New Lecture Series Offers Unique Perspectives

First year of student-run Women in Music Lecture Series sets the stage for yearly event.

MSU Assistant Professor of Musicology, Marcie Ray shares her experience, challenges, and rewards of a life in music academia.
Professor of Music Education Cynthia Taggart was also featured in the inaugural season of the Women in Music Series.
Sandra Snow, MSU professor of choral conducting and music education talked about her work as a female in choral conducting. Photo by Sundeep Dhanjal, The State News.

As a K-12 teacher and choral conductor for 15 years, Molly Murdock worked tirelessly to ensure that no student ever undervalued their abilities because of their gender.

So when she began her graduate studies through the MSU College of Music, Murdock was taken by the lack of confidence she sometimes saw in female students, particularly those she taught at the undergraduate level.

“It was disheartening because it wasn’t played out in their actual abilities,” says Murdock, a master’s student in music theory. “Many of my female students underestimated themselves and thought their peers were doing better. It made me think that something really needed to change.”

Murdock looked around, and then she did some self-reflection. She realized that maybe she could be the one to help effect change, that she could lead a charge to boost academic confidence in women undergraduates.

“I thought about all the wonderful women mentors I have had at MSU,” Murdock says. “Then I thought if I could arrange a way for them to talk with these young women in some way, it would make a big difference.”

Murdock’s idea quickly took shape and became what is thought to be MSU’s first lecture series on women in music. She invited educators from the College of Music as well as other universities to participate, offering them an hour to share their perspectives and encourage dialog on challenges facing women in academia and music. Within weeks, she had four women on the books, with talks scheduled to run from November 2015 through May 2016.

Originally targeted toward undergraduate female students in the College of Music, the series attracted a broad audience of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, and men and women—from many corners of campus and community.

“For the first lecture, we didn’t know what to expect,” says Assistant Professor of Musicology Marcie Ray whose teaching focuses on music, sexuality, and gender. “I thought it would be an intimate crowd of students who already knew the kinds of things I teach and research. Much to our surprise, Hart Auditorium was packed with students, faculty, and even a few members of the community.”

Professor of Music Education Cynthia Taggart also embraced the idea of the lecture series. She spoke on gender imbalance in higher education and the reasons behind that imbalance, as well as the joys and challenges of being a woman in academia.

“Anything we can do to make students and faculty more aware of issues related to gender equity in higher education can only benefit the College of Music,” Taggart says. “This series gives women in the College strategies for advocating for themselves as well as role models who have successfully navigated being a woman in higher education.”

MSU professor of choral conducting and music education Sandra Snow was also among featured speakers, and said the series addresses the significant contributions of women to music—both past and present.

“It is means of raising awareness within the College of Music, particularly when women have been underrepresented historically as composers, conductors, performers, and scholars,” say Snow “These lectures have generated lively conversation and has been well attended by both women and men.”

For Murdock, the lecture series exceeded her expectations. She recently began transitioning series leadership to College of Music graduate students Lynnsey Lambrecht and Katherine Denler, who will take the reins when Murdock graduates in May.

“My hope is that this series will continue to facilitate the dialog between students and professors about what it means to be a woman in academia,” Murdock says. “I’m always looking for strong female role models, so being able to hear them speak was empowering for me, too.”

In addition to Ray, Taggart, and Snow speakers through the inaugural Women in Music Lecture Series included Joyce McCall, postdoctoral scholar and visiting assistant professor of music education at Indiana University; Alexis Bacon, MSU assistant professor of composition; and Melissa Hoag, associate professor of music theory at Oakland University. The series will continue in 2016-2017 with speakers lined up and to be announced. 

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