Women in Music: An Interview with Patricia Leonard

When one thinks of composers throughout history, certain names come to mind immediately. Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi are all household names for music fans, and they all have one thing in common—they are all men. Women throughout the history of music have been largely overlooked. If they were even permitted to perform or compose at all, their names are absent from many textbooks and the minds of the general public. Even today, in an era of progressiveness and social change, women are still the minority in the world of music.

Composer Patricia Leonard knows this all too well. An Everett native from a non-musical home, Leonard grew up in a world where there were no women in music, and with no one to look up to.

“I didn’t know any famous female composers, I didn’t know any female pianists. Because I didn’t have a role model, I didn’t feel like I understood what a path could be. There was no clarity, and there’s something about feeling like you’re in the dark, as exciting as it is, that’s kind of frightening.” Leonard stated. “If you don’t have the giants in music that are women…if it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t seem like an option. I’m sure it’s true for other fields too. How many women don’t go into science because men have all of the great minds and mentors in sciences?”

The lack of female role models and the unpredictability of a career in music led Leonard to study psychology at Merrimack College, hoping to find interest in a more stable, more practical field.

“I thought, at least the way people think is interesting, I could make a career out of that. That landed me a job in finance, and it was one of those things…I could have profit sharing and never worry about money for the rest of my life, but I feel like my soul is dying—it needs to be fed, and this isn’t it” Leonard explained.

Despite initial trepidation, she then quit her day job, returned to school at The Boston Conservatory of Music, and eventually journeyed to New York City to study under Pulitzer Prize–winning composer David del Tredici. Since her move to New York, Leonard’s music has premiered at New York’s Carnegie Hall, The Stella Adler Theatre in Los Angeles, Symphony Space and Merkin Hall and in New York, and the Boston Conservatory among many other venues. Patricia’s most recent work, “My Dearest Friend–The Letters of John and Abigail Adams” premiered in Boston on October 3, 2014 and featured soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Abigail Adams and baritone John Moore as John Adams.

Following her years of success and years of refusing to let her gender hold her back in a male-dominated field, Patricia now has ample words of support for other women looking to break into the music scene.

“Start the revolution,” Leonard said. “We don’t have enough women composers, and I would definitely smile on my deathbed knowing that there was someone out there that was as famous as Beethoven.”

Women should never feel discouraged from following their dreams or pursuing their passions, regardless of what that passion may be. Ms. Leonard shows us that although following your dreams may be challenging, doing what you love will always, always be worth it. Music allows the world to connect through creativity and self-expression, and women deserve to be—need to be—part of this mode of self-expression.

“Follow your bliss,” she encouraged. “I hope you’re the one.”


For more information about Ms. Leonard’s career visit her website or like her Facebook page!


Image Credit: Patricia Leonard