What is Classical Music’s “Women Problem” Problem?

Chewing on the many issues raised by
“What Is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” by 

Formerly posted elsewhere by Barbara White, October 11, 2013

Thank you for calling attention to this issue, for covering it with nuance, and for including counterexamples. This eruption has an all too familiar shape: there is the A theme (inane offending statement), the B theme (understandably outraged response), and . . . well, not a lot of development. Recapitulations abound though: Twenty-five years ago Rolf Smedvig, trumpeter with the BSO, claimed that women lacked the equipment to play brass instruments, and there was outcry; in 2013, despite certain improvements in circumstances, the nature of the discussion itself has not changed all that much.

The very question, “Why aren’t there more female conductors?” shapes the discussion by implying that there is a clearly identifiable cause for underrepresentation and that the interviewee himself possesses a sophisticated and worthy understanding of a complex societal problem; this invites him to express his unconsidered biases and just make something up. When posed to a (specific) male figure who, it appears, has had no incentive to consider his male privilege, and who does not care about the underrepresentation of women in his field, the response is more a script than an exchange: a man exposing his inadequacy by claiming (yawn) that women are “weak.”

Consider a different question: “How do you go about fostering equity and respect in the workplace to make sure that the profession can ascend to the highest possible level?” I don’t for a moment think the esteemed gents cited here would start waxing poetic about diversity and inclusion, but it would take a step away from these unwitting invitations to proclamation one’s incomparable virility: “Why no women? Because my penis rules! Only I can wield the wand!” (Yawn again.)

And why is this called a “women problem”? (I know this may not be the author’s title.) Could NPR instead dare to title this article, “Gender discrimination persists amongst prominent male conductors”? Or, “Misogyny hinders excellence in classical music”? Or, “Male privilege still enjoyed by highly paid time-beaters?”

It is heartening to read, “I would like to hear the women in our community speak up as well, without fear of embarrassment, contempt or retribution.” And there are those of us who do speak up and write about such matters; I am only one who has done so. But the sad reality is that, in addition to the necessary burden of some of us (some women and a few men) taking on a second shift by addressing and resisting unequal treatment, those of us who advocate for equity do experience retaliation every day. And women are socialized to downplay the intransigence of inequity, encouraged instead to internalize the Ayn Randian notion that those who are tough enough will succeed and those who speak up about discrimination are just whiners—to focus on individual will and determination instead of systemic mechanisms that render some more equal than others. Ask a woman in a male-dominated field whether she has experienced discrimination (another one of those cocked questions), and see whether she checks the box yes or no. It’s another script, and a reply of, “No, no, not at all; I’m too strong for that” is positively reinforced. So, inviting women to speak up without fear is laudable but may—although this is absolutely inexcusable—cause even more harm to women. Even in 2013.  Sad but true.

For example, here is another prominent conductor speaking on the dearth of women in the field, ten years ago: “I personally feel that accepting the role of powerless victim can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I am unwilling to even entertain that concept!” Who was that? Marin Alsop. It was posted on her site in 2003 as part of a
reply to the question, “Have you ever experienced prejudice as a woman in a field dominated by men?” It’s still there.

Where’s the Here There?

I was cooking right along in Robert Fink’s “The Musicology of the Present,” or so I—at least I think it was I—thought.  Arriving at the end of the epigraph, I got stuck on something he did not say:

 . . . the musicologists are all off doing gender studies . . .

Off where?  The gender studies section is off somewhere?  Where?  And they’re all there?  Can you point me in the right direction?

(This was a while ago, and third-hand, so I realize it may be difficult.)

And then, there was something he did say but really didn’t:

. . . we became caught up in gender . . .

Gender is something that one can “[become] caught up in”?  Does that not mean it is something one can refrain from getting caught up in?  Or become not caught up in?  I suppose one can avoid going off, then.  Where they all are.

Speaking of where, I suspect that this subject, “we,” is decentered.  But I’m not sure, since I got my Lacan from “Žižek”—understandably, because Lacan tells me I do not exist.  I think it has something to do with “the subject [referring] to some decentered other to whom he or she imputes this belief.”  This sometimes gets confusing, because the externalized statement is mistakenly read as an earnest statement of the speaker rather than an implicit attribution to an absent but existent “we.”

Are you with me?

I predict there will be replies attributing this statement to Robert Fink.  Yup, there’s one.

But he did not advocate this statement; rather he inferred it,—or, better identified it—as something that seems to be here and there.  It can be worthwhile to reach out and grab these notions that float unacknowledged in the aether.

