Do You Hear What I Hear?

NewMusicBox would like to welcome composer and sound artist Linda Dusman to the Chatter roster. Dusman’s compositions are recorded on the NEUMA, Capstone, and New Albany labels. A frequent contributor to the literature on contemporary music and performance, her articles have appeared in Link, Perspectives of New Music, and Interface, as well as a number of anthologies. She is on sabbatical from the music faculty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County during 2008-09.—MS


Linda Dusman

I just returned from an idyllic seven days at the Walden Teacher Training Institute in Dublin, New Hampshire. There are many aspects of this program that could have fed into my perception of my experience as “idyllic”: the peaceful country campus of the Dublin School, the good spirits and dedication of the faculty, the delicious food, the ingenious and creative musicianship methodology created by Vermont native Grace Cushman, and beginning everyday singing perfectly tuned 5ths, 3rds, and octaves, to name a few.

But in retrospect I think the most idyllic aspect of the experience was the relative absence of hierarchies—in social situations, the academic environment, and indeed in the methodology itself. Imagine an approach to tone in which every relationship is based on the overtone series, in which one learns of a tonality based on the hierarchy of tonic/dominant as one of many options. Imagine teaching that way, so that technique, repertoire, and composing exist as equal pursuits, from the minute one begins to study music.

Though she may not have identified herself as such, Grace Cushman must have been a feminist. Girls and boys both occupied her classes which began in the 1940s; when she arrived at Peabody Conservatory she selected freshmen Pam Quist and David Hogan to be her protégées. And in the sounding out of her musical philosophy and methodology, the equality of her approach enabled composition and improvisation using any materials, referenced only to the acoustical resonances created by physical vibrations.

What would it mean to approach the world of music with a feminist ear? In the absence of hierarchies and even binaries, could I finally hear clearly? What sort of music would I compose? How would I perceive the soundings of other composers? And might it ever be possible to hear an equality of voices in the world of contemporary classical music, to perceive its possible presence?

67 thoughts on “Do You Hear What I Hear?

  1. coreydargel

    Welcome, Linda! I am at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, and last month I had the pleasure of talking to some of the Walden students when they visited the colony. I also went to the first of three marathon concerts of their compositions at the Walden School. Many of them were writing their first piece of music, so, to be honest, my expectations were low, but I was absolutely stunned by the music they made and the performances of their music. The students’ ideas were expressed with such clarity and conviction, and each of them answered questions about their music with excellent speaking skills that elude even some professional composers.

    Most importantly, the students embodied the joy and playfulness that makes composing and listening to music so rewarding.

    I kept the concert program with the intent of keeping an eye out for all of the fifteen composers whose work I heard that night. And, yes, at least two genders were very well represented. So, many cheers for the Walden School. Everyone who is able should participate in it.

    Reply
  2. JHigdon

    I have participated in the Walden School before as a mentor/visiting composer, and I have to say, it’s one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen or heard for young composers. I wish I had had the opportunity to study at such a place when I was young. Everyone would benefit from being a part of this program in some way.

    Jennifer Higdon

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  3. William Osborne

    What would it mean to approach the world of music with a feminist ear? In the absence of hierarchies and even binaries, could I finally hear clearly? What sort of music would I compose? How would I perceive the soundings of other composers? And might it ever be possible to hear an equality of voices in the world of contemporary classical music, to perceive its possible presence?

    These are very interesting questions. One might read into them the idea that a “feminist ear” might have a greater inclination to listen without “hierarchies and even binaries.” That interpretation or your questions might be a bit too simple, but Pauline Oliveros has devoted a lot of her work toward non-judgmental perception and the egalitarian elimination of status in musical relationships. And her work is decidedly feminist.

    Pauline’s compositions focus on listening itself as a creative act. Many of her works, such as the Sonic Meditations consist only of prose instructions that allow a single person to fill the roles of creator, performer, and audience. The traditional hierarchies between these three groups are completely removed. A feminist perspective might argue that this differs from the patriarchal traditions of western music, which emphasize the aesthetic ideology of the composer as a “lone, transcendentally inspired genius” who is regarded as the musical creator, while performers are considered his instruments and the public a relatively passive receptor. After all, what could be more patriarchal than our idealizations of the genius composer with HIS divine inspiration, or the relationships between conductors and musicians.

    I have observed people involved with Pauline’s work and noticed that they seem to develop new kinds of empathic relationships in music. They consciously strive to listen deeply to each other – much more so than with most other musicians – to the point that they gain a kind of compassion, as if they were sounding the depths of otherness. One might argue that these egalitarian concepts represent a new form of human dignity and community.

    Are these kinds of egalitarianism and empathy in music more feminine than masculine? Will music change over time when half the composers are women? Or are women no different than men when it comes to music-making?

    William Osborne

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  4. Chris Becker

    ” I have observed people involved with Pauline’s work and noticed that they seem to develop new kinds of empathic relationships in music. They consciously strive to listen deeply to each other – much more so than with most other musicians – to the point that they gain a kind of compassion, as if they were sounding the depths of otherness.”

    Not to take away from Pauline’s work, but “jazz” has from its inception cultivated this level of empathetic listening you describe.

    Billie Holiday and Lester Young?

    Maybe for some musicians listening to another musician they are playing with is a new concept?

    Reply
  5. rtanaka

    Not to take away from Pauline’s work, but “jazz” has from its inception cultivated this level of empathetic listening you describe.

    So did classical music too, at least during periods where improvisation was still an accepted practice. (Figured bass, candenzas, etc.) With the possible exception of the organ tradition, however, Romanticism managed to wipe out the majority of that.

    This relates to the discussion we just had about Wagner — about transcendental idealism and its potential to dehumanize our perspective by placing ideals over human beings. Not that idealism in itself is bad, but when the belief in something becomes so strong, it becomes singular, exclusive, and unable to adapt or accomodate differences. It’s a shame that we’ve reached a point where empathy is considered something “new”.

