By Marcia Dunscomb, Interim Music Editor

In August 2021, a message was sent to all music members inviting comments and suggestions about creating a forum for them to communicate with and support each other. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and has laid the groundwork for continued networking.

One of the challenges is that some branches have only one or two music members, which limits the events and activities a branch can sponsor. Another challenge — though also a blessing — is the variety of musical levels and styles represented by our members. Compositions designed to teach specific skills to a first-year piano student are difficult to program alongside an opera aria or an orchestral work or a country or Western song.

Performing, printing, publishing, recording, and marketing all present unique challenges. There is strength in working together nationally, so that’s the plan for moving forward.

Many of us reached a level of success during a time when technology was vastly different. My first compositions were penciled on music manuscript paper. Today I use Finale for a more professional looking product. Recording to a cassette recorder has now been replaced by creating YouTube videos, but brings problems such as lighting, camera angle, sound production, and other issues. And we have not even mentioned the choreographers, conductors, recording engineers, and many other creative allied music professionals who make our success possible.

The first invitation yielded about 40 questions from 26 members. The questions were then sent out to all the music members, asking for answers. Members expressed hope that NLAPW could find ways to support us better. Those who have achieved a high level of success have generously shared their knowledge and expertise. Personally, I learned a lot.

Some of the questions and answers follow, but first, here’s a sample of the useful advice presented by members.

Gail Smith (Fort Lauderdale): Never give up. You must have persistence. Find a need and fill it.

Ida Angland (Greenwich): Pen Women musicians and conductors can help each other by letting our contingent know about posts that will be coming available. Let’s improve our referral sisterhood.

Joan Cartwright (Boca Raton): Get your songs on a piece of paper. Learn Finale or another notation software product. Put your music in a book and publish it online. The individual songs can be uploaded on platforms like,, and

Lee Paine (Greenwich): For Pen Women to survive, we need to attract younger members and reach them online.

Elizabeth Lauer (Yucca): Don’t be lazy! Learn Finale or something like it. Don’t be at the mercy of some scribe.

Questions and Answers from Pen Women Music Members Forum

What are the best ways to get your works published and on platforms that provide broader exposure? 

Lauer: Arsis Press has published some of my chamber music. Carl Fischer published other works. The publishing arm for the Society of Composers published a set of songs on James Joyce’s poems. I’m currently looking into a firm called Sheet Music Plus.

Cartwright: In 2006, I published “In Pursuit of a Melody,” an anthology of my memoir, poetry, compositions, photos, and lectures copywritten altogether. I used Trafford Publishing for the first print. Then, I found, where I published 14 books, including three poetry books and my song book with 41 songs and lyrics to seven songs by other composers. I also have a page on Facebook.

What is the best practice for collaborations between a lyricist and composer, etc.?

Lauer: The best practice is to choose a text that’s in the public domain. All else involves negotiating.

What opportunities does your NLAPW membership offer that brings music artists together to play and create?

Cartwright:  Some of the NLAPW composers joined my organization (Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc.) and we have a monthly Zoom with members who compose music.

What’s the easiest music composing software on an Apple or PC computer for a technophobe?

Lauer: Finale

Marcia Dunscomb (Atlanta): Finale. There are several versions. I purchased the least expensive one, which has served my purposes well.

Cartwright: I used Finale to create the lead sheets for my songs that are in the “Joan Cartwright Song Book.”

What are the benefits of having your music published?

Cartwright: Other people can learn, perform, and record your music.

Lauer: Having it available, basically, via the internet.

Are there drawbacks of having your music published?

Cartwright: No. The drawback is that, without publishing, your music will disappear.

What are the challenges women face in the male-dominated field of music?

Angland: The New York Times recently revealed that there are now zero women conductors heading the top 25 percent of orchestras in the United States. It’s simply much harder for women to be appointed to these posts.

Cartwright: See my doctoral dissertation. I outlined six keys for success for women musicians.

What advice do you have for younger women entering the world of music performance (or composing or arranging, etc.)?

Lauer: Be assiduous and constant in developing and maintaining your skills.

Cartwright: For years, I practiced piano daily. You need talent and skills to negotiate the musical terrain. Business courses and books on accounting, time management, and contracts will help you get jobs, fulfill them, and get paid. You must navigate the music industry as a business person and an entrepreneur. Know that it’s the music business.

