Meet Whistling Hens

Dana Lemaster

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Picture by Patrick Lill

Please tell us about your current project and its origins.

We are Whistling Hens®, a classical chamber duo comprised of soprano Jennifer Piazza-Pick and clarinetist Natalie Groom. We perform and commission music by women composers to create a financially and artistically equitable future for women in music. The duo hatched at the centennial of a quote by a male music critic who said of Lili Boulanger in 1918, "women composers are at best whistling hens.” Since 2018, Whistling Hens has commissioned 10 original works, 10 transcriptions, the Whistling Hens Women Composer Coloring Book, and inspired 7 dedicated works.

We met while we were doctoral students at University of Maryland, College Park, and we quickly identified a set of shared values that women in classical music deserved to be celebrated on equal footing with men. For us, this meant that women composers: are performed and programmed as often as men; are commissioned and getting royalties; are included in our music curriculum (which is dominated by white European men); are showcased at conferences and festivals; and are getting recorded.

The two of us were at different moments in our journey towards gender equity in classical music, but our alignment stemmed from a realization that we had so little music by women in our formal academic training and in the professional world.

We became friends and we wanted to find a way to work together, but the combination of soprano and clarinet is an unusual instrumentation so there wasn’t an obvious step forward. Eventually we just said we were determined to find something that would allow us to collaborate! We started performing trios for soprano, clarinet, and piano, while we researched and built a database of soprano and clarinet duos. In the summer of 2019, we were part of an artist residency cohort at Avaloch Farm Music Institute, where we had one week which focused exclusively on building Whistling Hens as it is today. That experience really solidified the concept and launched us into who we are now – an ensemble that performs, commissions, and records music by women composers.

We’ve accomplished a lot in just five years, two of which were pandemic-ridden. In 2022, we were awarded Chamber Music America's esteemed Classical Commissioning Grant with composer Kate Soper. Chamber Music America has been good to us – we also received CMA's Residency Partnership Program Grant in 2020, which brought a series of interactive, collaborative, and socially conscious programs to seniors at Collington Retirement Community during the pandemic. And in 2023, we were the recipients of the inaugural Iranian Female Composers Association (IFCA) Award in partnership with composer Mojgan Misaghi.

We were excited to release our debut album, Reacting to the Landscape, in 2022! It includes nine works by seven living composers, and seven of the pieces were written specifically for us. For that endeavor, we were supported by Maryland State Arts Council, the Women’s Giving Circle at Georgia College & State University, and faculty grants from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Georgia College & State University. Beyond that, we’ve also been supported by the Women’s Committee at Collington Senior Living Retirement Community, Awesome Without Borders/The Harnisch Foundation, and the M-Cubator Grant for Entrepreneurial Projects.

Do you have any mentors or sources of inspiration?


I am constantly inspired by my students! One of the reasons I found myself researching women composers was because I wanted my students to see themselves in the music they were learning. Every day, they inspire me to keep finding ways to be a better singer and educator. My mentors have often been my colleagues. I find they are constantly challenging me to become a better musician, artist, educator, and entrepreneur.


I’m lucky to have had so many supportive mentors throughout the years—professors, both from applied music lessons and in academic classes, conductors, colleagues, and friends—that helped shape me into the confident, proactive person I am today. Their mentorship towards my personal, musical, artistic, composition, and business development has fundamentally shaped who I am.


We love this question because whenever we are asked, our individual answers match in that we both are inspired by each other! We’re certainly in the mutual admiration club. And our work together continues to be fed with inspiration and excitement from the composers we meet, interact with, and collaborate with. When you can see the face behind the music you’re performing, it instills a deeper appreciation for what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Tied to that is the inspiration we take home from the many festivals and conferences we participate in, particularly those that uplift the work of women: Music by Women at Mississippi University for Women, Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Boulanger Initiative’s WoCo Fest, Darkwater Womxn in Music Festival, and National Women’s Theatre Festival.

What parts of your work do you enjoy most? Why?

Related to our thoughts on what inspires us, we love working with living composers. We especially love helping launch someone’s career by providing them with commission funding, recordings, letters of recommendation, and anything else we can help with to contribute to their longstanding success.

What are your favorite things to do when you have free time?

Eating grilled cheese sandwiches, drinking Aperol Spritz, and watching The Golden Girls.

Are there any dream projects you’d like to pursue?

It’s on our wish list to explore more interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities, particularly now that things have started to reopen in a more pandemic prepared world. Music, dance, art, science, food… any way we can intersect interests with others adds value.

In spring 2023, we had our first collegiate residency at Smith College, where we performed a recital and read and recorded student compositions. We will be doing another residency of this nature at Metropolitan University of Denver in April 2024. This interactive, educational work is an area we’d like to build. It’s such a joy to work with young composers. From the composition side, it’s wonderful to be able to hear your music with real life human beings, rather than the midi recording from a computer.

And lastly, we are eager to record another album! Through the Noble Fellowship at Queens University of Charlotte, we will be able to record in the summer of 2024 with a release date in 2025.

How can we contact and support you?

We’ve got a pretty extensive web presence, so our website ( is a great place to start to discover what we are up to; send us a note if you’d like to connect with us. Our Linktree will always have the most recent news and events handy: And we have a monthly (ish) newsletter folks can subscribe to to stay in the coop.

As far as support goes, sometimes folks will email us and say “have you heard of X composer? You should check them out!”; or they might send a donation towards our work through our website (not tax deductible); or they might share news about a grant we might consider applying for, or a music festival or conference. With the launch of our album, we’re always looking for ways to get press coverage through interviews such as this (thank you!), album reviews, and likes/shares/mentions on social media. So there are many shapes and forms “support” takes as it relates to Whistling Hens. Beyond that, just being cognizant of women in music and being an advocate is the best entry point. We appreciate you!

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