Ava Ordman has been playing trombone for more than half a century. For 24 years, she performed as principal trombonist with the Grand Rapids Symphony, and during her tenure there she recorded Donald Erb’s Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra.
She later maintained work as a freelance trombonist after she left her orchestra position to pursue a career in psychology. Currently, she is the professor of trombone at Michigan State University. As a professional musician, there was perhaps only one career highlight missing: releasing her own solo CD recording.
“I thought, if I don’t do it now, when am I ever going to do it?” Ordman said.
Ordman finally crossed the item off her list in Feb. 2017 when she released It’s About Time. The CD features music for solo trombone written by women composers. On Jan. 7, Ordman performs selections from the recording at the Grand Rapids Art Museum as a part of the Sunday Classical Concert series.
According to Ordman, the CD’s title holds a double meaning.
“It’s about time that I released a solo recording, and it’s also about time that the work of some of these composers was performed and recorded,” she said.
Most of the selections on It’s About Time have either never been recorded or recordings are scarce.
As a woman trombonist, Ordman felt that her first solo recording would hold more significance if she presented works by women composers. The project also impelled her to take her musicianship to new heights.
“People are beginning to find a wealth of women composers and wanting to present them,” Ordman said. “For so long, recital programs would be filled with the standards. Now, many musicians are finding we can be more creative and push our musical boundaries when we bring a rarely performed or new piece to life.”
When choosing repertoire for her recitals over the years, Ordman made an effort to include women composers. In 1993, she performed Karen Thomas’ Four Delineations of Curtmantle as an International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC) guest artist. She later discovered Ida Gotkovsky’s Concerto for Trombone. Returning to the IWBC in 2014, she performed a A Caged Bird, a commissioned work by Barbara York.
All three of these works appear on It’s About Time, but the quest to discover works for her project wasn’t without challenges.
“It was hard to find trombone music by women composers,” she said. “I tried to find pieces that spoke to me — ones that I felt I could bring a voice to.”
Andrea Clearfield’s River Melos, originally written for low horn, was one such piece. Ordman worked with Clearfield to arrange the composition for trombone.
“I don’t want to say there’s a shortage of women composers,” Ordman said. “Today, women are increasingly looking at composing as a career option because they see it as a possibility for life in music. It’s more about a lack of awareness.”
Other female musicians are doing their part to surface works by women and give them a platform to be heard. The all-women Castalia Quartet performs at the GRAM on Feb. 11. The quartet makes it their mission to discover and perform music by women composers.
“A lot of music written by women composers is lost or never performed,” said Leslie Van Becker, who is principal viola of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Ordman’s former colleague. “We have found some really wonderful music written by women. Learning about their lives has been particularly eye opening.”
Natalie Mannix, assistant professor of trombone at the University of North Texas, made a recording called Breaking Ground: A Celebration of Women Composers around the same time that Ordman created her CD. Between the two, Ordman and Mannix did not repeat any of the same pieces and only shared one composer — Lauren Bernofsky, whose work Ordman will perform at her concert this month. The two trombonists are currently giving joint recitals across the country, a collaboration that Ordman calls their Nasty Women Trombone Tour.
Since the release of her CD, Ordman has received messages from many professors thanking her for presenting new material that their students can consider performing.
“It’s a nice sign,” she said. “I don’t think of them as women composers — I think of them as wonderful composers. This recording has certainly helped me to think differently about the music I present.”
Music by Women Composers
Jan. 7, 2 p.m.
Grand Rapids Art Museum
101 Monroe Center St. NW, Grand Rapids
Free with museum admission
artmuseumgr.org, (616) 831-1000