This month’s Choral Journal has a cover story on “Gender Trouble [insert Amelia’s excited squee that CJ will be addressing gender disparity!]: Males, Adolescence, and Masculinity in the Choral Context” by Joshua Palkki [insert inevitable disappointment that the gender with trouble is apparently dudes. Again. Still.].
Getting guys to sing in choir is definitely a thing. And the article is nuanced, addressing the spectrum that is “masculinity,” and teaching musicians the language of gender and sexuality. There are specific instructions for ways conductors can make choral ensembles welcoming places for all boys — including the idea that you can’t just say “oh, singing’s not feminine! It’s very manly!” because that implicit repudiation of femininity is misogynist. It’s a good article.
There’s one huge thing missing.
If boys are avoiding singing to avoid femininity (and many are), we need to destigmatize womanhood in the wider culture. Making boys feel more comfortable with emotions is just one of the many, many ways everyone benefits from a society where all genders are valued equally.
Who would want to do anything perceived as “girly” when girls and women are objectified?
Who would want to be anything like a woman when women make less money than men?
Who would want to participate in a big group of girls when girls are treated like they are stupider than boys, and have less potential?
Boys will never, ever want to be part of a mostly-girl activity as long as being “feminine” also means being stupid, weak, powerless, harassed, objectified, and underpaid.
So, I applaud Joshua Palkki’s thoughtfulness on the subject of the gender spectrum and inclusivity. Hurray for socially progressive choral conducting! But, in the big picture, the “gender trouble” keeping boys away from choirs is systemic sexism.
You know what could help a boy see women as strong, educated leaders? Seeing one on the honor choir podium — not just over in the “woman’s work” ghetto, conducting the youngest kids and treble choirs, but in front of advanced singers of all vocal ranges.
Shout-out here to SWACDA, who have more women than men honor choir conductors, including two conductors of color, with a man conducting the youngest kids, and a woman conducting the men’s choir:
Still got a white dude in front of the most advanced singers, but this is definitely progress.
On a related note, the Women Composer’s Festival of Hartford Fall Fundraising Campaign has one more week to go. Our Director, Gala Flagello, is a composition major at the Hartt School; and her most recent update to the page is a beautiful and funny statement about what it means to fight implicit associations. Have a read! And consider making a small gesture of support toward gender equality in music making!