International Women's Day...there and here

March 8. 2011 marks the centenary celebration of International Women's Day.  Each March 8, for the last 25 years, I have programmed a veritable festival of women in music.  I did this for rock, I did it for jazz, and these days, with the help of interns from the Eastman School of Music's Arts Leadership Program, I do it for classical. 

You may be scratching your head, wondering why I would celebrate this holiday that gets so little recognition in the United States.  The answer, especially in light of recent discouraging reports on women in the workplace, is clear:  we do not embrace the musical accomplishments of women nearly enough.  In her day, Amy Beach saw great success with her Gaelic Symphony; it was one of the most performed symphonies in America.  Today, it is a footnote, rarely played...unless you're Arild Remmereit (who has programmed it for his first RPO concert).  But sample, if you will, this email, sent to me by Tammela Platt from the Ukraine, where she is in the Peace Corps:

March 8th marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Here's a brief history of the day from a recent Peace Corps newsletter:

International Women's Day (IWD) was honored the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 1911. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women's Day.

This year, for the centenary, the theme for IWD is "pathway to decent work for women." That means equal access to education, training, and science and technology. So I challenge you to get out there this month -- also Women's History Month in the US -- to celebrate and advocate for the amazing women in your lives!

Now as far as I know we in the United States don't really celebrate IWD. We may acknowledge the day and then move on with our busy lives. But here in Ukraine it's heavily celebrated (as are most other holidays...). We even get two days off from school for it! So because IWD falls on a Tuesday this year, we have this coming Monday and Tuesday off from school and yesterday (Friday the 4th) was devoted to IWD celebrations at school. Read on for details...

The day started with the 3rd class singing to the teachers at our morning meeting and wishing the women love, happiness, and health (these are standard wishes on any special occasion in Ukraine). Adorable. I had received a box of chocolates and jar of instant coffee from my 2nd class -- well, their parents -- on Thursday, so I expected maybe a few more boxes of chocolate from the three classes I had on Friday. NOT SO. Throughout the morning, as I sat in my classroom, pupils came in -- sometimes just a pair of them, sometimes the whole class -- to give me a gift and wish me love, happiness, and health many times. In between these visits all I could do was sit and chuckle to myself at the wonderfulness of it all. I felt so much love from all my pupils! If love/appreciation could be measured in gifts, the grand total for me would be: 8 boxes of chocolate, 8 flowers (total), two coffee/tea mugs/spoons, two boxes of tea, a French press (!), two glass plates, and a Ukrainian handicraft to keep away evil. WOW.

After the bombardment with material items, the afternoon and evening were devoted to celebrating women even more. At 2pm the "Miss Shkoly," aka "Miss of the School" competition began. This happens every year in the 9th-11th forms, and it's a beauty/talent/intelligence contest. Five of the eight contestants are my pupils, so that made it even more fun. The contests were as follows: introduction, Ukrainian traditional dress, talent/hobby, homemade dress, evening gown/waltz. You can see the pictures I took by clicking [] here. One of my 11th formers, Ilona, won -- she designs clothes so basically blew the others out of the water with her talent/hobby -- three of my other (gorgeous) 11th formers modeled her fashions while she talked about them. One of my 9th-formers, Christina -- the school's go-to singer -- got second place.

But the day wasn't over! Last on the agenda was the teachers' Women's Day party, filled with food, drink (for some), dancing, singing, etc. Similar to the New Years' party with little funny contests and many toasts -- this time from the men to the women! -- throughout the evening. I finally got home at 9pm, stuffed with food but filled with happiness and good feelings. This afternoon I'm off to the city -- Chernivtsi -- to have a girls' night with my linkmate Michelle; it'll be our little IWD celebration.

So go out and celebrate the women in your lives.  Kara LaMoure and I put together a bang-up day of music...sans the Gaelic Symphony (alas), and Brenda and Chris will be joining the celebration, too.  While I don't expect I'll get any chocolate, I will enjoy a day applauding musical women across the centuries.  I hope you will do the same.