Old Women Need Not Apply

I turn 44 this week. Normally the change in age doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel any older or wiser. It just is. This year feels different even though 44 is not a milestone for anything. I am simply more aware of age because everywhere I turn, I am excluded because of it.

When I began music composition lessons at age 37, I knew I would be competing against younger composers half my age. Though I have some life experience, I still knew that I would be trying to catch up in many ways. Adult life has a lot of responsibilities. I don’t have the time or space to let creative juices flow like a 20-year old. I have kids to worry about, a marriage to nurture, bills to pay, students to teach, choruses to accompany, concerts to play, a house that needs fixing, a yard that needs upkeep, a body that needs attention, friends who need a babysitter. The list goes on. Try fitting learning a new thing into that – a new creative endeavor, no less. But I did. I spent the money, and I spent the time.

Little did I know that I wouldn’t even be *allowed* to compete with those younger, because I am simply too old. Who decided that “emerging” composers, just getting started, are only under a certain age? That age is arbitrary. Some contests are open to those under 25. some 30, some 35, some 40. I have not yet seen one open to those under 45 or 50, however. I guess by 40 one is truly too old or washed out to establish a career as a composer. When I started studying composition, I had already aged out of most of the competitions that are intended to help new composers get their sea legs.

I can hear the silent voices: “You’re too late. You should have made different choices. You shouldn’t have gotten married or had kids young, you shouldn’t have seen your husband through seminary, you shouldn’t have homeschooled your children, you shouldn’t have put so much time into teaching other people’s kids, you shouldn’t have spent so much time serving other people. You simply didn’t put your career first, you simply didn’t put YOU first, and now you’re paying for it. We’re only here for those who make music their first – and only – priority in their 20s.”

I was particularly disappointed when I came across a contest for emerging women composers, open to all who identify as female. Women-only competitions are nice since women have historically had a harder time getting noticed in the world of music, particularly composition. Women still make up only 20-30% of all composers. But when I read the guidelines, I saw that it was only open to those age 35 or under. That was a kick in the gut. I could be trans, but I can’t be “old.” This competition was open to women, but not those who put their family first, or who for one reason or another came to composition “late” in life. I put “old” and “late” in quotations because it is so ridiculous! Since when is 37 old or late in life?

In an attempt to create a contest benefiting those often excluded and overlooked, these contest creators consciously decided to exclude women of a certain age. You can identify as female, but you must still be the right type of female: young. I complained to this group, but they said they had already published the guidelines and “could not” change them this year. No mention was given regarding a commitment to open future contests to women of all ages. (FYI: guidelines, especially deadlines, are extended all the time. Competition guidelines can certainly be expanded, though not restricted. A new announcement is made with the word “updated.” No big deal.)

A Facebook friend told me I should identify as young. I could get away with it if an internet search would not prove I was lying. I got carded at a restaurant last week. The pic on my homepage was from two years ago. I still have no gray hairs, save a pesky white one that grows out of my chin sometimes. But that’s it. A hand injury two years ago required an x-ray which revealed I have zero signs of arthritis. After forty years of playing the piano, that is remarkable. I have no aches and pains. I have no health problems. I am still active, and I still have plenty of energy. I still argue with those in authority if I feel the need, I still have a streak of rebelliousness, and I still don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. Let’s hope I never grow up.

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