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Boulanger Initiative Launches Database for Underrepresented Composers

The database offers freely available information on over 8,000 works by 1,200 BIPOC, women, and marginalized composers in classical music


Founded in 2018 by Dr. Laura Colgate and Dr. Joy-Leilani Garbutt, the Boulanger Initiative (BI) is a not-for-profit organization championing music written by women and all gender-marginalized composers through performance, education, research, consulting, and commissions. BI’s new database and partnership service expands its aims of diversifying the classical canon. 

One of two pioneering programs launched by the BI, the Women and Gender Marginalized Composers Repertoire Database (BID) is now publicly available, following years of researching archives, compiling data, and beta testing. Addressing gender disparity in music, the database is an invaluable reference providing those wanting to diversify classical music programming with the knowledge and resources to do so. 

All accessible for free, the database comprises extensive details of over 8,000 works written by 1,200 women and gender-marginalized composers — including non cis-male, trans, and non-binary. To access the database, click here.

A user-friendly resource, BID was designed with artists, students, researchers, educators, and artistic administrators in mind. The current catalog focuses on historical works and curated information from non-living composers, with plans to expand. As an ever-increasing database, users also have the opportunity to suggest inclusions of both historical and new works. An introduction can be viewed below. 



Composers can be searched by country and/or state of origin, or birth and death date ranges. Search options for pieces include: composer names; composition types; instruments, voice types, ensembles; languages (vocal works); duration ranges; ranges for year of publication; and publishers. 

“Building this database is about breaking down barriers,” said BID’s director, Emily Morin. “As a musician, I’ve enjoyed looking for piano music and chamber music composed by women, but always wished it could be a less time-consuming process.”

Future features of BID will include filters for difficulty levels and themes; search functionality using numerical shorthand for orchestral works; and where unpublished manuscripts are located. Additionally, The Boulanger Initiative will add recordings from festivals and concerts where its affiliated composers have performed and presented.

“One of my favorite things about the database that will be available in future phases is being able to limit search results to pieces that have never been published that only exist in manuscript form,” added Colgate, who is also BI’s executive and artistic director. “So if there are people out there who have funding, or are engravers, they can start getting these pieces published for the public.”

“After our initial launch focused on non-living composers, we will begin contacting and working with living composers to ensure that we have their consent to include them,” Colgate explained. “This is a huge undertaking and it will only continue to grow every day, so we have to acknowledge the team, from our research staff and database staff to the many volunteers and interns who made this a reality. 

“In the field, it’s such a rare thing to feel like you’re a real citizen artist making a difference,” she continued. “They are making this difference for gender marginalized composers and musicians who may now see themselves represented, and to audiences who deserve to hear the great music of composers who were excluded from programming because of their gender or race.”

BI’s second new service program is Redefining The Canon (RtC). Aimed at helping orchestras select audition materials and program works by historically underrepresented composers of all genders, races, and ethnicities, RtC supports the programming of more inclusive works and encourages more diverse candidates to orchestral auditions. 

Partnering with and receiving funding from the League of American Orchestras, African Diaspora Music Project, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, National Philharmonic, and Houston’s ROCO, RtC works with musicians of the Orchestral Partners to search for new excerpts. Other partners include the Sphinx Organization.

“With [RtC], we replace some audition excerpts with Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Florence Price, Louise Farrenc, and other underrepresented composers,” Colgate said. “If you want to have a diversified orchestra and have more representation from the players on the stage, then offering an excerpt list that inspires them and reflects their identities and lived experiences makes a difference. Instead of playing Beethoven’s Fifth again, why don't we put something new on there? Why don’t we dig deeper?”

RtC is currently looking worldwide for new Orchestral Partners to join BI in highlighting and performing the works of BIPOC composers and those of marginalized genders. According to the 2022 Orchestra Repertoire Report, under three percent of programs by major U.S. orchestras were written by non-living women composers during the 2021/22 concert season. Other resources to highlight marginalized composers include Sakira Ventura’s map of female composers

BID’s full launch and tutorial can be viewed below. 


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