Composer Masterclass, Three World Premieres, All Part of Cathedral Choral Society’s ‘March of the Women’

Chorus aims to address inequity of women’s voices in the field of music composition. 

WASHINGTON, DC - This year, the Vienna State Opera will present the first opera composed by a woman in the company’s 150-year history. In 2016, the Metropolitan Opera offered its first work by a woman since 1903. Closer to home, the Cathedral Choral Society has a nearly 80-year history of commissioning new works and only a handful have been from women composers. Coinciding with the commemoration of women’s suffrage, the Cathedral Choral Society has taken a long, hard look at their record of championing women artists as well as the inequity present in the field today.

The Cathedral Choral Society, one of the largest choruses in the United States, aims to address the inequity of women’s voices in the field of music composition.

The initiative goal is to increase the representation of – and among - women’s voices in the field of composition. The planned three-year initiative will launch with a weekend of events on March 21-22, 2020, culminating in a concert entitled ‘March of the Women.’ 

March of the Women’ takes its name from a work by the composer and suffragist Ethel Smyth, who was the first woman to have her work premiered at the Met in 1903. In addition to works by Smyth, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Ruth Crawford Seeger, the Cathedral Choral Society will premiere three new works by composers Augusta Read Thomas, Jessie Montgomery, and Lisa Bielawa. 

On Saturday, Dr. Thomas will lead a masterclass in composition for young women composers from the region, and Jenny Bilfield, President & CEO of Washington Performing Arts, will moderate a panel with all three composers and Joy Leilani-Garbutt, a co-founder of the local Boulanger Initiative.

On Sunday, patrons can enjoy a pre-concert talk led by Cynthia Drakeman, CEO of DoubleXEconomy, followed by the performance of ‘March of the Women’ in Washington National Cathedral. 

The Cathedral Choral Society has received significant support for the weekend’s events from the National Endowment for the Arts, the DC Council on the Arts & Humanities, and several private and corporate donors. 
Tickets are required for the March of the Women concert; reservations are recommended for the masterclass and the panel discussion. Visit for more information, or call (202) 537-5510.

Schedule of Events 


11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Location: Live! At 10th and G

Sponsored by AchieveUnite Women’s Leadership Education Program for Women in Business

In a discussion ranging from the compositional process to working in the me-too era, three women composers share their insights from different stages of their own career trajectory. Lisa Bielawa, Jessie Montgomery, and Augusta Read Thomas have each established a voice and a presence in a male-dominated field; hear from each about her journey and process. Joy-Leilani Garbutt from the Boulanger Initiative adds her perspective as a leader in research on women composers. The panel will be moderated by Jenny Bilfield, CEO of Washington Performing Arts. This event is free of charge, but reservations are required. 

2:00 – 4:00 pm Location: Live! At 10th and G
Curated by Laura Colgate & Joy-Leilani Garbutt of the Boulanger Initiative  

Sponsored by the Nepeni Foundation and the HMF Beaudoin Family Foundation 

One of the most celebrated composers and teachers of our time, Augusta Read Thomas will share her knowledge and scholarship in a masterclass setting. Four young women composers will have the opportunity to bring their works to life with Casey Cook’s Artifice under the watchful eye of Augusta Read Thomas, a University Professor of Composition at the University of Chicago.  This event is free of charge, but reservations are required. 

4:00 – 5:30 pm  Location: Live! At 10th and G 

Show your support for all the young artists! Join us to meet all the composers, singers, and conductors involved in our March of the Women project. 


Pre-Concert Talk
4:00 – 4:30 pm Perry Auditorium, Washington National Cathedral
Moderator: Cindy Drakeman, CEO, Double X Economy 

5:00 pm
Washington National Cathedral
Cathedral Choral Society & Orchestra Steven Fox, Conductor

Funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To mark the 19th Amendment's 100th anniversary, Cathedral Choral Society has commissioned three new works by some of today's most exciting composers: Lisa Bielawa, Jessie Montgomery, and Augusta Read Thomas. Featuring a range of powerful female voices, the program includes Ruth Crawford Seeger's ethereal Three Chants and famed British suffragette and composer Ethel Smyth's rousing March of the Women

Composer Jessie Montgomery’s work I Have Something To Say imagines a conversation between Sojourner Truth and climate activist Greta Thunberg, and calls for a children’s chorus in addition to the adult chorus and orchestra. 

Augusta Read Thomas’ work, Far Past War, draws text from the poetry of her sister, Cammy Thomas, and is dedicated to their grandmother, who marched for women’s suffrage. 

The concert will include a performance entitled I Wish to Say by Sheryl Oring, through which community members can dictate postcards to the next President (real or fictional); typists use manual typewriters for the postcards, each of which will be actually mailed to the White House. To date, nearly 4,000 postcards have been sent. 

Lisa Bielawa composed her work Voters’ Litany on the texts of some of these. Before the concert and during intermission, patrons are invited to dictate their own postcards at one of the tables set up in the Cathedral expressly for this purpose. The piece does not focus on the qualities or identities of the Presidents and candidates addressed (these encompass all sitting Presidents and Presidential candidates in primary and general elections since 2004), but on the emotional reality of American people in relation to their elected leaders. 

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