Judith Lang Zaimont is internationally recognized for her music’s distinctive style, characterized by expressive strength and dynamism. A grantee of both National Endowments, winner of the 2015 The American Prize in Chamber Music Composition, and a 2003 Aaron Copland Award winner, she has enjoyed a distinguished career as the composer of over 100 works with performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Camerata Bern, Berlin and Czech Radio symphonies, and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra. She is a renowned teacher (over three decades) and pianist, and the creator and editor-in-chief of the critically acclaimed book series The Musical Woman: An International Perspective. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

Several performances were rescheduled, and one was canceled.  But the London Symphony Orchestra and National Philharmonic pieces did get performed in the second half of 2020, and one performance was circulated online.


Have you been able to collaborate with other composers/artists during the lockdown?

Collaborating goes on long-distance. Commissions and requests for pieces. Class visits and rehearsals via Zoom. I’ll be ‘Virtual Guest Composer’ for the New Music Consortium at [the] University of South Florida in February — classes, interview, concert with 3 premieres.

I continue to compose, and wrote three shorter pieces in 2020, for smaller forces. I am now finishing up a piece for 23 wind, brass, and percussion parts titled “In Praise of HEROES”: a tribute processional honoring front-line professionals in all fields who held fast during [the] darkest pandemic times.


What technology have you used to continue to do your work in a virtual world? Have you used any music or singing apps

I had to learn Zoom (and Skype), and – this week – Zencaster, for various interviews. But since I compose with pen on paper (and have calligraphers around the country who put the music into Sibelius), I’m not that affected in my own work.


Was it a challenge for you, being a woman, in a trade that was dominated by men?

In every university where I taught, I was the only woman in the Theory & Composition Department.  Did it bother me?  Not one whit! I came in with solid accomplishments and real credentials, and I valued both what I, and what my colleagues, brought to the institution.  If others had any kind of issue, it didn’t percolate back to my ears.


What advice would you give young, female composers about entering this industry?

Advice to all composers, regardless of gender: If composing is central to your life, go for it.


You began composing at 11-years-old. It is certain that you are doing what you were born to do. What were your challenges as a child composer?

Just about none. I had the good fortune to be recognized both for my original music and my performance starting from a young age. (Won my first national Composition prize at age 12.) And this has continued over the years.

There was almost no one-on-one study in Composition, so luckily I didn’t have a time where I needed to jettison any else’s misguided teaching.


As a composer, you get to see many of your works in performance. Has there been a moment in your career that surprised or inspired you while watching one of your works being performed? Do you have a favorite composition?

The only ‘surprise’ was having a conductor bow out of a performance at the second-to-last rehearsal — and I foolishly said I’d step in to conduct.  Luckily, the players were on my side — but it was hard! As a result, no more 11/8 bars (!)

Concerning specific pieces, I’d rather pinpoint especially representative pieces — those revealing an aspect of my personality in full: direct, interruptive, bold, sensitive, quieter, reflective, super craft-conscious.

Example pieces:

  • A Strange Magic – String Quartet No. 2  and “Growler” from the wind symphony
  • Serenade and Nocturne (Romantic) from the Violin Sonata-Rhapsody


You are the creator and editor-in-chief of the critically acclaimed three-volume book series, The Musical Woman: An International Perspective. Why did you think this was an important project and why are these books still relevant?

Since the early ’70s, I’ve thought many times about embracing an adjective before the word ‘Composer’ — and there are any number of adjectives from which to choose.  Ultimately I decided that for me the only thing that counts is the noun. But there was a period of c. 20 years in which being described as a ‘woman composer’ didn’t concern me.  

Why?  Because of needing to revise the historical record to include all the women of great musical talent who had been left out!

For many, we “teach as we were taught,” and if you learn the history of music without encountering the compositions of Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, Fanny Hensel,

Rebecca Clarke, Lili Boulanger, or Ruth Crawford Seeger then you don’t really know the true history.  Each of these creators was applauded and honored in her own time – and the music has almost entirely now fallen out of repertoire.  — I was appalled.

Added to this: Music critics of our own day were not really dealing with the music written by living composers who were women –they seemed to get stalled trying to deal only with adjectives.  So the music was not being fully appraised and critiqued.

I wanted to halt these two incomprehensible ‘injustices’ — and so I took on the design and editor-ship of a new multi-volume series meant to survey accomplishments of all types by women music professionals around the world. It would give a current snapshot of activities —  Conductors, Composers, Musicologists, Administrators, Coaches, Critics, etc.  — and then delve into particular arenas. I could design the essay topics to scratch all my own bumps of curiosity– and bring on Music Critics to deal with the music of a particular composer. (And I eventually received grateful letters from a number of prominent composers to say thanks for their first substantive creative critique in print.)

