Academic journal article Women & Music

Thinking (as) Difference: Lesbian Imagination and Music

Academic journal article Women & Music

Thinking (as) Difference: Lesbian Imagination and Music

Article excerpt

PHILIP BRETT'S DECLARATION, "ALL MUSICIANS ... are faggots" (2006, 17-18, emphasis in original), both recalls and refers to the deviant social positionalities of musicians--regardless of their sexual practices--in Western societies. Moreover, Brett argues that musicians willingly, if not exactly knowingly, enact this deviancy in ways that do not challenge and may actually sustain societal norms of decorum and restraint. The "open secret" of the closet thus constructs the deviant role of musician as (male) homosexual and consequently feminized, conflating homophobia and misogyny (Bredbeck 1995; Spurlin 2001). This conflation in turn contributes to both homosexual panic and assertions of male values related to "competitiveness, rigor, masterfulness" (Brett 2006, 18) among musicians, in music, as well as in music communities. The term faggot, Brett admits, comes from "the parlance of the male locker room" (2006, 18) and does not address the experiences of lesbian musicians. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the misogyny of composers such as Aaron Copland and Charles Ives, crediting the latter "for at least being blatant in his abuse of European composers as homosexuals or women" (Brett 2006, 22). That Ives does not distinguish between homosexuals and women demonstrates for Brett how deeply intertwined the terms are as well as the impact they have on the marginalization of women (and, by implication, lesbians) in specific music and music education roles and practices. Even as the open secret becomes more public and less pejorative, however, and musical roles and practices change both in terms of who or what enacts them as well as what is enacted, difference understood in terms of identity continues to inform music and music education, constraining and limiting individuals as well as the two professions. Brett notes that "labels" associated with identities, such as musicality and homosexual, are not "up to much good. They are tools of social control dressed up in one case as 'talent' [and] in the other as 'condition'" (2006, 22). Consequently, he enjoins "a lesbian and gay musicology ... to interrogate both terms unceasingly as it researches our history, proposes new theories of music, and devises a new pedagogy" (Brett 2006, 23). Ways of thinking beyond labels and identities, then, may enable unbounded understandings of music and music teaching/learning. If we can move beyond what is expected because it has always been, then our participation in musicology and music education as well as in other musical practices in addition to music itself may be unfettered.

Although I am not a musicologist, I wish to take up Brett's call with its pedagogical imperative and extend it as well to music education and music education philosophy, where lesbian and gay scholarship is practically nonexistent and lesbian and gay musicology is all but invisible. (1) I follow Brett's lead by starting from Suzanne Cusick's "lesbian relation with music" (2006, 67), in which power is shared between those interacting with music and the music itself. Defining lesbian in terms of "the gender of the beloved" in a specific practice related to sexuality between women that is negotiated within what she calls the "power/intimacy/pleasure triad" (2006, 71), Cusick argues that lesbian relationships exist outside the traditional sex/gender system in which men are privileged and women are socialized to be "non-dominating" with virtually no pernicious "discursive and societal models" (2006, 72) of relationships between women to resist. In combination, these factors contribute to lesbians being more likely to construct alternative relationships based on sharing power. Her "lesbian relation" serves as a catalyst for my invoking "lesbian imagination": a space of rupture in which difference may be refigured beyond identities (e.g., Brett's "labels"), traditional power relations, and discourses and in which the music profession--how we hear, create, and teach/learn music--may be re-visioned and enacted in ways that reflect values implied in Cusick's lesbian relation. …

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