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Monday, 2 May 2005

Performing Sexuality

I was supposed to go to an awards thingee tonight in NYC, but I got confused about the time and ended up flaking. I know I should be all liberated and stuff, but thinking about going into the city by myself actually stresses me out somewhat. It's so big and full of people and hustling and bustling. Middletown has softened me up and made me suburban. Once I get into the city, I'm usually fine, although I find the lack of personal space stressful, which is more of a problem after a few days of couch surfing and more caused by couch surfing than anything else.

The silver lining here is that I get to go see a performance of Stimmung tonight, which is an insanely complicated vocal piece by Stockhausen. A group has been preparing all semester to sing this. It's a setting of erotic poetry that apparently Stockhausen wrote. the choral director spoke about this morning, reading naughty snippets in class, including references to "cocks," "rising semen," etc. The classroom reverberated with low pitched laughter. And suddenly I was very aware that I was the only woman in the room and felt decidedly uncomfortable.

I felt excluded from the piece in some fundamental way. It's for a mixed group, but it's not something I would sing even if I could. I don't think of myself as a prude, but I wouldn't want to do. I played tuba in a sex-themed Luc Ferrari piece whilst I was an undergrad in the most male Contemporary Performance Ensemble at Mills. I remember the same low pitched laughter. Didn't like it much then either. But sex is sex right? I mean, who cares?

I think my problem is that I don't want to perform male sexuality. It's not heteronormative as much as it is male-normative. Many or most composers are male. Therefore many or most composers using sex as a metaphor are doing so in a male model. Male sexual response is something that concerns the vast majority of people on this planet. But not me. I never see myself represented, except as can be appropriated by a male voice and put into a male perspective. Not without a major change of heart and/or a lot of not-currently-technically-possible-surgery will this ever apply to me. Maybe I'd feel differently if there was balance, but there isn't. And the power dynamics culturally inherent in the whole endeavor are offputting.

Also: this is not my art, this is not my place. Women are for singing high pitched lines when a male soprano just doesn't sound right.

I've defended my thesis. I went to my last class today. I have nothing left to do but pack and pay off my student account. The lack of purpose has left me feeling grumpy.

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1 comment:

Mezzogregory said...

What a fascinating post. It's very interesting to hear your take on the male-normative process of classical music.
Being a male soprano, I have a different experience of the music world (which would more often than not prefer me to be a more traditional voice type). Fighting the only thinkly vieled hatred from mezzos or lower lying sopranos isn't exactly the easiest way to make art. So there's gender imbalance all around.

I completely understand what you mean though about male composer sexuality and forcing girls into trousers and filtering femaleness through those very smudgy glasses. I would love to sing the pants roles.

But then the only thig left for the girls are mostly powerless roles. Opera doesn't exactly foster a helthy self-image for females does it?

But did you hear about the gynoccentric Opera at Royal Opera House, London? Maybe the world is changing? I hope so.