Karin Pendle, a pioneering scholar of women in music and a mentor to many

Karin Pendle low resShe was a soloist with Cincinnati May Festival and edited “A City that Sings” on Cincinnati’s choral history

Karin Swanson Pendle was a pioneer in the scholarship of women in music and a professor who inspired legions of students at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

For many, she was a mentor. Personally, it was through her groundbreaking course on women in music at CCM that I became acquainted with the breadth and depth of women’s contributions to music. It became a passion that continues to this day. Although Dr. Pendle was a demanding and sometimes formidable professor, she was also fiercely supportive even while pushing her students to achieve their highest potential. If we ever displayed self-doubt, she was quick to remind us that “you have a brain,” always encouraging us to think, dig deeper and find our own answers.

“Her praise was rare, but precious,” said musicologist Jennifer Thomas.

Dr. Pendle died on Dec. 9 at Twin Towers in College Hill, Cincinnati. She was 80.

Dr. Pendle edited and wrote a chapter for “Women and Music: A History,” one of the first textbooks ever printed on women’s roles in music when it was published in 1991 by Indiana University Press. She also edited the textbook’s second edition, published in 2001.

It remains an invaluable survey of women’s activities in music performance, composition, teaching and patronage from the time of ancient Greece to the present day, illuminating achievements by women that have been largely invisible through the centuries.

Some of the women featured in the book include Maddalena Casulana (1544-90), an Italian composer of madrigals and the first woman to publish her own music; Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-96), who, besides being the wife of Robert Schuman, was an influential composer, concert pianist, singer and teacher; and Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), English composer of “Der Wald,” the first opera by a woman to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In one of her more recent contributions to the field, Dr. Pendle and Melinda Boyd co-edited an equally indispensable research guide, “Women in Music,” now in its second edition (Routledge, 2010).

Dr. Pendle also was an accomplished mezzo-soprano who performed as soloist with the Cincinnati May Festival in Music Hall in 1981, 1984 and 1986. She began singing at age 8, in the children’s choir of her Minneapolis church. She performed in choruses with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the London (Ontario) Symphony and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

She also performed significant research on Cincinnati’s own musical history. Dr. Pendle was editor and wrote a chapter for “A City that Sings: Cincinnati’s Choral Tradition 1800-2012,” a comprehensive, richly illustrated chronicle that coincided with the World Choir Games in 2012. For that project, Dr. Pendle collaborated with her husband, Frank Pendle, and two of her former students, Craig Doolin and Catherine Roma.

Her firm but approachable editorial hand is evident throughout.

“As copy editor, Karin was nurturing and, although a stickler for uniformity, allowed me to be my own author,” Doolin said. “She was a great mentor and her influence survives in her many students and their writing.”

In addition, she was a noted scholar in the area of 18th- and 19th-century French opera, with books including “Eugène Scribe and French Opera of the Nineteenth Century” and “L’opéra-comique à Paris de 1762-1789.”

Dr. Pendle’s tenure as a Professor of Musicology at CCM began in 1976 and she retired in 2004. During her time at CCM, she served as President of the UC Association for Women Faculty and as head of the College Music Society’s Committee on the Status of Women. In 1991, she joined the faculty of UC’s Center for Women’s Studies summer institute, “Re-reading Intellectual History: Integrating Women’s Social and Political Theory in the Undergrad Curriculum,” which received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

When the Center for Women’s Studies approached her to teach a course on women in music, it was one of the only courses of its kind in the country to be offered in conjunction with a women’s studies program.

It was common for her to support her students’ work, not only during their degree programs, but beyond, as well. When Catherine Roma was a doctoral student at CCM in the 1980s, Dr. Pendle was the only woman faculty member in three areas: musicology, theory and composition.

“Dr. Pendle was a life raft for me at CCM during my doctoral studies,” said Roma, founder of MUSE, Cincinnati women’s choir. “She supported me in ways that nurtured me as I moved through the challenges. She was honest, tough, and fair. She gave me my first church job, she supported MUSE from its very start, she guided through my dissertation as my advisor, was head of my committee, provided support when my dissertation was published, asked me to contribute a chapter to her internationally recognized book ‘Women in Music.’ And, yes, she supported my prison choir work.”

Dr. Pendle was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota international music fraternity and served as a faculty advisor.

Born in 1939 in Minnesota, Dr. Pendle earned a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from the University Minnesota in 1961, followed by a Master of Music in music history from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1964. She earned her Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Illinois in 1970.

Before joining the faculty at CCM, Dr. Pendle taught music history at Oberlin College (1965-69) and was an assistant professor of music history and applied music at the University of Western Ontario, now known as Western University (1970-76).

Dr. Pendle was preceded in death by her husband, Frank Pendle, and is survived by her brothers, Alvin and George Swanson.

Services have been held. If desired, memorial contributions may be made to Hope Lutheran Church, 4695 Blue Rock Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45247 or Twin Towers Pastoral Care Fund.


8 thoughts on “Karin Pendle, a pioneering scholar of women in music and a mentor to many

  1. Thanks for this beautifully written tribute to this influential and courageous scholar and teacher. Many of us owe her a great debt.


  2. I am very sad to hear of the passing of Karin Pendle. She was truly a pioneer in recognizing women in classical music. So much is happening now with ensembles finally bringing works by women into their programming. Prof. Pendle is one of the foremothers that we must remember — her groundbreaking work did so much. For her generation, it was like Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s statement, “We are sowing winter wheat, which the coming spring will see sprout and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy.” Now we are beginning to see the harvest. Liane Curtis for Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy http://www.wophil.org

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karin Pendle helped so many of us to enter musicology or other professional music fields. Her feminist research inspired countless follow -up works, including my own. There were very few books or articles on women when she published Women and Music. So grateful to have had her as advisor, mentor, and friend. Let’s not forget her dry sense of humor! Some of her comments still make me laugh. Rest in peace, Karin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s