Gender Implications and the Marimba-Part 2

In a previous blog entry, Gender Implications and the Marimba-Part 1, I briefly introduced a paper I had recently written. I would now like to explore two of the items I mentioned. One, the connection of the marimba to a lineage of other instruments that have been culturally gendered female, and two, to understand how performances by women may be framed in sexual terms.

SO. I believe that it is pretty safe to say that the marimba is similar to other instruments associated with women, particularly the keyboard. After all, they’ve both got two manuals (naturals and accidentals). All aspects of sound creation occurs out side of the body (we play these instruments with our hands).

In America, women have been directed towards keyboard percussion since the early 20thc as male teachers and critics were concerned that women lacked the physical strength required to play the instruments. I referenced this in the earlier entry by calling back to the 1923 quotation from percussionist George Lawrence Stone who, in an attempt not to be entirely dismissive of women, wrote that their weakness “should not discourage them by any means from the profession of drumming, for there are many other engagements open which are a good deal easier from a physical standpoint.” He went on to say that marimba performance was on the more appropriate open engagements for women in percussion.

According to Heather Hadlock in her essay about the glass harmonica, another highly gendered instrument in our lineage, this notion of the woman needing to remain attractive at all times is a very old one. Indeed one can go all the way back to the ancient Greek goddess Athena who, upon creating a wind instrument, the aulos, tossed it away “when she realized how playing it would distort her face and compromise her dignity.” The similarities regarding women between the armonica and the marimba at the time of its entrance into popular American culture are illuminative. Although by the time the marimba had become popular in America in the late 1920s, the armonica had long been out of style, the approach to women at the instruments in Western societies were remarkably similar.

For the armonica, part of the appeal of the instrument was the seeming ease with which a young woman could learn to play it. Hadlock writes,

“The armonica also promised instant proficiency for any young lady, offering a shortcut through the awkward early stages of musical training. While other instruments, even such “feminine” favorites as the harp and harpsichord, required a certain strength and dexterity, merely resting one’s hands on this instrument would make music.”

And then there’s the advertisement I mentioned in the earlier post as well from1931 for Deagan, one of the first marimba manufacturers:

deagan ad“This impressive stage setting featuring thirteen Deagan Xylophones is the finale of ‘Tune Types.’ Critics pronounced it one of the most striking and entertaining finales of the year. Thousands of Chicago theater-goers were thrilled by the spectacular tonal effect of a 13-piece Xylophone band—yet these twelve Abbott girls spent only five and a half hours in practice. Could any proof be more convincing that the Xylophone is the easiest of all musical instruments to play?”

Such discourse associated the instruments with both women and a kind of “professional amateurism,” where the instrument seems to play itself. Which begs us to consider, when we applaud such performances are we really just applauding the disciplining of women? Just a thought.

I was planning on saving this for a later entry, but it seems now is the time..

That pesky “all-girl” aspect of the marimba’s presence in American culture early on is something that really must be discussed.

So Clair Omar Musser and his marimba bands…

musserMusser was arguably the “single most influential marimbist, marimba composer, and marimba designer in the history of the instrument.” That fact is not something I wish to dispute. Musser did a tremendous amount for the marimba regarding innovations for the instrument, popularizing it in America, technique advancements, and composing some of the first original pieces for the instrument. However, I do not feel that those things should protect him and his work from critical review. His extensive use of female ensembles in the 1920s and 30s, I believe, played a significant role in marginalizing the marimba as a “woman’s instrument.”

In 1929 he formed one of the first “All Girl” marimba ensembles. Musser produced the 25-member ensemble for a performance at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. He also formed the 12 Abbot Girls, with Musser himself as the soloist. One of his most popular groups was a touring quartet of co-eds from Northwestern University where he taught. While all-girl ensembles of this kind might be considered ground-breaking, it has typically been framed more as novelty, thereby weakening its cultural prestige. Furthermore, such displays of women performing might invite appreciation more of their bodies than of their music. Considering that many of these ensembles, and the 4 Marimba Co-eds specifically, were created for entertainment on military tours where their audience was likely to be entirely male, those implications are even more relevant.