    Reply
  6. William Osborne

    Not to take away from Pauline’s work, but “jazz” has from its inception cultivated this level of empathetic listening you describe.

    True. I wonder if musics oriented toward improvisation encourage listening. Pauline’s principle art form, especially as a performer, is improvisation.

    On the other hand, a lot of jazz I hear doesn’t seem to be created by especially good listeners. There seem to be very competitive forms of jazz as well, where the musicians try to out-play each other, or even play each other down. It’s not so much about listening as being the dominate rooster, so to speak. If we were to continue the line of thought along the masculinist/feminist binary, a lot of jazz seems very masculinist to me.

    Here is one of Pauline’s Sonic Meditations:

    “Sit in a circle with your eyes closed. Begin by observing your own breathing. Gradually form a mental image of one person who is sitting in the circle. Sing a long tone to that person. Then sing the pitch that person is singing. Change your mental image to another person and repeat until you have contacted every person in the circle one or more times.”

    There are correlations here to jazz, but perhaps something different too. Anyway, I think jazz extensions of her Sonic Meditations would be very interesting.

    William Osborne

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  7. Chris Becker

    Good points
    Both Ryan and William make really good points re: listening among classical players and the relationship between improvising and “deep” listening.

    Reply
  8. philmusic

    “..After all, what could be more patriarchal than

    our idealizations of the genius composer with HIS

    divine inspiration, or the relationships between

    conductors and musicians…”

    Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps omnipotent alpha males who pretend to opinions they neither keep nor

    understand. Or worse perhaps alpha males who

    pretend that they don’t want to be the “boss” of all, that is- patriarchs them selfs.

    “..It’s not so much about listening as being the

    dominate rooster …”

    “.. it becomes singular, exclusive, and unable to adapt or accommodate differences…”

    That reminds me of some folks blogging styles

    exactly.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  9. Chris Becker

    Ryan,

    You’ve sat and improvised with Mike Garson. You might want to check out (if you haven’t already) the work of Zeena Parkins, William Winant, Anthony Coleman, Mark O’Connor, Regina Carter, Anthony Davis, Erik Friedlander, and/or Mark Feldman. All are musicians who read and come from various points classical in their training / background and all are incredible improvisers.

    I know there’s plenty more – sorry the list is kind of New York centric. I did it off the top of my head…

    Reply
  10. William Osborne

    Chris, yes I know the work of Joe McPhee – an extraordinary musician and person. He is a perfect example of a jazz musician who listens deeply. There are musicians who seem to “transcend” labels like classical, jazz, or rock. Joe McPhee is one of them.

    Hmm. That leads me to another thought. Is there a kind of transcendence that is so transcendent it returns to earth, so to speak, and simply becomes deeply human? Or maybe there are musicians like Joe who have a kind of profundity that doesn’t even need to “transcend.” His profundity is that he stays right here with us. No binaries, just Joe.

    William

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  11. rtanaka

    My understanding is that improvising musicians also experience a kind of “transcendence”, and I speak for myself as well. After all, if reality is all we wanted, then we’d just be working the fields and not bothering ourselves with doing silly things like music to begin with. So transcendence, I think, is inherent in music regardless of genre or style.

    The big difference between the two, however, is the source of its inspiration. For most classical musics, it comes from the external: the composer. For improvised musics, it’s internal: the performer. Most musics lie somewhere in between the two things, usually, but there’s a tendency for a lot of musicians to strongly lean in one direction or the other. Even in, say, aleatoric music, the style gives the performer quite a bit of freedom but the fundamental structure above remains unchanged since the composer is still there acting as sort of a parental figure. They are two different kinds of indeterminacies.

    The reason why improvisation generally tends toward humanism is because you’re essentially forced to deal with the reality of the people you’re working with. The chaos of human interaction — and with it comes both its rewards and follies, and you learn a lot about yourself during the process. Notation gives the context a little bit more stability, since it provides a level of objectivity which can act as a mediating law between the parties involved. Sometimes the laws are right, sometimes they’re not. When the laws are wrong but you follow them anyway, then professionalism can quickly become very ugly.

    A lot of it comes down to a personal choice of what type of structure the musician might prefer to work in, but I’d like to think that a healthy balance between the two is preferrable. As it stands now, performer-inspired musics are nearly non-existent in the classical music world at this point in time.

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  12. rtanaka

    Oh, I don’t think improvisation has any necessary connection to feminism, personally. Improvisation can be a very masculine activity, showcasing the virtuosity and technical ability of the performer, and there has been lots of that throughout jazz history as well. But if a feminist were to improvise on an instrument, that would also come out as a result.

    I tend to just see it a vehicle for personal expression…sort of a broadcasting of personal experience through an abstract medium. An opportunity to be honest and not be afraid of what you have to say, in hopes that somewhere out there, someone will understand. Sometimes the things that come out will be very ugly. But that’s OK as long as you can learn and reflect on it — it’s just music, and nobody gets hurt.

    Reply
  13. William Osborne

    Improvisation can be a very masculine activity, showcasing the virtuosity and technical ability of the performer, and there has been lots of that throughout jazz history as well. But if a feminist were to improvise on an instrument, that would also come out as a result.

    Yes, we know what masculine improvisation more or less is, but almost no idea what a feminine (or feminist) improvisation would be. And if we did know, it probably would have been defined as inferior.

    So I guess the obvious but impossible question is, what is feminine improvisation?

    William Osborne

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  14. rtanaka

    I’ve seen some women play “just like the guys” in virtuostic performance, or play in such a cutesy feminine style to the point where I thought I was hallucinating pinks and flowers. It just depends on the person — who they are, where they’ve come from, what they believe in, what sorts of things they’ve gone through in their life. All improvisation does is bring out what’s already there. With notation, you can always edit and do some political posturing to hide your true intensions, but with improv every thing is right in front, and you have to take responsibility for it. The activity is daunting to many people precisely for this reason.

