March is a great month to look back on the monumental progression that women have made in science, politics, education and more. Specifically, it’s incredible to see the advancement that women have brought to the world of music.
It’s crazy to think that a female had not conducted a major orchestra in America and Europe until the late 1930’s (less than 100 years ago!) and women were pretty much nonexistent in most major music orchestras up until the 1960s.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done to “even out the playing field”. For instance, a research conducted by Baltimore Symphony Orchestra found that in programming for the top 22 US orchestras in 2014–2015, only 1.8% of composers were female.
How can we continue to grow and cultivate this statistic? Acknowledge, support and include them!
Artist Spotlight, Ellen Fishman-Johnson
We recently got the chance to meet with multi-media specialist and composer, Dr. Ellen Fishman-Johnson to find out more about her new interactive opera called Marie Begins. This interactive opera is unique, fun and is easily relatable. No need to get on your jacket or shoes because this opera was created to be experienced at home.
Your computer screen becomes the stage and YOU get to become the Director by determining the outcome of the story. After each major scene, you’ll are prompted to choose Marie’s destiny; should she answer the knock at the door or should she ignore it? You choose!
Scroll below to see what inspired this opera and Ellen’s career…!
“No, I’m not a singer… I’m a composer!”
Ellen was brought up with jazz music all around her. In fact, she played piano, clarinet and saxophone in jazz bands and was constantly listening to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Because of her love for music and the process of creating it, she embarked her musical career as a composer to develop her own sound.
Throughout her studies, she was inspired by many composers, including Laurie Anderson that has been a leading pioneer in electronic music. “I became very interested in multi-media productions where I could infuse technology into my music and create a unique and dynamic experience,” said Ellen.
She continued her studies at Peabody Conservatory where she received her Doctorate in composition. “It wasn’t until Peabody that I was taught by a female professor in my field,” said Ellen. “It was and is still uncommon for a woman to study this profession. Several times people would assume that I was there to study vocal performance but I would happily correct them and say No, I’m not a singer… I am a composer.”
Ellen now has over 25 years of experience in music technology and is an Apple Distinguished Educator. She is also the Director of the Arts and New Media at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy (where she teaching coding, design and how to fabricate) and even created an intensive composition workshop for girls in Philadelphia!
Among many other incredible achievements, she was the recipient of the Opera America Grant for Female Composers in 2017 that helped her fund Marie Begins.
When Ellen and Julia Curcio (librettist) started brainstorming about this new multi-media opera, they decided to base their story on that monument life question that everyone has… What do you want most out of life?
Marie (the main character pictured above) has just turned 30 and is going through a bit of a self-assessment deciding what she should do next as she embarks a new decade. “We really wanted this opera to be playful and fun so we added a bit of humor and the ability for the audience to determine Marie’s destiny,” said Ellen.
Jump in on the fun and check out the first few completed scenes by clicking below! ⬇
Now, it’s up to US to complete the opera! If you are interested in helping Ellen’s team and supporting this multi-media project, click here to find out more.
To learn more about Dr. Ellen Fishman-Johnson’s music and upcoming projects, click HERE!
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