More Sopranos Needed in Holiday Music and Beyond

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Rita Henley Jensen

(WOMENSENEWS)–To celebrate this holiday season, a good friend was kind enough to treat me to “A Baroque Christmas” concert at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. I was thrilled to be there, in part because the cathedral has always been a reminder to me of the human capacity to create beauty: soaring beauty in the nave, subtle beauty in the tapestries, exquisite beauty in the stained glass windows and transcendent beauty in the blasts of an organ that includes the state trumpet, the most powerful organ stop in the world.

This occasion was especially joyous because the cathedral had officially reopened after a restoration required following a devastating fire in the fall of 2001.

In September 2001, New York endured a terrorist attack; in November, a plane crashed in Queens, killing more than 260, many from my neighborhood. The following month, the landmark cathedral that had offered the city solace through many sorrows was itself badly damaged.

Seven years later, after much of the pain of that time had been stored away, I was ready to rejoice in the scrubbed-clean nave, the restored tapestries, the glowing windows and the powerful chords from the organ.

Only there were three catches:

  • The musical instruments accompanying the singers were two unusual plucked instruments, a theorbo (a bass lute) and a baroque guitar, along with a violoncello. The organ I had been expecting was not part of the program.

  • The world’s economy was experiencing multiple disasters far beyond the borders of New York City. No potential rescuers from across the nation and the world

  • The performers were three countertenors, two tenors, two baritones and a bass, an all-male line-up. No women.

The music and the voices were exquisite, celebrating the cathedral’s artist-in-residence Frederick Renz and his 40 years as musical director of Early Music New York. He had selected music from Scotland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, England and, with a nod to the New World, Mexico.

Cheers on a Winter’s Night

Afterwards, as if on cue, a smattering of snowflakes drifted down through the cold night air as the audience pushed its way through the high, heavy cathedral doors and into the night. Many cheered.

I did not. I know the all-male choir was an authentic rendition of the music and the voices for which it was written. OK. But I could not stop connecting the dominance of the male voices in religious music everywhere to the current financial turmoil gripping the entire globe.

I was raised Roman Catholic, a faith that to this day does not permit women to be ordained. The Vatican, however, does not stand by any means alone.

Several years ago, I attended a wonderful holiday season presentation of New York City’s top cantors: Once again, the voices were all male and I began to appreciate much more deeply the extent of the muting of women’s voices in the Jewish faith.

I have yet to attend an Islamic holiday celebration that includes music. But I have visited several Arabic nations and heard the powerful call to prayer, also very definitely male.

Is it too much of a stretch to link this dominance of male voices in the religious sphere to the dominance of men in the financial crisis? I don’t think so.

Who Sits in the Seats of Power?

Women did not lead the firms that pushed the envelope in securitizing sub-prime mortgages. Women were not in the seats of power that decided the stock markets and other financial institutions should be self-regulating. To date, no woman has surfaced who intentionally cheated investors out of billions.

Women are, of course, capable of greed, deceit and self-delusion.

However, there are plenty of indications from the United Nations’ research and elsewhere that when a bunch of women get together, they tend to make decisions that include fiscal constraints, social responsibility and community development.

If more women had been at the helm of the world’s financial services, it’s possible there would have been less bet-the-bank types of decisions. The problem is we’ll never know because women in that male-dominated industry–as in the majority of religions–still don’t seem to have a chance at leadership.

That evening, I let this self-pity and resentment wash over me for a bit. But then I remembered Women’s eNews and cheered up immediately, since our stories are so full of female voices.

I am profoundly grateful that Women’s eNews has completed another year and that amid these tough economic times we are forging into our eighth year as an independent daily news service that gives women a voice on every subject. This year, we will be especially focusing on African American maternal health, poverty, immigration and the environment, along with improving our already outstanding international coverage. What could be better than having that opportunity?

Moreover, this is the season in which the board and staff make our annual selections of Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century.

Honoring these remarkable, powerful and inspiring women is our way of further amplifying the voices of women in every part of the world, from Wall Street to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their names will be announced in just three days, on Dec. 28, and you are invited to join us at our annual gala on May 7 in New York.

That night, women will be powerfully declaring their work that ensures many other women are heard. And that should be music to all of our ears.

Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief of Women’s eNews.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

For more information:

go to 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2008homepage

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