    Like I said, I don’t see improvisation and feminism as being intrinsically related. It might even be antagonistic to each other in some cases, because improvisation is based on the realism of the performer, while feminism is a form of ideal. It might be an ideal worth striving for perhaps, but if that’s not who you really are then it will never come out of your instrument.

    I believe in equality and fair treatment, but since I will never know what it means to a woman I don’t try to incorporate that type of perspective in my work. The best you can do is try to listen and that occasionally leads to honest conversations about topics that people normally don’t talk about. In a sense, that’s what improvisation is all about.

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  15. William Osborne

    Like I said, I don’t see improvisation and feminism as being intrinsically related.

    Neither do I. In fact, if one looks at the major improvisation communities in the States one sees a notable lack of women. There are, of course, very significant women members, but the numbers are still deeply masculine. And to my ears, a lot of the improv I hear seems masculinist – though I would have trouble defining that. Loud, interruptive, somewhat aggressive, non-listening, self-oriented, and egocentric are the associations that come to mind. Jamming. They are an enormous contrast to groups I have heard like the trio of Pauline Olivera, Dana Reason, and Phil Gelb. You can read a review I wrote about them for Twentieth Century Music Journal here:

    http://www.osborne-conant.org/landscapes.htm

    We often hear masculinism in improv and can even define it (at least vaguely) but we have very few associations with feminine forms of improv. If that is really true, what does it tell us?

    And one other question: Is listening more feminine than masculine? If so, then why are there far more male improvisers? I know these thoughts are essentialist, but I think they at least frame thoughts worth considering.

    William Osborne

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  16. Chris Becker

    “And to my ears, a lot of the improv I hear seems masculinist – though I would have trouble defining that. Loud, interruptive, somewhat aggressive, non-listening, self-oriented, and egocentric are the associations that come to mind. Jamming. ”

    I’m sorry William, but I think you are making broad generalizations not only about what is “masculine” and “feminine” but what improvisation actually is in practice (be it by boys, girls, or elephants…). And this dialog is going around in circles and growing more and more bizarre as a result.

    I’ve heard Zeena and Ikue Mori duet as improvisers and it sounded like the sky was falling down. It was loud. Aggressive. And sometimes, they weren’t listening to each other

    Were Zeena and Ikue tapping into their “masculine” side? Please…

    There are INNUMERABLE shades to improvisation. Many, many ways to converse, to argue, to share a joke, etc.

    Back to the Olympics…

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  17. rtanaka

    Yeah, “masculine” and “feminine” are social constructs, really. It just depends on how the culture itself perceives certain behaviors as being gender specific. This is, again, classifications which are applied externally. Maybe some people might fall straight into the stereotype but a lot of the times its irrelevant to what the musician is trying to say.

    I’ve played with both men and women, and I haven’t really noticed any significant difference in their ability to listen. Some people do, some people don’t. People who don’t listen to the other players when they’re performing are just being stupid and self-absorbed, and this crosses gender lines as well as genres. The trio I play in now has two guys (including me) and one gal but we work well together mostly because we’ve learned to trust each other’s musicianship over the years. Gender has nothing to do with it.

    Oh, thanks for your recommendations by the way, Chris, I’ll take a listen.

    Reply
  18. coreydargel

    I can’t believe some of you guys continue to acknowledge Osborne’s contributions by attempting to engage him in a discussion.

    Osborne cries foul at NMBx and pushes obnoxiously for more women bloggers. Then when one appears, Osborne immediately takes her to task on her first post with his ridiculous, outdated, academic, idiotic opinions.

    Linda, pay no attention to William Osborne. He is a troll on this site and others.

    Reply
  19. William Osborne

    I’m sorry William, but I think you are making broad generalizations not only about what is “masculine” and “feminine” but what improvisation actually is in practice (be it by boys, girls, or elephants…).

    Yes, I am. As I noted, my descriptions were essentialist, but I am not sure how else to frame a discussion around a gendered binary in improvisation, which in some respects seems worthwhile (and which seems like part of Linda’s intent with the questions at the end of her blog.)

    My thoughts turn toward feminist improvisation, because in some respects that is what Pauline Oliveros seems to have created, but the differences seem almost indefinable. Some of the responses here are helpful, and I hope the discussion will continue.

    Even though Pauline is strongly aware of the feminist elements in her work, she notes that her goal has not been so much social opposition, as the manifestation of her inner identity:

    “I didn’t mean to oppose the mainstream so much as to express the inner values that I have and that I feel have to come from the inside, rather than taking the imposition of structures from the outside which tend to support what’s going on inside. And I’m looking not necessarily to oppose or overthrow but to balance out, and come to a different understanding of what can be done.”

    So what would this balance be? What is this “…different understanding of what can be done….?” What would it sound like?

    We might also consider Linda’s other questions: In the absence of hierarchies and even binaries, could I finally hear clearly? … How would I perceive the soundings of other composers?

    Almost all binaries in musical perception, like Uptown and Downtown, are very reductive, and masculine/feminine even more so. Is it possible to fairly summarize possible gendered differences in composition, performance, or improvisation? How could we even know what these differences might be, since women composers and improvisers have not been around in large numbers for very long?

    William Osborne

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  20. Chris Becker

    I feel silly even posting this, but here goes…

    “Is it possible to fairly summarize possible gendered differences in composition, performance, or improvisation?”

    In my opinion, no. Although I do think people (like you) have strong preconceptions as to what music from different “genders” sounds like (You also tout a weird binary view of gender i.e. male / female which is another issue altogether…)

    “How could we even know what these differences might be, since women composers and improvisers have not been around in large numbers for very long?” “

    Women composers and improvisers have been with us in large numbers since the beginning of time.

    Think of all of the incredible English, Scottish, and Irish music that was preserved via memory AND the ability to improvise by women who settled in the U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Think of the large U.S. enslaved population of Africans (coming from several different areas of the continent) who from memory and via improvisation preserved what they could of their own music while developing new strains of uniquely American composition and improvisation all in the context of one of the most brutal experiences imaginable.

