Med-Ren Music in the 21st Century

I want to draw your attention to a session in the upcoming Medieval and Renaissance Music conference in Maynooth next weekend: Med-Ren Music in the 21st Century. The speakers and their papers are:

Brandi A. Neal: “An Ounce of preventions is worth a pound of cure”: shielding early music from the Alt-Right.

Elizabeth Randell Upton: Music, medievalism and white supremacy: anti-racist pedagogy after Charlottesville.

Samantha Bassler: Music, disability and a 21st -century pedagogy of medieval and renaissance culture.

It’s currently scheduled for 5-6.30pm on Thursday 5 July in the Bewerunge Room. I guess things might change, though, as they sometimes do at conference, so it’s best to check the link to the full schedule available on the conference information page. The overall programme looks exciting. You might think I would say that, since I’m on the committee, but I’ve been on sick leave for several months and out of the loop. My gratitude to Antonio Cascelli, Eleanor Giraud, and Thomas Schmidt for being so gracious about my absence.

Sounding the Feminists: #EqualityTime, #HearAllComposers

Yesterday, Sounding the Feminists, a collective of women composers, musicians and musicologists, began a Twitter campaign to encourage the programming of contemporary music by women. Irish composers Amanda Feery, Finola Merivale, and Emma O’Halloran started the campaign and it has taken on a life of its own.

Campaigners used Twitter to highlight women composers whose work they’d like to see (and hear) programmed. Each tweet named three women composers and many of the tweets supplied their photos. The hashtags morphed a little over the day, from #timeforequality to #equalitytime, and #hearallcomposers.

The list of women composers generated here is pretty diverse, although I’m sure that could be improved still. It includes women composers of colour (right from the first tweet), and women of various ages. It is also quite diverse in terms of genres, styles, performing forces.

I have collated the tweets into a Storify story based on the three hashtags that were used throughout the day. It is very, very long. I have done my best to ensure there are no repeated tweets or repeated combinations of composers, but there are simply too many tweets for me to check right now that each tweet contributes something unique. If I have a chance over the coming days, I will edit to improve the story. (There are surely ways to group the mass of material to tell a story.) But one thing is abundantly clear: there are a lot of living women composers—this campaign has barely touched the surface—and no self-respecting music programmer can claim ignorance.

Using Special Collections for Teaching Music Undergraduates

Studying Music at University is a core module for all first-year Arts-Music students at University College Cork. The module is a study skills and writing course that introduces the various disciplines of music, and covers the history of the subject in third-level education. This year, the students will work in small groups to create public websites, podcasts or vodcasts. I have built in revision of drafts (as well as peer review and peer editing) into the assessment process, so the students will practice writing, evaluating, and revising. I’ve arranged sessions on creating websites with Claire Fennell and Dr Sarah Thelan (Instructional Design), on making podcasts or vodcasts with John Hough (Music), on professional and entrepreneurship skills with Peter Finnegan and Trish Gibbons (Blackstone LaunchPad), and on library and search skills with the subject librarian, Claire O’Brien. Helping students to learn to critically evaluate sources and communicate their evidence-based findings in a clear manner feels more important than ever.

What has me really excited this year is that students will be using primary sources available in UCC Boole Library’s Special Collections and Archives. Elaine Harrington and Emma Horgan found a range of materials, including mentions of music in George Boole’s correspondence, in the UCC Record (a publication covering the early years of the university), as well as printed music (including music by Annie Patterson), and autograph music manuscripts by Seán Ó Riada and Arnold Bax. There’s also the Henebry wax cylinder collection which was recently digitized.

I’m very grateful to Dr Jill Rogers for alerting me to Elaine Harrington’s enthusiasm for bringing students in to the archives. When I began lecturing at UCC in 2005, I was informed there were no music-related holdings in Special Collections or Archives available for use by music students. Several collections were catalogued and made available while I was away on my fellowship (2011-14) but until I contacted Elaine Harrington and Emma Horgan, I had no idea of the extent of our holdings.

Elaine’s interview with Shush! Sounds From UCC Library explains more about Special Collections and the ways she collaborates with UCC academics to bring undergraduate and postgraduate studies in to the reading rooms.

UCC Excellence Scholarships for Masters and PhD Students

If you’re applying to the UCC MA in Music and Cultural History, or for a PhD at UCC, you should also apply for an Excellence Scholarship. The scholarships cover EU tuition fees and are tenable for the duration of the student’s chosen postgraduate course.

