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Mary E. Larew
MA Vocal Studies University of York, UK

Gender Construction, Embodied Cognition, and Mimetic Participation in Music Education

A surprising debate, sparked by Berio’s Visage, exposes a gender divide still constructed in the classrooms of one of the United States’ leading music conservatories. The students react to Berio’s musical treatment of Cathy Berberian’s voice, with startling results – generally, the women in the class hear the voice of a woman being tortured, while the men tenaciously reject this interpretation as a subjective “imposition” of narrative.

This paper analyses the classroom discussion of Visage, offering some explanations for the gender divide that has been diminished, if not eliminated, in many fields outside of musicology and music theory. Feminist ideals taken for granted in some academic areas seemingly have not yet effectively influenced the training of these young musicians.

With optimism rather than dismay, we propose the ‘Mimetic Hypothesis’ as a new way to approach discussion of music, in humanistic terms that break down the binary division of gender construction.

The Mimetic Hypothesis suggests that humans understand music as we understand each other and many other aspects of life – by subconsciously imagining ourselves imitating the actions we witness through our five senses and by relating this imagined action to our own experiences as a means of interpretation. This Hypothesis, supported by scientific data, synthesizes the objective with the subjective, the universal with the individual, in musical experience.

Mary E. Larew is a native of Iowa City, Iowa USA. A 2005 Marshall Scholar, Ms. Larew is currently pursuing an MA in Vocal Studies at the University of York, UK, under the supervision of John Potter and Anna Maria Frimann. In May, Ms. Larew graduated with a BM in Music Composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she studied music composition composition with Lewis Nielson, Randolph Coleman, Jeffrey Mumford, and Marilyn Shrude and violin with Kyung Sun Lee.

In addition to contemporary music, Ms. Larew’s main interests are Medieval and Renaissance music. She performs regularly with a cappella ensemble Uncloistered, and has directed productions of Ludus Danielis and Hildegard von Bingen’s Ordo Virtutum, with performances in Oberlin, Cleveland, and Boston. She has also performed with the Renaissance wind band Ciaramella, and can be found on their CD War ich ein Falk, which will be released by Naxos this year.