Alice Shieldscomposer

This is a graphic menu; if you cannot see it, use the text navigation at the bottom of the page

What the Press is Saying


"Primer to Three Major Noh Theater Productions Arriving in New York City This Fall"
Article by Mike Lala (the slowdown)

"Two winters ago, I picked up a copy of Penguin Classics' Japanese Nō Dramas, a volume of two dozen translations by Royall Tyler I'd been meaning to read since tearing through Yukio Mishima's Five Modern Noh Plays a decade previous. I had moved into a New York City gem (an apartment with a fireplace), and with Covid cases skyrocketing and temperatures dropping, I decided that a winter fireside with a handful of centennia-old ghost stories (cat in my lap, or reading aloud to a friend) might carry me away from the pandemic — from Brooklyn, 2020 — to somewhere entirely distinct...."

Click here to read the entire article.

"Operas in English: A Dictionary (Revised Edition"
Margaret Ross Griffel

Margaret Ross Griffel's compendium of operas written specifically to English texts includes mention of Alice Shields' three Odyssey operas: The Odyssey of Ulysses the Palmiped (Odyssey 1) (1968), Odyssey 2 (1970), and Odyssey 3 (1975).

Click here to read the three entries.

"Women in Sound Art: Seven Musical Micro-Portraits"
Article by Sabrina Peña Young (terz magazin)

"The 20th century witnessed an explosion in technology, music, and sound art. Composers like Pauline Oliveros and Alice Shields found the intermeshing of music with technology created an even more expansive orchestral palette, incorporating analog synthesizers, tape, and computer music to create new exciting interactive musical works...Interweaving vocal music, dance, and electroacoustic music into dramatic works of operatic proportions, composer Alice Shields is a bastion in the world of electroacoustic music with an impressive array of complex compositions combining vocal music, dancers, and tape..."

Click here to read the entire article.

"Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States: Crossing the Line by Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner"
Review by Elizabeth L. Keathley (Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture, Volume 13, 2009, Univ. of Nebraska Press)

"On my computer desktop is a photo of the faculty and staff of the famous Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, circa 1970. The six individuals posing for the camera are arrayed in a kind of hierarchy: Milton Babbitt and Otto Luening occupy the foreground, with Vladimir Ussachevsky just behind them, and Mario Davidovsky occupies the middle ground. In the background, right of center, two young women stand close together, looking formal and modest despite the long hair and short skirts typical of the era. The women are Alice Shields and Pril Smiley, who worked in the center as teachers, technicians, experimenters, and collaborators; during the center's most productive period they were two of the four primary instructors in electronic music. Both are prolific, accomplished, award-winning composers of electronic music, yet they never received the status and pay their work at the center warranted, and they are seldom mentioned in the standard narratives of the history of electronic music in the United States, as Joel Chadabe's Electric Sound bears witness. This neglect is hardly surprising: women have worked "in the background" for a common goal in so very many roles and fields, yet for historical and cultural reasons men have commanded the "foreground" and are thus the subjects of history. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner's greatest achievement in Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States: Crossing the Line is to shift background and foreground so that women like Smiley and Shields become the historical subjects and their male colleagues play supporting roles. This perspective shift makes Hinkle-Turner's book more than a compensatory history, adding women to a male narrative; rather, it is a women's narrative, attending to the ways that the particularities of these composers' lives as gendered beings intertwine with their careers, creativity, and community."

Excerpt from Elizabeth L. Keathley, "Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States: Crossing the Line by Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner," Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 13 (2009): 98. Used by permission of Suzanne G. Cusick and University of Nebraska Press, © 2009 Suzanne G. Cusick, All Rights Reserved.

"New York City Opera: Women's Work"
Molly Sheridan (PlaybillArts)

"Though some women may largely have avoided confronting overt discrimination, Alice Shields, also a VOX participant and one of the first women to earn a doctorate in composition from Columbia University, has borne longer witness to the field's evolution in this area. And though she doesn't hide behind her gender, she also doesn't want to hide it.

""I feel it's a big deal," Shields explains, "and yes, composer is what I am, but anyone considering performing music should know that there is this issue, that women are still discriminated against in a very quiet form."

