According to Apple, there are currently more than 2.5 million podcasts on its platform, which makes it hard for a new one to stand out. Majel Connery ’01, a musician and ethnomusicologist, believes she has a unique contribution to make, and she has gotten a good boost. Her podcast, A Music of Their Own, released its first six-episode season on Dec. 8, and is now featured on the NPR One podcast app.
The series focuses on women who are striving to stand out in the still-male-dominated world of classical music. That genre is much broader than just Beethoven and Bach, Connery explains, which is why she chose to interview women, who are in most cases both composers and performers, from a variety of backgrounds. Among Connery’s interview subjects are Sarah Cahill, creator of The Future Is Female, a three-volume series of recordings highlighting women composers from the 17th century to today; Nathalie Joachim, a Grammy-nominated composer, flutist, and singer who is currently an assistant professor of music at Princeton; inti figgis-vizueta, a transgender composer working on a project for the Los Angeles Philharmonic who spoke about expressing identity in music; and Wu Fei, a Nashville-based composer and singer who mixes classical and bluegrass styles while playing the guzheng, a Chinese string instrument similar to a zither.
Connery, who already plays and tours with her group, Sky Creature, as well as the “half band, half book club” opera ensemble Oracle Hysterical (see “Classics Rock,” PAW April 25, 2018), credits the pandemic and the chaos of the summer of 2020 with driving her to take on another big project. She began seeking out women in the music business for advice about her own career, but discovered herself drawn into learning more about theirs.
Feeling her way through a new genre, Connery recorded several podcast episodes on spec and sent them to a friend who worked at CapRadio, the NPR affiliate station in Sacramento, California. CapRadio liked it and commissioned Connery to record a pilot, which then broadened into a full season. The station’s public radio connection also got her to NPR’s podcast group.
Reaction to A Music of Their Own has been positive. “These are important, thoughtful conversations. So many surprising, sharp observations,” one listener wrote on the show’s Apple Podcasts page. Connery says that she has heard from mothers who find her interview subjects to be role models for their daughters and plan to listen to the episodes together. But her strongest feedback has come from the women she has interviewed. “Some of them have told me, ‘I have never had anyone ask such probing questions. It was like talking to a friend,’” she adds.
As a woman in music, what lessons did Connery learn from conducting the interviews? “That there are way more women out there than I had any idea of,” she answers, “and they’re all really good!”
A second season of A Music of Their Own is in the planning stages. It, too, will focus on women in music, though its exact musical genre has not yet been determined. For Connery, though, it’s back on the road, as usual doing many different things simultaneously. In early January, she was an artist-in-residence at the Loghaven Artist Residency in Tennessee. Later that month, Sky Creature teamed up with artist Tony Orrico on an art and music installation at museums in Louisville and Knoxville.
All that suits Connery fine. “I love it, dude,” she says of an unpredictable life, on and off the road.