The physicality required to play the marimba puts the body on display in ways that are more “appropriate” culturally for women. 

Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey

To help us understand how women’s performances might be framed in sexual terms, I turn to film theorist Laura Mulvey, who coined the term “The Male Gaze” in her 1973 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Her discussion of film audiences is easily applicable to those for music performances. She describes the darkness of the audience in contrast with the light of the screen, as well as how the audience separated from the drama of the film, that occurs in a “sealed world which unwinds magically, indifferent to the presence of the audience.” This description is remarkably similar to the “4th wall” experience of performing live music. Most importantly, however, she describes how we’ve culturally constructed roles for men and women in performance scenarios: men look, while women are to be looked at.

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure, which is styled accordingly.”


I assert that Musser, and especially Reg Kehoe, shaped the stage and female performers to the style in which they, as men, would most like to view.

Perhaps more famous in the public sphere, but not hailed so unequivocally as Musser was “Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens.” Kehoe formed a variety show of sorts, combining live marimba performances alongside comedy skits, dancing and singing. Kehoe himself attributed the success of the ensemble to “smart, good-looking girls, who can play real good music and, at the same time, display good figures and bare legs.”

 (How could I pass up using that amazing evidence again?)

In my next  entry regarding the marimba and gender, I intend to consider Paul Creston’s 1940 Concertino for Marimba and Orchestra. It was the first piece of its kind (a concerto for marimba), and like many such canonical works, it has remained above scrutiny. Taking a closer look at this work, however, might illuminate the continued gendered makeup of the field, especially because its first performers were women. Its original performers may be the reason that this work was critically maligned at first.

I do belive that is enough food for thought for one day in the life of this bog.

Quickly, I want to say that I had the pleasure of presenting and discussing this research at the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy in San Antonio, Tx last month. That experience was a hoot and a half. As my “entrance into academia,” (as I’ve come to think of the whole experience in my mind) it certainly lived up to, and surpassed my expectations of what presenting research could be. It was one of the, shall I saw most lively discussions I have had the opportunity to witness, which left me feeling that my work is valid. There were intense supporters, and a few loud naysayers, and on the whole the experience was amazing. I sparked a discussion. Which really, is my end game with all of this…it’s a never ending end game. I understand I can’t change every individual’s mind. However, if I can open the floor (in as many circumstances as possible) to discussion on gender related issues then I am doing a good job. 

Sources:

“Clair Omar Musser.” Percussive Notes 37 No. 2 (April 1999): 6-17.

Eyler, David P.. “Development of the Marimba Ensemble in North American During the 1930’s.” Percussive Notes 34, No.1 (February 1996): 66-71.

Hadlock, Heather. “Women and the Glass Harmonica.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 53, No.3 (Autumn 2000): 507-542.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In Visual and Other Pleasures, 14-26. Houndmills, Basingstoke,Hampshire: Macmillan, 1989.

Stone, George Lawrence. “For Ladies Only.” Jacobs Orchestra Monthly 8 (1923): 91-92.

beautifully under-noticed…

I often ponder the little things I see.

On the way to San Antonio earlier this month I wondered if anyone has written a lyric in some intimate indie song about the tiny crystallized frost that forms on the outside of the fuselage windows when flying. It seems somehow poetic that regardless of climate below, it’s freezing up in the sky.

It was just something so beautifully under-noticed that crossed my mind…

News! – NCPP Presentation

I just wanted to take a moment and announce that I’ll be presenting my paper on the marimba and gender at the National Conference on Percussion Pedagogy next month in San Antonio, TX! I’m so excited and grateful for this opportunity!

P.S. I’m working on a blog post about the potentially gendered nature (and subsequent marginalization?) of chamber music. More on that soon.

Hoorah!