    Go listen to recordings of the Georgia Sea Island singers. Listen to the women on those recordings – what are they doing? How old is that music they are singing? Is it composed? Improvised? Is it something else altogether?

    Go on Google for five minutes and you will find dozens if not more names of African American women who composed (i.e. notated) music going back to the turn of the 20th century to the present.

    If you go outside of the U.S. (and I know Pauline’s aesthetic is at least as far reaching…) – to Japan, India, Armenia – you end up with…well…a long history of a whole lotta women making music.

    Reply
  21. William Osborne

    You are quite right, Chris, there is a long tradition in world music, of women improvisers. And there are some notable women improvisers in the history of jazz, though they represent a small minority. Perhaps I should have been more clear that I am speaking about contemporary classical free improvisation – for lack of a better term. In this area, I would submit that there are far more men active in the field than women. As I noted earlier, there are some prominent women, but the balance still leans strongly toward men. The lack is notable if one considers, for example, that women now represent 40% of the personnel in the New York Philharmonic, with similar numbers in many other major orchestras. Women do not have near that ratio in the free improv community. (If the claim is made that they do, I would like to see documented proof.)

    And of course, opinions will vary extremely, but I find that the music often has a masculinist character. (And here I speak of the stylistic elements we somewhat arbitrarily code as masculine.) I think some of the imbalance might even be correlated to jazz. A few years ago, for example, Monique Buzzarte published an article here on NMBx about the fact that the Lincoln Center Jazz Band did not have any women members. (Is it still all men?)

    In answer to another of your questions, I am not sure masculinist is an officially recognized word. It doesn’t seem to be in any dictionaries. It is sort of ironic, linguistically speaking, that women can be feminist, but that men can’t be masculinist. They are always neutral, I guess.

    One other thought. I have noticed that people take most discussions about gender pretty much in stride, but that when it comes to the lack of women in contemporary classical free improvisation, the dialog often becomes very heated. I think it is a bit of a sore spot, though even that observation will probably evoke wrath.

    William Osborne

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  22. Chris Becker

    “Perhaps I should have been more clear that I am speaking about contemporary classical free improvisation – for lack of a better term. In this area, I would submit that there are far more men active in the field than women.”

    I would submit that the fluidity Linda describes in her essay about Walden and the approach to teaching music might make this term “contemporary classical free improvisation” meaningless. Improvisation is just another way to compose. It’s all music.

    I mean, are you looking for a degree on the wall of each person improvising in this genre you describe? Are you hearing more Europrean musical history than African in the sonic results? Is “contemporary classical” played consistently at a quieter dynamic than whatever it is Ikue Mori does?

    I’m not trying to bust your chops, but when I just reread Linda’s essay, I realized you and I are completely missing the point of her questions and the joy of her experience. We’re fussing over historical data and statistics – bringing up hiring practices, even making up words that don’t exist – in order to have the last word online for an audience of about three people. Which is why I was feeling silly earlier on…Hmm…

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  23. David Preiser

    Imagine an approach to tone in which every relationship is based on the overtone series, in which one learns of a tonality based on the hierarchy of tonic/dominant as one of many options.

    Like, for example, Hindemith?

    Imagine teaching that way, so that technique, repertoire, and composing exist as equal pursuits, from the minute one begins to study music.

    Like how music really was taught for a very long time, and how so many of today’s jazz musicians operate?

    I don’t see much basis for the claim that this is a particularly female perspective.

    Reply
  24. William Osborne

    Linda: Imagine teaching that way, so that technique, repertoire, and composing exist as equal pursuits, from the minute one begins to study music.

    David responds: Like how music really was taught for a very long time, and how so many of today’s jazz musicians operate? I don’t see much basis for the claim that this is a particularly female perspective.

    Hmm. I guess not, since the Lincoln Center Jazz Band is all men. Are those approaches, instead, a male way of doing things? Or if something else is creating these imbalances, what is it? And how are these imbalances influencing the music itself? Some people suggest that big band jazz, for example, is among the most phallocentric music that has ever been created.

    William Osborne

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  25. Chris Becker

    “Yes, I am. As I noted, my descriptions were essentialist, but I am not sure how else to frame a discussion around a gendered binary in improvisation…”

    …and to be fair to William, Linda did use the term “feminist” to describe an approach to study and creativity that I personally am not comfortable defining as “male” or “female” or even as particularly new (hence the points I and David bring up with regards to jazz).

    I’m assuming that a binary way of thinking about gender ultimately doesn’t inform her decision making as an artist and teacher, although (for me) this isn’t clear from just what she wrote. I think she’s just wondering what would happen if we defined such approaches to music as “feminine.”

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  26. Chris Becker

    …I’m wrong. That’s not what’s going on. She seems to just use the term “feminist ear” offhandedly to umbrella the approaches she describes to instruction at Walden. But I think focusing on the “binary” language is missing the point – or, it’s an issue separate from the main points of Linda’s article.

    Okay, that’s my thesis…Jesus…

    Reply
  27. William Osborne

    Even though binaries seldom provide accurate measures of existence, they can be useful as a sort of measuring stick, or as a theoretical device for roughly defining phenomena. Even in this discussion, the binary formula is blowing a little dust out of some of the corners.

    And for full disclosure, perhaps I should mention that Linda is a friend of my wife and I. She has invited us as guest artists three times at universities where she has taught, and she is writing a trombone piece for Abbie based on a special scale system. She visited us here in Taos last September to work on it. I wish she were coming again, and not only to work, but to have some time for us to show her all the wonderful things of Northern New Mexico. We only scratched the surface the last time. In my somewhat biased view, she is a PERFECT blogger for NMBx. I hope we will see many blog entries from her. In the meantime, I’m trying to learn a little more about Grace Cushman.

