CMT: My young niece has recently decided to begin studying trumpet. I told her about how exotic and novel this choice is, and gave her copies of the recent CDs of Amanda Pepping and Alison Balsom to give her a sense for what’s possible—how mastery of that instrument can be cool for a girl.
DSM: Coincidentally, I was recently reading a medical journal article about cerebrovascular events in musicians, such as cerebral embolism due to a patent foramen ovale and spinal epidural hematoma during trumpet playing. Do you imagine that the phenomenally high intrathoracic and subsequent intrapharyngeal pressure associated with brass playing contributes to why there are so few women brass players in orchestras and other classical music groups?
CMT: I can’t imagine it. There surely isn’t any relevant physical difference between the genders with regard to brass playing—with the possible exception of tuba and lung capacity. Women are able to generate and sustain pressures in Valsalva maneuvers that are as high as men. There isn’t any gender-based anatomical difference that would differentially affect brass playing compared to other wind instruments. Mouthpiece pressure, tooth displacements, and so on. The intrathoracic pressures in double-reed playing can be higher than those for brass instruments—but there’s no barrier for women oboists and bassoonists and so on. So surely the rarity of women brass players just reflects the impact of entrenched cultural notions about what’s “feminine”—the tide of what’s culturally permissible for womanly playing.
DSM: So this is really about whether or not there’s such a thing as feminine musical style or styles. Stereotypes—like the notion that women’s music production should be fluid, should appear as playful regardless of how much exertion is involved, should be hyperexpressive and emotional and dialogical, should be pliant and enabling of others, should be acrobatic or balletic, should have great dramatic moments, should exude a certain jouissance, should be atmospheric, should refer to life events and relationships, should have wide and demonstrative ties between thematic elements, and should overtly draw attention to and emphasize the differences in the movements of women from those of men. The whole bit.
CMT: Well, yes. And how do these things replicate societal norms for gendered musical practices and experience gendered musical meanings? How do these affect women’s expectations and the specific practices and products of their composing and performing?
DSM: As you know, historically, relatively few women have been composers. Equally few are brass players. Shall we think about these correlations? Musicologists and sociologists have only in the last twenty years or so begun to study the situation, and there’s still a lot of work to be done (see Bowers & Tick, 1986; Citron, 1993; Marshall, 1993; Cook & Tsou, 1994; Halstead, 1997; Green, 1994, 1997).
CMT: Regarding primary music education, the majority of gender-related research has been on instrument choice (Bruce & Kemp, 1993; Green, 1997), with relatively little research so far on gender and music in relation to children’s compositions (Green, 1994, 1997; Charles, 2001). The children in Charles’ research carried on ideological assumptions that’re passed down through history about what girls/women and boys/men ought and ought not to do and what they’re like as musicians. She found that children have gendered expectations in relation to music and have strong ideas about the differences between girls’ and boys’ musical practices, even at an early age. She calls these ‘ideologies of gendered musical practices’. Charles found that in general children acted out gender roles in relation to compositional practices. But the most interesting findings were contradictions between the ways that children talked about things (their discourse) and how they operated in practice—contradictions they didn’t seem to notice themselves. And that is, in itself, a chink in the tyrannical cultural armor.
DSM: The teachers in Charles’ study did display many entrenched, gendered assumptions about boys’ and girls’ musical practices and products. And so there’s a summary in Charles’ paper—about girls’/women’s musical subculture—a concept of ‘female musical subculture’.
CMT: About 10 years ago, Lucy Green also worked out a model of gendered musical meaning and experience. Green argues that we must keep open some level of pure musical meaning that’s free from symbolic content. When heard, it’s affected by the values that exist outside the musical notes themselves. In relation to her model, Green says that ‘musical composition requires knowledge of the technology of voices, instruments or other sound sources, and this knowledge implies masculine delineation of mind which conflicts with patriarchal constructions of femininity’. She describes the concept as ‘twofold’ because it’s not only about the cognitive control over knowledge and technique but also because history—which is itself patriarchal—results in an assumption that the authorship behind a piece of music is male. The delineation of masculinity in the construction of musical meaning is associated with the public sphere—the mind, technology and non-conformity—whereas the delineation of femininity is associated with the private sphere—the body, emotions and conformity. It’s an excellent encapsulation of the preconceptions that girls and women in music face.
DSM: Yes, but boys are just as constrained and inscribed by cultural gender norms. Yes, they appear to have a more positive relationship to technology than did most girls, and this was in Charles’ study reinforced by boys’ choice of abstract compositional titles (‘Loud and Soft’; ‘Heavy and Light’; ‘Wooden and Metal’; and so on; see also Armstrong, 2001). But that also means that boys are culturally enjoined against being free to choose other things—they are not at liberty to choose less technically-bound, abstract, objectified, power-conscious forms. Charles finds that more girls chose compositional titles associated with emotion and nature rather than objectivity (‘Happy and Sad’; ‘Rain and Sunshine’). The findings strongly suggest that girls in their discourse and to some extent in their practice were acting as members of a female musical subculture. No surprise there. Discouraging but not surprising.
