Boulanger Initiative’s WoCo Fest 2024 “Evolve”, co-presented by Strathmore, takes place from April 12-14 at the Mansion at Strathmore and AMP by Strathmore. I asked Laura Colgate, co-founder of the Boulanger Initiative, to detail for us the exciting events at the Festival. 

First a quick word about Boulanger Initiative. What is it? Why did you co-found it? How has it progressed since the time of its creation? How do you think the acceptance of women in music has progressed in the past few years? 

Boulanger Initiative (BI) is a not-for-profit organization I launched alongside my co-founder Dr. Joy-Leilani Garbutt in Takoma Park, Maryland in 2018 to champion music created by women and gender marginalized composers.  

We founded BI in response to the realization that music composed by women was underrepresented by music organizations of every size and type across the industry, from film scores, to textbooks, to concert seasons of major symphony orchestras, and degree recitals of music students. This underrepresentation perpetuates a damaging myth that women have historically created little of artistic merit. The vision to create a more equitable and inclusive musical landscape, coupled with Joy’s and my shared passion for researching and performing music composed by women, sparked the partnership and the creation of our organization. 

BI has so many programs and projects to offer now, from education programs, consulting services, and regular virtual presentations. The center of all of our programs and projects is the Boulanger Initiative Database, our interactive database, which was established only one year ago, and already has a catalog of over 10,000 works by over 1,300 women and gender-marginalized composers, the largest such database in the world. The Database is designed for everyone – musicians, performers, conductors, students, researchers, educators, artistic administrators, and anyone with a curious mind. By sharing knowledge and resources, BI increases access to works by underrepresented composers, empowering all who wish to diversify classical music programming. The Database has already had a vast impact on the world, with over 66,000 page views and users from 61 countries around the world.  

BI is also creating and distributing curriculums through the Music Inclusion Hub to introduce students to works by underrepresented composers. This program is a collaboration between BI, Castle of our Skins, a Black arts institution, and D-Composed, a Black chamber music collective that celebrates Black culture and creativity through the music of Black composers. This partnership aims to provide educators and lifelong learners with culturally responsive pedagogical tools and provide youth with a musical experience that truly embeds (and normalizes) racial and gender inclusion at all grade levels. Through Music Inclusion Hub, BI released “Beyond the Box: Baroque-Era Women Composers Curriculum Guide” in January 2024. The curriculum guide brings to life women and gender-marginalized composers and musicians who have been historically relegated or excluded in standard music history textbooks. This is the first guide of a series that will focus on different eras in music history. Take a moment to check it out at this link. 

When we work to create a truer picture of what music is, and who can create it, we believe that everyone benefits–performers, composers, students, educators, new audience members, and seasoned concertgoers.  

BI exists to give access to better and more resources to make this progress happen at a faster pace. Awareness around the lack of education, programming, and support for gender marginalized composers has certainly increased over the last few years, which makes me wonder why we’re not seeing more progress. How is it that on average major US orchestras are still only dedicating around 2% of their annual concert programs to music by non-living women composers? There is so much incredible music by these composers that isn’t getting recognition! The shift is happening, certainly, and we have to keep working to speed up the pace. 


I’m excited just reading about the WoCo Fest 2024. It’s all happening at Strathmore Music Center and the Mansion, April 12-14, so it’s a compact 3-day festival, and easy to attend, and just chock full of exciting concerts and events. The theme is “Evolve” did you come up with it? 

This year’s WoCo Fest theme is Evolve, allowing the audience to experience the evolution of music spanning centuries, from a Baroque ensemble to a collection of all-new jazz standards, an interactive sound installation, and so much in between.  

The opening concert, held on April 12 at AMP by Strathmore features the world-premiere performance of a newly commissioned work by BI by Thalea String Quartet, as well as performances by Amanda Gookin and local DMV-based musicians including Arco&Aire, Be Steadwell, Tallā Rouge, National Philharmonic Youth Mentorship Program, and Washington Master Chorale.  

The following Saturday, April 13th, is a ticketed, pay-what-you-can event and includes a day of musical exhibitions, live composer workshops, and engaging discussions on issues facing women composers.  

The final concert on Sunday features jazz legend Terri Lyne Carrington. Terri Lyne is a four-time Grammy Award-winning drummer, producer, and educator, and has performed on more than 100 recordings spanning her 40-year career. She has worked tirelessly to fight for inclusivity and elevate the voice of women, trans, and non-binary jazz musicians.  