On the other hand, this he did say they said:

Richard Taruskin, like the equally prolix J.K. Rowling, has been adamant that the long narrative arc of his series is over, and there will be no sequels.

Well if the history of Taruskin is ended, we can at least probe a couple of years earlier into the history of musicology in order to consider the eminent scholar’s critique of John Adams’s “crybaby role.”  That is a statement this subject did pronounce.  More than once.

(Has J.K. Rowling weighed in on this yet?)

Kyle Gann reports a discussion about “narrative history”:

. . .  there won’t be any contemporary accounts of history for future gender studies scholars to work from.

From accounts, to where?  I am still finding it hard to locate things.  I gather we (whoever that is) record the data here (wherever that is) and now (this concept I think I understand), and later on (got it), the gender studies crew (the ones who are all off somewhere) comes in (here? or do they stay over there?) to do the gender part.  (Will there be gender studies scholars in the future?  And off where will they be?  [For that matter, will there be scholars in the future?])

There is a good example of this division of labor—accounting and gendering—close at hand.  Of Gann’s excellent book, “No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4′33”,”  Branden W. Joseph writes,

Refreshingly, Gann casually and straightforwardly acknowledges Cage’s homosexuality, although he relegates any reading of 4’33” as an act of thwarted expression in a period of widespread homophobia—as argued by Caroline Jones, Jonathan Katz, and, most recently, Philip Gentry, among others—to a footnote.(4)

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  Gender is not where Gann’s silence is, but it is where some other subjects are speaking, and Joseph can point the way.

Cage, the man, is unlikely to have been glimpsed in person by anyone now under thirty, and few now living were present at the premiere of 4’33”, so he hardly counts as a present-day figure, except in his reverberations, which are loud.  This makes for an interesting compositional and musicological circumstance.  (Yale University Press anoints 4’33” an “icon”—alongside Wall Street, Joe DiMaggio, and the hamburger.  I think the word “icon” may have had a different constitution when they instituted their series.)

It is getting harder and harder to tell where “here” is and who “we” is,—I mean, are—and how, if “all” are “off” it could be considered “off” at all.  While I await further clarification on the topography, though I suspect it will change again before it is explained, here (!) are a few tidbits from my (I think) reading list:

Robert Fink on minimalism and opera; Kyle Gann on John Cage; Yayoi Uno Everett on Louis Andriessen; Naomi Cumming, and Sumanth Gopinath, on Steve Reich; Lydia Goehr on American opera (and John Cage); Michael Wyatt on Messaien; Majel Connery on Peter Maxwell Davies (and Thomas Adès); Lisa Coons on Laurie Anderson (and Diamanda Galás, and Antony and the Johnsons).  There is also Alice Miller Cotter’s current research on John Adams; Stefan Weisman’s dissertation on Yoko Ono; and more.  Oh, I have a few little things too, but I would not want to appear self-aggrandizing by recommending them.  Plus, there is the Internet.  And regarding 4’33”, don’t miss Branden W. Joseph’s “White on White” in Critical Inquiry, though it is not, strictly speaking, musicology (which one could say some of the others also are not).  I am not sure where to put it.  But I am glad to have it.

Where is “the near blackout of attention to contemporary composing?”  Is it here, or is it off somewhere?  How do I find it?  And when you throw a spitball, is it from here to there, or there to here?  I really want to know, because I’d rather not find one stuck on the back of my head.

Has anyone written about Laura Kaminsky’s opera “As One,” yet?  (Or Susan Narucki’s multiply authored Cuatro Corridos?  Or my Weakness, for that matter?)

Where is the data?  Where is the gender?  I do understand it comes second; that’s good to know.  Does the second shift pay time and a half?  And what comes after?

Cage Tacet

 

—Barbara A. White

Space is the Place

My Harvard Facebook group has been discussing an article Ellen Jovin shared: Nothing Says Over 40 Like Two Spaces after a Period! 

I was blissfully unaware of this seismic shrinkage until a month or two ago, and several months before my fall from grace, I was reading student papers and observing that the use of just one space after a period looked underwhelming (all the more so when there were other infelicities in the writing).  I had no idea that it was the new normal.  Thus, having brought the two-space-embrace with me into the computer era—twenty-five years ago!—I am having a hard time adjusting to my sentence, to this notion that I should halve my space.  And it has thrown me to think that I had failed to notice the new standard.

