Women in Music

Suzanne Cusick, Susan McClary, and Lydia Goehr; to name only a few of my favorite feminist musicologists, theorists, and philosophers. Prior to the pandemic, I was thrilled when I’d suddenly find myself riding in an elevator with Cusick (though I was too shy to introduce myself); I was equally grateful to have given Goehr a ride back to her Columbia University apartment from my own institution; and, while I have not yet met McClary, I can likely quote from her brilliant book, Conventional Wisdom, as I’ve read and re-read it so many times. Needless to say when I saw the call for papers for the Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) 2022 Conference, I was scared, excited, anxious, and filled with a “why not throw your hat in the ring” attitude. Because I’m not a trained musicologist, nor a theorist, I couldn’t have imagined they’d allow me to present. Long story short: They did!

According to the FT&M’s mission statement, “The study of music from the perspective of feminist theory raises significant questions that transcend the methodologies of any one subdiscipline of music. Feminist Theory and Music (FT&M) has met biennially since 1991 to provide an international, transdisciplinary forum for scholarly thought about music in relation to gender and sexuality, as well as for performances that present such thought in sound and embodied action.”

So, in addition to some amazing thinkers, movers, and shakers within music history, music theory, performance practice, gender studies, philosophy, jazz studies, and cultural anthropology, while at the 30th Anniversary of the Feminist Theory & Music Conference at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada), I met musicologist, pianist, and educator Anneli Loepp Thiessen. And I feel privileged to have heard her paper, “B is for Beyoncé: Picture Books as a Tool for Intersectional Music Education.”

As described via the conference website:

Feminist education invites students to investigate their own intersecting identities, and opens conversations around the systems of oppression that have led to women’s erasure from various spheres of society (Vickery and Rodriguez, 2021). For elementary music instructors, feminist education mandates a robust acknowledgement of the diverse contributions of women in music. In what Hess (2015) identifies as a “ground up” approach, this content should not be limited by era, genre, race, or ability and rather should encompass women’s contributions to many facets of music. Bound by male-dominated syllabi, an outdated classical/popular hierarchy, and colonial limitations of merit (Ewell, 2020), many instructors struggle to begin this crucial task.

This presentation demonstrates that picture books are a powerful tool for elementary music lessons by highlighting women’s diverse identities and musical experiences in an immersive way. Tough topics such as racism, homophobia, and sexism are made accessible through stories that invite readers to identify their own positionality and imagine a new future (Swartz, 2020). Visual and literary aids provide a resource that captures the nuances of women’s experiences, beyond what a traditional lesson can offer. Books on figures like Ella Fitzgerald (Kirkfield, 2020), Celia Cruz (Chambers, 2007), and Miriam Makeba (Erskine, 2017) compel students to consider the impacts of racial injustice, industry discrimination, and political turmoil on women’s experiences of music making. This presentation will outline how music picture books can be an effective tool for decolonizing education, promoting equality in music making, and illuminating the profound contributions of women in music.

Her children’s book, The ABCs of Women in Music—with gorgeous illustrations by Haeon Grace Kang—is a treasure trove of great female music makers/generators/thinkers. And each page is filled with endless possibilities for music educators to teach nearly each and every aspect of music. Especially ripe for elementary general music teachers—nay, any music educator—all one needs is a little imagination to help catapult a variety of classroom music lesson plans, classroom creativity, classroom publishing, and more.

As described:

Meet Clara the composer, Ella the jazz singer, Selena the pop star, and Xian the conductor!
Women in music are brilliant, creative, brave, and resilient. They are composers, conductors, singers, musicologists, electronic music producers, and so much more … [M]eet 26 remarkable women musicians who collectively span over 1,000 years of music history and represent a diversity of cultures, races, professions, and abilities. Their incredible stories and beautiful work are sure to inspire a new generation of musicians!

 

I cannot recommend this book enough.

Once More: Music Matters Because People Matter

We are living in trying times. Around the globe, people are isolated, panicked, quarantined, unwell, and uncertain about what tomorrow may or may not bring. Despite this, and regardless of social distancing, there are wonderful stories that showcase the unification of spirit and soul. And many such stories include music making and sharing from professionals and amateurs alike.

As experienced via Twitter, Yo Yo Ma stated and shared the following:

Similarly in Italy, and even though the country is on lock-down, people nationwide are coming to their windows to sing. Yes, sing! Singing for those who are at “ear’s length,” singing for themselves, and singing for all of us around the world to communicate that hope and joy are ever-present in the hearts and minds of those confined at home.

 

Also, like the above-mentioned model of Yo Yo Ma, and in order to provide comfort and solace in their community, two young Ohio cellists serenade on the front porch of a quarantined neighbor.

Speaking of confined at home, for public and private school students who are no longer be able to perform school concerts, performances, and musical theater productions, Broadway star Laura Benanti called such students to share their songs with her via social media.

We could provide dozens and dozens more examples where people are coming together via social media through music making and sharing. Let’s not forget music’s potential power to unite, communicate, and transform for good. Even when we are seemingly on our own, we are united and can be even closer. Indeed, while at home practicing social distancing, Pink treats us with her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” As she stated via Instagram: “Free concert slash piano lessons from my heart to yours … To make you feel my love 😍 rehearsals.”

Let’s remember we are responsible for one another, even at a distance…

 

 

Banned Countries and Music

Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Iraq, Sudan—what these countries have in common is that they were, or are, on President Trump’s travel ban.

