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International Women’s Day: Celebrating the Excellent Women in Music Education

By Karen Marshall

March 8th is International Women’s Day. Two years ago (during the Pandemic) it marked the day my own book, HerStory: The Piano Collection published by Faber Music, was launched, celebrating forgotten Female Composers and their work. I never got to attend the launch as I came down with covid just days before. This year I will be attending a concert for International Women’s Day at the University of York where much of the book will again be performed. I too will be playing a piece, a big step for me, as I am very much a music educator, happy to accompany but seldom play solo. It will be exciting to gather to celebrate these remarkable women, their stories and their lives and also be with fellow piano teachers and players – a privilege. When I was thinking about a blog post for February, I thought it would be nice to mention some of the women I feel make a huge contribution to music education (particularly piano) nationally, some even internationally, but also near to me locally. Some very well-known, but others not so. All these women have achieved so much for music education, and I wanted to celebrate and publicly thank them here.

Rachel Portman

Rachel Portman

Not many female composers have become internationally recognised, and its even less common within film. Rachel Portman has composed over 100 scores for film, television and theatre. I must confess that Rachel has a really rare talent composing for the piano, most likely as Rachel herself describes it as “her best friend.” She’s quoted as saying: “I spend all day with it, most days. I think probably I’m pianistic in my soul.” Rachel’s new book Rachel Portman: Beyond the Screen/Film Works on the Piano is a triumph. Such amazing music from her scores are packed within her stunning pianistic arrangements. Do take a look. Rachel Portman is certainly a composer to celebrate on International Women’s Day. As a teacher I’m very grateful for her beautiful body of musical works to inspire my students.

Pam Wedgwood

Pam Wedgwood

I must confess to being a bit of a fan! Pam Wedgwood‘s piano music has been much loved by many of my pupils now for decades. Quite frankly, her repertoire has kept student’s engaged and practising when the going has got tough! Gifted at writing great tunes, Pam Wedgwood’s Up-Grade: Grade 0-1 continues to be one of my ‘go to’ books (she’s completed over 200 books now). The sheer variety of music in this little album here is to be commended. There’s also an array of early skills that can blossom through the miniatures. First published in 1995 with the subtitle of ‘light relief between grades,’ it continues to put a smile on my students faces and is timeless. On International Women’s Day and on every other day, Pam must be recognised for a huge service given to music education and to young pianists and their piano teachers for providing material to keep them on the journey! Thank you, Pam! We are so glad to have your lovely books.

Liz Haddon

Liz Haddon

Creating the MA in Music Education at University of York in 2015, Liz Haddon was the Programme Leader for over 6 years. Liz – who also is a highly experienced piano teacher and beautiful pianist – has helped to produce many wonderful instrumental teachers. In fact, one of them still teaches one of our daughters and I’ve met so many other brilliant ones at courses I’ve delivered across the UK. Her ongoing work in Music Educational research continues to push boundaries. Most recently in Music and Mental Health. A highly skilled PhD research supervisor, Liz continues to make a big contribution to the sector at Higher Education level and beyond. We have much to thank her for.

Melanie Spanswick

Melanie Spanswick

From running Facebook groups to piano teaching and courses, writing and adjudicating, Melanie Spanswick must be particularly thanked for her ground-breaking work in the area of adults returning to the piano. Her Play it Again books published by Schott are indeed milestone publications that returning adults find a bit of a godsend! With meticulous detailed instructions, these books provide a wealth of repertoire that students truly love. However, Melanie also runs a supportive Facebook group for adult returners where she provides a great deal of care, encouragement and opportunity. Do look out for Melanie’s courses and take a look at her super Play it Again series along with some recent female composer books – her latest being Amy Beach: Children’s Album and Children’s Carnival published by Schott. Thank you, Melanie, for all that you do!