Hit Like a Girl

So. There’s this contest. The Hit Like a Girl contest. hit like a girlIt’s for female drummers. Which seems awesome, right? It seems like something I should be rallying behind, ya? I’m struggling to get behind this contest though. I think the point of this whole deal is to increase the visibility of female drum set artists. Which is SO great. I understand, and appreciate, the empowerment of females (this is me here). But does a contest like this mean that others are not for females? Is this just supposed to call attention to how awesome it is to be a drummer..in general..or specifically being a girl drummer? I want to be excited about something like this, but I don’t think a contest (pageant culture, folks) exclusively for girl drummers is the answer. We’re not novelty.

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 5.04.14 PMThe history of the HLAG contest:
“David Levine of TRX Cymbals conceived the Hit Like A Girl Contest in 2011. He felt that the music products industry was seriously underserving female drummers and he wanted to support and promote their development. He got together with Mindy Abovitz of Tom Tom Magazine, and Phil Hood and Andy Doerschuk at DRUM! Magazine, and the Hit Like A Girl Contest was born. Since then the contest has attracted 700 contestants from 42 countries. It has generated millions of page views and hundreds of thousands of fans votes around the world. And it has raised the visibility of female drummers and spotlighted the efforts of girls and women.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 5.18.25 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 5.17.47 PM

Thoughts? Help? I may be having an existential crisis over here…

Gender Implications and the Marimba-Part 1

Relatively recently, I wrote a paper exploring the potential gendered implications of the marimba.  This paper was formally for a class I was taking, but informally something I had been wanting to look in to for quite a while. I’ll be posting about the marimba/percussion and gender in various installments. I believe the issue is too big, and too complex to discuss in one blog entry. Well, one entry that any person who isn’t me would actually read the whole way through.

A few years ago at the annual Percussive Arts Society International Conference (PASIC), I had the stark realization that I am a minority in my field. To many of you, this is probably obvious, but to me, I think I couldn’t see what I didn’t want to. Long story short, I am an avid promoter of new music. And so, like any overly zealous, naïve young percussionist, I thought it’d be a great idea to attend the New Music Research Committee meeting. I walked into the room with another female colleague and we doubled the amount of women in the room, not that that really did much for the ratio has a whole. Needless to say, this experience alongside many similar ones throughout my budding career led me to ponder why the percussion field still seemed so heavily male-dominated. Then I realized where all the women are. They’re playing marimba. This is of course hyperbole, but relevant nonetheless.

I’m still fine tuning aspects of the paper and my research, but I thought I’d put this idea out here now that I’ve had some time to sift through the available literature and my thoughts as well. In my paper, I focused on the issue of gender and the marimba through the critical reception of Paul Creston’s Concertino for Marimba and the social climate in America at the time. I feel the attitude surrounding the marimba was, and to an extent continuing today is, that it was/is a woman’s instrument. There are potentially many reasons for this. One being how closely related the marimba is to other historically feminine instruments. I also believe that the way in which the physicality required to play the marimba puts the body on display may have led to females being directed to this instrument to be viewed by the male gaze. I discuss the complicated issue of gender more thoroughly in the essay, but for now I think I’d like you to consider some of the following evidence regarding not necessarily the concertino, but gender and percussion playing in general in the early 20th century.

“. . . but this should not discourage them by any means from the profession of drumming, for there are many other engagements open which are a good deal easier from a physical standpoint.” –George Lawrence Stone, “For Ladies Only,” Jacobs Orchestra Monthly 8 (1923): 91.

There are numerous examples of the thought that the “tender” sex could not physically create the necessary sounds on drums. One such example is in the words above from percussionist George Lawrence Stone in an article from 1923. Stone went on to suggest that one of the open engagements appropriate for women was marimba performance. In the early 20th century, the thought of a woman playing an instrument that required so much physical exertion was presumed unattractive.[1]

In a 1931 ad for Deagan, one of the first marimba manufacturers:

“This impressive stage setting featuring thirteen Deagan Xylophones is the finale of ‘Tune Types.’ Critics pronounced it one of the most striking and entertaining finales of the year. Thousands of Chicago theater-goers were thrilled by the spectacular tonal effect of a 13-piece Xylophone band—yet these twelve Abbott girls spent only five and a half hours in practice. Could any proof be more convincing that the Xylophone is the easiest of all musical instruments to play?”[2]

deagan ad

Discovering the impression that the instrument requires little skill to make a desirable sound was an enlightening moment for me in my research. Although, I’m not entirely sure now. Non-percussionists walk up to my instruments all the time, pick up the closest sticks/mallets and start playing. I wonder what would happen if I went up to one of my wind or string-playing colleagues, picked up they’re flute/trumpet/violin/oboe/you get the point, and just started playing. On some level, I find the accessibility of percussion one of it’s most beautiful aspects, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that people find it “easy.”