    William Osborne

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  28. David Preiser

    William Osborne,

    Hmm. I guess not, since the Lincoln Center Jazz Band is all men. Are those approaches, instead, a male way of doing things? Or if something else is creating these imbalances, what is it? And how are these imbalances influencing the music itself? Some people suggest that big band jazz, for example, is among the most phallocentric music that has ever been created.

    The processes are neither male nor female. There may be a male or female interpretation of each, and a male or female recipe to combine them in theory and in practice, but that’s not the same thing as saying that only in a free, unrestricted feminine environment could one come up with such a general concept in the first place.

    In any case, using base gender terms seems somewhat limiting.

    Reply
  29. William Osborne

    The processes are neither male nor female.

    If a big band were all-male, and if the large majority of big bands were all-male over a long period of time, wouldn’t that pretty much make the processes male? If not, why not? Or even if the processes in themselves were not gendered, wouldn’t their use be under such circumstances?

    Music is such a wide expression of who we are as humans. How could gender not shape musical expression, especially in the evolution of a musical genre over a long period of time?

    I know that on one hand such questions are rather obtuse, but on the other, isn’t it time we actually find some answers?

    William Osborne

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  30. pamlquist

    Although the discussion has ranged rather far from Linda’s terrific original article, I would like to come on board to provide a little more information regarding the subject of Grace Newsom Cushman, my former mentor. She probably would not have called herself a “feminist,” but she completely supported the concept of equality for women and demonstrated this in her own walk through life. Somewhere early in the 1920’s this daughter of a Methodist minister went to Oberlin where she played on the women’s basketball team. She later received a graduate degree from New England Conservatory and began her own small school in Vermont after marriage to George Cushman with whom she had two daughters. It was there she began to hatch her initial concepts regarding education in general and music education in specific. If I recall correctly, she moved to Baltimore with an ailing husband and 2 kids to support on her salary at Peabody. Her marriage only lasted 10 years because George died of his illness. Both Cushman daughters became wonderful dancers and teachers, and their success and independence was a source of great pride to Grace. I won’t go on much more except to say this was one of the strongest female role models I ever had the privilege to meet. In her early 70’s she and I climbed Mt. Washington together (7 miles upward!) with her having to encourage me all the way up–and I was in my early 20’s then!

    I don’t know what she would have made of a discussion regarding the masculine vs. the feminine voice or ear in music, but I suspect she would have dismissed it with a wave of her hand and then encouraged us all to stop talking, get back to writing our music and make it damn good–whatever gender we were.

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  31. Leos

    I don’t know what she would have made of a discussion regarding the masculine vs. the feminine voice or ear in music, but I suspect she would have dismissed it with a wave of her hand and then encouraged us all to stop talking, get back to writing our music and make it damn good–whatever gender we were.

    Thank you! That’s the most substantive and least windy comment that’s been made in this entire exchange.

    Reply
  32. William Osborne

    Pamela Quist (a faculty member at the Walden School): I don’t know what she would have made of a discussion regarding the masculine vs. the feminine voice or ear in music, but I suspect she would have dismissed it with a wave of her hand and then encouraged us all to stop talking, get back to writing our music and make it damn good–whatever gender we were.

    I don’t know what Grace would have said, but I do know that if people didn’t actively engage themselves with gender equality, even Grace would not have had the chance to do what she did. Even today these problems continue, as seen in the m/f ratio of the responses here which is 34 to 1, or the all-male Lincoln Center Jazz Band. I hope we won’t wave that away. And I hope the Walden School doesn’t either.

    William Osborne

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  33. Chris Becker

    “Even today these problems continue, as seen in the m/f ratio of the responses here which is 34 to 1…”

    William, all of the women I personally know in music, dance, and the arts find blogs superficial, time wasting, and even damaging to careers and reputation. Some of my female friends and collaborators wonder why I spend my time posting and occasionally will attribute it to something “boys” or “men” do (i.e. waste time on the Internet arguing about something they’ll forget about a week later).

    However, there are many blogs by women with diverse and active boards. It doesn’t take too much effort to find them.

    It seems to me that if some of us (myself included) posted less and maybe worked a little more behind the scenes (i.e. as you did to encourage Linda’s participation etc) you might see a more diverse selection of posters.

    And the irony is not lost on me that I tend to post a lot too – so I’m going to reel that in a bit. I promise.

    Reply
  34. Frank J. Oteri

    Even today these problems continue, as seen in the m/f ratio of the responses here which is 34 to 1

    Actually the discussion on this page thus far has featured a total of 6 men, 3 women (I’m including the threadstarter), and 1 poster whose moniker does not reveal gender. So the M/F ratio is actually either 7/3 or 6/4.

    Agreed, it would be great if the ratio were better balanced, but it’s not quite as bleak as the 34 to 1 ratio posited above. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that 12 of those 34 posts have been from William Osborne. So if you count up each response individually by gender, the data is somewhat skewed. (This is rather ironic considering that the person compiling the data is the reason the data is skewed.)

    Reply
  35. rtanaka

    Stereotypically, “masculine” gestures are supposed to be loud, aggressive, more angular, and you could maybe even throw in “logical” into the mix. Whereas feminine gestures are supposed to be softer, warmer, more “emotional”. These characterizations, however, are very German-centric and fairly useless especially in a society like ours where we’re taught that everyone should be on equal terms. There’s too many factors and exceptions involved (upbringing, education, physical looks, culture, socio-economic class, etc.) to just pinpoint it on a male/female thing. It has to be looked at from a person-to-person basis.

    Everyone has frustrations and dissatisfactions with how the world works. If someone feels as if they are being treated unfairly, then that should be reflected through the music. But improvised music attempts to address the issue through honest communication, rather than trying to solve it through m/f ratios. It’s based on the notion that personal experience on the matter tends to speak louder than preconstructed ideas.

    Reply
  36. William Osborne

    Actually, I did not skew the data at all, Frank. I said the responses were 34 to 1, but you carefully list the respondents which makes things look a little better. (My only error was missing the gender of one respondent, which would make it 33 to 2.)

