I commented on a ChoralNet post this morning asking about gendered performance attire for singers whose gender identity does not match their genitals.  It happens to coincide with a lecture I’m giving today.

I write about feminism and the importance of my femininity in my leadership and musicianship sometimes.  Today I’m doing a lesson in my Intro to Music class about the tendency to assign gender labels to nongendendered things, and using melodies to illustrate the point.  A melody is, of course, not inherently a thing with gender, but there are some tunes that seem to be “guy” music, and some that tend to be “lady” songs.  (I already wrote about Implicit Associations, so won’t discuss that any further here.)

You see, my Intro to Music class touches a little on history and analysis of music, but mostly I use those things as a vehicle for talking about how music functions in society to reinforce or break down what we we know and feel, who we are, how we act.  Also, I use it as an opportunity to listen to as much good much as possible.

To that end, I’m asking my students to tell me songs they perceive as masculine and feminine.  As soon as we untangle their perception of the singer’s gender from their perception of the music itself, we’ll discuss the characteristics of what they consider masculine and feminine.

Then I’ll play them this:

Seriously: click the link, go listen.  It’s a two-minute excerpt of Chichester Psalms.  Yummmmm.

And how much do I love my job that I get to listen to music like this every time I teach a class?  I am lucky, lucky, lucky.

Anyway, Leonard Bernstein totally knew there were masculine and feminine aspects to a melody (consciously or not, doesn’t matter), and he gives the men a thing to sing, and the women a thing to sing, and they conform to their respective gender expectations.  Then he has a third option take the lead: a man who sings in a range that is typically a woman’s.  Hello, Leonard Bernstein busting up the gender binary!

And, the beauty thing about this particular performance is that not only does the music itself–and the arrangement of exactly who sings what–support this yin-yang, mutual-interplay-of-opposites perspective, but then we have on the podium the drool-inducingly wonderful Marin Alsop–a woman of such power and intensity that she stands as counterpoint to the countertenor in demonstrating the point Bernstein (inadvertantly?) makes about gender and power.

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One Response to masculine/feminine/other

  1. Allen Simon says:

    The solo in the middle movement is typically done by a boy soprano; it’s not really as gender-bending as you seem to imply. Anyway, it’s not like countertenors had never been written for before!

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