Preferences of and Attitudes toward Treble Choral Ensembles

By Wilson, Jill M. | Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME), September 2012 | Go to article overview

Preferences of and Attitudes toward Treble Choral Ensembles


Wilson, Jill M., Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)


Introduction

The abundance of females in choral programs in the U.S. has gained much attention at choral workshops and symposia with the focus typically being on how to achieve a balance between vocal parts by recruiting and retaining males rather than the effect of this imbalance on the many female singers. The large number of females compared to males has led to the need for the formation of treble clef ensembles--all female vocal groups--the status of which is often seen as second place to the mixed ensemble. According to O'Toole (1998), factors leading to this viewpoint include a more diverse historically based literature, greater numbers of tours/competitions for mixed choirs, and the tendency of conductors to highlight the mixed ensemble by having them perform last on a concert.

A traditional view of treble clef choirs focuses on the ensemble as a preparation for SATB singing with high school treble clef choirs consisting of the "leftover" girls who were not selected for a mixed ensemble (Carp, 2004). A stigma as a second-tier ensemble may be attached to this choir, negatively affecting the attitudes of its members (Gauthier, 2005). Participation may be endured only until females are able to move on to mixed choir; the treble clef choir experience exists as nothing more than an opportunity to prove themselves worthy to sing in the mixed choir next year.

In the mixed choir rehearsal, as boys' and girls' voices mature at different times, choral directors may have to address the needs of the less experienced male singers during rehearsal, meanwhile neglecting the needs of female singers (O'Toole, 1998). Just as girls begin to mature vocally, boys are faced with new challenges that can make them appear less capable than their female counterparts. In some cases, to retain and encourage male singers, choral educators ignore their inappropriate behavior. There is also concern that these behaviors play a role in monopolizing the choral educator's time and focus; therefore, females may not be receiving the education they deserve. Placing trained, musically experienced girls in an ensemble with less trained boys may give the impression that female singers are less valuable.

In the mixed choral ensemble, choral educators' desire to obtain near even numbers between the sexes might result in many girls who are trained and interested being cast aside or assigned to treble clef choirs in order to compensate for the low numbers of males. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 states that no one person, on the basis of sex, can be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of any education program receiving federal financial assistance (U.S. Department of Labor, 2010). Though meant to protect, in this case female singers are instead limited in their opportunities to participate in mixed choirs precisely because of the efforts toward gender equity. Rather than merely looking for strategies that will motivate students to continue in choir, choral educators need to begin with the exploration of, and education regarding society's perpetuation of gender stereotypes in order to suppress proliferation these views (Koza, 1993).

Review of Literature

The problem of imbalance of genders in choral music has existed since the 1920s (Gates, 1989), but only recently has the question of how this affects females become a focus in music education research. Several journals including the Philosophy of Music Education Review (1994), British Journal of Music Education (1993), and The Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning (1993) all devoted issues to the topic of gender research in music education. An organization called GRIME (Gender Research in Music Education) was established in 1991 and began publishing a peer-reviewed journal, G.E.M.S. (Gender, Education, Music and Society), in 2002. According to many of today's most prolific music education researchers on the topic, music has long been considered a feminine pursuit (Gould, 1992; Green, 1997; Koza, 1993/94; Lamb, 1994; O'Toole, 1998).

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