In this podcast, we take a tour with Dr. Brent Talbot on Talbot and Mantie’s research into American collegiate a cappella singing through the lens of agency, performativity, and leisure. Our performances of gender, sexuality, and identity are often rooted within larger frameworks and can be liberated from these frameworks in exploring new ways of being through musical practices. We close this two part series with the replay of a powerful speech that ties together agency, narrative, performativity, and Balinese collectivism.
The Music & Peacebuilding Podcast is hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson at Elizabethtown College. Join our professional development network at www.musicpeacebuilding.com - thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care.
Because Judith Butler's writing this through the lens of of Lifetime's of oppression of not being able to perform you know and then to see in other ways that there can be some elements of performativity that then can be empowering, I think is also important and that it's liberatory you know in a kind of a Freirean sense that we want to build a structure an environment where we can actualize our humanity fully.Kevin Shorner-Johnson:
You are listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music peacebuilding.com Exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination. Through research and story Brent C Talbot has been a leading voice for change in the field of music education, a prolific author and frequent presenter. Talbots work examines power, discourse and issues of justice in varied settings for music learning around the globe. This podcast looks at his newest text along with Roger Mantie education music in the lives of undergraduates, collegiate acapella and the pursuit of happiness, and layers this conversation with continued journeys about agency and Balinese gamelan. Questions that tether this podcast include questions of agency and our volitional choices to pursue music as leisure. In the Oxford Handbook of leisure and music education, Mantie and Smith. Note this area of study opens questions about how we relate how we construct meaning, and how we enter and construct spaces where, quote, music making is enabled, nurtured, challenged and sustained. As Mantie and Talbot spent roughly 10 years to study collegiate acapella singing, they opened important questions about volitional music making choice and influences of sexuality and gender on the structure of singing. Talbot speaks of what drew them to the study,Brent Talbot:
I think acapella provided a beautiful space for for, for us to think critically about the field of music education, because it it shows or demonstrated to us very clearly as we were doing interviews, because we kind of came out and we were just wanting to know, like, why do you do this? Why do you spend an exorbitant amount of time? Why do you spend six to eight hours a week? On your own working on this thing that has no like, it's not gonna show up in your transcript? It's not like, you know, what is? These were the questions that we were kind of more interested in. And in the process, what we recognized was that a lot of the students who participated had somehow participated in music programs prior. And were, were bringing some of that knowledge into their rehearsal practice, but but only from a vantage point of being like, you know, the teacher, they looked like they did this thing, so I'm going to try doing it, but they didn't really know the reasons or rationale for why it might help you. And what a warm up does, you know, rather than you know, so maybe you might not want to place that place in your registration, you know, any of that, you know, that. Or maybe you don't have to do the notes on the page, you can since its acapella you can just move it up to two half steps, and it might fit everyone's voices, but you know, just those basic elements that just were kind of missing. But they also conveyed and revealed all of the things that we do as music teachers that we think are coming through the don't necessarily come through, but maybe also kind of display the structures that that govern the participation of music making, and schools. So there's that we just, we just dove deeper and deeper and deeper. Initially, this was going to be like an article and then it just turned into this massive kind of book. That was a longitudinal study of, you know, 10 years of our life was that like, working with these groups so so in terms of leisure I, that was the the rationale for starting this project was to really kind of get at like, why would anyone spend as much time as they do on this? And how do they think about it, and everybody we interviewed, every single person we interviewed was like, I'm never gonna do this after college. There's like a time and a place for this and it is college, I'm gonna just call it collegiate acapella. It's, but then we re interviewed everybody we interviewed at the beginning of 2012. And they were all out of college in these big gigs. And not necessarily happy with their careers in were fully satisfied in their lives, you know, with just what their career was. And so these people who are articulate, like, ya know, there's a time and place for it and and it is only now, and I'm not really sure what I'll do musically afterwards, but I think that this is the end. You know, it's like this very depressing and sad response to be like, you know, we'll never play music again. And we're like, oh, Okay, and then we ask them later that almost every one of them sings or gigs or does something in their lives in some leisure music making endeavor, including some who are in acapella groups that are not Collegiate based, but are community based, and they're leading them and this kind of post college, cool, you know, like, thing, musical outlet that they take. AndKevin Shorner-Johnson:
I think you open up that really important point that if so many of our music education philosophies that we've formed, talk about lifelong music making, except none of us really examine if lifelong music making actually happens sometimes. And also putting together Bali against the United States right there, this the recognizing the ways in which our language in the United States compartmentalizes music, like music is the thing you do at this time. Whereas many other cultures, it's kind of it's through the fabric of your life.Brent Talbot:
Yes, Bali, definitely, it is embedded in the fabric. And we do and I would say music in America is also embedded in the fabric of what we do. But I think it's the institutional. It's the institutional participation and the way that we structure that we start to remove it, which is why then, when we interview people, as researchers in higher ed, we ask them, you know, like, or we just casually or at a party, and we're talking to somebody and we're like, you know, like, oh, well, what do you what do you do? Well, I, you know, do all these different things. And they start to list all the musical activities that they do, like, I play guitar, and I sing in my church, you know, it's like, but I'm not a musician. Yes, is the follow up, you know, it's a follow up. And I'm like, wow, you literally just listed the three musical things you do, but you don't label yourself a musician because we've created an envir- or structure where, unless you study it formally, to a point where you're going to be a professional, whatever that might mean. Even people who are gigging and have like, bar gigues on the weekends, or whatever they're doing, you know, they're like, Yeah, but I'm not a musician. But you play more than most of the musicians I know, you know, it's like, so I think that's, yeah, that's, that's exactly right. When we have these philosophies, statements, that, that do this, but often we get in the way, and we is because the structure of participation is so rigid. And as design, you know, it just starts spitting people out and separating them and so people just don't see themselves as music makers, even though they may beKevin Shorner-Johnson:
So gender and sexuality. So your book names that in some ways this this was not going to be like the primary topic of this book. However, as you did your study, it feels like the middle of the book just started growing, as you're really finding out about how much acapella has to say about gender and sexuality. And so I would I want to name that you found structures that reinforced gender binaries, you found that male singers may be gendered and sexualized as both effeminate and hyper masculine at the same time. You found unquestioned inequalities between all male groups and all female groups, and sometimes those unquestioned even continued years after the people stopped being in acapella. So open up this topic for us gender, sexuality, and acapellaBrent Talbot:
Well, as I said, Roger, his research areas, avocational and leisure music. And I have spent a lot of my career looking at gender and sexuality. So it's, it's not a surprise that that that came into, into play into and I was also working through a lot in the in the marginalized voices. And when I was editing that book, thinking through inequality a lot. So that was the that was in the middle of this entire 10 year project. And I think one of the things that surprised both of us, and I mean, Roger is a student of Liz Gould, so he's, he's thanks very much and, and sees these inequalities too. So I don't mean to paint him in a way that he's not that's not something he thinks he thinks a great deal about that. And, and so I, I do think, for me, and Roger, we were just so disappointed in ourselves later as researchers because we were like, duh, how were we so naive from the very beginning that this wasn't going to be like a major part of our research? When people literally label themselves all hyphen, male or all hyphen female, and they create, you know, it's I don't know, I don't know why that was such a like a surprise and how deeply rooted all of this was. But it's so deeply rooted in heteronormativity and masculinity and of course, both of us as discourse analysts, we just, we had to kind of think in a Foucaultian or you're drawing upon Michel Foucault's work, you know, as a, as an understanding of these genealogies that lead to this his the historicity, you know, like the historical kind of like evolution of how we get to the space and time and place and continue to enact these inequalities and where they emerge from historically, you know, singing in collegiate Spaces got its root, in the early years of, it's about community building, it's the elements of privilege, males being able to attend university, you know, there were no women in colleges and universities in the 1700s. And even into much of the 1800s and, and even into the 1900s, you know, but like, so, then we have, we have these, then separate universities, these all female colleges and universities, and these all male colleges, you know, and then they have these like, sister brother kind of relations, you know, and these are the ways that the upper class sent their, you know, their, their children to study a variety of things or to become gentlemen or women of upper society. And, and these are the ways that people practiced navigating those spaces, whether it be learning specific quadrilles, or, you know, dances, you know, social dances, or whether they were singing, you know, and swooning one another, you know, a different, these are the, these are the roots of that tradition. And of course, then you bring in minstrelsy, you know, and entertainment, you bring in things like barbershop histories, there's, there's a whole element that kind of evolves, and then people, you know, often don't think critically and deeply about how what they're doing is perpetuating some kind of form of, of harm.Kevin Shorner-Johnson:
To address harm, we need to study the architecture of firmly embedded structures of privilege, patriarchy, and heteronormative frameworks to understand how the past is played into the present through new forms of participation.Brent Talbot:
And then the rhetoric that we heard over and over again, emerges not only in Mickey Rabkin's book Pitch Perfect, and the movies themselves, you know, which is kind of like, farcical components of it, but there's so much truth embedded in that space, and how those also get, you know, seen in our, in our research, is that, you know, female sets are seen as shrill and undesirable, and male, you know, because they have the base suddenly, like, it's really, it's like, that it's all just registration. I mean, there's so many beautiful elements of treble voices or lower voices, or mixed, you know, choral kind of experiences, I just find it amazing how people perpetuate or they do this, but they don't think critically like, Oh, this is totally rooted in this notion of male dominance or masculinity and, and so we see these played out too. And then there's the fear that all happens. This is where the sexuality kind of comes in. There's this fear of being in an all male acapella group of not being able to be out. And when I first started in 2012, yes, there were gay people in the choir, but they were not out and, and not at all the sets were about swooning women and courting women, you know, it's like it's all the songs were about this and etc. They do these acapella gram's here in for a fundraiser during Valentine's Day. And I, you could choose a number of love songs, and they would sing it to you, and you could you could even buy them like $5 or whatever, and you could buy them and they would sing them on your like, you know, on a answering machine or something. And I bought one, I bought one for my husband. And and it was and I said you choose, it doesn't matter. They all chose the song and they realized halfway through as they're singing it, it's all like, you know, these female references that they realize, it was like this perfect moment of discovering their own heteronormative framework, you know, and, and I and I'm speaking of agency, I gave them the full choice to choose whatever song they wanted to sing. So it was it was just Yeah, it's these moments I think just revealed to me how often we move through these spaces and traditions without questioning why we do what we do or how we do what we do or how we do what we do can be problematic. I think this work is really special is that it reveals some of this for for the practices and traditions that we do in schools and how we might not think about the costuming choices that we have, or some of the selections of repertoire that might be positioning, you know, these kind of courtships and only heteronormative ways or, or the way that the arrangement itself my prioritize male or female, you know are the ways that often we're like so worried about recruiting men or boys into our choirs and, and ignoring the like, the amazing participants that are currently there who may be majority female, you know, or not, like, you know, or the ways that we have to kind of move beyond the binary separations here to think about how we, we understand and label and create spaces for people who are non binary to, or identify as trans who can participate and are participating and can be valued instead of constantly reminded and oppressed in these learning spaces about the structures that we live,Kevin Shorner-Johnson:
we live within structures that draw the lines, the boundaries of our performances of who we are. On one hand, Butler writes about how agency is constrained, as we may feel predetermined by enormous historical structures that form our being. On the other hand, Butler names a liberatory move, one where we have a power between the iterations. Talbot talks about performativity and agency, and how this became a theoretical frame for the study of acapella.Brent Talbot:
So performativity is a is an interesting thing, in that we, we've been born into this binary structure of seeing ourselves in opposition, but not understanding that we may live, and I would even argue that all of us live somewhere in between these, and that we live in these in between spaces, all the time. And that in each time that we move to a new space or place that we shift our identity or our perception of these ideas in those spaces, too. And so I joke with my friends, and I have this group of, of all straight men, friends who, who helped me open up a lake house in Vermont, that is my, owned by my parents. And we go up there, and I always, I always joke with them, I'm like, Oh, I'm going up to perform masculinity this weekend. Because in that space, it's, you know, our favorite things to do is to pull out a meat smoker and have great cheese and eat and drink, you know, amazing craft beers. And we are, you know, mostly in flannels, and, you know, and looking like an LL Bean catalog. And it's, and we're doing, you know, we're wielding chainsaws and drills, and we're, you know, with a lot of these things. And I think, you know, in that moment that like, I feel, authentically myself, like none other with this, this group of friends, they just, they mean the world to me, and they accept me fully as a gay man, I'm out fully like, but, but my masculinity can be fully on display, and that in that type of space, and that does not feel odd or weird to me. And at the same time, I can then go to South Beach, Miami with a bunch of, with my husband and two of our, like, best friends who are gay, and you know, and go enjoy a weekend, you know, and we just we go, we, on the flip side, say we're doing a gaycation, so, so I can have, I can have both of those things. And, and they are, they're all complex, and they are all me and I get to live in all those spaces. And I get to and, and on the, on