Building a House vs. Painting a Landscape

After reading responses to my last post, I’ve been thinking about whether or not as composers it is possible to speak directly from our experience, as playwrights and visual artists often do. Or are we more akin to architects, who seem to work more with pure functional forms?

This is the slippery slope when discussing women composers, as it points to a particular life experience. Some assume that to enter into this discussion at all implies a “male vs. female” essentialist point of view. Other responses point to distinct experiences that are less often experienced by men—particular forms of violence, for example. The question arises as to whether we access our life experiences or not when composing, or if we have a choice about it.

There was a time in my life when I chose to compose more like an architect: pure form, beautiful abstractions—music purely of the mind. I still find music with these leanings extraordinarily beautiful. But in my own composing, ignoring physical and emotional realities began to make my work feel too one-dimensional to me.

So if I was to compose from all of my experience, then I had to face the fact that I was a woman—this probably sounds very curious to say, but it was something that I had been able to ignore in most of my musical training. Now I am actively writing from that experience. It does not make my music “feminine” or “not masculine,” but it does make it the work of a woman composer (as opposed to a composer who is a woman).

2 thoughts on “Building a House vs. Painting a Landscape

  1. maestro58

    Other responses point to distinct experiences that are less often experienced by men—particular forms of violence, for example. The question arises as to whether we access our life experiences or not when composing, or if we have a choice about it.

    As someone who suffered from child abuse and is male, I resent the implication that I might not be able to access my experience. My composition called My American Childhood deals directly with the experience at the hands of my abusive father.

    It is true I have not experienced rape, but I hope I am sensitive to the issue and women in my life who may have been raped. Actually, this is such a personal issue, only one woman has shared the information with me. I dealt with her with compassion. May all men do as well.

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  2. ookpik

    Funny that you should mention painting as a metaphor for composing. I’m currently in the midst of composing for theatre (my first experience of this) and just last night was remarking to my partner how much composing for film or theatre reminds me of painting.

    Your post brings up to me questions related to Woolf’s concept of the “androgynous mind”–something that is accessible to both men and women. I wonder too if maybe the key turning point here is the notion that in setting out to compose (or do anything for that matter) that ‘one’ can set out in a way that is neither self-consciously male or female–therefore having access to multiple modes of experience. From there we can follow where the creativity takes us, which may or may no end up referencing our own personal gender or gender-specific experiences.

    This at least has been my experience in creating music. Looking back, however I must admit that when I was younger I often felt the need to gender-neutralize things / hide the feminine.

    A interesting book that discusses this type of thing in the art world is Judy Chicago’s “Through the Flower”. Some of your descriptions of ‘composing more like an architect” remind me of her descriptions of her early approaches to art.

    Keep up the interesting blogging! :-)

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