Soapbox: A Short Post About Women and the Musical Canon

soapboxAs you know, one of my projects for 2017 is making sure I’m listening to a lot more music by women by compiling a youtube playlist. One of the obvious points that keeps coming out in my commentaries on the pieces is how splendid so much of them are, and how boggling it is that I didn’t previously know it.

A possibly less obvious, and certainly less polite, point is that it makes me wonder how some of the repertoire by men that I do know seems to be taken seriously. I’m not saying that, say, Schumann wasn’t a ‘genius’ (though I am putting in scare quotes to distance myself from that rather loaded label), but I am saying that the label unhelpfully keeps some of his more irritating efforts in the repertoire (Symphony No 4, I am looking at you) when there are clearly better examples of the genre that get ignored because they are by people to whom the ‘genius’ label has been withheld – i.e. women.

On Building an Emotionally Resilient Choir

This is a theme I mentioned in relation to the session at the LABBS Directors Day in July, but there wasn’t space to expand on it that post. It was a session I included in the programme after having had several conversations during the spring that included reports of singers feeling anxious about the LABBS Convention in October.

Now, performance nerves is one thing (and something we can help with!), but worrying about an event several months in advance is just not how the world should be. People join choirs as a way to escape from the stresses of life, not to gain whole new areas of stress. Besides, fretting is terrible for pitch retention.

Harmonic Charge, Voicing and Gesture

Right back in the early days of this blog I spent some time thinking about a set of related concepts in close-harmony arranging and performing: harmonic charge, its relationship with voicing, and – more esoterically – the latter’s relationship with vowel sounds.

I have gradually observed over the years that these concepts have specific implications for conducting gesture: harmonies with a higher inherent energy (harmonic charge and/or tighter voicing) need to be squeezed.

I notice this most clearly when in trouble-shooting mode as a coach. Directors will respond to the energy in these moments whether or not they have consciously analysed the chords, but they run into difficulties when they translate this into action by making their gestures bigger. On the face of it, that would be the standard thing to do, following the bigger=louder metaphor* that underpins traditional conducting technique.

Playlist 2017: 6th Commentary

Time for another catch-up on my Playlist project for 2017. I'm now over half-way towards my goal of 100 pieces this year, and I've yet to repeat a composer. Additions may accelerate this month, as I have more listening time than usual (and in anticipation of having less listening time later in the year).

  • Marianna Martines, Dixit Dominus (1774), 1st movement. I was aware of Martines as a composer for harpsichord, but her choral music is a pleasant revelation. This is a decent amateur performance – good enough for me to want to get my hands on it and make it an even better one!
  • L. Viola Kinney: 'Mother's Sacrifice' (1909). Quite captivating piece, speaking through the languages of both C19th pianism and American popular song. And some extraordinary uses of sequence, too.

    The video includes two more pieces by more recent composers, Dorothy Rudd Moore and Zenobia Powell Perry, so stay on and listen to those too.

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