And, my spacing shows me to be . . . over 40!  Bless me, youngster, for I have sinned.  By surviving four dozen years without dying.  (My shame was eased ever so slightly when I read that I have classmates who, like me, prefer the two-space program.)

A couple of weeks ago, I read another account of the same phenomenon.  When first I heard, I figured it must have been a Twitter repercussion, a capricious notion arising from that character-meter that tells you how many spaces you have left in your microtext.

At last having time to satisfy my curiosity, I just now took a moment to look at some academic journal articles, choosing one by Harvard’s Daniel Albright—and, well, I remained vexed, because academic articles are right/left justified!  (In addition, there is approximately one punctuation event per paragraph, so the data set is unreliably small.)  No wonder I had not noticed the disappearance of the sous-space.  So, am I now to understand that these articles circulating and proselytizing about saving space apply only to texts such as this blog, type[sic]scripts, and the like?  And æther-mail?  It seems odd for dual-spacing to be considered such an offense when people are hyphenating adverbs and using colons after verbs and stuff.  Not to mention all the nouning and verbing that I see every single day.  (It’s a fail-ure, not a fail!)  I just don’t get it.  Why is there suddenly so much attention to decreasing the space between words when the words themselves are so often shabby?

And how is it that being over forty has now become a sign of being a poor writer?  I thought we were the ones always telling the hipsters to shape up.  On the contrary!  This new generation is so judgmental:

And yet people who use two spaces are everywhere, their ugly error crossing every social boundary of class, education, and taste*. . . .  What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right.
—Farhad Manjoo, “Space Invaders”

*I have yet to receive word of the fate of the four-dot ellipses used at the end of a complete sentence.  Did anyone think about that before they voted to semi-space all sentences?  Does a proportional font—the reason given for the new zoning regulation—obviate the need for a distinction between the end of a sentence and an unfinished sentence?  The marker of omission—the series of three mute dots—has already been brutally smooshed together . . .  as if the mysteriously unstated is merely nonexistent.  Do I understand correctly that it is of urgent importance to save a space after every sentence, while it is acceptable to use three question marks just before???  And what about the poor em dash—which has so often suffered drafts from either side, not to mention getting replaced inexplicably with the inadequate little hyphen?

And how is that the space between sentences is getting all the funding for repair, when there are still so many extra spaces between words within so many sentences?  We seem to be losing sight of the everyday here, focusing on the dramatic, to our detriment.

I cannot help but think that this coup de point arises from broad cultural shifts.  Bad ones, of course.  Do we want to give in to them?  We complain about being busy and rushed—and people write about our complaints with sentences that I now realize are granted only a single space to breathe before the next begins.  Is that really a coincidence?  And more and more people are staying single.  Could they be behind this eschewal of the paired space?  On the other hand, our culture seems to have trouble with boundaries, and we are flirting dangerously with word disindividuation here: how long will it be before we abandon punctuation altogether and every sentence is one breathless portmanteau word with indistinguishable syllables?

Oh.

I get it.

It doesn’t matter whether what I write is intelligible, or meaningful, as long as it looks good.

Now, that makes sense.

There is no penalty for describing oneself as “reticent” to adopt a dog.  As long as the dog gets one space and one only.  Consider this pair of sentences: “Old Québec, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure, is walkable and safe.  Stroll the only walled city North of Mexico and its cobblestone streets.”  I gather no one will be confused about the location of those cobblestone streets as long as they don’t wait too long after the safety announcement before commencing their stroll.

And to make it worse, I look at this absurdly long disquisition and now think there is too much space after my sentences.  I have been tamed.  But, before letting go the second space, I’ll remember these words:

When I write, therefore, I enhance the meaning borne in my sentences—not only in dialogue but in narrative—by imposing on them silences tailored through heavy use of commas, semicolons, dashes, ellipses, and line breaks.  It is something that gives my copyeditors hypertension, yet I encourage students to write this way, and to read their pieces aloud as often as they can, to an audience if possible.  An audience furnishes feedback, tells you by its response how well your scansion’s working.  Thus, I tell my students, silence boosts the import of the words you write.
—George Michelson Foy, Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence

Of course, the book where I read this is also fully justified.

—Posted by IAmNotMakingUp

When Live-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression.  Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled.  It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating.  After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

think what you are

Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

― Stephen Fry

—Posted by Barbara A. White

Which is Worse: A Dull Knife, or a Sharp One?

