The song as a (gendered) script

Have you spent time brows­ing around ASCAP’s web­site? Some inter­est­ing things buried there.

For instance, here’s Murphy’s Laws of Song­writ­ing, includ­ing this bit about aim­ing your songs espe­cially to an audi­ence of women. The idea is that men sing songs for women, and women sing songs for women. It’s much more rare in pop­u­lar music that songs are sung espe­cially for men. So why not do what’s popular?

One can argue this point, of course (“Hey Jude”?), but for the sake of the argu­ment, I’ll take this at face value, because it really got my curios­ity going.

Com­pose for…whom exactly?

Clas­si­cal music and pop­u­lar music are not the same thing, of course, and most pop­u­lar music is lyric dri­ven and much clas­si­cal music is not. But I had to won­der: is the clas­si­cal music that is most remem­bered writ­ten for women? Is opera and art song more “fem­i­nine” than sym­phonies and string quartets?

Gen­dered per­spec­tives of clas­si­cal music has been a hot topic in the last 3–4 decades. I am reminded of Fred Maus’s excel­lent arti­cle, “Mas­cu­line Dis­course in Music The­ory,” which argues (amongst other points) that one rea­son music became so theory-based in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury was to be more sci­en­tific and less “fem­i­nine.” Male com­posers wanted to appear mas­cu­line for their col­leagues. (See Per­spec­tives of New Music,¬†Vol. 31, No. 2 (Sum­mer, 1993), pp. 264–293)

I won­der if there is any­thing to all this. I also won­der what is would sound like if I wrote for just a female audi­ence only… or just a male audi­ence! A lit­tle thought exer­cise that might lead to something.

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.