Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FSU Faculty Artist Series Brings Gender Studies to Center Stage

By: Sarah Galvin ENGL 336.002

In this photo released by the FSU Department of Music, the poster for the Il Venti Semplice Recital is seen. (AP Photo/FSU Music Department)
The fight for gender equality rages around the world, and the oppression of women is not an unfamiliar concept even in America, where the amendment granting women the right to vote was passed less than 100 years ago. At 8 p.m. on Monday in FSU's Pealer Recital Hall, the battle was highlighted from the musical perspective in an FSU Department of Music Faculty Artist Series concert performed by the FSU faculty trio, Il Venti Semplice. The trio includes professors from FSU's music department: Pamela Murchison, on flute and alto flute; department Chairman Dr. Mark Gallagher, on clarinet and bass clarinet; and Dr. James DeWire, on piano. As junior music education major Heather Wahl explained plainly, “It's suppose to be good,” and the trio certainly did not disappoint its audience.

The Pealer Recital Hall, located on campus in the Performing Arts Center, is the standard venue for most FSU concerts, seating over 400 people. The intimate trio recital only drew about 30 listeners sprinkled across the front third of the hall, but those in attendance were appreciative and supportive. Eager applause greeted the performers at each entrance and bow, and more than half of the audience members congregated in the lobby post-performance to chat and reflect on the concert together.

The attendees had more to discuss than just their thoughts on the musical entertainment; FSU professor Dr.Steven Soebbing, from the music department, gave remarks addressing the significance of gender in the concert's program. The music performed was all written within the last 35 years by women composers. Although a polished singer, Soebbing specialized in women's and gender studies when completing his doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and now teaches a women in music course at FSU. Murchison put the program together with modern women composers partly because most of the repertoire for the unusual combination of flute, clarinet, and piano is contemporary but also because she “just wanted to.” She reflected that the trio was lucky to have Soebbing there to share his expertise.

In this photo released by the FSU Music Department, the Pealer Recital Hall is ready for the audience members to take their seats. (AP Photo/FSU Music Department)

Soebbing's speech may have been limited to 5 minutes, but he brazenly presented gender issues that sparked immediate reactions from listeners. He spoke confidently, standing almost completely still at the podium and emitting a palpable fervor that made his presentation particularly engaging. Off-stage, he casually explained that he is not an “adamant person” and prefers to always keep an open mind, but he hoped that, rather than offering answers, his remarks would pose a problem to be considered: “How much should gender impact our listening?” Soebbing focused on the conflicts surrounding the treatment of women's music. While once women composers were completely disregarded, today they are often explicitly studied, as if to compensate for past cultural inequalities. He questions the effectiveness of this tactic, suggesting that studying composers as "women composers," instead of "composers who happen to be women," can be just as limiting to women as old prejudices. During the opening piece the audience sat with rapt attention, but once confronted with Soebbing's assertions, rustles could be heard across the crowd as listeners turned to comment to each other in whispers or shift in their seats from the surprising boldness of his presentation.

After the speech, everyone settled for the remainder of the performance, but they had obviously been affected. “It does make you stop and think: if a woman goes into a blind audition, is she more likely to get the job?” mused Wahl. In blind auditions, those vying for selection perform behind a screen, ensuring the judges are “blind” to everything about the performers, including gender, besides what can be heard in the quality of their music. In the lobby after the concert, thoughts similar to Wahl's pervaded the discussions, and the conversations were carried on even as groups departed for the parking lot.

Soebbing brought a new dimension to a concert that was impressive even without the debate of gender equality. The program included 4 pieces: "Dash" (2001), by Jennifer Higdon for flute, clarinet, and piano; "Developing Hues" (1989), by Cynthia Folio for flute and bass clarinet; "Four Mynms" (1979), by Zenobia Perry for flute/alto flute, clarinet, and piano; and "Poems of a Bright Moon" (2000), by Maria Grenfell for flute, clarinet, and piano. Higdon's piece opened the concert with a flourish of notes that proved the short and spirited work was aptly named. The remaining pieces expanded the range of technical skill displayed. Unusual sounds, from squawks to growls, and ever-faster notes were heard throughout. Beautifully gentle moments were woven into the performance as well. Perry's piece incorporated variations of the folk song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and Grenfell's work was rife with mysterious and dreamy sounds representing the moon, as its title suggests. The variety made a captivating and entertaining performance.

Many performers and listeners alike find contemporary music harsh and unappealing, but Murchison argues, “If you are excited about it, the audience will go there with you.” She believes that “new music is assessable if you make it so,” and when a group of contemporary music enthusiasts like Murchison, Gallagher, and DeWire get together, the impact is electrifying. “It's just the thrill of putting the music together and presenting it to people. It's just the total charge,” says Gallagher. DeWire adds that there is a “purity of communication” in “the best kind of performing.”

Il Venti Semplice's performance on Monday communicated not only a passion for music but an awareness of current social issues. The social context resonated with students like Wahl, who paused to reconsider the impact gender inequality may have on her life as a performer, but for some students, their reaction was simply overwhelming awe and joy. Freshman music education major Geoffrey Westbrook could hardly stop pacing excitedly long enough to repeat, “I definitely loved the concert!” Geoffrey's genuine smile filled his entire face, and with a review like that, you do not want miss the upcoming events FSU's music department has to offer.

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