Applicants must have at least Second Class Honours (Grade 1) or equivalent in their first or subsequent degree and must have already applied for their chosen postgraduate course. A referee’s report will be required as part of the application process.

The scholarship deadline for MA applicants is 10 April, 2016. PhD applicants can apply until 17 April, 2016.

For scholarship information and application forms, see:

The one-year MA in Music and Cultural History is a progressive alternative to conventional postgraduate courses in musicology, and it draws on the diverse expertise of internationally renowned scholars to combine the very best of traditional and contemporary scholarly practice.

During the course you will be presented with the opportunity to acquire and develop core musicological skills, including research techniques, the critical editing of music, and the close reading and analysis of musical texts. You will also engage with some of the most exciting developments in recent music scholarship, including:

explorations of politics,
gender and sexuality in music
race and ethnicity in music
(dis)ability in music
the interaction of music with other media
musical globalisation
the manifold issues in today’s popular music and culture, and
the new links being formed between musicology and other disciplines such as film studies, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, and philosophy.

In 2016-17, the taught modules will include sound studies, multidisciplinary debates in ethnomusicology and musicology, performance studies, the body in creative arts practice, music and popular culture, and music and cinema.

Read the rest.

Degrees of Social Justice

In the wake of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors sacking and rehiring the President, in part allegedly because they perceived her to be reluctant to embrace online education in the way they wanted, there has been a good deal of discussion of MOOCs and online courses more generally. I felt then, as I feel now, that there are potentially serious problems with wholly-online degrees; that at the moment, campus education, especially at a prestigious institution, carries more weight. And indeed, one of my fears is that MOOCs end up being used as ways to keep campuses free of students with particular kinds of support needs. Instead of breaking down barriers to social mobility, MOOCs and online education could reinforce them. I drafted this post some time ago and then sat on it, so it’s not exactly a timely contribution to the debate. But the recent accusations that Oxford University demands postgraduate students demonstrate a degree of financial security that many people lack has prompted me to revisit this post as the points about social justice remain relevant.

I followed the UVa goings on closely, partly because I’d not long come back from a wonderful week spent in Charlottesville attending a conference and doing a small spot of guest teaching. Something one of the BoV members said really chilled me. He implied that online education could be a way to appease those calling for local students to have better access to UVa. My sense was that he wanted the campus to remain unchanged, while he offered the traditionally excluded communities (presumably including the black kids my colleague Bonnie Gordon has been working so hard to encourage to think of UVa as their university) an online education so they don’t need to be seen on campus. Well, that’s my take on his remark. Maybe he meant something else.

Before I began my fellowship, I was involved in setting up a doctoral programme in Digital Arts and Humanities at my home institution, University College Cork in Ireland. I am interested in digital scholarship, although I wouldn’t say yet that I do it. I do use a lot of digitised resources. I am a member of an online academic peer mentoring group, so I do see there are opportunities for online networking. I’m an avid user of social media (Facebook and Twitter) and I’ve found it really a great way of advancing some of my own research and developing my thinking. (This post started life as a comment on a Facebook page.) And I’ve watched lectures from iTunesU on occasion, too. But personal interest and professional development as something that enhances on campus development, research and networking, seems quite different from taking an entirely online degree programme, and that’s something I have not yet done. In case it’s not clear from what follows, I am not anti-online education per se. I’m well aware that it is possible to have an excellent online learning experience and a terrible on-campus learning experience. Both forms of education need to be excellent, and ideally they should complement each other (blended learning is all the rage in some quarters).

My prime concern is the perceived status at the moment of different forms of education and how that relates to social justice and privilege. I probably am being somewhat polemical.

