Boys and Girls Come out to Play: Gender and Music-Making in Hamilton, New Zealand/Aotearoa

By Bannister, Matthew | Genders, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Boys and Girls Come out to Play: Gender and Music-Making in Hamilton, New Zealand/Aotearoa


Bannister, Matthew, Genders


[1] This article addresses gender and popular music-making in the city of Hamilton, New Zealand, a moderately prosperous provincial city (population 130,000) which services a large rural sector (the Waikato). Starting from the observation that few women enrol in tertiary commercial music courses in Hamilton, I aim to examine both the pedagogical experiences and perceptions of students relating to these courses, but also the background of beliefs and practices relating to gender and music in Hamilton, focusing on the live original music scene and its participants. My research question is 'what factors enable or disable women's participation in original popular music performance in Hamilton?' I have used mainly qualitative approaches (interviews with students, participants, participant observation at live music events) and some quantitative research (statistical analysis of gender participation in NZ tertiary education). Precedents include Lucy Green's Music Gender Education (1997) and Sara Cohen's Rock Culture in Liverpool (1991), which employed a mixed methodology to research similar issues in the UK. My theoretical approach starts from a position similar to Green: critical theory that aims to reveal and interpret ideological patterns of power within everyday experience, specifically in relation to ideologies of gender and music. However, while critical theory is excellent at identifying constraints, problems and contradictions, it's not always clear how it can set out a positive agenda, other than by addressing the problems it identifies. It doesn't always engage with how people dwell within and work with contradictions, rather than trying to 'solve' them. Some of the strategies I describe later that enable women's music-making could be interpreted as critical responses to social problems, but others do not work so much with or against dominant discourses but alongside them--that is, agents or groups develop effective strategies to make music 'on their own terms' but without necessarily defining themselves against someone else's terms. In the latter part of the essay I consider Gustav Holter's theory of public/private spheres and, briefly, Foucault's concept of resistance as alternatives to critical theory's emphasis on ideology.

Background

[2] This is the first study of gender participation in popular music-making in New Zealand. Both men and women were approached--however, mostly women responded, so by default (which certainly begs interpretation), it has become mostly a study of women's participation in music-making. I should also state here a personal agenda--as a popular musician who has played with both men and women (including some of the participants), I was interested in what factors encouraged or inhibited women's participation. I also teach media arts at one of the main research sites, Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec). I have defined popular music-making as participating in the production of popular musical performances primarily in public spaces as musicians or sound engineers. My focus is on musicians who compose, sing or play, or facilitate that process. This connects the two sites of my research: in both cases 'playing, singing and producing self-written music' is the dominant mode of musical performance and production. The two main research sites are Wintec's Commercial Music programme and the local live original music scene. 'Original' designates performers who play mainly their own material, as opposed to covers bands. Typical performance settings include pubs, cafes, parties and the University of Waikato, whose student radio station (Contact FM) is probably the most active supporter of local live original music, along with the Htown website (http://htown.co.nz), an online forum which advertises gigs and promotes discussion of music. However, these are both small operations, and do not offer equal coverage of all types of local music.

[3] The Hamilton live original music scene is small, fragmented and suffers from a lack of venues. …

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