[Smt-talk] Female theorists in history

Reed,Smith Alexander alexreed at ufl.edu
Sun Oct 16 20:28:10 PDT 2011

Dear Colleagues:

One of the issues here is that by having so predominantly male a field, 
we are prone to miss insights of the sort to which our gender 
experiences often blind us.  I'll not disservice Suzanne Cusick here by 
attempting to summarize her work, but her article "Feminist Theory, 
Music Theory, and the Mind/Body Problem" in PNM 32/1 really addresses 
this issue head-on.  Lessons we might learn from a paper on female 
theorists in history go well beyond the a priori endpoint of 
oppression--and let's not assume, for what it's worth, that all 
oppression is the same.  Instead, these lessons might hint at the sort 
of insights into music that different cultural and embodied experiences 
can help to articulate.  By revealing such submerged perspectives, if 
indeed a paper like this finds that they exist, one can thereby 
highlight the assumptions that music theory as a field otherwise 
unwittingly makes.

For another look at these issues, I might recommend Susan Parenti's 
article "Composing the Music School: Proposals for a Feminist 
Composition Curriculum" in PNM 34/1.

As for female theorists whom one might study, I also strongly second 
John Snyder's mention of Naomi Cumming.  Her book The Sonic Self is only 
now, I feel, starting to get its due; it is one of the more significant 
contributions to musical semiotics.  I suspect that if one wanted to, 
one could also locate the edges of theoretical approaches to music in 
the writings and composition of Hildegard, but that might be a larger 
project than initially bargained for.

S. Alexander Reed
Assistant Professor
University of Florida

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