Higher education in Ireland (where I’ve had most of my professional experience) seems very different from that in the US. My students have  ranged from school leavers to mature students, and includes those who entered our daytime degree programs via our adult education evening access program. Throughout my professional life (and in fact my student life), the majority of my students have been middle class and had a considerable degree of privilege. It could be a reflection of the kinds of topics I chose to teach (primarilly feminism, women, gender; my courses also commonly deal with issues of class, status, race), but many students in my physical seminar and lecture rooms in Ireland were juggling multiple responsibilities–usually a combination of two or more of work, young children, families with alcoholism, poverty, poor mental health, poor physical health including chronic and life-threatening conditions, family violence, and sick parents who need help to run the famiily farm. Some students needed a bit of understanding and some help to take advantage of the same opportunities as anyone else, as best they could, including the opportunity to connect with other students, potential employers, and academics. I’ve heard academics the world over complain about flaky students. In my experience, it’s not usually flakiness, it’s something like parenting while dealing with poor mental health, financial problems, and several generations of alcoholism in the family in a culture that believes these are individual responsibilities entirely divorced from systemic failures of society to provide and care adequately for all its members. I have watched students with these kinds of life difficulties graduate and go on to work or to postgraduate education. It can be done, given the right educational, social and financial support. At least until Ireland’s first emergency budget a few years back there were some supports in place (although not nearly enough) to help underprivileged and non-traditional students get a decent education and have an opportunity to access further/higher education. Sadly, state funding has now been axed at all educational levels (primary school through grad school) for programs that helped students with Traveler heritage, school students with English as a second language, students with disabilities; and because benefits (including child benefit) are being cut, students with children are having a tougher time, too. When I return, I wonder whether I will be teaching a student body as diverse as the one I left. (And the one I left could have been more diverse yet: not only was it very middle class, it was also very white.)

I remain deeply concerned that campus administrators and politicians see online teaching as a way to remove certain students from campus, get rid of a ‘problem’ student who requires a lot of support, and save money by axing the supports needed to help them succeed on campus. In order for non-traditional students to succeed on campus, there needs to be important changes in traditional education. Most times, these kinds of changes improve things for everyone. So, I’m not arguing for the status quo. I am arguing that there needs to be proper social, financial, political support for equality of access to education, and various support structures in place so that students from non-traditional backgrounds can complete successfully: in other words, meaningful social justice on campus.

Right now, it seems like online degrees are shunned by the traditional cohort of single, childless, able-bodied white men and women in their late teens and early 20s from well-to-do backgrounds, with neurotypical approaches to thinking and writing, and allegedly perfect mental health. (I could detour here to discuss the problems with normative masculinity and femininity, but I won’t.) So, the impression is that online ed is second best, because we don’t push the allegedly desirable students toward it. Students from non-traditional backgrounds, though, especially students with caring responsibilities and a job, are often encouraged to consider part-time online education as a solution to the very real problems they have, like finding time to get to a lecture hall. They might be able to find the time if there were adequate structures in place to help, like affordable, good quality child care on campus, a visiting carer to look after the elderly live-in parent, financial support, or day-release from work. I worry that at the moment there is a risk that such students end up in a kind of ghetto. The worst case scenario I can see? If/when online ed (such as MOOCs and so on) start making money, poor and disenfranchised students could effectively be subsidizing the campus educations of the privileged. Of course it doesn’t have to happen like that, and I don’t know an educator who would want to see that happen, but educators often aren’t the people making the policy decisions that ultimately entrench these kinds of social divisions. The prospect of online education becoming an excuse to exclude students from diverse backgrounds, with diverse sets of challenges from campus is very real. I don’t want campus to be a place for the privileged few even more than it already is. And idealist that I am, I can’t help thinking that perhaps Mitt Romney wouldn’t be so clueless about the 47 percent if throughout his life he’d been educated with people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse life experiences. And perhaps there would be more students from non-traditional backgrounds and more diverse students entering politics and so on if they had been able to meet, study and socialise with people with those kinds of connections. (Of course, I’m thinking of Bourdieu here.) Perhaps I’m naive and idealistic, maybe even a socialist feminist, but I certainly do not want to teach in such segregated environments. I’ll believe that online education has achieved equal status to campus ed when the likes of the Clintons, Romneys, Bushes, Kennedys, Heinzs, Haugheys, Aherns, Windsors, Blairs, Camerons etc encourage their privileged offspring to take online degrees instead of applying to top ranked universities. In the meantime, I will strive to make my campus university genuinely inclusive, and a place where people from all backgrounds and with all sorts of challenges can get an education and access the same kinds of opportunities side by side.

Pop Music Studies in Ireland’s UG Degrees

In a recent article, ‘Musicology in Ireland (Journal of Music), Stephen Graham calls for two things: for musicologists to participate to a greater degree in public debates about music in mass media (broadcast and print), and for ‘popular music studies to penetrate Irish musicology’s hermetic institutional seal.’ I think the absence of musicologists from music discussions in mass media is a little overstated—quite apart from the musicologists I know who broadcast when they have the opportunity, some performers and composers are also musicologists, some broadcasters and journalists have musicology PhDs—nonetheless, I would agree that there’s plenty of room for greater engagement, and a complex knot of reasons why the situation is as it is.