By way of musical reaction to the travel bans, The Kronos Quartet turned inward and outward and commissioned composers from those banned countries.

Ban a country, and the Kronos’ first response has always been to book a plane ticket and find a composer to entice to write the group a piece.”

Or, they find an arranger to take on the challenge of transforming so-called banned persons’ music. Consider Jacob Garchik’s electric arrangement of Islam Chipsy’s “Zaghlala.”

Egyptian composer and keyboardist, Islam Chipsy, is a classically trained “street artist,” and is one of a three-member group, EEK.  Billed primarily as linked to the electro chaabi and Mahraganat scenes in Cairo, Chipsy’s music marries EDM (Egyptian Dance Music) with an eclecticism that is as unique as it is fearless.

Chipsy’s “Zaghlala” is one of many pieces that is part of the Kronos Quartet’s project, Fifty for the Future—a project designed to reconfigure the landscape and cultural, social, gendered representation of composers and musics known as “string quartets” (a domain traditionally considered Western European):

Drawing on more than forty years of collaboration with prominent and emerging composers from around the world, Kronos is commissioning a library of fifty works designed to guide young amateur and early-career professional string quartets in developing and honing the skills required for the performance of 21st-century repertoire.

Furthermore:

Kronos’ Fifty for the Future … commissioned [an] eclectic group of composers – 25 women and 25 men – representing the truly globe-spanning genres of string quartet literature in the early 21st century. The project compositions are intended to be approachable by musicians of a wide range of accomplishment, from youth ensembles to beginning professionals. Kronos/KPAA has commissioned more than 850 works since it was formed in 1973, but Fifty for the Future represents the largest single artistic and educational project that it has undertaken.

According to the program notes for “Zaghlala”:

If Kronos Quartet had a motto it might be something like: Taking string players to places they’ve never been before … Jacob Garchik’s surging arrangement of Zaghlala (Blurred vision caused by strong light hitting the eyes) … not only transports intrepid string quartets to the ecstatic milieu of a Cairo nightclub, but the chart also literally turns one ensemble member into a drummer, adding percussive drive to the tune’s lapidary churn. As part of Fifty for the Future, Kronos’ ongoing project to make new music works readily available to aspiring string ensembles, Garchik’s score is accessible free on the Kronos website, “where you can see how the piece can be played in such a way that each one of us can be the drummer,” says David Harrington. “Wouldn’t it be cool if every string quartet player in the world could be this Arabic drummer?…

            Part of Egypt’s thriving underground music scene, Chipsy’s EEK trio has carved out a singular sonic niche distinct from the electro-chaabi artists who are almost required at wedding celebrations. Raw and lo-fi, his music is both virtuosic and unabashedly hand-crafted: “There’s a certain way that he plays where he takes his fist and slams it into the keyboard that feels so visceral and exciting,” Harrington says. “There’s also this sense of fun and abandonment. I can imagine thousands of people dancing.”


All of the composers’ music that is part of Fifty for the Future showcases fearless energy, determination, passion, and a will to be.  Witness this music for change for yourself, as the Kronos Quartet heads to Europe and returns to the United States to perform music from banned countries.

Hallelujah!

Meet the Killard House School. Located in Donaghadee, North Ireland, the Killiard House School’s motto is: “Together We Can.” The school is dedicated to providing for special needs students with moderate learning difficulties, speech language difficulties, and those on the autistic spectrum. The teachers, staff, administrators, and community work together as a team—or “family,” as the school states—to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Music Education

In December, 2016, the school’s choir programmed Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” with Christmas-themed lyrics. The soloist, then 10-year old Kaylee Rogers, is a Killard House School student and a member of the school’s choir. About her performance, the Principal of Killard House School Collin Miller stated: “For a child who came in and wouldn’t really talk, wouldn’t really read out in class, to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing.” Music education can transform lives. This performance is just one example.

Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education

Excited to join the Rhode Island Music Education Association at their Conference: Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education. There, we’ll be speaking on: Advancing Social Justice through Music Education.

Common sense notions of “social justice” imply the uncovering of injustices, imbalances, and untruths in order to support and promote a more equitable social order. Beyond conventional wisdom, what is “social justice” and can we conceive of social justice and “artivism” for music teaching and learning in concrete ways? Our presentation will focus primarily on philosophical underpinnings for advancing social justice through music education. But we will provide practical examples and strategies for justice-ing music teaching and learning.

Come join us!!!!

PROVIDENCE, RI – On Saturday January 13, 2018, the Rhode Island College Department of Music, Theater, and Dance, the Rhode Island College School of Social Work, and the Rhode Island Music Education Association will co-sponsor a conference titled “Music for Every Child: Diversity and Social Consciousness in Music Education” in the John Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, Rhode Island. Designed for music educators at all levels, this conference will combine national, regional, and local experts in the fields of music education, social work, and community-driven arts programs to explore how to meet the musical and social needs of the diversity of students in southeast New England.

Topics will include social justice, behavioral supports and resources, and social and emotional learning, among others.

For more information, a detailed list of sessions and speakers, and to register for the event, please visit www.rimea.org/pd. The $40 registration fee includes lunch. College students may register for a reduced price of $15.

Contact

To learn more about this event, please contact: Dr. Robert Franzblau, Professor of Music, Rhode Island College; 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI 02908; Office: 401-456-9514; [email protected]