[Smt-talk] Good Primer for First-Year Students on Gender in Music and Music Theory?

Reed,Smith Alexander alexreed at ufl.edu
Sun Nov 29 09:07:49 PST 2009

Dear Colleagues:

In the Theory 1 class that I teach, I occasionally hand out 
enrichment essays for my students to read, hoping that by 
absorbing and responding to them, the students will A.) broaden 
their horizons of the kinds of questions that serious study of 
music can engage, B.) see some intellectual light at the end of 
the tunnel, in case they conceptually prefer debate and broad 
contextualization to music theory's occasional tendency at its 
lower levels to be full of "right/wrong" answers and labels, and 
C.) show me a bit of their own personality through their 
responses, so that I can better teach them.

This usually goes very well; students have had very good 
discussions about Babbitt's "Who Cares If You Listen," Taruskin's 
"The Musical Mystique," and various popular audience writings by 
Peter Kivy, Daniel Levitin, and others.

One frustration I have had for the last two years is the middling, 
even hostile response I have gotten from students when I have 
assigned Suzanne Cusick's "Feminist Theory, Music Theory, and the 
Mind/Body Problem." All ideological questions aside, I suspect 
that the assumptions it makes about its readers' experience with 
both music and feminism simply make it not the best way to 
introduce 18 year-olds to questions of gender as it relates to 
music and music theory.

I would really like to assign a good introductory reading -- a 
praxis through simple analysis would be fine -- that would get my 
students thinking about these ideas. However, most of what I've 
found in the literature (including a host of articles by McClary, 
Maus, Hisama, Cusick, Parenti, Shepherd, Guck, and 
Kielian-Gilbert) is similarly aimed at an audience with which I 
cannot pretend my Theory 1 students meaningfully overlap yet.

So I'm asking whether anyone knows of a good, short, thoughtful 
piece of writing that incorporates music theory and gender (or 
even embodiment, in a gender-conscious perspective) in a way that 
might successfully demonstrate to an 18 year-old that yes, in fact 
this is a valid, relevant, and perhaps even necessary lens through 
which to consider music.

I'm all ears, and very grateful.

Best wishes,

S. Alexander Reed
Assistant Professor
University of Florida

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