But what I really wanted to get to was the issue of pop music studies in Irish undergraduate curricula. Graham is right that there’s no dedicated pop music studies undergraduate degree in Ireland, but it is simply not true that pop music studies has not broken ‘Irish musicology’s hermetic institutional seal.’ At University College Cork, for example, students can elect to study a wide range of music topics and a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches, and there’s usually at least one specific pop music course on offer (this year there is a musicological course in ‘Heavy Metal Music‘, and ‘applied’ courses in composing and arranging popular music, hearing pop, and pop music ensembles). Some courses are not organised around repertoire but around some other issue—like my ‘Women in Music’ course, for instance, or ‘Difference and Otherness‘, or ‘Global Sounds‘, or courses on film music—and so they examine a wide range of repertoires and genres, that may include popular music. And for the final year of the BMus degree, students can elect to perform a pop music set, conduct a project or an analysis or write a dissertation on a pop music topic. I would say there is a genuine effort to mainstream pop music studies. And University College Cork is not the only institution in Ireland that welcomes pop music in the curriculum: NUI Maynooth does too. Undoubtedly there’s room for more still.

In a response to several comments on his piece, Graham said he was thinking particularly of certain institutions in Dublin. And in generalising from the situation of those universities, he erased what is happening elsewhere in Ireland. What I think is potentially a more interesting story to tell is the history and practice of disciplinary and curricular innovation. Which topics, repertoires, methodologies, theoretical approaches enter which institutions and when? Do they spread and if so, how? I suspect there’s a curious story to tell in every country about curricular innovation, perhaps especially the kind that may initially be considered a threat to institutional prestige, or to established values.

Championing the Work of Women Composers

Kerry Andrew’s piece in The Guardian continues to attract blogosphere responses. Jenny Clarke’s post, The Stats on Women Composers, gives a brief account of two contemporary music concerts she recently attended in New York: one fifth of the composers represented in the Music of Now Marathon‘s program were women; in the second concert she mentions, only one out of the thirteen pieces was composed by a woman.

I have only been to two concerts of contemporary art music since I arrived in New York. The first was a free concert showcasing recent commissions by Chamber Music America with pieces by four men composers: Anthony Plog, Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith, John Zorn, and Rudresh Mahanthappa. The event was part of Chamber Music America’s 2012 National Conference. I encourage you to follow the conference link and view the photos selected to represent the conference. CMA has chosen for its public image photos that show women as audience members, diners, and sometimes performers, but never as speakers addressing the conference. Granted, performers have agency, but to be honest the predominant view in the classical world is still that performers are channels for the composer’s music. So, in short, the picture of the conference that I’ve been able to put together is that that women were absent from CMA 2012 as authorial voices. This is surely not the complete picture: I only attended one concert, and I couldn’t find the conference program, but this is what I have been able to find out from my own experience and from the CMA website. I don’t for a moment believe that no women gave conference papers, so the questions are: were they not photographed? Or were the photos not selected for inclusion in the website? If not, why not? And were there any compositions by women in any of the conference concert programs? If not, why not?

The second concert was given by Thomas Buckner as part of his ‘Interpretations’ series at the Roulette. In this concert one third of the pieces (two out of six) were by women composers—Anne Guthrie and Annea Lockwood. The next concert in the series, on March 8, International Women’s Day, is 100% women composers, with pieces by Bun-Ching Lam, Monique Buzzarté, Frances White, Pauline Oliveros, Alice Shields and Sorrel Hays.

One other upcoming series I’d like to draw attention to is Women’s Work 2012, which will present three concerts of music composed by women—twenty-four composers in all. The link is to their Facebook page which includes clips of music by some of the featured composers. It appears the series is seeking sponsorship. The composers are:

  • Elizabeth Raum
  • Melinda Wagner
  • Gwyneth Walker
  • Amanda Harberg
  • Nancy Bloomer Deussen
  • Margarita Zelenaia
  • Judith Shatin
  • Luo Jing Jing
  • Katherine Hoover
  • Stefania de Kenessey
  • Jennifer Higdon
  • Vivian Fung
  • Mary Lynn Place Badarak
  • Mary M. Boyle
  • Adrienne Albert
  • Lydia Busler-Blais
  • Sharon Farber
  • Lera Auerbach
  • Rebecca Oswald
  • Winifred Hyson
  • Deon Nielsen Price
  • Chen Yi
  • Sharon J. Willis
  • Carol Worthey

There is plenty more music out there. Get programming!

Writing About Women Musicians

And once women are working as professional musicians, they get written about as if they are only bodies, or only supposed to be bodies. Maura Johnston’s How Not To Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide (in Village Voice) is a must read for anyone writing about women musicians.

Update: The coverage of Whitney Houston’s death highlights several myths of women in music (especially women in popular music); Susie Bright pulls some of them apart.

Including Composers Who Are Women in the Music Curriculum

Yesterday The Plashing Vole brought to my attention Kerry Andrew’s recent article in the The Guardian, ‘Why are there so few women composers?’ Andrew suggests that one way to increase the number of composers who are women is to revise the curriculum so that composing is seen as something women do. Sensible suggestion, that. Writers of supposedly general histories of music have often failed to mention that really they’re writing histories of music by white, European men. Many failed to mention their decision to omit the creativity of specific demographics and instead passed off the work of a select demographic as the work of an entire culture. Of course, all histories involve decisions about what to include and exclude, but some histories are a bit more upfront about those decisions and criteria for inclusion than others. And sometimes even music history surveys that include women do so in ways that differentiate them from men—for example, women composers may be introduced as student of Mr. X, whereas the men composers are apparently born fully-formed creative geniuses who never required teachers. (Yes, I have a specific music history book in mind.) Casting a wider net in telling history, being more inclusive in many ways, paints a fuller picture of what was going on in a specific culture. It isn’t just good for groups of musicians currently marginalised by society, it’s good for society as a whole. More people see music as a possible activity and we all get to hear a wide variety of music. What’s not to like?! (Please, don’t answer!)

So, yes, I agree with Andrew that primary and secondary schools need to revise their curricula (which in England and Wales really means changing the National Curriculum). It needs to happen in tertiary education too—you know, in the classes where future teachers learn the kinds of things that our culture currently thinks are worth teaching. In cases where survey courses are still the main approach, the ideal would be to revise those completely. (The late Prof. Donna Cardamone Jackson, who taught at the University of Minnesota, once told me that in every course she taught she used music examples by diverse composers—diverse in terms of gender and race. I would say Donna was quietly revolutionary. Sometimes not so quietly.) It’s not just a case of keeping the same basic “great composer” narrative and including a few token women, say. The “great composer” narrative functioned to exclude people, to devalue certain types of music making. Ultimately, the narrative needs to change too, and in many places it is changing.

Today I happened upon a relevant book that might help those interested in revising undergraduate curricula: Julie Dunbar’s Women, Music, Culture: An Introduction (Routledge, 2011) and its companion website. Like Women’s Voices Across Musical Worlds, edited by Jane Bernstein (Northeastern University Press, 2003), chapters of which I’ve used in my undergraduate course, ‘Women and Music Across Cultures’, it’s organised by theme. I’ve only skimmed the Google Books preview of Dunbar’s book, but so far it looks quite interesting. Both Bernstein and Dunbar’s books are suitable for undergraduates and might be particularly useful for those who are not research-active in women’s or gender studies and want to work at mainstreaming gender-related issues in their courses. Dunbar’s includes questions, exercises and discussion points that encourage students to reflect upon the kinds of stories that are told (including the one being told in the book). Bernstein’s edited book doesn’t have that kind of thing—it’s aimed at a general music readership, not just undergraduates—but it does have really useful topic introductions that draw out common threads between the various essays. In my very brief scan of the very short preview, I saw abundant mention of Hildegard, Pauline Oliveros, and an index entry for X-Ray Spex. Bernstein’s book likewise covers a wide range of musical practices.

I’m curious enough to request an e-copy of Dunbar’s book for examination, even though it’s going to be a while until I teach an undergraduate course again. To be honest, the paperback price seems a little on the high side: £39.99, or $64.95 versus $29.95 for a paperback copy of Bernstein’s edited volume. (I’m quoting prices on the publishers’ websites: at time of writing, is charging almost $140 for Dunbar’s in hardback and just under $60 for the paperback.)

Finally, the Committee on Women and Gender of the American Musicological Society is updating their collection of course syllabi. I’ll post the link when I have it.