Dissertation Abstract

Title: Whose music is it, anyway?  Black vocal ensemble traditions and the Feminist choral movement:  Performance practice as politics
Pub No: 9989946
Author: Boerger, Kristina Gisele
Degree: AMusD
School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Date: 2000
Pages: 504
Adviser: Turino, Thomas
ISBN: 0-599-97382-X
Source: DAI-A 61/10, p. 3818, Apr 2001
Subject: Music (0413); Women's Studies (0453); Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies (0631)

The Feminist choral movement is a virtually White, and amateur, phenomenon. Its ensembles perform Black styles more regularly than most virtually White ensembles of the choral mainstream. This study explores this practice and its attendant history of angry charges of cultural appropriation. Participant observation and ethnography reveal the convergences of racial and gendered identities, politics, and music in the lives of women in four Feminist choirs and also in three professional, Black women's ensembles whose song teaching, performance, and recording have heavily influenced choral Feminism. Historical and theoretical groundwork covers: identity as strategic construct; the centrality of aesthetic style in identity construction, performance, and policing; a twentieth-century, U.S. history of progressive political uses of "ethnic" or "folk" -- especially African-American -- music; Black music as metaphor for Black identity; Womyn's music festivals as crucibles of cultural Feminism and Feminist identity; and the convergence in the '70s of cultural Feminism and Black Liberationist cultural expression. Members of Urban Bush Women, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Sistrum, Anna Crusis, and AMASONG (the author's choir) discuss their ensembles as "homes" for their identities as women, African Americans, Lesbians, Feminists. All ensembles regard their performances as activism. The Black women claim traditional Black songs as material resources with manifold powers and uses; feelings of ownership and protectiveness vie with a sense of obligation to share this music with White people. White women's optimism that to sing Black song is to perform Feminist anti-racism is contradicted by reports from their ensembles' token Black members about how it feels to be Black within their choirs. Racial and musical essentialism are theoretically rejected, though the continuing, material need under racism for positive constructions of Blackness is affirmed. A definition of authenticity is offered that opens the way to White performance of Black music while recommending practices that will enhance its chances of a positive reception, musically and politically. A case study of Cincinnati's MUSE -- founded and directed by choral Feminism's pioneer Catherine Roma -- explores how this chorus alone in the movement began as a White organization but became truly racially integrated.


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