Music and Women provides an unparalleled compendium of information about women's relationship to music and a powerful theoretical model for reconceptualizing this relationship. Author Sophie Drinker was an amateur performer and collector fully steeped in the traditions of Western (male) art music who wondered, almost seventy years ago, "Why do [women] allow themselves to be merely the carriers of the creative musical imagination of men? Why do they not use the language of music, as they use gesture and speech, to communicate their own ideas and feelings?"
For answers, Drinker embarked on twenty years of research that took her around the world and resulted in her major work, Music and Women, first published in 1948. Rejecting the focus of traditional musicology on individual genius, Drinker sought out collective music-making, noting that, "Musical education concentrates on two phases, ability to perform and to create. Whereas we regard music as language, as a means of self-expression to be enjoyed by the amateur and to be an integral part of life."
The volume's material is vast in scope-a survey of women's musical production in contemporary tribal cultures from New Guinea to Siberia, and a thorough review of the history of women in music from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. At once archaelogical, anthropological, and historical, Music and Women posits that at certain times and in cultures centered on goddess worship, women were acknowledged as central to musical life and its creation. Music and Women sets forth Drinker's argument that the "progress" of Western culture has violently torn music from its essential roots in religious and other elemental human experience, and has made each of its leaps "forward" in conjunction with the disempowering and silencing of women. Prescient, ambitious, and exhaustive, Music and Women is a forerunner of much current feminist scholarship and remains the only single source for such extensive cross-cultural information on women's musical lives.