    Both aspects of the data are important, but I hope you, of all people, are not going to try to deny that both the responses AND the respondents in the Chatter section are extremely imbalanced. It is difficult to make an exact count because of the anonymous participants, but I am fairly certain that women represent less than a tenth of the respondents here, and probably about a twentieth – or about 5%. And as for responses, the numbers are even worse. Are you telling us that is not a problem?

    And while you’re here, Frank, what happened to Jeannie Pool’s blog? I hope she is just on vacation or something. And is Teresa (who recently wrote what appears to be a one-off blog) going to be a regular blogger, or is she also just taking a pause? The overall balance for the featured bloggers is still “skewed” to use your own term. Women should be half the featured bloggers, and yet this imbalance has gone on for years and has still not been corrected.

    So often these gender imbalances are only corrected if people stubbornly protest. Surely that won’t be necessary here.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  37. William Osborne

    Actually, I did not skew the data at all, Frank. I said the responses were 34 to 1, but you carefully list the respondents which makes things look a little better. (My only error was missing the gender of one respondent, which would make it 33 to 2.)

    Both aspects of the data are important, but I hope you, of all people, are not going to try to deny that both the responses AND the respondents in the Chatter section are extremely imbalanced. It is difficult to make an exact count because of the anonymous participants, but I am fairly certain that women represent less than a tenth of the respondents here, and probably about a twentieth – or about 5%. And as for responses, the numbers are even worse. Are you telling us that is not a problem?

    And while you’re here, Frank, what happened to Jeannie Pool’s blog? I hope she is just on vacation or something. And is Teresa (who recently wrote what appears to be a one-off blog) going to be a regular blogger, or is she also just taking a pause? The overall balance for the featured bloggers is still “skewed” to use your own term. Women should be half the featured bloggers, and yet this imbalance has gone on for years and has still not been corrected.

    So often these gender imbalances are only corrected if people stubbornly protest. Surely that won’t be necessary here.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  38. William Osborne

    Chris, actually I didn’t work behind the scenes to encourage Linda’s participation – at least not directly. I had no idea at all she was going to be a blogger here, but I can tell you I was VERY delighted when I saw her blog appear. I wish I could take credit, but I had no influence whatsoever.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  39. Frank J. Oteri

    Are you telling us that is not a problem?

    FJO (cited from above): it would be great if the ratio were better balanced

    Inclusivity has been and will always be the goal of NewMusicBox. A look through the archives of the site (which are all here going back to when we launched in May 1999) reflect this; it is something we have worked very hard at it and will continue to work even harder at in the future because it is something we very strongly believe in.

    I should point out however that many potential contributors to these pages, both possible bloggers and possible respondents to blogs, have written to me privately to state that they feel uncomfortable positing their opinions here because of several posters (all male) who always find a way to dominate the threads with long posts, off-topic comments, and periodic ad hominem attacks. We are currently in the process of finding a way to reformat these pages which will make it a better environment for everyone involved. Stay tuned.

    Reply
  40. dusman

    I have a theory that musicians have as their primary identity “being musical”, even before they know that they are male or female because we all respond to the world primarily and fundamentally in a sonic way. This is the way in which we are all related (why our non-musican friends scratch their heads at a musician gathering!). I think that is part of the reason we all tend to get confused and/or frustrated around gender issues in music….

    In my original post, I talked about a feminist approach to listening, which for me really has nothing to do with being masculine or feminine (whatever that is), a binary that tends to emerge in our conversations like a favorite pair of old shoes that we simply cannot discard, even though they haven’t fit for a long time.

    I’d like to encourage people to attempt to respond without using those terms, just to see if it is even possible to think about these issues without getting bogged down in masculine/feminine.

    But I truly welcome all comments–actually I feel very welcomed to this site by people writing in response–so thank-you! Also to all the people who have sent personal notes–I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation.

    And anyone with more info about Grace Cushman I would love to hear about–I have found very little about her on the web.

    Linda Dusman

    Reply
  41. coreydargel

    …many potential contributors to these pages, both possible bloggers and possible respondents to blogs, have written to me privately to state that they feel uncomfortable positing their opinions here because of several posters (all male) who always find a way to dominate the threads with long posts, off-topic comments, and periodic ad hominem attacks.

    Finally, something that William Osborne can take credit for! Many thanks to FJO and the rest of the NMBx/AMC staff for their ongoing efforts to encourage a diversity of viewpoints on these pages. Let us hope Osborne doesn’t continue to sabotage any and all progress.

    Reply
  42. William Osborne

    I agree with Frank’s comment that NMBx as a whole strives to create fair balances, and I’ve mentioned this numerous times. On the other hand, there have not been fair balances in the representation of the bloggers. This problem would not have been difficult to solve. It was simply neglected, because it didn’t really concern the Editors until complaints were made.

    Two months ago my wife contacted the IAWM list to suggest women contact NMBx about blogging (after Molly said she was open to suggestions for bloggers.) Inside of 24 hours at least three (and probably more) highly qualified and eager women wrote to Molly Sheridan about blogging for NMBx. And yet, we still see NMBx stumbling along in this matter. There are two women who contacted Molly that could easily be blogging now, and their offerings would be top notch. But no dice.

    It thus especially troubling that Frank has tried to blame several of the men here (and no doubt including me) for the lack of women participants. That’s pure nonsense. It has been the indifference and foot dragging by the Editors themselves that created this problem, which has existed for years.

    Solutions for the imbalanced numbers with the respondents will require a long-term effort. Half the bloggers need to be women and they need to blog as often as most of the men, which is once a week. And they need to be able to blog without fear or embarrassment about issues that concern women. If this is kept up for about a year, the number of women respondents will almost certainly increase.

    Linda, I will not speak of men or women any more in this thread (which is a good suggestion.) I just wanted to add this last response about a topic deeply important to me because it is difficult to mention the lack of women without mentioning them. But as you say, we got bogged down, and the blame lies squarely on my shoulders. Sorry.

