Feminism

More Musings on ‘Old Barbershop’

When I last reflected on the category of ‘old barbershop’ eight years ago, I finished up by wondering what sounded normal then that would sound dated 20 years on. Well, it’s only eight years on, and I found myself thinking about perceptible cultural shifts again at the BABS Convention back in May.

My musings last time were mostly about musical things like approaches to voice-leading and embellishment and performance things like styles of body language in the context of continuous performance traditions. I did mention subject matter in passing, but only mentioned the most ostentatiously outmoded lyrics in defining the category of ‘old’.

Now, by contrast, I found myself observing a clear division in song storyline and lyric between those that evoked social relations that we would wish to promote these days in an organisation that celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion, and those in which the social relations feel uncomfortably old-school.

In Memoriam: Valerie Clowes _

Valerie front and centre in blue: surrounded by some pretty awesome peopleValerie front and centre in blue: surrounded by some pretty awesome people

The first words Valerie Clowes said to me when I met her in person were, ‘I fucking love your blog!’, which I’d take as a compliment from anyone, but was particularly powerful coming from someone who could communicate so clearly and vividly about things that matter. A few days later, she greeted me as I ran into her on the Harmony University campus with the words: ‘Liz! We were just talking about female sexual autonomy...[in response to my ‘do go on’ face]...My Wild Irish Rose.’

Many words have been written over the past few days about Valerie, what she brought to the world, and how much she will be missed, and I’m not sure if I can add anything useful here. But even if I’m repeating what everyone else has already said, I’d like to take the space to honour her.

On Vulnerability

The leadership literature, both conductor-specific and general (which, come to think of it, I usually read through the lens of the conductor’s role), often talks about the importance of allowing yourself to be vulnerable as a means to inspire trust. This is usually framed in terms of admitting when you don’t know something, or that you need help.

All of which, on the face of it is perfectly reasonable. A leader doesn’t have to be omniscient or infallible to be effective – which is just as well given that human beings are typically neither. And I’ve always read these pronouncements with a degree of complacency, since I am very comfortable sharing my fallibility. I’ve known myself long enough to know how well developed my capacity for truly dumb errors is, and am endlessly grateful when people spot them for me.

More On the Relationship of Structure to Detail

I recently reflected on how Abby Whiteside’s book Indispensables in Piano Playing had helped bring into focus thoughts I had been toying with about the mapping of the structures of a body that plays music onto structures implicit in the music itself. The other set of thoughts she helped bring to the surface were about theoretical traditions in how we think about music.

Those of you with a background in academic music will recognise the distinction between structure and ornament, and the idea of shunting attentionally between different levels of structure (surface details to mid-range and longer-range processes) as belonging to the theoretical tradition generally taught in higher education under the banner of Schenkerian Analysis.

Soapbox: Inclusiveness, and how not to do it

soapbox I wrote this post last September, in the midst of an eventful period in the British barbershop community, but a wise friend talked me down from posting it at the time. She may continue to have her doubts about the wisdom of posting it, indeed, which I can understand, but I’m choosing to do so anyway for two reasons.

First, because whilst the immediate crisis has passed, the issues it deals with have not gone away and there are some points here I’ve not seen in the public debates (though they have circulated to a degree in private ones I think).

Second, as a record of the experience of the events at the point they happened. Looking back at the post, the tone carries considerably more heat than I usually bring to this blog, and I did consider rewriting it before posting to de-escalate the language. But the strength of the reaction is testament to the impact of the events, and whilst the grown-up thing is often to minimise one’s public displays of emotional response in order to maintain diplomatic relations, there is a risk thereby of pretending the damage didn’t happen. So, I’m saying, calmly, this is how uncalm it felt 6 months ago.

On Tag-singing and Gender

bshop book coverThe end of September marked the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my first book. It was another 18 months in production, so we’re a way off the two-decade milestone for publication, but in terms of the shape of my life, the submission of the manuscript is the more vivid memory.

When it came out, the two chapters that got the biggest response from within the barbershop community were those dealing with, respectively, gender and tag-singing. And there are ways in which both of those dimensions of barbershop culture have changed in the interim, and also ways in which they haven’t.

On the face of it, gender would appear to have seen the biggest changes, with the embracing of both mixed barbershop ensembles, and the increasing presence of men’s and women’s ensembles at the same events – whether competing against each other (as in the Barbershop Harmony Society, BinG!, and IABS), or in parallel contests with separate rankings (as in the European championships and SNOBS/Northern Lights joint conventions). My chapter title of ‘Separate but Equal?’ would be less of an immediately obvious choice today.

Inclusiveness, and how to do it: A case study

Last week, international barbershop had some big news: current International chorus champions, Music City Chorus from Nashville announced that they would no longer participate in Dixie District events while the District still kept that name. There have been ongoing discussions about the continued use of the Dixie label for this district over a number of years, and Music City Chorus’s decision came shortly after, and in response to, a decision to retain the name.

For those unfamiliar with the context of this, the Barbershop Harmony Society in the US and Canada is organised into a number of geographically-defined districts, each of which hold their own Conventions and educational events each year. These events both provide members the chance to be part of a musical community wider than their local chapters, and provide a qualification route to compete at International level. (‘International’ originally meant US and Canada, but now includes competitors from associate organisations from around the world.)

Reflections on Influence

The concept of ‘influence’ is central to both academic and informal discourses about music. It serves as an explanatory narrative to make sense of how a particular artist’s work emerged with the particular traits it did. There’s quite a lot written about what it actually means, and how it might work, though in fact most people who talk about influence haven’t read much if any of that literature, and still manage to make sense to each other.

I am going to try not to get too distracted by that bigger-picture stuff today as there is a specific thing I want to reflect on: how discourses about female composers often talk about who influenced them, but rarely seem to credit them as having influence on other composers. Just as women are in the west traditionally named as adjuncts to men, taking their father’s then their husband’s names, our stories about female artists are patrilineal.

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