For Good Measure

Da Capo Conversations with Elinor Armer and Pamela Z

September 18, 2023 Elinor Armer, Pamela Z Episode 68
For Good Measure
Da Capo Conversations with Elinor Armer and Pamela Z
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 68: Da Capo Conversations with Elinor Armer and Pamela Z

Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!

Today we revisit Elinor Armer’s and Pamela Z’s perspectives on being a woman in a field that is so often male-dominated. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Elinor Armer and Pamela Z, check them out here and here. Parts of this episode originally premiered on January 30, 2021, on Youtube, click here, and on January 18, 2021, 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

Co-Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Co-Producer and Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Sam Mason and Renata Volchinskaya

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Nanette McGuinness  00:00
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by a 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 our Da Capo Conversations, a mini series where we'll be giving familiar segments a topical twist. [INTRO MUSIC ENDS] Today we revisit Elinor Armer's and Pamela Z's perspectives on being a woman in a field that is so often male dominated. Here's what Elinor Armer had to say:

Elinor Armer  00:41
I never have really 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 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., for one year, I wasn't rehired because I didn't have a PhD, but, anyway, um, 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, one's 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 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 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 not a movement anymore. It's simply a fact. And I'm very happy to have been a part of that. 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 just before a faculty meeting, so I called in said I can't come to the faculty meeting 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 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  05:57
Here's what Pamela Z had to say:

Pamela Z  06:00
Well, I can say that, as somebody who has been doing this for many, many decades... people are wrong if they try to tell you that there hasn't been any change. It's certainly not over,it's just like, you know people who thought, "Oh, racism is over, because Obama was president [laughs], It's certainly not fixed, it's not done. But oh, it is so different. it's so much more...I can say that when I first started doing this, just the stereotyping of like, I used to walk into, when I was playing in clubs all the time, I would walk in with my gear, and somebody who was there would see me come in and say, "Oh, you're the musician? You must do Reggae.And I'd be like, "No, I don't..." And the other thing that I would get is... I would set up all of my gear myself,because, for years, pretty much for my entire career I've been pretty independent, and doing all of this stuff on my own. So I would show up at the gig, and I'd set up all my gear. And after I had it all set up, some guy would come up and go, "oh,this is cool. Who set this up for you?" [laughs]

Nanette McGuinness  07:30
[laughs] Or wait, "Can I help you get it the way it should be?" [laughs]

Pamela Z  07:33
Exactly. [laughs]

Pamela Z  07:36
Or I would go to an electronics store or a music store and I would ask for a particular thing, "I need a quarter inch connector that's this and this or that," and they would be, "Well, what are you going to use it for?" Which was like, basically, they assumed I probably didn't know what I was doing and maybe I might be buying the wrong part, you know[laughs]

Nanette McGuinness  08:00

Pamela Z  08:01
And so that, that used to happen all the time. Also,whenever I was on a compilation album of electro-acoustic composers or whatever, I would generally be the only woman on it. And probably the only person of color on it as well. And, I mean, it certainly still is a heavily white male-dominated field, the field that I'm in,but it's much less so than it used to be. And, in some cases,women have really taken the lead, like, you know, I noticed at one point that people who were doing live performance,especially with voice and processing, but sometimes with other instruments and processing, that women were the leaders in that for a long time,you know, so that was kind of interesting. But, yeah, I've noticed that people are much more... I mean, I think it happened for women before it happened for people of color.But, with festivals, you can look at the roster of who's performing especially like in my situation ... so I'm on the steering committee of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival. I was one of the founders of it. The actual founder of it is a woman of color as well, Miya Masaoka, and we started this festival 20years ago. And Miya assembled a bunch of us and said, "Let's do this festival," and we put together a steering committee.And we have been producing this electronic music festival for 20years. I'm the only sort of“lifer” it seems, like all the other people, including Miya,that were on the original,founding steering committee are gone. But I'm still here and it's a bunch of new people. But I'm proud to say that, of all the electronic music festivals in the world, ours is, except for ones that are, specifically women's festivals, ours I would say has consistently been the most diverse and the most balanced gender-wise...

Nanette McGuinness  09:21

Pamela Z  10:33

Nanette McGuinness  10:34

Pamela Z 
And so if you look at the list of artists who played on the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, you'll see just as many women as men. But if you look at all the other electronic music festivals in the world,you will see that it's not so.I mean, they are all having some women now but it's, you know.

Nanette McGuinness 
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure's Da Capo Conversations, and a special thank you to our guests 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 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 Co-Producer and Audio Engineer Stephanie M. Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]

Today we revisit Elinor Armer's and Pamela Z's perspectives on being a woman in a field that is so often male dominated.
Here's what Elinor Armer had to say:
Here's what Pamela Z had to say: