Keynote Lectures 2019

Gods, Monsters, and Musicians

William Cheng

This keynote lecture asks how moral and behavioral habits of deifying great musicians have historically enabled cultures of injury and injustice; and how we—as music lovers, music scholars, music educators—might navigate our complicity and social responsibilities in the age of #MeToo. What can listeners do with the oeuvre and legacies of musicians who have been accused and/or convicted of terrible deeds? More importantly, what do people owe the victims of such terrible deeds, all music aside?

William Cheng is Associate Professor of Music at Dartmouth College (United States). He is the author of Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination (Oxford, 2014), Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good (Michigan, 2016), and Loving Music Till It Hurts (Oxford, forthcoming 2019); and the coeditor of Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology (Oxford, forthcoming 2019), A Cultural History of Music in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury Academic, in progress), and the Music & Social Justice Series from the University of Michigan Press. His writing has appeared in academic publications such as JAMS, JSAM, Ethnomusicology, Cambridge Opera Journal, 19th-Century Music, Current Musicology, and Critical Inquiry, and in journalistic outlets such as Washington Post, Slate, TIME, Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard.

Credit: Eli Burakian

Free MusicFree Women: Women Producing Music in the Digital Economy

Sally-Anne Gross

The digital economy heralded the acceleration of time and enabled the proliferation and fragmentation of all manner of cultural production. In this digital maelstrom musical objects and subjects experienced unimaginable growth and became untethered from their physical anchors, owners and institutions. Here I will use the term music producers in a blanket fashion to cover all those involved in the production of organised sound no matter how disparate. This paper is not here to judge the objects of this labour but rather to assess what is happening to a specific division of labourers, those that identify as women and non-binary human beings. This is a case of the material impact of immaterial labour on the lives of these musical producers.

The media is full of news stories about the gender imbalance within music industries across all music activities from the so called pioneering electronic fields of Dj-ing to the equally troubled waters of classical music. Women are speaking out and taking action in ever increasing numbers from those working ‘behind the scenes’ of music production from major music companies to the all-female music collectives such as DiscWomen, Siren or Shesaidso. These women in music have equally diverse allies from celebrities and global superstars such as Beyoncé to Annie Lennox, government bodies, to drinks companies such as Red Bull and Smirnoff Vodka to Performing Rights Societies UK Keychange and Rebalance initiatives in live music. There is simply no shortage of women engaged with music and their voices are ringing out loud and clear but are they being heard?

Here I want to examine the political potential of these initiatives and attempt to engage with how these women feel about the struggles they are involved in via qualitative interviews with women and non-binary music producers.

Sally-Anne Gross is both a music industry practitioner and an academic. In 1993 she was the first women to work as a director of Artist & Repertoire at Mercury Records UK, and she chaired the first ever panel on gender in the music industries at ‘In The City’ music conference in Manchester. Sally-Anne has been working in the music industry for nearly three decades, as an artist manager, record label director and international business affairs consultant. In her current role at the University of Westminster, she is the program director of the MA Music Business Management where she teaches Intellectual Property and Copyright Management, Artist & Repertoire and Music Development. In 2016 she founded ‘Let’s Change the Record’ a project that focuses on bridging the gender divide in music production by running inclusive audio engineering and song-writing workshops for people identifying as women or non-binary.  Sally-Anne is the co-author of ‘Can Music Make You Sick’ the largest ever study into mental health in the music industry that was funded by the charity Help Musicians UK and published in November 2017. She is interested in working practices in the music industries and the conditions of digital labour and specifically how they impact on questions of diversity and equality. Sally-Anne has four grown up children all of whom work one way or another with music, and although she always identifies as a ‘native’ Londoner, she actually lives in North Hertfordshire.

Credit: Dom Agius


Performance and Feminist Praxis in Transnational South Asia

Rumya S. Putcha

In 2013, a 23-year-old Indian-American woman and dancer was crowned Miss America. Despite her success during both the talent and interview portions—she was especially commended for her “articulateness”—for days after the event, social media platforms bore witness to displeasure that an Indian immigrant could represent American beauty. On Twitter especially, users referred to Davuluri as “Miss Al-Qaeda,” with one user observing, “Egypt dancing? This is America.” A year earlier, a 23-year-old Indian woman, Jyoti Singh, was sexually assaulted in New Delhi. In the aftermath of the crime, debate, protest, and commentary erupted across the world about India’s regressive attitudes against women who dared venture out in public. In India, activists demanded that the government acknowledge that crimes against women, especially rural and Dalit women, happen at far higher rates with far less public outcry. They asked, “why was this particular woman’s body worthier of national protection than others?

This presentation examines the performances by which Nina Davuluri and Jyoti Singh’s stories have come to define Indian womanhood in transnational South Asia. To understand the ventriloquizing forces which require these two women to represent national identifications that in turn speak for them is to acknowledge that, in spite of, or perhaps precisely because of, their public bodies, these two women are ultimately rendered voiceless. And the critical response to this recognition of gendered voicelessness is what I refer to as feminist praxis. Praxis is not simply practice, which in conventional understandings is separable from creation (poesis) and proceeds from theory. Rather, extending from Hannah Arendt’s formulations, praxis refers to action, which both constitutes and is constituted by voice (speech). Arendt’s conceptualization recognizes, in other words, that freedom requires a sense of sovereignty and agency in both voice and in body. I utilize praxis in concert with a feminist perspective, to expose the unstable distinction between women like Singh and Davaluri—between victims and heroines—and to understand how such binary constructions have affected the lived experiences of South Asian women over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Rumya S. Putcha is a jointly appointed assistant professor in women and gender studies in the Institute for Women's Studies as well as in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia. Her research interests center on postcolonial ethnomusicology, gender studies, and critical race studies. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2011 and has taught at Earlham College and Texas A&M University. Her first book is titled Mythical Courtesan | Modern Wife: Performance and Feminist Praxis in Transnational South Asia.

Credit: Bridget McNulty

The Rise of the Popular Song in the 19th Century London & Paris: The Music Hall and the Café-Concert

William Weber

The music hall and the café-concert emerged as musical life broke apart into separate worlds during the nineteenth century. While orchestral concerts became increasingly “serious” in aesthetic terms, focused on a “classical” repertory, new kinds of entertainment began offering shows to broad areas of the public. The popular song developed as a focal-point of this transformation, offered at what were called music halls in Britain and café-concerts in France. Such events began in London in small bars during the 1830s but soon developed into large-scale places of entertainment. In Paris events called café-concerts began a decade later, usually in smaller locales. We shall see pictures of the halls and hear some songs performed there.

Pieces from well-known operas were central to the repertory from the start, sung in local languages and accompanied by songs from contrasting regions. The programs gradually began offering diverse entertainments—clowns, magicians, and other circus acts—by which the word Variety or Variété became a frequent title of a show, especially in Germany and Austria. An orchestra would not only accompany the songs but also play well-known opera overtures and virtuoso instrumental numbers. A dance ensemble increasingly became common as shows were offered in bigger halls.  

A vocalist usually portrayed a particular character in musical and social terms, talking as well as singing. It was normal for members of the audience to eat, drink, and socialize, though often quieting down to hear the singers admired the most. By the end of the century a major division had occurred between big shows focused on dance shows and smaller events where popular songs were central. The concept of popular music spread around Europe, and by the end of the century that music had become an ideological rival to classical music.


William Weber studied at Harvard College and the University of Chicago, concentrating in history but studying music as well. While serving in the History Department at California State University, Long Beach, he also taught for a year at the University of York and then served as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music. In his early years he wrote music criticism for the Harvard Crimson and the Los Angeles Times. His books include Music and the Middle Class: Concert Life 1830-1848 (1975); The Rise of Musical Classics in Eighteenth-Century England (1992); and The Great Transformation of Musical Taste: Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms (2008). He also edited books on the Wagnerian movement and entrepreneurism among musicians in the 18th and 19th centuries. He is now co-editing with Cormac Newark The Oxford Handbook of the Operatic Canon and is developing a book on canonic repertories in 18th and 19th century France.


Credit: William Weber