I possess many bumps of curiosity, and scratching the one about a bit of “re-balancing” the situation through these books was quite satisfying. Talent knows no gender. 

(One dismal fact from just one of the essays — on how women had fared in performance, composition, and conducting competitions worldwide over a 30-year period: the resulting graphs for women musicians winning composing and conducting competitions are largely flat.)


You have had a distinguished career as a teacher in higher education for more than three decades. What is it about teaching that kept you in the classroom for 36 years?

Individual lessons: Assisting the development of a younger composer to create music of substance, validity, and originality. Watching the evolution of their skill and imagination over time is wonderfully involving.

In classes, matters of craft and career (ex. Orchestration). At the University of Minnesota, I was able to realize a graduate composer’s project I’d devised earlier: a project in collaboration with a team of producers at Minnesota Public Radio. The grad composers each wrote a group of buttons and bridges (usually played between news items). These were first presented to the class as a whole for specific critiques. Surviving ones were then recorded on piano (or two instruments) and sent to the radio producers, with descriptions of each – where they were then critiqued by the producers.  

Word of this smaller group of survivors came back to the class, who then organized and, themselves, produced a one-evening recording session in which these final survivors were recorded for real: everything from solo instrument to moderate-size ensemble. (The studios ran the recording session, and performed.)  This recording went back to MPR, where the producers actually picked a smaller group from the finalists for placing into the station music library.

Then, the chief producer came to a class to present the production team’s response to the music and the entire process. (They enjoyed it so much, we were able to do the project over and over with differing composers and brand-new music each time, over the years.)


What would you say to other artists/musicians that are craving ensemble work and to continue performing for their mental health?

Go for it, by any or all means. (Soundjack, Jamulus, AudioMovers, etc.)– As [a] performer and co-founder with the local chamber orchestra, we’ve had to become pretty creative just to continue making music together. Right now we’re planning an online concert for April, and rehearsals are sometimes by phone, by Zoom, by pre-recording of certain parts, and sometimes in person (!).


Judith Zaimont is equally a distinguished teacher, formerly a member of the music faculties of Queens College and Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory of Music, where she was named “Teacher of the Year” in 1985. She held the post of Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at Adelphi University from 1989-91, and from 1992 to 2005 she served as Professor of Composition at the University of Minnesota School of Music, as well as division chair and Scholar of the College of Liberal Arts. After serving as National Board Member for Composition for the College Music Society (2003-2005), she served a second term on the advisory board of the International Alliance for Women in Music while also serving on the editorial board of American Music Teacher magazine (2004-2007). Since retiring from full-time college teaching in fall 2005, she remains sought-after for master classes and private lessons in composition and orchestration, and is active as clinician, frequent adjudicator and masterclass presenter across the US and abroad.

Equally sought-after as writer and speaker, her articles and essays on various music subjects include an invited address on “Modern America and America’s Musical Women” to UNESCO in Paris (1997), the Keynote Address to the College Music Society in 2006 and to other national conferences in following years,  the 2009 Article of the Year award from Music Teachers National Association for “Embracing New Music” (American Music Teacher magazine), and twelve years as creator and editor-in-chief helming the critically acclaimed book series The Musical Woman: An International Perspective.  (For Volume III she was awarded a major development grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and First Prize in the 1993 international musicology awards, the Pauline Alderman Prizes.)

Zaimont’s original musical compositions continue to appeal to listeners of all ages, and — via live performance, in recording and broadcast on Voice of America — to listeners all around the globe. Major articles on her music have appeared in many professional journals, music dictionaries, and a variety of teaching media (books, recordings, videos), and she is a featured composer in several volumes of the music appreciation text Making Music Your Own (Silver Burdett Ginn), in the Carnegie Hall Centennial celebration volume, as well as in The Popular Guide to Classical Music (Birch Lane Press, 1993). She is also a frequent composition competition adjudicator, and has made an enduring contribution to piano pedagogy in the area of the teaching of 20th-century performance techniques; her “Annotated List of Twentieth-Century Repertoire for the Piano” (in Teaching Piano, Denes Agay, ed: Yorktown Music Press) is a standard pedagogical resource. To learn more about Judith Lang Zaimont, you can read a more comprehensive bio at her website: https://www.judithzaimont.com/.