Making Music

My mission as a composer is to be a storyteller through music.


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17-year-old Jessy McCabe from London, England was shocked to discover that not one of the 63 works she was expected to study for her Music A-Level exam was written by a female composer -- so she decided to do something about it. Thanks to this Mighty Girl's determined campaign, the Edexcel exam board has announced that they have updated their curriculum -- which is used widely in high schools across the UK -- to include works by multiple women composers! When she initially noticed the disparity, Jessy thought that it would be quick to resolve. “Earlier this year, I was part of an in-school gender equality and leadership program for young women [by Fearless Futures]... which looked into the way in which we are desensitized from noticing the lack of representation of women across different aspects of society,” she says. So she e-mailed Edexcel, whose mandate advocates that students “engage in, and extend the appreciation of the diverse and dynamic heritage of music” to point out the absence of women from the A-level music syllabus. “I thought the lack of women was simply a mistake, an oversight, as clearly their aim cannot be fulfilled without the representation of women.” To her dismay, Edexcel’s head of music responded with an e-mail, saying that “Given that female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter), there would be very few female composers that could be included.” Jessy refused to have her concerns so summarily dismissed. While she agreed that “female composers aren’t as well known as their male counterparts (unsurprising as women composers are rarely studied in schools),” she pointed out that “BBC Radio 3 managed to do a whole day of programming of female composers to honor International Women’s Day. Surely, if BBC Radio 3 can play music composed by women for a whole day, Edexcel could select at least one to be a part of the syllabus alongside the likes of Holborne, Haydn and Howlin' Wolf?” Jessy created an online petition and social media hashtag, #just1woman in response; both of which quickly gained support. She also wrote open letters to key decision makers and urged them to change the A-level syllabus to ensure “that girls are freely able and inspired to become composers, to enrich the A-level syllabus and to ultimately ensure that women’s works are valued, as they should be.” In the face of growing public pressure, Edexcel relented and Jessy received a personal apology from Mark Anderson, Managing Director of their parent company Pearson, and an assurance that the course will change. In December, Edexcel announced that the new curriculum includes set works by the five composers: Clara Schumann, Rachel Portman, Kate Bush, Anoushka Shankar and Kaija Saariaho. In addition, they have added twelve works by other female composers to their collection of listening pieces. “We took on board feedback from Jessy and a range of experts to ensure we found the right balance,” Anderson said when announcing the change. “We are keen to ensure diversity is reflected through the qualification and we hope schools and students are pleased with this outcome. Jessy deserves recognition and congratulations for her successful campaign.” For her part, Jessy is thrilled by the progress being made due to her campaign efforts: “The syllabus is now more diverse, inclusive and representative, allowing young people across the country to engage with a greater variety of composers and works." Congratulations to Jessy for her successful campaign to bring the works of female composers to music students across the UK! To read more in the NY Times, visit If you'd like to introduce children and teens to the oft-neglected stories of female musicians and composers, you can find many books in our "Creative Arts" section at One of the composers featured -- who will now be included in the curriculum thanks to Jessy's campaign -- is pianist and composer Clara Schumann. To introduce young readers to her remarkable story, we highly recommend “Clara Schumann, Piano Virtuoso” for ages 9 to 12 at Adult readers can also learn about her extraordinary life in the excellent biography "Clara Schumann" at If you'd like to encourage your own Mighty Girl's interest in the arts, check out the resources in our blog post "Growing Creativity: 40 Arts and Crafts Toys for Mighty Girls," at -- or browse our entire music section at And, for an inspiring new book for teens filled with practical advice on how to make change on issues they care about, check out "Be A Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters" for ages 12 and up at

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