Too Many Frocks?
Gender, Power Dynamics and the Art Song Pianist

Term: 2020-2024
Project Management: Chanda VanderHart
Project Collaborator: Bill Lloyd
Funding: Platform Gender_mdw, IMI

» zum Podcast (mdw-Audiothek)



Women at the keyboard, and women accompanying songs, have been ubiquitous in domestic spheres since the invention of the keyboard instrument. Though a predominantly female pursuit in domestic and salon circles, the professionalization of the art song pianist beginning in the late 19th century inevitably flipped that script, with lasting implications. Today it is situated in a gray space between chamber musician, service provider, and coach / pseudo-conductor. While it is common knowledge that female film directors, conductors and composers are rare beasts today, the prevalence of (white) males at the piano on top stages — despite top educational programs and university staff position skewing majority female for decades — is a surprise to many. In fact, relatively little thought is generally given to the niche profession of the art song pianist in general.

In the interest of changing that, between the summer of 2018 and March 2020 Chanda VanderHart conducted and recorded interviews with leading professionals in the field — primarily pianists but also musicologists, singers and sociologists — were conducted both in person and via zoom in the interest of exploring the marginalized field of art song piano. These professionals, based in Canada, the USA, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, England, Belgium and the UK included Graham Johnson, Carolyn Hague, Thomas Hampson, Kathy Kelly, Anna Tillbrook, Anna Bull, Anna Ronai, Elvia Puccinelli, Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, Jonathan Ware and Deirdre Brenner and combined both well-known names and working professionals with less international traction. Thanks to funding from IMI at the mdw, former BBC producer Bill Lloyd was brought on board. He took care of sound and editing, and refined the narrative of what became a seven episode series available via spotify, sound cloud and apple podcasts and archived in the mdw-Audiothek. The upcoming second season Gender, Marginalization and the Art Song Pianist, nine further episodes, was made possible by funding by the Stabstelle Gleichstellung, Gender Studies und Diversität and IMI.

Narrated, written and conceived by pianist and musicologist Chanda VanderHart with the technical expertise and valuable assistance of BBC producer Bill Lloyd, the complex power dynamics, structures and hierarchies within the field are examined in detail through a critical lens, drawing primarily on extensive interviews with industry leaders including Kathy Kelly, Florian Boesch, Roger Vignoles, Thomas Hampson, Graham Johnson and Jean Barr, renowned scholars including Anna Bull and Natasha Loges, as well as dozens of pedagogues and practitioners. 

Publications & Related Work

Too Many Frocks was the unofficial soundtrack for the “Lied the Way” retreats in 2022 and 2023 for female collaborative pianists, where VanderHart was part of the career panels along with Pauliina Tukiainen, Susan Manoff and Myra Huang. She has been invited to teach, lecture and lead panals on gender and diversity in the field by the Britten Pears Association in Suffolk, UK, the International Conference: Women at the Piano 1848–1970 at the University of California, Irvine and at the International Keyboard Collaborative Arts Society (CollabFest) in Texas. “Too Many Frocks” was selected as a featured podcast by the National Association for the Teaching of Singing (NATS).