“Our brains have evolved to help our bodies find their way around the world on the scale at which those bodies operate.”
—Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

To Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, FRSL:

Following up on your recent Twitter Conference on rape rankings, I wonder whether you might be willing to answer the following questions.  Your reasoning ability is much needed.  One of your conclusions follows:

Dawkins Rape Tweet ScreenshotFollowing up on this, and taking advantage of the copious space afforded off-Tweet, a few questions follow.  I would like to get at some of the subtleties of your point of view—ones you could not have expressed in a mere 140 characters.

Ranking Rape

1.  Which is bad and which is worse: to agree to go on a rape date without being informed that it is to be that sort of date, or to be held at knifepoint and raped by a stranger without being informed ahead of time?

1a.  Which rape date is worse: one with someone you have met in a bar and never have to see again?  Or one with an acquaintance you will see in evo-bio class on Tuesday?  Or one you were introduced to by your best friend?

1b.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be threatened by a dull carving knife, or a sharp serrated knife?  Or to submit to the rape in order not to be cut?  Or to be cut and raped both?  And if so, by which knife?

1c.  Which is bad and which is worse: to dress up, go on a rape date and have a nice dinner first, including fine wine?  Or to dress casually, go on a rape date and get raped before dinner and drinks?  Or, to go on a rape date and later be interrogated about what you drank?  And wore?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by a classmate and receive little or no assistance from campus authorities?  Or to be raped by a stranger and receive little or no support from the legal system?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by several young men in your school, and for them to put pictures and/or videos on the Internet, and, as a result, to take your own life at the age of 15?  Or to be raped and take one’s own life right away?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by your partner?  Or by your mother’s partner?  And does a pregnancy resulting from either experience change the ranking?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually assaulted (without penetration) by one’s father at 6, or to be raped (with penetration) by one’s uncle at 3?  (Those are ages, not times of day.)

1f.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually abused by a distant family member and to keep quiet about it for decades?  Or to be ostracized by the family when you at last choose to speak out?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to witness a man without understanding or compassion opine on grades of rape in 140 characters?  Or for him to publish more than one 140-character statement?  Or more?  Or for these micro-statements to get so much news coverage that you cannot but see him everywhere?

1h.  Which is bad and which is worse: that inhumane acts such as sexualized violence continue to be tolerated, or that a prominent male intellectual, whose speciality lies elsewhere, chooses to focus on degrees of suffering rather than degrees of misdoing?  Or, just to leave the discussion to those who are equipped to undertake it?  (To “go away,” one might say.)  And, if he is taken seriously on the topic of rape, does that mean we should believe what Jenny McCarthy has to say about the link between vaccination and autism?  And should we all be making appointments with homeopaths?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to opine on the significance and degree of others’ suffering without listening to what they have to say themselves?  Or to deny others’ suffering altogether?  Or to consider oneself irreproachable by virtue of one’s (ostensibly) superior intellect?

Dawkins Tweet X Y

1h.  You say that you can reverse the “X and Y”—that is the rape date and the aggravated assault—and retain the same logic.  Might one contend then, that “acupuncture is bad, and that homeopathy is worse?”  And that neither is commendable?  And then reverse the X and the Y?  Could one say that sudden death is bad but slow, agonizing death is worse, and then reverse that?  Or that death by 1000 cuts is bad, but by 1001 is worse, or maybe the opposite?  Could one say that one offensive tweet is bad and two are worse and reverse that too?  That confronting inhumanity before death is bad and that finding it the afterlife too—hypothetically speaking, of course—would be worse?  Or would the afterlife, even in the presence of others who scorn compassion and mutual understanding, have other advantages that make the big picture worth it?

Semantics, Virtuality, God, and Delusion 

Dawkins Rape tweet 2

Richard, please tell us what, in this era of virtuality, “go away” means.  If there is an “away,” must there be a “here”?  Are we to assume that “here” is where you are?  If so, most of us, statistically speaking, are likely “away” already.  And to confuse matters, I have a hard time thinking of the sofa on which I sit as anything but “here,”  though if I expend some effort, I can understand that to you it may be considered “away.”  Where, then, am I to “go”?

Richard, do I understand correctly that your experience of sexual abuse was rendered innocuous because you did not believe in evil (and, presumably, God)?  You mention that your schoolmates suffered (more) at the hands of the same offender while your “mental trauma was soon exorcised.”  Does that mean that God, not the human being who did the “fondling,”  sexually abused these children?  And if God does not exist, who sexually abused these children?  Who is responsible for their suffering?  (Extra credit: can you explain your choice of the word “exorcised”?)

Describing your resilience, you write, “Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.”

