Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Symphony under the Stars (Concert Report 1)

(I apologize for the picture quality)
On September 19, 2009 the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra performed outdoors at UVA’s McIntire Amphitheatre. The pops concert entitled “Symphony under the Stars” brought together both university students and members of the local community in order to enjoy an evening of music. The lack of words and gestures both work together to mask the expression of race and gender in pops orchestra performance. However, even though gender and race may not be as overtly expressed in pops music as it is in pop music, these themes are still present. Gender and race are simply expressed in more subtle ways in pops orchestra music than in the music of Eminem, Britney Spears, and Kanye West. By examining the “Symphony under the Stars” performance of the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, one can see the expression of gender and race through the demographic composition and piece selection of the orchestra.

By examining, the demographic composition of the orchestra, one can gain insight into the roles that gender and race play in pops music. First, according to my observation, the orchestra did not contain any African American musicians. The majority of the performers were white with a fair amount of Asians. Granted, these observations were from a distance, so I cannot guarantee their accuracy; however, I am confident to say that the orchestra was comprised mainly of white musicians. Second, the demographic composition regarding gender suggests that musical instruments may be gendered. For example, all of the clarinet players were female. There was only one female trumpet player, and the strings seemed to be more evenly dispersed between the genders. Although these observations are interesting, I believe that in order to make larger conclusions regarding the demographic make-up of the orchestra, an in-depth study is needed to examine the demographics of the population of Charlottesville in relation to the demographic composition of the orchestra. It is difficult to make generalizations about race and gender in pops music from one performance by one orchestra.

Perhaps the greatest expression of race and gender in the performance was the orchestra’s piece selection. In addition to the theme song from ET, “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tale, and John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the orchestra performed a suite from Carmen and a selection from South Pacific. In her introduction of the suite from Carmen, Music Director Kate Tamarkin presented a brief history of the opera. She revealed that the composer had difficulty locating someone to play the lead role of Carmen, a promiscuous gypsy, due to the social taboos she embodied as a heroine. However, once the role was filled, the play was not only socially accepted, but it also became one of the most famous operas of all time. By choosing to perform the selection from Carmen, Tamarkin also chose to address the tensions regarding gender that were present in the nineteenth century. As a character, Carmen was a contradictory representation of a woman as compared to traditional Victorian ideals. By performing the selection from Carmen and praising the opera in her introduction, Tamarkin not only displays her respect for the musical genius of the opera but also her support for the opera’s themes. Kate Tamarkin also chose to address racial prejudice in her piece selection by performing a number from South Pacific, a 1949 musical about love, war and racial prejudice. Tamarkin does not shy away from themes of race and gender; rather, she chooses to address these themes through music.

In conclusion, although all of the musicians in the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra dressed identically and performed as a cohesive unit, the themes of race and gender do not disappear. Gender and race are more than overt, outward expressions through appearance and behavior. These themes can be also expressed subtly in musical performance such as though demographic composition and piece selection. However, in order to make greater generalizations about race and gender in pops music, further study is necessary.

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