    Willliam Osborne

    Reply
  43. Lisa X

    For me the problem is not balance of people but fair distribution of resources. As a woman growing up with classical music I always thought of it as an institution by and for men, like baseball or the US Senate. Fine with me. I don’t expect those kinds of institutions to be gender balanced. Been watching the Olympics? Men and woman are not the same! Duh, and their musical interests are not the same either. Problem is that work typically done by women is not as respected as work typically done by men.

    I’m not saying this too well but I’ll try again. I think it is short sighted to want more people from marginalized populations to gain entry into dominant institutions. I’d prefer if the power and resources they control were taken and distributed fairly. In other words, I’d rather see women supported for what they are already doing rather than asking them to join the men’s game, which I ultimately see as a way to maintain the status quo without the guilt.

    Personally, I sometimes like the men’s game (thats why I read NMBx) and think it would be a shame to loose it for the sake of diversity. Please lets not make a gray world, just be fair with the resources.

    Reply
  44. coreydargel

    Well said, Lisa X. Although I wasn’t at the teacher training institute, my experience seeing the students at Walden and knowing many people who have been through the training institute leads me to believe that Walden is a healthy, effective, and productive alternative to the dominant institutions of learning and music-making.

    Reply
  45. Lisa X

    It’s important to ask who benifits from adding marginalized people to your group. Do women really stand to gain from participating more at NMBx? Is it really a problem that maybe female musicians are less likely to spend their time discussing new music online?

    The anxiety about who participates in this kind of music doesn’t seem to come from a concern for the well being of women. I believe it comes mostly from shame. People feel bad about being part of organizations that have been and continue to be defined in part by race, gender, and class.

    There is too much real work to be done on reproductive rights, wage discrimination, domestic violence, etc. to spend our time counting new music bloggers.

    Reply
  46. William Osborne

    Well, nothing much is moving here much, so I guess I will go ahead and respond to “Lisa X.” Yes, there are times when it is necessary to separate men and women, such as in some kinds of sport. Under such circumstances, it is very important that the resources be balanced, and that is why the Title IX laws were enacted.

    There are far fewer reasons, however, to separate men and women in music. Barring a few special circumstances they should work together. For the most part, gendered forms of musical segregation would be no better than racial segregation.

    Why should the webzine of the American Music Center have its discussion section devoted to men? (As you note, it in fact more or less does, at least in practice.) The m/f ratio for bloggers has been about 6 to 1 for years. Why has this easily solvable problem never been remedied? What effect does this kind of indifference have on women in music?

    You write that: Men and woman are not the same! Duh, and their musical interests are not the same either. Yes, men and woman are different, and sometimes their musical interests seem to diverge when taken as a whole, but barring special circumstances, men and women belong together. (Duh, again!) You speak of creating balances, and in fact, these balances are best established when men and women interact and learn to work harmoniously.

    You also ask why we should count the women bloggers when there are so many other more serious problems that women face like domestic abuse, and differences in pay. Well, the answer is that we shouldn’t wait until a woman has her jaw and nose broken before we concern ourselves with justice and human dignity.

    Human dignity and its consequent security, are strongly reinforced by cultural values. There is a correlation, for example, between the way African-Americans were portrayed in literature and the regularity with which they were beaten, horse-whipped and lynched. There are correlations between they way they are portrayed by Hollywood and the respect they gain in the workplace. There are also correlations if they are simply absent in Hollywood, with the way they are treated in society.

    It is no different for women. Their presence and status in classical music reinforces the respect they are afforded in other areas of life. Sometimes the correlations, even if indirect, can be very extreme. Throughout the 90s the Vienna Philharmonic forbade membership to women, which was obviously an affront to the dignity of women. At the same time, about 300 miles to the south in former Yugoslavia, about 20,000 women were mass raped as a form of ethnic cleansing. When women are given more respect, equality, and integration in our cultural expression, it alters the attitudes they confront, and can even help prevent violence against them.

    If half the bloggers here were women (which would not be difficult to do) it would make a strong and very worthwhile statement that would resonate throughout the musical community. This statement would contribute to the dignity of women, and thus their security and equal treatment in many other areas of life.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  47. Lisa X

    William, I think we agree on almost everything. I think I am not being clear. Please allow me another try:

    It is a mistake to ask women to join dominant institutions before respecting their incredibly rich work and culture that has often times been forged in isolation from and opposition to men.

    In other words: treat music prominently made by women with the kind of dignity, respect, and interest that you invest in music prominently made by men. Do that before you have too much anxiety about why we are in large part not as excited as you are about music prominently made by men.

    I truly wish I were more articulate about these things. But the above makes real sense to me.

    And William, your opening line to last comment is insulting.

    Reply
  48. William Osborne

    I’m sorry Lisa X, by my opening line I was just indirectly apologizing for writing yet another post, since I had been criticized by the Editor (and others) for posting too much and too long. The comment wasn’t meant to be about you at all, but about the lack of responses to your interesting and provacative thoughts.

    William

    Reply
  49. philmusic

    “Lisa,” a nom de plume, and a fake e-mail address hardly inspires faith in any “alleged” opinions even if I agreed with you.

    Also the fact that the Walden school is constantly referenced on this page and advertised on many other music pages would seem to imply that it is surely part of the dominant institutions of learning and music-making. Whay is wrong with that?
    .

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  50. philmusic

    I will stick to it
    By philmusic – philmusic@aol.com

    “Lisa,” a nom de plume, and a fake e-mail address hardly inspires faith in any “alleged” opinions even if I agreed happened with you.

    Also the fact that the Walden school is constantly referenced on this page and advertised on many other music pages would seem to imply that it is surely part of the dominant institutions of learning and music-making. “Whats” wrong with that?

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  51. philmusic

    “Lisa,” a nom de plume, and a fake e-mail address hardly inspires faith in any “alleged” opinions even if I happened to agree with you.