So, Richard, why are you speaking out about degrees of sexualized assault?  And why are you comparing the effects of different sorts of rape if you yourself were so unaffected by your childhood experience?  If your trauma was “exorcised,” why do you think rape is “bad” and can be even “worse”?  Can’t those who have experienced rape access your form of “exorcism” too?  Isn’t the real offender, not the sexual predator, but God?  And since there is no God to hold accountable, does that mean that rape does not exist?

And how is it that your brain is helping your body find its way around the world?  Does it help you find your way around Twitter?  Maybe your brain could help me figure out where I should go to learn to think. I would like to think better.  Although, like you, I hold a doctoral degree and a professorship,—albeit without such a public profile—I am not sure that my Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition qualifies me to compare different degrees of rape.  But you appear to know better than I do about applying one’s training in unexpected areas.

Richard, please critique the following statement:  “As an eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has become known as a public intellectual.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual, Richard Dawkins compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual who compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them, Richard Dawkins unwittingly exposes the limitations of logic.”

I like to think that your brain can help my brain help my body find its way around.  I will appreciate any assistance you can offer.

Oh—one more question:  Can you define “syllogism” for me?  Is it something like “solipsism”?

Sincerely,

IAmNotMakingUp

Why So Many Questions About Why So Few Women?

Thank you for this article, Susanna; I appreciate your raising important and subtle points, including the fact that there are still firsts, that ‘blind and neutral’ are not the same, and so on.  There are too many points to cover, but since you mention specifics and acknowledge not having the answers, here are few thoughts:

(1) We need to take into account that men and women are socialized in ways that are suboptimal or worse for women (and for men, depending on one’s values, ethics, and goals).  The inclusion of women on boards and panels and such is necessary, but not sufficient.  Presence does not equate with equality; there are many more factors to consider.  (For what it is worth, I have been on plenty of panels that were attentive to gender.  But the imbalance continues.)

(2) You ask about role models: I am one such role model, and one for whom Judith Weir has been and continues to be an exemplary role model herself (in her role as a composer, as you say—and I have written about her work in regard to gender and other matters too).  But I am sad to say that the presence of mature, experienced women is not enough either.  I have been attentive to mentoring female composers, and male ones too, including but not limited to advisees interested in gender-related matters.  Most of my own mentors were male, and they were and continue to be exemplary citizens in terms of gender issues and everything else.  I myself am puzzled sometimes to see that there are fewer women applicants for a certain opportunity, or fewer who are likely to be considered as likely contenders.

(3) I am curious (literally) about your mention that women “lose motivation to continue studying music and musical composition, and why are they then less likely to put themselves forward”:  Is that an inference from the data?  Can one be sure of what is happening behind the numbers there?

(4) The ways in which decisions are made and opportunities awarded (caveat: I am in the US) can be quite informal and subjective, and the distinction between professional expertise and personal bias, in a field such as composition, is not always easy to manage.

(5) Apart from the numbers, men continue to enjoy unwarranted privilege and license; for example, how many male composers are reading this article?  For how many is this topic a concern?  As above, it is, for #SomeMaleComposers.  Yet it continues to be the case that men are accorded license far beyond that accorded to women, and that (again, in the US), personal hunch and identification may well affect decisions.  The fact that there are likely to be comments on your article that put forth blanket assertions without having worked in this area or having done any investigation to support what they say is telling.  (Cue the tubas . . . )  #SomeOfUs report our experience, read books about discrimination, have discussions like this, look at data, and strategize (and worry over whether clothing is too sexy or not sexy enough, whether self-presentation is too humble or too self-important, whether manner of interaction too accommodating or too “pushy”).  In response, #SomeOthers say, “Well, no, it’s really like this,” presuming to define others’ experience without having done the legwork to support their assertions.  In such instances, the opinions of those how know less too often are accorded disproportionate authority.  If one is not required to deal with gender on a daily basis, why would one?  (The fact that some do is all the more heartening.)  And if not, why consider oneself an authority on the topic?  Moreover, most articles on the underrepresentation of women focus on what needs to change on the XX side of the chromosomal balance: there should be more women, why are the numbers low, what can women do.  (Hence my question above about the data.)  But there is much less energy being directed toward men and the changes they need to make.  The frequency with which a proposal is described as “letting” women in is revealing.

