Brilliant Facebookers suggested I actually write a letter to the editor of Choral Journal rather than just venting my gall into the internet void.
Dear Ms. Bumgarner:
I was glad to see Josh Palkki’s thoughtful and sensitive article about issues of masculinity in adolescence relating to choral music. His specific advice for choral conductors about how to take on the role of mentor and advocate for boys without inadvertently disrespecting girls was helpful and well-informed.
I’d like to point out a larger issue for ACDA members to consider.
If boys are avoiding singing in choruses because they fear being perceived as feminine (and many are), then the real “gender trouble” keeping boys out of choir is systemic sexism.
Of course boys don’t want to be seen as feminine when girls are treated like they are stupider and have less potential than boys.Of course boys wouldn’t want to be perceived the way that girls and women are: as sex objects, useless unless they are physically attractive. Of course boys don’t want to grow up to do or be anything like a woman when she is paid less than her male colleagues.
If we want boys to feel comfortable with “feminine” activities like expressing and perceiving emotion, using their voices with nuanced inflection, and listening with careful attention, we need to destigmatize femininity.
This is an enormous issue, and choral conductors can’t fix it on our own. But we can do our part.
We can do our part to show boys and girls alike that women can be strong, smart, educated leaders, equal to men in every way, by putting women on podiums in performances so that their strength and leadership becomes visible. ACDA has lots of women in leadership positions that involve “behind-the-scenes” work and administration; but we need to go out of our way to highlight women’s musical leadership in performance.
For all of ACDA’s history, only about 25% of the conductors on conference concerts have been women. Go through your programs of past conferences and do the math (I have!). You’ll also see that most of those women are conducting in the “women’s work” ghetto of children’s choirs and women’s choirs, which are often seen as less prestigious than college choirs and mixed choirs. This is not a pattern that encourages anyone to see women as strong, educated leaders with the same potential as their male colleagues.
Mr. Palkki suggested some great ways to open the choral experience to the spectrum that is “masculinity.” But we also have an opportunity — and, I propose, a responsibility — to show children that femininity means strength, intelligence, versatility, leadership, and prestige.
More people will definitely want to be a part of that.
Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Music
Western New England University