    Also the fact that the Walden school is constantly referenced on this page and advertised on many other music pages would seem to imply that it is surely part of the dominant institutions of learning and music-making.

    Whats wrong with that anyway?

    Phil Fried
    sorry-I am disgraphic.

    Reply
  52. Lisa X

    Phil, feel free to email me if you’d like.

    And no, I don’t want you to know my last name. Employers and potential collaborators might google me and I’d prefer if my sometimes flimsy and sometimes foolish ideas are not used against me.

    Isn’t that fair? Does that make me unwelcome?

    Reply
  53. rtanaka

    Unlike the rest of us, Lisa is smart in keeping herself anonymous. The source of the information shouldn’t really matter as long as what’s being said is reasonable, I think. It’s one of the internet’s greatest advantage in a lot of ways — it removes all the hoo-haa that comes with status and standing so you’re forced to deal with people’s ideas on their own terms. People are also more likely to state their opinions as well, when they’re no repercussions involved.

    Course the reason I put my contact info up here is largely for marketing reasons. It’s not much, but I’ve made small contacts here and there which is kind of nice. But if I were to run for public office I’ll probably regret it since I know I’ve said some stuff in the past that I probably shouldn’t of. Oh well!

    Reply
  54. William Osborne

    What would it say about the new music scene and academia if one dare only tell the truth anonymously?

    William Osborne

    Reply
  55. coreydargel

    Oh, these men who say that more women should participate in this blog and then immediately attack a woman not for the substance of her ideas but for the fact that she chooses to speak without revealing her identity! It would be one thing if Lisa X wrote nonsense or inflammatory attacks, but her posts have been consistently insightful and well-written. So, guys (guys!), please stop bullying her. By doing so, you are only lending credence to the opinion that this site is not a progressive place for women. Oh, and using the word “witch” in the subject line was really thoughtless.

    As for Walden, it’s true that they advertise on NMBx’s site, but to use that incidental fact to proclaim Walden part of the establishment is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction against an organization that is merely trying to get the word out about itself. No one who has been to Walden would come away and say, “This place is part of the establishment.”

    Reply
  56. colin holter

    Lisa has every right to conceal her identity. As long as she keeps saying interesting stuff, I’m certainly not going to look her gift horse in the mouth–and she’s probably the most chill anonymous person on the internet, so count your blessings. Does anyone remember “Ichypatia?”

    Reply
  57. philmusic

    Um Corey-“Which witch is which”-is a book by Pat Hutchins–have you read it?

    Yes I am male as you are, but we have no way of knowing what gender “Lisa” is. Sorry. “Lisa” might be you or anyone. If I am wrong I apologize.

    It seems odd that you want to argue over the supposed politics of the Walden school since neither of us has attended it. Anyway, it seems that a whole lot of mainstream people are connected with it. So we disagree.

    I’m sure that the folks at Walden are wringing their hands with despair over this.

    Phil Fried

    Reply
  58. William Osborne

    Just to be clear, my comment wasn’t against anonymous posts (or Ms. X,) but rather a thought about an artistic or academic atmosphere that might necessitate anonymity.

    I do notice, however, that the discussion groups that seem the most professional, like the AMS-list, do not allow anonymous posts.

    William X (no relation)

    Reply
  59. rtanaka

    I remember getting my grades docked a few times because I didn’t agree with what the professor was telling me during lessons. (How do you “grade” someone’s compositional progress, anyway?) Given that classical institutions are often rife with petty politics, she has every right to conceal herself.

    Personally I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my opinions until I was considerably away from school. People say all kinds of things on the surface but many of them aren’t above rewarding or punishing people based on aesthetic beliefs. Does any of the older folks here remember what it was like to be a student?

    Reply
  60. William Osborne

    Do any of the older folks here remember what it was like to be a student?

    Yes. Nothing much has changed. The yea-sayers ruled, and they still do. During the 60 and 70s, for example, the Northeastern establishment was dominated by serialism, or very closely related styles. It was almost impossible to win a BMI Award without writing something in that vein. To this day, Milton Babbitt is still the honorary chairperson of the committee. The most successful students were those who were the best parrots. A genuine musical identity was all to often actually a detriment, unless it happened to be aligned with serialism. Though their styles were more varied, the Downtowners were just as narrowly focused and often just as biased. We see the legacy of these views to this day.

    I think John Corigliano was one of the first to successfully defy the serial mafia in the Northeast. I think it helped that his father had been a prominent member of the NY Phil, and that this favorably inclined the orchestra toward his music. They premiered and toured Europe with his Clarinet Concert in the mid 70s. It was extremely popular with audiences and played a significant role in breaking the hold of serialism. The work helped put the American Neo-Romantic movement in motion (or whatever you want to call it.) I think history might show that the most creative composers often had to buck the new music establishment, if not ignore it all together.

    It is extremely difficult to say for sure, but I think students during the later 60s and early 70s were often more rebellious and outspoken. Sixty-thousand young men died in Vietnam, and most of them had been drafted. During the spring semester of 1970, the war and civil rights protests were so extreme many campuses were permanently shut down about six weeks early.

    At the University of New Mexico, where I was a freshman, eleven students were bayoneted by the National Guard. One almost died because they severed a huge vein where the hips join the leg. Tear gas became an almost daily smell on the campus. Student protest was so widespread that the professors could not resist the students. In fact, a lot of professors joined in.

    On the other hand, maybe students are still as rebellious, even if very different. After 9/11 I read so many accounts of students even physically intimidating professors who spoken out against the invasion of Iraq. That was pretty stupid, but the students in the 60s did a LOT of stupid things too.

    All the same, something seems to be wrong when an atmosphere of intimidation is so strong that artists and academics resort to anonymous discussion.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  61. philmusic

    Its too easy to cherry pick phrases from a text and twist it to mean the opposite of what was intended.

    If that is the benchmark for blogging discourse point taken.

    Phil Fried

    Reply

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