(6) I am sorry to say that, as a composer with three decades’ experience now, having enjoyed opportunity, support, artistic accomplishment, and recognition, I find the persistence of gender inequity in some pockets of the composition world egregious.  Another matter that that is almost never discussed is the way that women may be confronted with more, not less, discrimination as we gain wisdom and expertise, as we become elders; that has been my experience, from some quarters, I am sorry to say.  I hope that my mentees and other younger composers do not encounter such resistance to their mastery.  For now, being experienced and established offers no guarantee that one will be respected in the way that each one of us deserves.  There is still pressure on women to deny any imbalance; we receive much positive reinforcement if we say we have not encountered challenges, that we think of ourselves “as composers first” or that we believe ourselves to have been treated fairly (great, but how could we know?).  Women who acknowledge forces that work against them meet with reprisals of various sorts.  (Notice the #ManyQualifiers in my discussion here; they are accurate, yet my commentary is still likely to be read as dualistic.)

(7) As some have written about in mainstream discussions of otter gender issues, again and again we are the ones who are required to adapt to circumstance.  While informal, ad hoc efforts may not be effective, it is also not realistic to think that systemic/bureaucratic changes are feasible. (The amount of training that would be needed . . . ) I do not see this changing unless individuals and groups really take responsibility—a familiar term—and, more fully, unless enough of us really desire gender equity and fruitful exchange—and all the yummy fruit when the harvest comes.  In order to foster a better climate for women, we need to recognize that such an endeavor is in the best interest of all, to value a community in which one individual’s success is no longer seen as another’s loss, to pay as much attention to how we do what we do as how much of it we do.  I myself have been considering leaving the profession, or changing my relationship to it—in my late 40s, knowing it is my calling and that I am at the top of my creative abilities (thus far), with many more pieces in me, and devoted as ever to the next generation—specifically because the values I see espoused in so corners of the composition world have revealed themselves as  abhorrent and destructive.  It’s not only about gender, but it plays itself out in dishonorably gendered manner, and someone in my position must ask whether such an environment will permit one’s gifts and offerings to be of use. The fact that in saying this, I place myself, not others, at professional risk, says much.  The fact that I, having been fortunate in so many ways, am still asking the question of whether it is worth persevering says more.

It is disheartening to observe how “the woman composer question” keeps flipping back to page one, without much recognition of previous chapters.  I observed this in what you correctly term “the rather unedifying recent debate about women conductors.”  It is encouraging that your article, despite its brevity, takes into account historical context.  More frequently, though, the public discussion on this topic seems to rewind again and again to pose the first question that would open the first meeting of the first seminar in the first semester of a life’s work on being a human being and a composer.  (And even, the response to that opening question may be interrupted when the kindergartners barge in and exclaim, “It’s time for recess!  Where’s my cookie?”)  It’s unfortunate that there is not more continuity and depth in such discussions, though it is understandable.  Perhaps that is something you, in your position, could cultivate.

Is it possible to dream a world of composition and music where we place mutual respect and the greater good at the top of our priorities, where we all remember what we don’t know and remain open to one another’s experience?  I would like to think so, but I have yet to see a quorum on that.

Ok, that is more than a few thoughts.  Thank you again for your thoughtful and good-willed attention to the topic.

—Barbara A. White

Life Is Long

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—Joe’s bumper

“Life is short; play with your human; they’ll give you lots of treats.”
—Joe’s dog

“Life is long; write everything down, and get Netflix.  Don’t forget to vaccinate.  Watch out for those death panels.”
—Joe’s mother-in-law

“Life is long.  Take ‘er easy, but take ‘er.  Teach your kids lots of tunes.  They’ll be grateful, and they’ll make lots of friends.  If your hands get tired, they’ll come by to play the music you taught them, and they’ll pass it on too.  Others will travel from afar and be envious of your deep roots and rich culture.  (Some of them won’t leave.)  And remember all your funny stories, because they’ll love hearing them.  (Make sure to tell your son how much you love his biscuits and lemon pie, and he’ll make them for you every chance he gets.  More often than for he makes them for his girlfriend, but she won’t mind.)”
—Joe’s folks

“I am awake.  Life is suffering, but not to worry.”
—Buddha

“Life is great.  May I have more ice cream?  (Why am I asking?  Of course I can!  I’m a Prince.  Life is great.)  You!—get me more ice cream.  You know, one of these days I’d like to go for a walk outside.  How do I get there?”
—The young Buddha

“Boy, do I wish I hadn’t written that book. . . .  It won’t die.  Now they’re using it as a guide to business.  Ah, que buffone!  I guess those wannabe Princes don’t know it got me sent to prison.  And can’t they tell it’s <satirico>?”
—Machiavelli

“Life is a mystery.  Light the fire, smith the metal, and you’ll have a poem.”
—Brigit