the spectrum, I'm sliding in between these, you know, sometimes I might be more effeminate, in one space or another I might be more masculine in a different space I my sexuality comes to the forefront or or receives isn't as not as important. And all of those things, I think, play into this notion of performativity that we're always performing and that we may not always be thinking about that. And so there's a level of code switching that is occurring regularly. I love that complexity, I think it's one of the things to return to agency that, that I feel empowered by. And I know that my friends, parents who, you know, I think, whom I've grown up with, and we've gotten to know each other think differently about me in some ways, because as some of them said, like, you're just unabashedly out. And I'm like, like, like, I shouldn't be or something. It's like, Yeah, but like, I may have been the only person that they have met, who, who felt as comfortable as, as, you know, who is gay and feels as comfortable being gay around other, you know, it's like just being myself and, and that I'm just being me. But there's a power in me being me. And I think Judith Butler is advocating for that, in this description, and also warning us that we may be preventing ourselves from from living our fullest existences. In those spaces. Now, there's the dark side of the all of that, which is oppression, and where people cannot be that because there there are great risks to reveal those things, and they may induce harm, or it might, you know, depending on the kind of cultural space, I live a very privileged existence as an academic, I have navigated this world and put myself in places where I'm not always safe, but I don't feel at harm. And I know that others may not necessarily get get to do that, I also have the privilege of having a family that supports me and a group of friends that support me, and that has given me strength to be out as a model for my students, but also, for my colleagues. And I think that that is, that isn't always available to every person. And so the performativity can be, can be such that people have to perform things that they don't want to be, they may have to play the role of being masculine, when that may not feel comfortable to them. Or they may be more effeminate and times when they that may not feel comfortable to them. Or they may not be able to express their sexuality in any way, shape, or form or date or be you know, it's like and live a more kind of lonely existence, that's forced upon them that they don't get, they don't feel they have the agency to navigate. So I, I take that in, in you know, when you it's deeply depressing, well, it can be because Judith Butler is writing this through the lens of, of Lifetime's of oppression of not being able to perform, you know, and then to see in other ways that there can be some elements of performativity that then can be empowering. I think it's also important that I and that it's liberatory in the you know, in a kind of a Freirean sense that we want to we want to build an A structure an environment where we can actualize our humanity fully.Kevin Shorner-Johnson:
As I sat with this podcast, I returned to Talbots 2013 convocation speech, where Brent juxtapose story building agency, individuality, collectivism, and how we perform our way into being. This speech into edited excerpts offers a powerful closure to the time of this podcast.Talbot Convocation:
You have probably heard multiple times over the past year that you are a part of a unique group, that you are special, and that you are the future. These type of narratives are common ones among high school commencement and college convocation speeches. They are designed to build you up, show that you have accomplished feats that others could only dream of, and to motivate you to continue to do great work. These types of narratives, like all narratives are powerful tools, they can inspire us have the power to change us make us consider differing perspectives and open us to new values and beliefs, but they can also inhibit us, marginalize us and fill us with fear and doubt. Narratives are stories of who we are and who we want to be. At the core. They are the discourse surrounding our lives surrounding our identities, and they are powerfully shaped by the contexts relationships and activities in which we are most deeply invested. Connelly and Clandinen are two researchers of narrative who have developed a methodology of research called narrative inquiry that I use regularly as a professor of education to analyze the meanings students create of their own learning. They indicate that humans individually and socially lead storied lives. People shaped their daily lives by stories of who they and others are, and we interpret our past in terms of these stories. Story is a portal through which a person enters the world, and by which our experience of the world is interpreted and made personally meaningful. So I invite everyone here to engage with inquiry into your own narrative right now. Let's reflect on how you came to be here in this time in this place in this circumstance. What's your story? Close your eyes. Ask yourself, ask yourself, How did I get here to this particular place? To this particular time? What were the circumstances that led me here today? Were the decisions that led me here entirely my own, who helped me come to these decisions, who made these decisions for me. Everyone has a story to share. You and your family have probably developed a story you've shared countless times already with family, friends, teachers and mentors and members of the Gettysburg College community. One that all well almost feels like a script now. I will share a story of a former student of mine as an example and I encourage you to explore yours in journals with your advisors, roommates, a newfound friends over the upcoming weeks. Jeff, not his real