"To her mind, correcting this problem entails not ignoring gender, but being keenly aware of it. She feels that musical organizations need to actively avoid unconscious forms of discrimination. They need to understand that women are composing great work, and if they are not hearing it, they need to search further.

"This may sound like affirmative action, but Shields is unflinching. "In my view, only excellence should be accepted in music, but one has to always be aware in life that every one of us has prejudices. So when looking for pieces to perform, organizations should consider whether they have looked at women's work. I think it's a matter of consciousness raising.""

Click here to read the entire article.

"The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center: Educating International Composers"
Robert J. Gluck (MIT's Computer Music Journal)

Click here to download the article (subscription required).

"Alice F. Shields (1943)
Johann Merrich (on Electronic Girls — Stories from the eclectric days)

"Brilliant mezzo-soprano, Alice begins to mix her voice recording with loops, feedback, oscillators and filter generated electronic music. In 1965 she studies singing with Helen Merritt; in 1968 she realizes Study for Voice and Tape, synchronizing vocal recordings with synthetic sounds on tape created with a Buchla. The blending of electronic music and opera air will be the leitmotif of Alice Shields' research activity..." Click here to read the entire article.

"Women and music technology: pioneers, precedents and issues in the United States"
Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner (Organised Sound, Cambridge Journals, 8 : 31-47) - 2003

Alice Shields is featured in Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner's article on women and music technology in Organised Sound, 8 : 31-47, Cambridge University Press (2003).

Click here for the abstract, and an opportunity to purchase the entire article. class="indentlink"

"Hear Me Now: the implication and significance of the female composer's voice as sound source in her electroacoustic music"
Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner (CEC (Canadian Electroacoustic Community) magazine, eContact!University of North Texas) - December 2005

This lengthy, detailed, and interesting article discusses the music of the author, Christine Baczewska, Alice Shields, and Pamela Z as women composers using themselves as musical sound sources in their electroacoustic works.

Click here to read the entire article.

"Lend Me a Pick Ax: The Slow Dismantling of the Compositional Gender Divide"
Lisa Hirsch (newmusicbox, the Web Magazine from the American Music Center, San Francisco Classical Voice) - May 14, 2008

Alice Shields was interviewed for this article on newmusicbox, which discusses the particular issues facing women composers.

Click here to read the entire article.

Alice Shields' SHENANDOAH

Alice Shields' SHENANDOAH: "A Moving Journey: Dancers stage the immigrant experience"
Ashley Day (Montpelier: James Madison University Magazine)

"A unique opportunity arose when the JMU dance program received a $10,000 grant from Dance/USA — the national service organization for nonprofit professional dance — and the National Endowment for the Arts. Only one institution of higher learning in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., receives this honor each year.

"Thompson drafted the grant around project requirements that called for community involvement in post-performance discussions. "The dance faculty decided to go one step further and make this community the actual content of the project," recalls Thompson. She and the dance faculty enlisted guest choreographer Mark Taylor, whose work in contemporary dance has earned him international recognition, for the project.

"Guest composer Alice Shields describes her creative process. "I consider above all else the emotional impact of their testimonies and the physicality of their words. These are people rich in their souls."

"She named her score Shenandoah, borrowing her signature musical rhythms of India and the Middle East to form a strong percussion line. Creating a mystical sensation, the lingering chords of a lute-like tambura weave through somber and spirited tempos. Large-frame drums pronounce strong rhythmic beats, coaxing Thompson's dancers into each measure. In excerpts from cut-tape recordings, immigrants describe — in their own words — the fears and heartaches they have faced. At one point, a small boy sings a native lullaby, captivating listeners with his sweet, youthful pitch. As each performer fell easily into the trance-like rhythm, his innocent voice blended with the sounds of plucked strings and rattles in the music.

Alice Shields' SHENANDOAH: "Dance portrays life 'In the Valley'"
Joanie Clark (The Breeze/Style: James Madison University's Student Newspaper)

"Audiences will be exposed to a different perspective on Valley culture at the Contemporary Dance Ensemble concert this weekend. The performance will focus primarily on the 30-minute piece entitled In the Valley.