“I’m not sure; there is a new life policy coming into effect.  Go check with that young man who’s all over the news these days.  You’ve seen him; the one with the long hair and sandals.  He has lots of followers.  Sheesh, this celebrity culture is really getting out of hand.”
—St. Brigit

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—St. Francis

“Be good.”
—God

“It is what is is, and it sounds beautiful.”
—Finn Mac Cumhaill

“Not so fast.  Wait for Nietzsche. (And what are you doing here anyway, Finn?  You do not exist.)”
—Kierkegaard

“It is not what it is.  Well, maybe what I said isn’t it . . .”
—Schrödinger

“God is dead.”
—Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.  Um, God, can I have a treat now?”
—God’s dog

“Life is in and out and up and down.  Make sure you give your humans lots of chances to pass the time: go over to the door every few minutes so they can drop what they are doing and open it for you.  They love that.  You can tell, because they give you treats after.  Or before, depending on your perspective.  Plus, they even make videos and show them to people all around the world on that weird flat fishbowl thingie they’re always hunching over and swearing or laughing.  (Hence my suggestion about the door.)  So try to do lots of outlandish things so they’ll get lots of likes.  I dunno how it works, but no matter; I’m up to my tail in toy mice and purple haze thanks to the royalties.  You should come over some time; we’ll party.”
—Schrödinger’s neighbor’s cat

“There, there.  I hear you.  I send my compassion.”
—Kuan Yin

“Happy 82d birthday, Grandpa!  Can you remind me who won the 1947 World Series?  I always forget.”
—Joe’s daughter

“The Yankees beat the Dodgers.  (That’s when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.)  Seven games.  Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers.  I hope the Red Sox will win just once in my lifetime; it’s been since before I was born.  That Darned Bambino.  (Not you, Bambina.)”
—Joe’s father-in-law, Giuseppe

“Wasn’t that the first year Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers?—Ergo, the first World Series with a desegregated statius?  In the Coliseum, they would have called that intermisceo.  That reminds of something funny . . .”
—Joe’s husband, Professor of the History of the Culture of the Economics of Roman Sporting and Comedy 

“Wow, you must have read my History™!  I said that long before we became æther-Friends™.  No, you didn’t do research?  Are you sure?  You seem to know a lot.  I guess you must have a prodigious memory.  Anyway, moving on. . . .  But wait, are you sure?  Really?  Okay, okay.”
—Dr. Jay

“You’ve been in here a long time.  You really should get outside.  You already posted and still you keep revising.  Plus, your list keeps getting longer.  Blagues are supposed to be pithy.  If you confuse ’em, you’re gonna lose ’em.”
—IAmNotMakingUp (to me)

“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

“Um, are you guys done?  Can we play fetch now? [Diabolical laugh.  Wag wag wag.]”
—Joe’s dog

—Posted by Rose Marie McSweeney

Mythic Birds of Brigadoon

Last Friday, my bass clarinet and I arrived at Music Camp on the Canal in St. Peter’s, Nova Scotia to learn that the wonderful American composer Lee Hyla had just died.  I did not know Lee all that well, but I admired his music greatly and was always happy to run into him and to encounter his calm, respectful manner.  It’s probably entirely due to Lee that I learned to play bass clarinet, thanks to hearing his “Mythic Birds of Saugerties” put into flight by the inimitable Tim Smith years ago.  Mathew and Eric introduced me to Lee’s music and Tim’s playing back in the early 1990s, when a piece like “Mythic Birds” circulated on precious, lossful, multigenerational cassettes and when its inventor could remain a mystery—no website, no Facebook™ post, no blögue, and maybe one CD released so far.  Lee’s pre-tweet birds opened up a sonic world I could never have foreseen: the bass clarinet splatting and grooving down below, then sailing up into the stratosphere to play a plaintive, mournful tune.  There was a pulse!—contrary to the “music of avoidance” identified around the same time by Scott Wheeler in his Contemporary Music Review article.  I’d never known contemporary  concert music could be so raucous and moving at the same time.

When I first came NoSco and encountered Cape Breton’s traditional music, far from the concert-music scene down South, I joked that I felt like I was visiting Brigadoon, the Scottish village that appears for one day every one hundred years and disappears again.  I thought I might just disappear into an enchanted mist of Celtic music, never to return.  I finally confessed to a Caper friend that I believed he lived on a magical, mythical island.  I thought he would talk me down from the heavens, or out of the mist, but instead he said, yes, this is a magical place.  People who live here seem to recognize and appreciate what they have.