Oh dear, I have digressed. Let me return to the subject at hand. It is interesting how these remarks on the simplicity of playing the instruments constrain the performer, who was often female. As will be seen in a later post, critical reviews of the concertino were generally complimentary. However, when said compliments are trapped under the guise of an instrument that “plays itself,” as one critic said, are they really compliments?

The “all girl ensemble” aspect of this ad will be discussed in a later entry, as that is a problematic notion all to itself. I can’t resist providing the following quote and video for you to ponder though…

“smart, good-looking girls, who can play real good music and, at the same time, display good figures and bare legs.”[3]

Musser was not the only person promoting all female marimba ensembles. Perhaps more famous in the public sphere, but not hailed so unequivocally as Musser was “Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens.” The importance of appearance in this ensemble can be understood through the above quotation from Kehoe himself regarding the success of the ensemble. And now, for your viewing pleasure (interpret THAT however you please), a video of the Marimba Queens:

I’ll just…I’ll just let that sit there…

 

Once I have this essay cleaned up, and in a place in which I’m comfortable putting it out into the world, I’ll be sure to post it on here. In the meantime, I’d love get some sort of dialogue going on the issue. Do you see this occurrence in your own studios/musical atmospheres? Do you feel you may have been steered towards towards a certain instrument in percussion, or ANY kind of musical performance? Or maybe, do you think this is a non-issue that I should just drop? Let me know your thoughts, regardless of the gender by which you identify yourself.

-Tia

 

[1] D. Antoinette Handy, Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras (Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998), 204.

[2] “Clair Omar Musser,” Percussive Notes, 37, No. 2 (April 1999): 14.

[3] Eyler, David P.. “Development of the Marimba Ensemble in North American During the 1930’s.” Percussive Notes 34, No.1 (February 1996): 66-71.

 

Update and a vow to blog

This blog has been stagnant for too long. I’m just getting in from sharing some food, beverages, and discussion with my friend and colleague, Philip Rice, and he reminded that I have meaningful thoughts, and am doing exciting things. In all honesty, I’ve been apprehensive about the implications of keeping a blog. All of the “What happens once my words are ‘out there’?” and “What if I change my mind in 10 years?” nonsense. Of course I’ll change my mind on interpretations, and maybe in 10 years I’ll be doing something entirely different with my life. Who knows? But does that mean I shouldn’t write about things in the here and now? So. Here it is. My vow to the interwebs to write more.

So on that note, here’s a quick update of what I’ve been up to the last year.

Last Spring I finished my Master’s degree in Music Performance!Me and Gwen masters

I then spent my summer hanging around Michigan and getting to know this good ‘ole town of Lansing, went to my brother’s wedding (Congrats Tom!), worked in a restaurant to make some extra cash, facilitated many drum circles, didn’t practice as much as I should have, contemplated the extent to which I want musicology to be a part of my life/career, and began planning a trio recital for the fall.

Enter: Fall 2014. I began working at the MSU Writing Center (I love this job), realized the desire to focus more on musicology within myself, and put together a recital that I can confidently say is the best recital I’ve ever given. I asked Philip, and another Michigan composer, Jay C. Batzner to compose percussion trios specifically for the event. I called it “The Making of Lines and Letters: A Percussion Recital.” A friend of mine, Matt Roberts and fellow MSU Percussionist, Alice Pan were gracious enough to play this recital with me. We put together a mini-tour of sorts going to some local schools, an art gallery, and finishing it off at MSU. Here are some highlights from the show:

So that about brings us up to where we are now. It’s January in Michigan, and I’m doing ALL THE THINGS. Next week I get to do some run out performances with the MSU Percussion Studio before our trip to play at the McCormick Marimba Festival down in Tampa, FL…can you say SUNSHINE? It’ll be a great, albeit bust week. We’re recording everything Sunday, then it’s the last week of this set of repertoire before I get to start working on Part II of David Lang’s “The So Called Laws of Nature.” In solo-land, I’m working on Lanky’s “Three Moves for Marimba” and wrapping my mind/speaking around Globokar’s “Toucher,” but more on all that later.