"For the past semester, the dancers have been working with nationally recognized guest artist Mark Taylor and composer Alice Shields. Together with JMU dance professor Cynthia Thompson, they have conducted interviews with 15 immigrants living in the Shenandoah area. These interviews were used as a basis for movement and composure of Shield's original score, Shenandoah, used throughout the piece.

"The incorporation of real stories and real people into the choreography required more time than usual, but all those involved claim that it will make the concert especially intriguing this year. "I think meeting and interviewing the people gave the students a lot to work with as performers," Thompson said. "They are intimately connected to the material."

"During the interviews, the performance's artistic directors recorded the immigrants' voices to incorporate into Shenandoah. Seven different languages demonstrate the valley's diversity and give the audience an auditory taste of valley culture. Taylor choreographed movement based on material from the interviews.

"Compared to the normal time length of five to 10 minutes, In the Valley, is much longer. "It demonstrates the time and struggle that the immigrants felt in coming to the U.S.," senior dancer Beth Bradford said. In fact, almost every element, from the props to the music, is intended to portray the experience of the immigrants uprooting from their homeland and coming to the United States.

""It will be very moving and compelling, especially for the interviewees to hear their story told back to them through both their own words and our own movement," senior dancer Casey Blake said.

""Some people may be fascinated and others may be confused," [Senior dancer Keira] Hart said. "I think it's important just to listen and not to try and find meaning. The sound isn't organized in a coherent story line or narrative, but more a collection of thoughts and memories.""

Return to top of page


"Mark Taylor talks to Lalitha Venkat about creating Dust with Anita Ratnam"

"In April 2001, Indian dancer/choreographer Anita Ratnam and American choreographer Mark Taylor combined members of their companies to create Dust, a 30-minute work with original music by composer Alice Shields. Dust was the culmination of a three-year period of dialogue and experimentation between Ratnam and Taylor focusing on the kinetic and esthetic potentials of mixing traditional Bharatanatyam and contemporary post-modern movement forms.

"How did you work out the choreography process?

""I worked with composer Alice Shields who was a wonderful choice for this piece She's not only a very experienced composer of electronic music, she has also studied Indian music forms, like jathis and thillanas. We wanted to look at the form of the thillana, essentially not to create a thillana as in Bharatanatyam, but look at parts of it, the devotional part, to look and see how we can go to the root of what it means, look at it from our perspective as westerners. We proposed this to Anita and she thought it was a good idea."

""I had a sense of structure, lot of music and sound was established. When the dancers arrived without Anita, we started work with the dancers contributing their own ideas and movement material. So when Anita arrived, we had the rudimentary structure, which we then refined. This is the first version we performed in May 2001. There were subsequent versions with more refinement, answering questions that cropped up. What we will perform now is the second draft post September 11."

"It is important to emphasize the collaborative nature of the project. Anita and I are certainly the people who guided the project. Alice Shields contributed to the structure of the project, the dancers to the physicality. Costume designer Myra Bullington looked at photos of Tibetan monks and peasants and based on that came the colour palette and patterns. The original lighting design is by Barbara Thompson. It emphasised a 10' square area of space, which becomes alternately an altar, a plain space, a kitchen, a porch, a sacred space. The lighting definitely contributed a sense of mystery.""


Columbia Composers
Columbia Magazine — The Alumni Magazine of Columbia University

Experiments in electroacoustic music

"In 1959 [Otto] Luening and his former student Vladimir Ussachevsky founded the Columbia Experimental Music Studio (which evolved into today's Computer Music Center). One of the world's major studios for electronic music, the center gave many eletroacoustic music pioneers their start, including Alice Shields '65GS '67GSAS '75SOA, one of the first women in the field. Shields, currently at work on a biography of Ussachevsky with Isabelle Emerson '56BAR '77GSAS, wrote some of the first electronic operas, including Apocalypse, Shaman, and Mass for the Dead, premiered by the American Chamber Opera Company in 1993. Last year she premiered a computer piece, Dust, composed in ragas with rhythmic patterns from traditional Indian dance-drama."

Click here to read the entire article.