Saturday night the Music Camp faculty all played the All-Star concert at the church.  For the second time, I was stunned to be on a program with so many of Cape Breton’s musical luminaries, while I am a part-time performer and new to Celtic music to boot.  Even more, this is the only venue where I look out into the hall and see that maybe 80% of the audience could easily be up on stage playing their own tunes.  The musical culture here is extraordinarily sophisticated, as well as generous, and it’s astonishing how much shared understanding there is.  One person starts singing “The Island” or “The Mary Ellen Carter,” or “Heading to Halifax,” and the whole crowd joins in.  A fiddler plays a reel and someone puts down a beer and gets up to dance.  A banjoist and a bodran player trade instruments and play one as expertly as the other.  A twelve-year-old girl leads a band that includes men five times her age.  But the bass clarinet, I gather, has seldom driven across the causeway to honk along.  As it turned out, I was making my bass clarinet debut in our All-Star concert, in my duo Fork and Spoon, with Charles playing guitar.  We cooked up some jigs, reels and airs, and I ventured down to the lowlands where the tunes don’t usually go.  Here in the land of the fiddle and the mando, my bass clarinet—dubbed by Charles as “The Big Fella”—made quite a few friends.  (Later Bob called it “The Bazooka,” and added, “I mean that in a complimentary way.”)  Highly aware of my role as little fish in this great pond, it was very gratifying when Roger said, “It was worth coming home just to hear that low note at the end.”  (Or did he say, “to hear it end?”  Probably not—that’s not the way musicians talk to each other over here.)  Later Roger asked me about the bass clarinet, commenting specifically on its wide range.  I told him a bit about the way the instrument breathed its way into concert music, moving from a low-register extension to a solo vehicle, expanding the sonic palette of notated music.  And even when it’s played up high, where the regular clarinet could go—well, why not have that bass clarinet cry its lonely song instead?  Why not make it a little more difficult and dangerous, and thus more poignant?

After meeting Lee’s music all those years ago in the remote island we call “contemporary concert music” (do we?), I got to know the intrepid Jean Kopperud and was fortunate to work with her on a project or two.  And there are too many other wonderful bass clarinetists/wind players to mention: Michael Lowenstern, Ned Rothenberg, and the wonderful duo Sqwonk, made up of Jeff Anderle and Jon Russell.  (I was telling Roger how high these guys can play.  Also a composer, Jon writes fabulous music for bass clarinet, including one for nine Big Fellas.)  Perhaps others were onto its beauty/beast appeal along with or even before before Lee and Tim.  But whoever broke the four-minute mile mark, there’s now a whole crew running around the tracks.  Dianne Heffner and I played in a band years ago; Alan Kay glowed through one of my CDs; I’ve met Michael Norsworthy only briefly; and I know Demetrius Spaneas only from Facebook™.  I am looking forward to working more with Amy Advocat and Matt Sharrock of Transient Canvas—Amy plays clarinets, and Matt plays marimba, another instrument that has worked itself into prominence in recent decades.  It seems fitting that these two outliers meet up in center stage.  I have begun to dream of rumbling low Cs.  Perhaps this meeting of strangers is something like my unfamiliar bass clarinet groaning through the Celtic tunebook.  I wonder if Lee liked strathspeys.

In the Cape Breton church of tunes, no one seemed impatient or uninvolved; I didn’t see any covert (or shameless) glances at glowing screens to find hockey scores (though I confess I was checking them later after the concert ended—the double overtime went almost as late as our jam session).  After Fork and Spoon finished our first set in the All-Star Concert, ending with Chris Crilly’s blistering “Jack McCann”—which requires me to shift the Big Bazooka into overdrive and to huff and puff to blow Jack up—the audience gave an unrestrained round of appreciative applause.  I told them I don’t see that too much at classical concerts.  (After we left the stage and the others played their sets, they continued to cheer, all through the three-hour program.)   But if we were to work on our cheering technique, Lee’s music would be a great place to start.

As I finish writing, by the Bay overlooking Jerseyman’s Island, a heron flies by.  A heron sighting is one of my greatest delights—perhaps made even more special by its infrequency.  Julia says they look like dinosaurs.  They might be mythic birds.  Thank you, Lee for the birds of Saugerties; I would not have brought the Big Fella to Brigadoon if I had not learned your myths all those years ago.  And condolences to those who were close to Lee; I know from your own words that you have suffered a great loss in his departure.

—Posted by Barbara A. White