental.Elinor Armer:
That's right. And I was so happy to have that little, shall we say, remnant? for Stephanie? In there, because, you know, we got to have Persephone after all, at least in some small respect.Nanette McGuinness:
Yes. So it was a happy accident, I'm hearing.Elinor Armer:
Yeah absolutely. And it rounded out the whole program, I was so happy to be at the end like that. I really love it when my pieces are performed, either at the end of a half of a program, or the beginning of a half of a program.Nanette McGuinness:
So in addition to having been on the end of the last program,"Matrix" will be the start of the whole program on January 30.Elinor Armer:
How nice.Nanette McGuinness:
You've had such a distinguished career: you were instrumental in starting the composition department and you've been, in some situations, I think, the lone woman in the room. Can you talk about being a composer, being a woman composer, your career and the things you've done?Elinor Armer:
Well, thank you for asking that. You know, I never have really thorough, thoroughly answered that question for anybody. But now that you asked me, I'm remembering when I first started working at the Conservatory, which was in 1969. It didn't occur to me that being a woman was was was a part of the picture, you know. And also, I wasn't, I wasn't particularly high profile at that time. And the women's movement had really not begun. But as I continued to work there a few years in, I was hired at UC Berkeley also to teach harmony and musicianship for a couple of years. And no, for one year, I wasn't rehired because I didn't have a PhD. But anyway, I did not quit the Conservatory, I remained after that. And then of course, at that point, I was into teaching in the collegiate division, and then we got a graduate division as well. And then I founded the the composition department at the Conservatory in the mid 80s. And by that time, once gender was a matter of discussion, and you know, politics and so on. And, as I saw that happening, and I moved in on the wave of the women's movement, which came to music later, then it came to a number of other things as subjects. I began to see that I was being noticed as a woman in in the field of composition, even in composition, teaching as well. And as such, I I did not become militant. I just continued doing what I was doing, but I it raised my consciousness to the point that I wanted very, definitely to be a role model for other women and younger women and to try to If we get more women applicants to the composition department, and indeed, in our first years, we had as high as 50% of our applicants being women, it comes and goes very much as the women's movement does the same as any other so called movement, it's, it's not a movement anymore. It's simply a fact. And I'm very happy to have been a part of that. And it was actually during the 80s that my partner and I had a family. And this was very celebrated by everybody at the Conservatory, our first child was born. And just before a faculty meeting, so I called in said, I can't come to the faculty meeting, because Because Donna has just had our first child and, and President Murdoch at the time announced this to the faculty and everybody applauded. And they were all happy, I have to say, one of the things I am most grateful for, in my whole life's trajectory is my long, long relationship with the conservatory because I really grew up with them. My own self awareness and my own career and my own output and so on, are completely parallel with with the growth and development of the Conservatory. So I haven't even left yet you know, I'm getting into my old age, and, and the conservatory is just coming of age. So with all of its fine new building and, and new programs, and so on, I'm very thrilled to be a part of it, you know, I, I was educated at Mills College, which when I was a student was really a center, a very, very exciting center of musical activity and innovation for the Bay Area. And since that time, the conservatory has become that. So I tend to go where the action is.Nanette McGuinness:
Thank you so much for taking this time to do a composer talk with us. We're so honored that you wrote"Matrix" for us.Elinor Armer:
I just want to say thank you very much for having me on as the saying goes. And and thank you very much, Nanette for singing my songs are beautifully.Nanette McGuinness:
Oh, they're wonderful songs. Thank you.[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure, and a special thank you to our guest, Elinor Armer for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT, our concert season online and in the Bay Area, or to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]