"NewMusicBox asks Anne LeBaron: What do you feel should be the requirements for a composer to be included in the Grove?"
NEWMUSICBOX, The Web Mag from the American Music Center covering American New Music

"When I was invited to comment on what criteria should be met for a composer to gain entry into the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and to reflect upon whether American composers are adequately represented in the current edition, I initially balked. How could I adequately address such a broad question in the course of a few days? What about the increasingly broad definition of "composer," not to mention the complication of "American" composer? My solution was to bypass such roadblocks, and go to the heart of the matter.

"I discovered, in the course of a modicum of research, more than a few glaring omissions from the New Grove II, despite the much-touted expansion in size and the broader coverage (when compared to its predecessor, published in 1980). Indeed, in the introduction to New Grove II, the editors (Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell) point out that the "biggest single expansion has been in the coverage of 20th century composers."

"There are 5,000 entries for composers in the present volume, compared to 3,000 in the 1980 edition. According to the editors, these additional 2,000 entries reflect the representation of composers from more countries, of more popular types of music, and of more composer-performers. Certainly, such growth in numbers represents a kind of progress. Yet, in light of such a monumental improvement, how is it possible to omit composers such as Osvaldo Golijov, Mark Adamo, Derek Bermel, Maria Schneider, Thomas Oboe Lee, Nathan Currier, David Stock, Melinda Wagner, Lori Dobbins, Jane Brockman, Ran Blake, Sebastian Currier, Reza Vali, Nancy Galbraith, Don Byron, Toby Twining, Mary Ellen Childs, Julius Hemphill, John Musto, and Richard Einhorn? (I'll stop at twenty, but there are many more.) Within this admittedly random listing of noted composers, there are achievements galore that would presumably form the basis of criteria for representation in Grove's — visibly important performances, recordings, publications, awards, and prizes, including a Pulitzer. So, what gives?

"Three other individuals will form a nucleus for the core of my argument protesting the omission of American composers who deserve to be included in Grove II...

"The second composer I'll bring into this discussion, Alice Shields (featured in the July 2002 issue of NewMusicBox), was Associate Director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center for a number of years. Not surprisingly, she was also one of the very first American women to compose electronic music, with several "classic" electronic works available on recording (such as the evocative The Transformation of Ani). She has been widely commissioned, recorded, and performed, creating electronic operas — such as Mass for the Dead and Apocalypse (available on CRI) and large computer works for dance — such as Dust, currently touring in India. Her intensive study of Hindustani classical vocal music, and of South Indian rhythmic recitation, has charged her more recent works with a seductive exoticism. She continues to write and lecture about the psychology of music and about electronic music. This past summer, the Santa Fe Opera asked her to serve as a panel moderator for the topic "Electronic Media and the Voice" (with panelists Kaija Saariaho, Morton Subotnick and Gershon Kingsley). As a seminal figure on the American electronic music scene, and an active composer who continues to attract commissions, why isn't Shields represented in Grove II?"

"Paradoxically, Charles Rosen, in his brilliant and erudite review of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (predecessor to New Grove II), in The New York Review of Books (May 28, 1981), remarks that the dictionary is "largely dominated by the Americans." Of course, he's making reference to the scholars who write the entries. About fifteen years later, in an article describing the challenges she faced while writing an entry defining "feminism" for the New Grove II (see "Defining Feminism: Conundrums, Contexts, Communities," in Women and Music, Vol. 1, 1997), Ruth Solie expands upon that claim, noting the dominant presence of American reviewers in the avalanche of reviews in the wake of the 1980 edition. "Like me, reviewers are especially interested in the reflection of disciplinary change in the new edition. A strong American voice is almost universally noted." If this continues to be the case, American writers submitting entries for Grove, along with the phalanx of reviewers critiquing it, should be aware of the discrepancies among composer entries and make an effort to achieve more of a balance. I'm talking about nothing less than musicological activism aimed at leveling the playing field, which should in the long run raise the overall level of a magnificent encyclopedia."

Click here to read the entire article.

Return to top of page

Return to top of page | Return to main Press page

<-- end nested table -->

Home  |  Biography  |  Works  |  News  |  Recordings  |  Alice's Articles on Music  |  Press  |  Contacts