Questions about making music together, and women and men
If you read this site frequently, by now, you may know I’ve moved to Asheville, NC, to work on a book about the woman who introduced songs like “We Shall Overcome” to the American vernacular. Among other things.
More or less.
Last week, I went on a little research trip for the book, which led me to downtown Nashville and, on the way home, the middle-of-nowhere hills of eastern Tennessee. Before we launched into information sharing, interview, and brainstorming session, I got in a brief conversation in those hills with Candie Carawan where she held that the difference between the music of the labor movement and that of the civil rights movement was that musician-activists during the labor movement were performers (think Almanac Singers), while musician-activists during the civil rights movement were the people sitting at counters and being hauled off to jail.
Like I said, that was a brief part of the conversation, and then we moved on to what I’d come to discuss.
However, on the way home, I got to thinking about the notion of group singing. In fact, group singing was one of the main personal missions of the woman I’m writing about. Her work began in the 30s and she died at the beginning of the period when the civil rights movement really heated up. Some of the most empowering anthems of the time came from her research and teaching, so it made sense to spend a good amount of time considering why people don’t sing together as much anymore.
Group-made music is different from band-made music. A band rehearses together for a gig, while a group makes music together with no intention other than just making music together. Consider a campfire, a family jam, a neighborhood potluck, a church service, a rally, a festival song-swap, etc. Music made in these situations is so much fun. It does something to us, something energizing and comforting. We can laugh at our own imperfect voices, then keep right on singing.
Long ago and far away, this is one of the primary ways human beings entertained themselves. Now it’s an industry. That’ not a new train of thought, of course, but it’s one which needles at me.
Another thing I thought about on the way home from that trip is that I now have two weeks to solidify my talk on Women in Music for the Cayamo cruise. Better knuckle down and figure out my point. I was already pulling the music industry apart in my brain, so I took to considering that the point of discussing a phrase like “women in music” kind of implies that we need to talk more about women, because music is a male-dominated field.
Except that it’s not. That is false. Music and music-making is universal. It’s the music business that’s male-dominated.
(I should mention, if you’ll be on the boat, that talk is going to include some very special guests, so you’ll want to be there.)
At any rate, playing mind tennis with these two ideas took me quickly to a place of decrying patriarchy and all sorts of feminist thoughts which immediately make anyone who doesn’t like the political implications they’ve attached to the word “feminism” tune me out entirely. Which makes the argument near useless, if you lose half the audience just by using the wrong word.
But it was also enough to make me create a blog about the whole thing, and hand the discussion over to you folks, to see what kind of input happens.
My feeling is that the music business has taken us so far away from our own music. It’s given us a sense that, if we have a feeling which can only be expressed musically, we need to search for the right previously recorded song by a professional musician we’ve never met. This part of our relationship with music has become instinct. We’ve been taught that music gets made by people who are paid to make it, not by every single one of us with the capacity for clapping our hands, drumming on the table, and altering the pitch of our voice. We sing along in the car or in the shower, we may even have some friends in front of whom we’ll do this without pause. But, in any other group setting, we’ve been taught to question our own compulsion toward music. Music has been so long placed on a pedestal, we’ve come to see the people who make it as being untouchable and distant. Which must, in some way, make our individual expressions of those emotions untouchable and distant.
Am I being too philosophic here? Perhaps. I’ve been known to do that.
Is there a chance that, as the music business morphs into “whatever’s next” we might return to group-made music, swing that pendulum back to where the music we make is as legitimate as the music the music business markets to us?
Does it have anything to do with the male-domination of the industry which markets our music to us? I don’t know. I do know psychologists tell us women and men process emotions differently. I’ll leave it there and let you guys pick it apart.