name, was the son of a preacher and a school teacher. He was the oldest of five and had a beautiful voice. He played piano organ and guitar and performed music during most Sunday services. As the oldest child, Jeff had lots of experience helping her young people and organize activities. So naturally, when he became old enough, he was selected to be a Sunday school teacher, and a counselor at summer camp. When it was time to consider where to go to college. And what to major in, Jeff told me that his family and church community encouraged him to become a music teacher. You are so good with children, and you love music, you'd be great at it. They told him after going through this reflective experience that you just went through. In our class, Jeff emailed me telling me he had been unable to think about anything else, and was stressed out about it all. I happened to be working late like most of the faculty do here and told him to come to my office, Jeff told me he realized that becoming a music teacher was not his story, that it was everyone else's for him. He told me that he certainly loved performing and did love working with children, but that this part of his identity had been partially created by the needs and desires of others. See, that's the interesting thing about identity. It is both shaped by how you see yourself, as well as how others see you. You begin to make decisions because others expect you to do something to behave a certain way to enter a certain profession. Others project identities and futures on you. So let's return to the reflection part and ask yourself, Who am I? Are the activities I engage in the things that define me? Or is there more than that? Without others influencing your decisions and behaviors? Who would you actually be? Who would you want to become? How would you actually behave? And what activities would you actually engage? What are the things you love most? In Bali, we experienced how time is not a single entity, but rather part of a relationship between place and circumstance. This perspective, shaped by our many immersive experiences provided us new insight into our own social and cultural expectations of how we construct time, what we call home, where we place value, and how we create meaning. It ultimately led to the gift of transformation of self and group. And I think it is best captured in a journal entry by Rachel Grande of the class of 2016, who joined me in Bali this summer. So in closing, here is her narrative. Listen for markers of how she was faced with understanding her culture, her identity and how she was transformed by experience. Tuesday, July 16. I feel so grateful that we were able to work with people in the village of Banjur Wani??. Hanging around eternally optimistic people makes me feel like anything is possible. There have been many transformative aspects of our time in Bali. But one of the most eye opening things that I have noticed is the lack of selfishness. There is no sense of I as everything revolves around community and how you fit into the larger puzzle. It is certainly going to be hard to maintain this group mentality when we are head home to the land of individuality. But it was nice to experience a more communal way of life. For a little while. It felt comforting to know that I was never alone in what I was doing, or how I was feeling. I am also going to miss the lack of timekeeping. I noticed when we stopped worrying about scheduling how many things we can fit into a day. We get the opportunity to live each blissful moment as it comes, life is so much more pleasant this way. I have learned so much during my time in Bali, I couldn't possibly recount all of it here. However, I think that the one thing I will always retain from this adventure is that the world is a better place. When we explore how and strive to be the best versions of ourselves. There is much to learn from Rachel's story. First, we are not alone. Find your support group and make it one that is positive, because then you'll feel anything as possible. Second, you are part of a community stand up for others be kind, volunteer, we all have needs. Third, you have four years here, don't over schedule yourself, take time to not be stressed. Lastly, let's all explore and strive to be the best versions of ourselves. So we can create a powerful story that is responsive to our time, to our place, and to our circumstance. Thank you.Kevin Shorner-Johnson:
In his introduction to marginalized voices and music education, Talbot poses the question of who we be. Talbot writes, our work as music educators has the May we find our authentic voice, one that is unique liberatory and sings the song, The story of who we are, and might be. May we potential to change the world if we are willing to listen to perform ourselves into embrace where we might be happy together, sad together in shared senses of time, place and create and celebrate our diversity, to evoke the work of circumstance. May our lifelong songs mean something in their relation, in opening new possibilities for the fullness of who we be. Special thanks to Dr. Brent Talbot for his time and folklorist Alan Lomax. Arts produced by diverse groups of thoughtfulness in sharing his scholarship and personal stories in this podcast. And special thanks to Dr. Talbot for his generous permission in allowing me to use recordings from his archive. In the context of this podcast. Gending Rare children's people are socially valuable. They offer us ideas, approaches songs and games from Bali is published by GIA publications. Education music in the lives of undergraduates, collegiate acapella and the pursuit of happiness is published by Bloomsbury press. Resources, website links and other information can be found on our website. and values that help us negotiate and understand how to This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us live together. at music peace building.com