Monday, November 16, 2015

Thoughts on Performing Gender, Place, and Emotion in Music

By Fiona Magowan and Louise Wrazen

Through its alliance with anthropology, ethnomusicology relies on field research that involves sustained contact with people making and experiencing music, anywhere. This results in studies that often put the intimacy of human contact and feeling at the center of research to grapple with questions of how and why people are musical. Not surprisingly, therefore, issues related to the relationship between music and identity, belonging, and affective power have come to occupy an important position in the discipline. In the late 1980s, the study of music and gender emerged as a necessary component of ethnomusicology (as well as in musicology), offering another level of subjectivity to the investigation of musical meaning and experience.

The volume Performing Gender, Place, and Emotion in Music: Global Perspectives (University of Rochester Press, 2013/2015) proceeds from a methodological consensus built around fieldwork; each of the chapters stems from an author’s relationship with people involved in making music. As a result of the unique nature of their ethnographic situation and set of relationships, each author has been led to engage differently with the ways in which music intersects with gender, emotion and senses of place – concepts also linked with identity, belonging, and affective power.

Most recent studies have examined music in relation to either gender, place, or emotion. Instead of addressing each field of inquiry as a separate lens through which to understand musical practices, this collection explores the ways in which the three overlap. Eight papers elaborate on specific examples taken from field research in Europe, Southeast Asia and Australasia to explore ways that the intersections of gender, place, and emotion generate an interplay of performative issues. For example, how are aesthetic, emotional, and imagined relations between performers and places embodied musically? In what ways is the performance of emotion gendered across quotidian, ritual, and staged events?

Chapters are grouped around themes of landscape and emotion, memory and attachment, and nationalism and indigeneity . Collectively these ethnographically diverse chapters also engage with ideas related to embodiment and experience, performing emotion, and gendered sentiments. In providing examples that are specific to each locality but which also share thematic strands, authors argue – on the one hand – for the vitality of intensive local research and – on the other hand – for the broader relevance of these issues globally.

In the first section of the book, rituals provide a context for the chapters by Barley Norton (spirit possession in Vietnam), Jonathan McIntosh (children’s performance in Bali), and Fiona Magowan (gender and emotion in Aboriginal Australian performance). Turning to traditional forms of music and dance at a time when attention often turns to the global commerce of world music sounds, each of these authors explores how the surrounding landscape contributes to meaning and belonging through ongoing ritual performances. Jonathan McIntosh, for example, examines how Balinese children learn about the relationship between their spiritual world, their physical surroundings, and their gendered participation in Balinese society through the performance of the traditional Barong dance. These authors consider what kinds of emotions can be generated by sounds within landscapes and analyze how spiritual and emotional engagements are evoked through male and female song and dance performances that tie participants to specific places.

The children's Barong begins to dance. Photograph by the author.
Singing serves as the focus of the chapters by Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg (Christian singing in Aboriginal Australia), Sara R. Walmsley-Pledl (choral singing in Germany), and Louise Wrazen (gendered singing in Podhale, Poland), who consider its power to evoke emotions through musical memories and the musical imagination. For example, I focus on one woman’s negotiation of gendered performance practice and her ongoing attachment to landscape by tracing her singing through the communist era to the present. These authors explore the effects that places have on male and female performers and the ways in which the relationship between the singing voice and a landscape can offer catharsis, relief, and empowerment. They show how emotions experienced in singing not only affect the constitution of social relations but also influence the nature of gender identity through performance.
Aniela (right) and Ludwisia (left) singing, outside Nowy Targ, Poland, July 1989.

Christina R. Yano (Korean female singer in Korea and Japan) and Tina K. Ramnarine (Sámi songs in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) turn to the transnational public stage to elaborate on how the gendered performance of emotions within and across borders contributes to the construction of nationalism and indigenous personhood. The authors show how the emotional terrains of performance, on stage and in studio, both produce and contest racial meanings. They also question how musical materials might challenge local, national, and global boundaries. In her afterword, Beverley Diamond reflects on the eight chapters from the perspective of her own work in Canadian studies and research among indigenous populations, reminding us how music both represents and constitutes the ways that we are embodied, emplaced, and “emotioned.”

As we continue to explore the integral role that music plays in humanity, the examples found in these chapters remind us of the gendered dimensions of musical embodiment and identify some commonalities around indigenous intentions. Performing music across different places generates feelings and meanings that can be mobilized for political, national, or spiritual purposes and affirms the significance of the environment when it is increasingly jeopardized. The integration of gender, place, and emotion in performance exposes questions around cultural heritage, nationalism, and the reclaiming of an environmental ethic as an invitation to ongoing scholarship. How do the growing industries of music technology and innovative recording methods contribute to what are often highly emotional processes of identity formation, cultural resistance, and revival? How do gendered emotions in performance contribute to contestations over (or regeneration of) ecological and spiritual life in a global world? How do performances of place challenge and legitimize national discourses of pan-indigeneity and intergenerational belonging? How can emotional performances – and the performance of emotion – shape collective identification and national rebranding? These questions are at the center of our concerns for this book.


Fiona Magowan is Professor of Social Anthropology in the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast.





Louise Wrazen is Associate Professor of Music in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design at York University.

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