Feminism

Soapbox: Inclusiveness, and how not to do it

soapbox I wrote this post last September, in the midst of an eventful period in the British barbershop community, but a wise friend talked me down from posting it at the time. She may continue to have her doubts about the wisdom of posting it, indeed, which I can understand, but I’m choosing to do so anyway for two reasons.

First, because whilst the immediate crisis has passed, the issues it deals with have not gone away and there are some points here I’ve not seen in the public debates (though they have circulated to a degree in private ones I think).

Second, as a record of the experience of the events at the point they happened. Looking back at the post, the tone carries considerably more heat than I usually bring to this blog, and I did consider rewriting it before posting to de-escalate the language. But the strength of the reaction is testament to the impact of the events, and whilst the grown-up thing is often to minimise one’s public displays of emotional response in order to maintain diplomatic relations, there is a risk thereby of pretending the damage didn’t happen. So, I’m saying, calmly, this is how uncalm it felt 6 months ago.

On Tag-singing and Gender

bshop book coverThe end of September marked the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my first book. It was another 18 months in production, so we’re a way off the two-decade milestone for publication, but in terms of the shape of my life, the submission of the manuscript is the more vivid memory.

When it came out, the two chapters that got the biggest response from within the barbershop community were those dealing with, respectively, gender and tag-singing. And there are ways in which both of those dimensions of barbershop culture have changed in the interim, and also ways in which they haven’t.

On the face of it, gender would appear to have seen the biggest changes, with the embracing of both mixed barbershop ensembles, and the increasing presence of men’s and women’s ensembles at the same events – whether competing against each other (as in the Barbershop Harmony Society, BinG!, and IABS), or in parallel contests with separate rankings (as in the European championships and SNOBS/Northern Lights joint conventions). My chapter title of ‘Separate but Equal?’ would be less of an immediately obvious choice today.

Inclusiveness, and how to do it: A case study

Last week, international barbershop had some big news: current International chorus champions, Music City Chorus from Nashville announced that they would no longer participate in Dixie District events while the District still kept that name. There have been ongoing discussions about the continued use of the Dixie label for this district over a number of years, and Music City Chorus’s decision came shortly after, and in response to, a decision to retain the name.

For those unfamiliar with the context of this, the Barbershop Harmony Society in the US and Canada is organised into a number of geographically-defined districts, each of which hold their own Conventions and educational events each year. These events both provide members the chance to be part of a musical community wider than their local chapters, and provide a qualification route to compete at International level. (‘International’ originally meant US and Canada, but now includes competitors from associate organisations from around the world.)

Reflections on Influence

The concept of ‘influence’ is central to both academic and informal discourses about music. It serves as an explanatory narrative to make sense of how a particular artist’s work emerged with the particular traits it did. There’s quite a lot written about what it actually means, and how it might work, though in fact most people who talk about influence haven’t read much if any of that literature, and still manage to make sense to each other.

I am going to try not to get too distracted by that bigger-picture stuff today as there is a specific thing I want to reflect on: how discourses about female composers often talk about who influenced them, but rarely seem to credit them as having influence on other composers. Just as women are in the west traditionally named as adjuncts to men, taking their father’s then their husband’s names, our stories about female artists are patrilineal.

Clara Schumann’s Op 6 no 1 – When was it written?

Clara Wieck (later Schumann) published her Op 5, 6, and 7 in 1836, having sent them all to the publisher in August, about a month before her 17th birthday. Op 5 and Op 6 are collections of pieces for solo piano, the former consisting of four character pieces with programmatic titles, the latter of six pieces identified by genre labels: Toccatina, Notturno, Ballade, Pollonaise, and two Mazurkas. Op 7 is her Piano Concerto.

I’m primarily interested in Op 6 at the moment, but it’s worth thinking about all three works together as they were published at the same time, and were being worked on in parallel. We don’t have a lot of evidence about their genesis (no autograph score of Op 6 has been found), but a handful of mentions in Clara’s diary* give us a few date stamps to work with. The catalogue of works in Nancy Reich’s biography is invaluable here; I am once again grateful to the hardcore musicologists who dig down deep and dirty into the source material and process it in ways that make it useful to those of us who come along afterwards with questions.

'The Frozen, Firm Embodiment of Music': Romantic Aesthetics and the Female Form

Abstract

This paper explores two themes in the writings of ETA Hoffmann, Carl Maria von Weber, and Robert Schumann: music as idealized woman, and philistinism amongst actual female musicians. It argues that these writers deploy these tropes as part of a general campaign to raise the aesthetic value of music, and, along with it, the social standing of musicians. In the context of the changing patterns in labour and domestic life during the early nineteenth century, the activities of composition and instrumental performance were discursively positioned as inherently masculine as a means to secure their desired status of middle-class professional.

For the background to the paper, see my previous blog post


Introduction

In the long crescendo of the nightingale's song, the beams of light condensed into the figure of a beautiful woman - and this figure was a divine, magnificent music.1

‘The Frozen, Firm, Embodiment of Music’ – introductory remarks

In the blog post that follows this I plan to publish a paper I wrote back in the last millennium, so I thought it might be useful to give a little context as to why I’m doing this. And as it’s several times longer than my usual blog posts as it stands, I decided to do that in a separate post so as not to make it even longer.

The paper started off as a spin-off from my PhD – a set of themes I noticed as I worked on the section about gendered discourses in music theory and aesthetics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It had no place in my actual thesis, but the ideas coalesced into a separate argument that I took to a couple of conferences in 1994 and 1995. I spent some time over the next few years, when I was teaching at Colchester, developing it with a wider evidence base, and submitted it for publication to a major journal in 1999, shortly after moving to Birmingham.

On the Wisdom of Undine Smith Moore

walkerhillI have been reading Helen Walker-Hill’s splendid book From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and their Music, and learning many enlightening things. Today I’m going to share with you some of the thoughts of Undine Smith Moore. I already knew I liked her music, but it turns out that she was also a percipient cultural critic with many insights to share.

Two particular thoughts leapt out from Walker-Hill’s account, both to do with the way those who are excluded from a dominant culture can have a clearer view of that culture than those who are inside it. I’ll quote at length because the clarity of expression is part of what makes her clarity of thought so palpable:

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