Human Sexuality, Gender, and Musicology

In recent years gay, lesbian and gender studies have become relevant topics among music scholars. More importantly, these studies are being examined by musicologist. These studies have recognized the stigma of gender and sexuality in composition and performance through sound.

Studies have determined that the practice of pop music is more that just sounds that are produced. Judith Peraino states music practice itself is “an extension of sensual/sexual practices and dynamics of power that forge non-normative subjects or erotic relations.” This is well-recognized in popular music. On the other hand, classical music is perceived as “untainted by sexual bias.” In comparison to literature and visual art, sexuality can be explicit depending on how it is portrayed. In addition, gender and sexual desire can play a role in these forms of art. Be that as it may, music has a more effective way of portraying such characteristics. For instance, since music is more complex aurally, the effect it has on a person reveals our own most private feelings. Ergo, music subtly influences our individual identities.

In the book, Queering the Pitch: The new Gay and Lesbian Musicology by Philip Brett, it is further explained how even playing music plays a role in personal identities. Brett explains the connection between sexual identity and identifying as a musician. He compares the statement of coming-out as “I’m queer” can have as similar effect as coming-out as “I’m musical.” He proceeds to explain, that both sayings make you feel vulnerable, therefore, it becomes a part of your identity. As you can see, the connection between sexual identity and identifying as a musician can result in similar vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, queer composers have been overlooked considering they have made remarkable achievements in music. For example, Leonard Bernstein, whose sexuality was kept secret for many years, was a composer who lived through repression and hatred during his lifetime as a young composer. Therefore, it became a challenge for the composer to spread his work. However, his music was powerful enough to have captivated many listeners to overlook these prejudice views.

In conclusion, human sexuality, gender, may be stigmatized in music and musicology but are all connected in one way or another, from the perspective of the performer to the composer.

Judith Peraino, and Suzanne G. Cusick. Music and Sexuality. Journal of the American Musicological Society 66, no. 3 (2013): 825-72. doi:10.1525/jams.2013.66.3.825.

Keathley, Elizabeth L. “Postwar Modernity and the Wife’s Subjectivity: Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti.” American Music 23, no. 2 (2005): 220-56. doi:10.2307/4153033.

McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 69.

Smart, Mary Ann, Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas. Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian MusicologyNotes 51, no. 4 (1995): 5. doi:10.2307/899102.

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