CMT: So girls reproduced traditional gendered musical practices and carried out ‘expected’ or ‘culturally constructed and sanctioned’ roles connected with the conventional private sphere that is reserved to them. The term ‘subculture’ rather than ‘culture’ is used because women’s experiences have been marginalized by male culture, and this leads to a location where commonalities emerge. Marginalization in turn discourages them, to a greater degree anyhow than boys. The concept of female musical subculture is used to explain women’s musical practice within the context of patriarchy and does not imply anything that is essentially female. It acknowledges the category of ‘woman’ as a social construction (see Nash, 1994) and is about women perpetuating traditional musical practices for social/historical reasons.
DSM: This suggestion of feminine perseverance and conformity bugs me. By ‘being girls’, by describing their music as soft and slow and having a preference for soft and slow music, they are ‘against themselves’—or so Charles interprets it. Thank goodness some music education programs are smashing these barriers.
CMT: In light of Citron’s recent writing, it could be said that the girls experience a sense of Other and ‘an anxiety of authorship’. Their sense of Other is another dimension to the concept of female musical subculture. McClary locates ‘semiotic codes’ in sonata form and argues that music participates ‘actively in the social organization of sexuality’ (1991, p. 9). Similarly, Citron identifies ‘codes of gendered representation’ in sonata form and maintains that the codes ‘tell us a lot about the representation of women and men in society, how ideologies affected how music itself was conceptualized and described, and how music had close ties with ideals and processes in society’ (1993, p. 137).
DSM: So children’s and teachers’ discourse on the musical practices of boys and girls in the primary classroom reflect views about gendered musical behavior that have been socially and historically constructed within the larger society. Microcosmic meaning drawing from macrocosmic meaning concerns larger totalities of history and humanity (where past and present connect) that are unifying patterns of beliefs. In the case of this study, in their discourse children defined their being and consciousness in relation to the social world, to others and to the system of beliefs and values that is already in existence about gender and gender and musical practice. This was then reinforced by teachers’ views about boys’ and girls’ composition.
CMT: Chamber music becomes just one more discursive field within which meanings are produced about social relations . . . the discourses will include and be drawn from those current in broader society.
DSM: Yes. Kids quickly learn the discourse of how to represent gendered musical practice that conforms to adult expectationsand this fits in with the wider social organization of music. But the taboos on gendered musical behavior are not so strong at younger ages. The discourse on musical practice has more power over their thinking than over the nature of the music they produce. Ideology quickly dominates their conscious thinking and affects their interpretation of what’s actually happening in their musical training. Would you contend that the social system of gender relations is both a cause and an effect?
CMT: Although imposed externally by outside social forces, it does arise out of self-imposed boundaries. But I think the evidence indicates that in their musical practice kids don’t consistently reproduce ideologies. Thank goodness! My niece, the iconoclast, and her supportive music teacher and parents. All things are in a continuous process of change and humanity is always, whenever it participates in social relationships, open to continual socialization. It’s only a matter of time, once kids are in secondary school, before the strength of ideology becomes greater and contradictions between musical discourse and practice decrease. Iconoclasm gets more difficult between age 14 and 20, say.
DSM: Another icon/iconoclast to tell your niece about is Ellen Zwilich. Ellen is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors, including the 1983 Pulitzer Prize in Music (the first woman ever to receive this coveted award), the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnányi Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, 4 Grammy nominations, and, among other distinctions, she’s been elected to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer’s Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America’s Composer of the Year for 1999. Her chamber works have been commissioned by the Boston Musica Viva, the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 92nd Street Y and San Francisco Performances (Piano Trio), Chamber Music Northwest (Clarinet Quintet), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Double Quartet), and Carnegie Hall (String Quartet No. 2). Ellen was named to the Carnegie Hall Richard and Barbara Debs Composers’ Chair in 1995, the first such position in the Hall’s history. And, in addition to Alison Balsom and Amanda Pepping, you might hook your niece up with Marie Speziale or Susan Slaughter, another couple of excellent women brass artists.
- International Women's Brass Conference
- International Trumpet Guild
- Vincent Bach Brass find-an-artist
- Alison Balsom. Bach: Works for Trumpet. (EMI Classics, 2006.)
- Alison Balsom. Caprice. (EMI Classics, 2006.)
- Armstrong V. Theorizing gender and musical composition in the computerized classroom. Women: Cultural Review 2001; 12:35–43.
