Discussions of cultural appropriation often frame the problem in one of two ways: in terms of cultural property or in terms of what composers are “allowed” to do. Both of these approaches tend to result in the conversation getting sidetracked. Another way of framing things would be to say: music is a kind of social interaction. Denying the social aspect of music-making doesn’t make it stop happening; it just means that when it does happen, you don’t see it.
Whenever I hear words like “relevant” or “important,” I always want to ask, “relevant or important to whom?” While I do think the audience for classical music, and new music in particular, could be larger than it currently is, I’m usually pretty skeptical of “cultural relevance” as a concept. But something happened recently that made me reconsider.
It seems to be taken for granted in many new music circles that anyone who composes in a European modernist idiom is doing so because they’ve thought about all the possible options and made a historically informed decision to go with that one, but that anyone who composes in a tonal idiom is doing so naively.
In the last few months, there have been a number of highly circulated articles about women and contemporary classical music. Reading all these articles got me thinking about the role that gender plays in my own musical life. So here are some thoughts on what it’s like to be a composer on the trans-female spectrum in the early 21st century.