I have a lot of ideas to discuss on here; political influences on “Toucher,” gender and the marimba, heck gender/sexuality/race/why do we keep this silly canon intact?…and MUSIC, culture, commissioning, coffee, learning French, various plot developments in Doctor Who and Buffy, my cat Elliott.Ya know, the real deep, intellectual stuff. Anyway, stay posted for more in the future. Thanks for reading.

PASIC 2013 (Reflection and Thank You)

Well. We did it. We played all the notes and made it back to East Lansing. The experience of performing with the MSU Percussion Studio at PASIC last Thursday was one I’m immensely grateful for. The past semester has been quite a journey for everyone involved. As I sit here in a coffee shop, trying to put my life back together and get caught up on all the things I had been putting off for the trip to Indy, I keep playing over in my mind various events throughout the semester, trying to find how everything fit together. There were 8am rehearsals, 10pm rehearsals, and plenty in-between. There was schlepping. Lots and lots of schlepping. Really though, the thing that surprises me the most is how we all still get along. You’d think after hauling equipment in the cold/rain/snow, intense and lengthy rehearsals, and everything else associated with playing percussion we’d be pretty tired of seeing each other, but I really do believe that this experience has brought us all closer together. That’s not to say it was sunshine and rainbows every minute of every day, but personally I’m looking back on the whole experience and seeing much more positive than not. Thank you to the MSU Percussion Studio, my professors (past and present), those who attended our concert, and everyone who has supported myself and the studio and I’m very lucky to be a part of.

We were even lucky enough to make the PASIC 2013 Highlight video for Thursday!

PASIC 2013 Thursday Highlights – Peterson-Naranjo-MSU

..and a few photos from the journey..

PASIC 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve put anything on here. The main reason being that next week I will be performing with the MSU Percussion Studio on a showcase concert at this year’s PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Conference) in Indianapolis. I am thrilled to be a part of this opportunity for our studio here at MSU. I am playing on Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree. Getting to know this piece has been ever so enlightening. Due to all of the intense preparation for this concert (on top of all the usual things going on) this has been one of the busiest semesters of my academic career. I found out over the summer that we were going to have this opportunity and the time between then and now, being less than a week away from “the show,” seems somewhat like a blur. Funny the way time passes. Anyway, our concert is next Thursday, 11/14 at 10am. I can’t wait! It’s been quite a journey these past few months. It’s been great.

Tia

MSU College of Music Percussion

MSU Community Music School

msu cms 3Good news! I’ve officially been offered a position at the MSU CMS. I’ve picked up my keys and everything! The Michigan State University Community Music School (CMS), is an outreach arm of the MSU College of Music.  The MSU CMS offers opportunities for the study, appreciation, and therapeutic use of music to individuals regardless of age or ability. This such a great opportunity and I’m very excited to be joining this organization. I’ll be teaching percussion at the East Lansing location. I was able to view the facilities the other day, and it’s really excellent seeing what they’ve done with the space. So if you know of anyone in the Greater Lansing Community looking to take some percussion lessons, send them my way!

Tia

 

NewMusicBox » Your 2013-14 Attitude Guide: Four to Cop, Four to Drop for an Amazing Season

As the fall semester is quickly approaching (or already has) for many of us, here are some words of wisdom just posted on a blog I regularly follow. Here’s to a good school year!..or performance season!..or life!

NewMusicBox » Your 2013-14 Attitude Guide: Four to Cop, Four to Drop for an Amazing Season.