BFE Member Thomas Hilder reports on 3rd Symposium of LGBTQ+ Music Study Group

Legacies of Resistance, Responding to Oppression: Changing
Dynamics in LGBTQ+ Music Activism and Scholarship

3rd Symposium of the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group

26th-27th April 2019
University of Southampton
Symposium Report by Thomas R. Hilder

The University of Southampton hosted the 3rd symposium of the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group on 26 th and 27 th April 2019. Entitled “Legacies of Resistance, Responding to Oppression: Changing Dynamics in LGBTQ+ Music Activism and Scholarship”, the event brought together an international community of scholars of different disciplinary and sub-disciplinary backgrounds to share work and network. It was hosted and organized by David Bretherton and Amy Williamson with support from the wider Study Group committee. Through arresting presentational formats, careful listening, generous sharing, and supportive critique, the event offered a safe forum for rich learning and showcased the vitality of contemporary scholarship on music, gender and sexuality.

Many presenters at the symposium drew on the initial impulses of a queer musicology to unearth LGBTQ music histories, nurture queer narratives, as well as support queer musical readings. Brian Inglis explored the often-neglected gay identity of the British composer Kaikhosru Sorabji and his queer relationship with Philip Heseltine/Peter Warlock. Tracing aspects of intimacy and celibacy in Francesco Cavalli’s 17th century opera La Calisto, Cathal Twomey argued for a queer asexual reading of the relationship between the work’s protagonists, Diana and Endimione. Meanwhile, a provocation was offered by Jam Orrell, who proposed drawing on notions of “trans-ness” to increase the audibility and visibility of trans and gender non-conforming musicians in Western classical music. For several scholars, analytical work required applying intersectional perspectives to challenge accepted narratives. In her account of the black trans R&B artist Jackie Shane, Gayle Murchison pointed to the overlooked presence of black queer voices during the Civil Rights era. Similarly, other scholars unearthed the ethics and fraught politics of constructing queer histories. Anna-Elena Pääkkölä analysed the musical Tom of Finland which attempted to celebrate LGBTQ histories in Finland during its centenary celebrations of nationhood in 2017. The nature of historical narrative, memory and trauma was furthermore explored in transnational contexts through a moving panel entitled “Musical Responses to HIV/AIDS”.

Numerous participants drew on their own embodied experiences to explore contemporary musical life. In his auto-ethnographic study, Michael Betteridge presented on his role as musical director for the recently formed LGBT+ low voices choir The Sunday Boys and their performances of commissioned new music. Likewise, a panel organized by members of the Queer Percussion Research Group drew on the queer aspects of percussion performance to work against new forms of “homonormativity” and the co-option of queer culture by mainstream neoliberal society. Indeed, a strong component of the symposium was queer musical performance. Anthony R. Green recounted the aesthetic, political and ethical issues of his own compositional practice, and treated symposium participants to a performance of his work His Mind & What He Heard in Central Park in the Late 90s for unaccompanied voice, which included stark political commentary on racism and social media among gay men. On the Friday evening, a lecture-recital session in the Turner Sims Concert Hall included a poignant performance by the male soprano and musicologist Robert Crowe and accompanied harpsichordist Jane Chapman of Barbara Strozzi’s Oleum Effesum Est. Long misattributed to Giacomo Carissimi, the work has been championed this year by Crowe in order to mark the 400th year since the birth of the prolific Venetian composer Strozzi. The symposium ended with an inspiring keynote lecture by the Canadian scholar Lloyd Whitesell entitled “Queer Aesthetics”. Drawing on a plethora of case studies and literature since the beginnings of queer musicology, Whitesell probed at the motivations of queer scholars, the ethics of queer readings, and the potentials of queer theory to do important intellectual and political work for the 21st Century.

The symposium also continued the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group’s mission to think through issues of care and inclusion in academic contexts. Study Group committee members curated a closed and confidential space on the Saturday morning where participants could share stories and offer mutual support in dealing with academic and institutional challenges relating to queer research and embodied queer identities. Led by Thomas Hilder, this workshop was intended to form a foundation for a forthcoming mentorship programme run by the Study Group. Offering a supportive and welcoming space for queer scholars and scholarship, the symposium was another success for the LGBTQ+ Music Study Group. It brought together scholars from numerous countries – including Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the US – thus further expanding the network of the Study Group. And it nurtured more reflection at the crossroads of artistic practice, academic scholarship, and activism. The Study Group committee would like to thank all the student helpers who assisted, and the institutions and organisations that provided financial support for the event, including the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, the Royal Musical Association, the Society for Music Analysis, the Society for Musicology in Ireland, Turner Sims Southampton, and the University of Southampton.