Liz Dunbar

Liz Dunbar

A former secondary school Head of Music (serving nearly 30 years), Liz Dunbar stepped down as head of department recently but is still teaching part-time as well as sharing her many talents further afield now. This includes her voluntary work for the Music Teachers Association, writing for Music Teacher Magazine and consultancy work for multi-academy trusts such as DRET amongst other things. It’s not often I hear parents say time and time again, ‘I will be forever grateful for what Liz Dunbar did for my child in their music education.’ Championing music education for the many, I am excited to see Liz’s work grow as she furthers her portfolio career alongside teaching. She really has made a huge difference to so many fledgling musicians along with empowering many ‘non-instrumental learning’ students to foster a lifelong love of music (we’ve an amazing music lead in our trust due to Liz’s sterling work). Bravo to Liz!

Sally Cathcart

Sally Cathcart

From the Oxford Piano Group to the Piano Teachers Course, co-creating the Curious Piano Teacher’s Community to writing the lovely and incredibly useful Ready to Play, Musicianship Piano Books. Sally Cathcart‘s books are a perfect companion in piano lessons to ensure children develop musicianship skills such as pulse maintenance, improvisation, inner hearing as well as singing. This is all alongside writing, researching, teaching, and training. Sally must be recognised for her many decades of service to piano teachers. What is so important about Sally is her understanding of, and passion for, the work piano teachers do within a bigger picture of service to the whole community. Always moving her work forward, she is heading out to Finland for the International Society of Music Education conference 2024 this summer alongside co-editing with Dr Christopher Fisher the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Piano Pedagogy. Thank you, Sally, for years of wonderful work.

Victoria Proudler

New Talent – Victoria Proudler (writing)

Victoria Proudler has produced some wonderful first solo publications with her Music Grades are Go published by EVC publications. Brilliant at writing with the intention of producing good piano technique, I hope to see more of Victoria’s work in the future, not least as a Trinity Examiner – hopefully they may utilise her talents in a future piano syllabus. There’s also lots of empathy in her piano arrangements, a real talent. Thank you, Victoria, for all you are doing! I’m excited to see your work moving forward.

Greta Gasser (lecturing)

And finally, the youngest of the wonderful women listed here is Greta Gasser. Working in private practice, as a visiting music teacher and as a lecturer (and mentor) in piano pedagogy at RNCM. Greta’s teaching (I’ve seen and experienced it in action) is creative, musically inspiring and packed with empathy. Greta is currently working on a Music and Art Education charitable project in Romania to bring music to underprivileged children. Thank you for the time you have spent with me Greta sharing your many thoughts on piano teaching – and all you do for your students – you are an inspiration.

Sally Daunt

And lastly we must recognise Sally Daunt, this year’s lifetime achievement award winner for the Music Teacher ‘Music In Excellence Awards’. Sally is a former secondary school head of music, instrumental teacher and performer. She has been music teaching now for 62 years, giving her first piano lesson when 15-years-old. A beautiful human being who has touched the lives of so many in her teaching career and continues to do so! Below is what the judges said about Sally. Thank you, Sally. Your service as a woman in Music Education has been truly majestic!

“The judges agreed that Sally’s work in supporting those with learning differences in the music education sector was extensive and transformative for students. They felt that her outstanding work as a learning support tutor, her work for the British Dyslexia Association Music Committee, for ABRSM and others, and her efforts to support young performing musicians on a regular basis was something that we should celebrate, and all aspire to. One judge said that her ‘unwavering dedication to raising awareness about the transformative power of music for those with learning differences was a real legacy’.”

On International Women’s Day why not celebrate remarkable women music educators in your local area next week via social media? There are an army of women out there doing amazing work! Let’s celebrate as many of them as possible.

About the Author

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is an award-winning educational author, speaker, teacher and workshop presenter. She has over 20 pedagogical piano books to her name, including Get Set! Piano (Collins Music), the Encore series (ABRSM), the Piano Trainer series, and HerStory (both Faber Music). Based in York, she is a practising private, peripatetic, first access and classroom music teacher, with students from the ages of 4 to 60+. She is also a member of the British Dyslexia Association’s Music Committee.


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