Where does your music come from?

Halide Smith (Sarasota):  My music appears to me in many different forms: in my sleep and when I’m awake, and sometimes it even gives me the key signature or title of the music! I can also create music for special occasions.

Dunscomb: Most of my compositions are the result of a student needing to master a particular skill. A composition that fits the student’s current skill set and features the new skill helps us reach that goal.

Cartwright: My music happens when I’m playing the piano. It happens when I hear a melody. If I’m walking down the street, I have to run home and sit at the piano and spell the song out. I might write a blues song on the spot from something funny that occurred. I hear a song when the birds are singing. There’s a plethora of ways I can capture a song.

What has the most influence over your musical creativity, Self or Spirit?

Kay Williamson (Cape Canaveral): Spirit has been my creative force in not only music but also in writing novels. It has been both exciting and humbling, and I often feel I shouldn’t take credit for the outcome because I feel someone is writing or composing through me.

Cartwright: My music sprang from personal relationships. I write love songs and protest songs against abuse. My spirit is in each song I write. But most of the scenarios are mundane and temporal, like “Treat Me Right (And You Don’t Have To Marry Me)” and “I Don’t Want Nobody’s Husband.” I wrote two gospel songs, “The Glory Road” and “Music in My God.”

How can Pen Women support each other?

Cartwright: Our monthly Zoom meetings with Women in Jazz in South Florida composers has produced several benefits, from advice to collaborations to private lessons with master musicians. Perhaps the NLAPW musicians can do a similar meeting with performers and composers. Also, there can be more visibility in the monthly magazine from Pen Women.

What is a viable, if not best, route for publishing one’s music?

Cartwright: I shopped my books and music with labels, publishers, and filmmakers to no avail. Self-publishing was the best route for me. has been my platform since 2009. I like the way my books look there. They’re available in hard cover, soft cover, and ebook formats. I can price them wherever I’m comfortable. I can place bulk orders at a deep discount and sell them at my presentations for a great profit. Self-publishing took the pressure that other companies place on authors and musicians off the table. I dictate how many books I need to sell. I regulate the price of my products. I’m in charge.

How do you promote your work?

Cartwright: I promote my books on my website and social media. The downside is that I’m not a
No. 1 bestselling author that I understand some authors become through Amazon. Can we begin a database for competitions for composers? Those of us who become aware of some could contribute what we know. Also a database (or other such resource) for mentors in orchestration, composition, or the field of music coaching. Since the majority of branches have so few music members, might NLAPW consider a national “branch” — online — that is for composers (or musicians) as a way to have the support of our peers?

Lauer: One can join SAI or SCI or other such groups. These have listings of competitions.

Dunscomb: It feels as if there is a strong desire among our music members to continue to communicate, support, and network. Let’s build on this.

Barbara Routen (Tampa): I love what the Pen Women in Connecticut did during quarantine—they arranged Zoom meetings and invited all music members to gather online and share resources, information, encouragement, and other support. Perhaps continuing something like that on a regular basis could help all PW musicians, since there are relatively so few of us.

What are the steps that you take in order to produce a CD of your music?

Lauer: A recording devoted to just my music came about as the result of a competition.

Dunscomb: I have a CD recording device that can record directly from my electric keyboard or from a microphone.

Cartwright: My first CD was co-produced by me and my pianist, Giovanni Mazzarino, in 1995 in Sicily, Italy. We paid $10,000 for studio time, musicians, lodging, and meals. We recorded in two days. This CD was the first direct-to-digital recording in this state-of-the-art studio in Catania, Sicily. It was an exhilarating experience. The musicians were masters of their instruments.

How do you market your music?

Cartwright: On my website, blogs, newsletter, radio podcast, YouTube videos. I sell books at presentations. My books are always available to the public through my bookstore at

How do you make money as a music composer?

Cartwright: I applied for a grant to perform my music in schools and in the community. I won several grants of $2,500 to $5,000 and engaged many members of my organization and other musicians.

Is there an easy and safe way of having your work copyrighted?

Cartwright: Yes,

If one’s songs are registered as unpublished works and are under copyright protection, and then are published or produced on a CD or a website, is there value to re-register the sound recordings of these songs?

Cartwright: If each song is copyrighted, there is no need to register the CD. If there are new compositions, you need to copyright those.