Women, Music, Culture
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Women, Music, Culture

An Introduction

Julie C. Dunbar

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eBook - ePub

Women, Music, Culture

An Introduction

Julie C. Dunbar

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About This Book

Women, Music, Culture: An Introduction, Third Edition is the first undergraduate textbook on the history and contributions of women in a variety of musical genres and professions, ideal for students in Music and Gender Studies courses. A compelling narrative, accompanied by 112 guided listening experiences, brings the world of women in music to life. The author employs a wide array of pedagogical aides, including a running glossary and a comprehensive companion website with links to Spotify playlists and supplementary videos for each chapter. The musical work of women throughout history—including that of composers, performers, conductors, technicians, and music industry personnel—is presented using both art music and popular music examples.

New to this edition:

  • An expansion from 57 to 112 listening examples conveniently available on Spotify.

  • Additional focus on intersectionality in art and popular music.

  • A new segment on Music and #MeToo and increased coverage of protest music.

  • Additional coverage of global music.

  • Substantial updates in popular music.

  • Updated companion website materials designed to engage all learners. Visit the author's website at www.womenmusicculture.com
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Telling Musical Stories



Missing Voices in the Documentation of Musical Traditions

In Western culture, people from the past become part of the present when they are brought to life on the pages of written history. In contrast, those who are not recognized in writing are often forgotten. As such, the focus of Part I is to examine the power of perspective, documentation, and publication in the shaping of cultural beliefs regarding women’s musical roles. This segment of the text provides a lens through which to view historical documentation trends, and also supplies tools that can be used to assess gender representation in current written materials.
Along with introducing basic terminology and guided listening formats that will be used throughout the text, Chapter 1 introduces various genres in which women have been active participants. Examples from the worlds of art music, popular music, and jazz allow useful comparisons between art and popular music construction. The chapter also introduces a model that explains the role of perspective in determining what is deemed “worthy” of historical preservation.
In Chapter 2, the Judeo-Christian roots of historical music documentation are examined, focusing on the development of sacred genres that formed a cornerstone of the Western art music canon. Musicologists’ tendency to legitimize music that was preserved through written methods is investigated, along with the inclination to focus on public-sphere music rituals that initially excluded women. The trajectory of the canon is followed by examining modern sacred works by women.
Chapter 3 reflects on the representation of women in the field labeled “world music.” Although many world music traditions were originally preserved by aural tradition, some academics in the field initially replicated Western musicological models. Resultantly, ethnomusicology was formed with a focus on written structural analysis of public sphere works, and there was limited reporting on women’s musical-cultural roles. The chapter examines issues that have sometimes precluded researchers from accessing the musical work of women, but also suggests some solutions. To help the reader better understand alternative presentation styles, interview data and storytelling narratives are discussed. In addition, several global superstars are highlighted.

Reflections on “Deep Listening”

We live in a noisy world. For a quick reminder of your capacity to selectively listen, close your eyes and focus on the sounds that surround you at this moment. Alter your perception by listening intentionally to sounds produced by living things and sounds that are created electronically; sounds that are musical and sounds that are irritating; sounds that are within you, and sounds that are external.1
Many of us listen in the manner in which we read: selectively skimming information from an immense field of choices. But if we habitually avoid conscious listening experiences, we risk losing the chance to encounter the present, to connect deeply with ourselves and others, and to hear the message of the sound.
This textbook is a venture into the world of “deep listening,” a place to perceive, analyze, interact, and connect with music as well as messages conveyed through it. At times, this perceptive listening may lead to aesthetic experiences that are purely emotional and physiological, resulting in an encounter with art for the sake of art. At other times, however, music will be examined as a barometer of culture, and as an agent for change. The aesthetic-cultural connection is forged strongly throughout the pages of this book, as narratives of women and music are discovered, examined, and created.


Music is multi-faceted and is studied from a variety of perspectives. The scientist looks at sound waves and acoustics; the mathematician looks at numerical sequences and patterns; the political scientist studies music as a vehicle for protest; the sociologist studies ways in which music reflects and transforms culture. Even musicians differ in their approaches, as some favor a theoretical analysis while others look at overall aesthetic or cultural issues. This text places a music analysis method alongside a sociocultural model to deepen the reader’s examination of interactions between music and culture (see Figure 1.1). On one side of the model are the musical elements of melody, form, rhythm, timbre, and harmony, used by musicologists who analyze musical construction. The culture side of the model, meanwhile, addresses how non-musical issues intersect with music. Placed side by side, the analytical methods help readers understand that while culture reflects and shapes music, music also reflects and shapes culture.
Figure 1.1 Music-Culture Model
Figure 1.1 Music-Culture Model
To experiment with the model, try a brief exercise to examine perceptions and stereotypes about audiences in popular music venues. Borrow from the sociocultural side of the model and consider how belief systems might impact the type of live performance one attends, and how non-musical assumptions can become associated with particular genres. To assist with this experiment, use the following list of sociocultural descriptors that help shape belief systems, and describe the performers and audience members you envision at a heavy metal concert: age, gender, educational background, socio-economic status, geographical location, race or ethnicity. Now apply the list to folk music performers and their audience. Did your assumptions differ in the two settings? Finally, go through the list one more time and define yourself. In which ways did your own belief system impact your assessment?
Before leaving the model, consider musical elements that might impact non-musical perceptions. What is it about heavy metal music that might be associated with the performers and audience that you imagined? And folk music? For example, electrifying a guitar (and subsequently changing the timbre and volume of the instrument) has historically led to significant changes in perception about the guitarist when it comes to gender expectations. As the text progresses, there will be frequent explanations of musical elements as they intersect with non-musical associations.


Listen and Analyze

Let’s begin by taking a former Top-40 hit and analyzing it using both sides of the music-culture model. When prompted, you will need to access the Spotify playlist on the companion web-site to enhance the listening guides in your textbook.
Beyoncé’s 2016 “Freedom” from the video album Lemonade is an accessible popular music selection to use for an initial elements-of-music exercise. For this analysis, we will simply look at form, the “big picture” of a musical creation. Form is a musical blueprint for presenting a work to the listener where the composer decides how much unity and variety is needed to create a good listening exper...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Women, Music, Culture
APA 6 Citation
Dunbar, J. (2020). Women, Music, Culture (3rd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2194276/women-music-culture-an-introduction-pdf (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Dunbar, Julie. (2020) 2020. Women, Music, Culture. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/2194276/women-music-culture-an-introduction-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Dunbar, J. (2020) Women, Music, Culture. 3rd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2194276/women-music-culture-an-introduction-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Dunbar, Julie. Women, Music, Culture. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.