- Asper L. Physical Approach to Playing the Trumpet. Wavesong, 1999.
- Atlas A. Wilkie Collins on music and musicians. J Roy Musical Assoc 1999;124:255-70.
- Barbenel J, et al. Mouthpiece forces produced while playing the trumpet. J Biomechanics 1988;21:417-24.
- Battersby C. Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics. Women’s Press, 1989.
- Borchers L, et al. Measurement of tooth displacements and mouthpiece forces during brass instrument playing. Med Eng Phys 1995;17:567-70.
- Bowers J, Tick, J, eds. Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950. Univ Illinois, 1986.
- Bruce R, Kemp A. Sex-stereotyping in children’s preference for musical instruments. Br J Music Educ 1993; 10:213–17.
- Case B, Leggett A, eds. Complexities: Women in Mathematics. Princeton Univ, 2005.
- Charles B. Constructions of gender through musical composition in the primary school. Br J Music Educ 2004;21:265-77.
- Chrisler J, et al. Lectures on the Psychology of Women. McGraw-Hill, 2003.
- Citron M. Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge Univ, 2000.
- Cook SC, Tsou JS, eds. Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music. Univ Illinois, 1993.
- Cotton M. Wrong Sex, Wrong Instrument. Cambridge, 2006.
- Denmark F, Rabinowitz V, Sechzer J. Engendering Psychology: Women and Gender Revisited. Allyn & Bacon, 2004.
- European Society of Cardiology. Guidelines on management of syncope. Europace 2004;6:467-537. [1MB pdf, see p. 507 ‘trumpeters’ syncope’]
- Evers S, et al. Cerebrovascular ischemic events in wind instrument players. Neurology 2000;55:865-7.
- Fiz J, et al. Maximum respiratory pressures in trumpet players. Chest 1993;104:1203-4.
- Fletcher J. Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work. MIT, 2001.
- Fletcher N, Tarnopolsky A. Blowing pressure, power, and spectrum in trumpet playing. J Acoust Soc Amer 1999;105:874-81.
- Frederiksen B. Arnold Jacobs: Song and Wind. Windsong, 1997.
- Gilligan C. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Harvard Univ, 1993.
- Goldberger N, Tarule J, Clinchy B, Belenky M. Knowledge, Difference and Power: Essays Inspired by Women’s Ways of Knowing. Basic, 1996.
- Green L. Music, Gender, Education. Cambridge Univ, 1997.
- Green L. Gender, musical meaning and education. Phil Music Educ Review 1994; 2:76–82.
- Halstead J. The Woman Composer. Ashgate, 1997.
- Harnum J. Sound the Trumpet: How to Blow Your Own Horn. Sol Ut, 2006.
- Herbert T, Wallace J, eds. Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. Cambridge Univ, 1997.
- Jordan J, ed. Women's Growth in Diversity. Guilford, 1997.
- Lapatki B, et al. Surface EMG electrode for simultaneous observation of multiple facial muscles. J Neurosci Methods 2003;123:117-28.
- Marshall K, ed. Rediscovering the Muses: Women’s Musical Traditions. Northeastern Univ, 1993.
- McClary S. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality. Univ Minnesota, 1991.
- Miller J. Toward a New Psychology of Women. Beacon, 1987.
- Montaigne R, Hoffman M. Carol Jantsch, Principal Tuba, Philadelphia Orchestra, NPR 1997.
- Nash K. The feminist production of knowledge: is deconstruction a practice for woman? Feminist Review 1994;47:65–77.
- Neuls-Bates C. Women in Music. Northeastern Univ, 1995.
- Peacock-Jezic D. Women Composers: Lost Tradition Found. CUNY, 1993.
- Pendle K, ed. Women and Music: A History. Indiana Univ, 1998.
- Amanda Pepping. Amanda. (Summit, 2005.)
- Sadie J, Samuel R, eds. The Norton-Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. Norton, 1995.
- Schulz M, et al. Evidence for training-induced cross-modal reorganization of cortical functions in trumpet players. Neuroreport 2003;14:157-61.
- Women of Note. (Koch, 1997.)
- Yoshikawa S. Acoustical behavior of brass players’ lips. J Acoust Soc Amer 1995;97:1929-39.
- Ellen Zwilich. Sonata in Three Movements for Violin and Piano. (ACA, 2005.)
- Ellen Zwilich. Chamber Symphony / Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra. (First Edition, 2004.)
- Legacies: Piano Trios by Ellen Zwilich, Part, Kirchner & Silverman. (Arabesque, 1996.)
- National Music Council website
- Young Concert Artists website
- Sigma Alpha Iota website
- New York Women Composers
- International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM)
- Women in Music (Kapralova website)