Women in Sacred Music

A little over a year ago, I began research on a concert I want to present on contributions of women to church music.  As a catholic, I had never encountered ANYTHING in the hymnals that had been written by a woman,  As I began digging in various songbooks from other religions, I discovered an amazing amount of music which women had written; and many of them are standards for non-catholics.  However I also discovered that when the music was written by a man, they printed his entire name, but for women then used her initials and her last name.  One woman in particular wrote over 400 hymns; and the publisher eventually asked her permission to stop putting her name on her hymns, because the hymnal was starting to look as if it had no songs by anyone else in it. 

While it was gratifying to discover the contributions of women in other denominations, I simply couldn’t believe there had never  been any music written by women.  Then I discovered Hildegard of Bingen from the 1200’s.  She not only composed beautiful songs, she wrote longer works, she was a feminist,  and was an acknowledged expert on medicinal herbs whose books on the subject are still used today, and had sacred visions which she not only notated, but drew so people could know what she saw.  In all my years as a church singer, I never heard her mentioned, and it is a crime!  To have such beautiful chants available which were written in a woman’s vocal range, rather than the low register used in men’s chants is an incredible gift.  As I write this I am watching a new movie on the life of Hildegard, made in Germany, called “VISIONS”.  Patricia Rutledge (Hyacinth from Keep Up Appearances) did a short film years ago about Hildegard, but this new version is far more detailed.  Just this past October the Pope formally declared Hildegarde a Saint–even though she has been called St. Hildegarde by everyone else even in her own lifetime–they like to take their time about these things. 

I feel even more moved to go forward with my concert this year.   The picture accompanying this blog is from her sacred drawings.Image


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