Reflecting on the International Women's Day event at the National Concert Hall and the announcement of the NCH and STF Partnership Initiative

International Women’s Day 2018 offered an opportunity to reflect on some of what has happened in the past year with Sounding the Feminists. Following on from early meetings, the STF Working Group was elected and established in April 2017 to work on behalf of a much larger movement: a community of people (composers, performers, song-writers, sound artists, educators, musicologists, administrators, promoters, sound engineers, etc.), women and men all dedicated to improving gender equality and diversity in the music sector across the island of Ireland.

On the 7 March 2018, on the eve of International Women’s Day 2018, Sounding the Feminists and the National Concert Hall announced a joint five-year initiative, financially supported by the Government’s Creative Ireland programme and the NCH. The Working Group is thrilled to collaborate with the NCH as a flagship national institution.

From the start, the Working Group has been conscious of the need to champion the diversity of women musicians in Ireland who are active in various genres as composers, performers, song-writers, sound artists and more. An eclectic range of performances at the IWD event at the NCH showcased a sample of the talent the country has to offer. Sabina Higgins was the guest of honour. Among the highlights of the night were performances from: soprano Síobhra Quinlan who, accompanied by harpsichordist Solomiya Maksmyiv, performed excerpts by the Baroque composer Antonia Padaoni Bembo; the Musici Quartet, who played Dvorak; they also accompanied, Loah, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, who acknowledged the combined influence of her Irish and Sierra Leonean heritage on her work. Addresses by NCH Chair Maura McGrath, Minister Josepha Madigan, NCH CEO Simon Taylor, RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes, and STF Chair Karen Power all stressed how crucial it is to mentor and champion women in their careers by developing policies and taking concrete steps.

Musician Eleanor McEvoy (also an NCH Board Member and IMRO Chair) and actor Lisa Dwan gave personal, moving speeches that testified to why gender equality must remain on the cultural radar. McEvoy wore black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement, while both she and Dwan related sexist experiences and sometimes harrowing abuses they had suffered throughout their professional lives. On what was simultaneously an occasion for sombre reflection and celebration, they balanced dark stories of misogyny against lighter anecdotes. McEvoy, a multi-instrumentalist with a music degree, wryly recalled the tale of how a male associate tried (and failed) to mansplain transposing instruments to her. She highlighted how journalists sometimes assumed she didn’t write her songs, how sound engineers had tried to silence her in the studio. Dwan’s keynote speech pivoted between performance and manifesto. The Beckett specialist delivered a feminist monologue, an oratorical tour de force which moved more than a few to tears and roused the room to a standing ovation. Ultimately, the evident, collective strength of all guest speakers and performers made this launch an uplifting, powerful event bound to inspire more thought, creativity, and action.

Laura Watson

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