Our annual festival allows BI to exemplify what is possible by programming the works of women and gender-marginalized composers. While so much of BI’s work is off the stage throughout the year to focus on education and research, this festival highlights what’s possible now, by a relatively small arts organization, to spotlight the diversity of composers, past and present, to encourage other presenting organizations and artists that not only is it possible and that they are more than capable to ensure their programming is diverse, but is inspiring and joyful work.  

Are you only presenting new music? 

No! With the “Evolve” theme for this year’s WoCo Fest, we will be presenting performances and conversations around music composed centuries ago up to the present. 

Who should attend the festival and why? 

WoCo Fest is for everyone! The festival features the music of women and all gender marginalized composers, performed by world-class musicians, panel discussions with industry leaders, composers, and musicians, and generative opportunities for music professionals and students to network. It is both a celebration of marginalized musical communities and an idea incubator for all those interested in engaging in meaningful and authentic DEIA work in the arts.  

If you can’t attend all three days, which would give you the best overview? 

Saturday for sure! Saturday takes place throughout the Strathmore Mansion and is a pay-what-you-can price, starting at $10. Local food trucks will be present right in front of the mansion, allowing anyone to stop by Strathmore, even just for food.  

Composer and sound artist Sky Macklay’s Harmonitrees will be displayed inside the Mansion, which is an interactive sonic and kinetic installation of inflatable harmonica-playing sculptures that can be played with a pedal by anyone, regardless of musical ability. Audience members can come and go as they please and walk around the mansion for the unique sonic experience.  

Exhibitor booths will be set up and feature local and national equity organizations such as Ebony Music, Women in Music DC, Washington Women in Jazz, Key of She Jazz, Sleepy Puppy Press, Aubrey Bergauer’s Run It Like a Business, and people can even sign up to get free headshots with M3 Mitchell Media & Marketing! 

Performances will take place starting at 1:30pm in the Music Room, with performances by Baroque ensemble Musica Spira followed by composer/cellist Andrea Casarrubios with a cello quartet playing her pieces. Then Sky Macklay’s music for Ghost Ensemble is playful and virtuosic, asking the players to duet with her kinetic inflatable sculptures and converse with a sexy-voiced A.I. The final performance is pianist Sarah Cahill, whose program takes you on a journey through the evolution of piano literature, with works by Baroque composer Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, Romantic composer Louise Farrenc, 20th century composer Margaret Bonds, contemporary composer Theresa Wong, and more, followed by a reception for everyone. 

Friday and Sunday’s events at AMP will also be livestreamed for anyone who can’t make it in person! 

What do you hope attendees will gain from the festival? 

One more student learning about a female composer they had never heard of one audience member hearing a new piece of music composed by a woman, one gender marginalized composer who has their music performed! WoCo Fest makes all of these come together in a joyful way, and we leave the festival every year with a strengthened community, full hearts, ignited curiosity, and beautiful music swimming in our heads. 

What are some of your favorite highlights? 

It’s so hard to choose! I’m really excited to have Be Steadwell at the opening concert on Friday, April 12th, as well as a newly commissioned piece by BI being premiered by the super fun Thalea String Quartet. The opening night is always a ton of fun and includes a huge lineup of local musicians and artists.  

Saturday will be jam packed with amazing activities and events, and I’m really looking forward to all of the performances, but I also can’t wait for the other fun activities. I’m especially looking forward to having our inaugural Composer Workshops which are process-based, exploratory music workshops offering women and gender-marginalized composers the extraordinary opportunity to workshop their ideas in real time in front of a live audience and hear their works-in-progress performed by the incredible musicians of Thalea String Quartet. These workshops are a safe space for composers to try out ideas which may or may not work and to take artistic risks that could lead them in an exciting new direction. It's also a thrilling opportunity for the audience to watch the creative process, so often behind-the-scenes, at work in real time. 

Also on Saturday, Aubrey Bergauer will present a workshop exploring ways that arts organizations can achieve success across creating places of belonging for our customers, places of psychological safety for our artists and administrators, and places that live their values internally and externally. Aubrey will also hold free consulting sessions for people who want to sign up to ask her anything! 

I am also beyond thrilled to have the amazing Terri Lyne Carrington and The New Standards for the final concert on Sunday, April 14th at AMP by Strathmore. She is such a trailblazer in the music industry in so many ways, and it’s going to be an incredible way to finish out WoCo Fest this year. There will be a pre-concert discussion with Terri Lyne, and a celebratory reception after the show for everyone to mingle, eat, drink, and celebrate! 

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and thanks for your work and dedication. 

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