Glynnis Gourhan: Why WAM?

Working with the WAM! research group has entirely transformed my perception of the experience of music-making, both historically and in my own experience as a performer.

I didn’t always feel as strongly as I do now about recognizing women’s contributions to music history. At first, I was complacent; it was difficult and confusing to question the culture that has produced the music I cherish and have chosen to pursue, and I didn’t like the idea of treating something so cathartic and intimate as a contentious social-justice issue. I loved the art-music canon the way it was, and any suggestion that it wasn’t good enough as it was felt like a sort of personal affront. But as I met more women musicians, I realized that the way we treat minorities in music history contributes to a culture of marginalizing people of those demographics in today’s musical culture.

A vital step in my reimagining of music-making was recognizing the efforts of non-composing musicians in my study of music history. Especially through our work with Dr. Laurie Stras on the performers of the concerto delle dame and in the convents of Ferrara, Italy in the late 1500s, I realized how intrinsic the art of performance is in the development of musical culture. Having made music only in environments that emphasized the composer-performer-listener hierarchy, researching this performance-centered culture has helped me to reimagine the role of performers in music history. Acknowledging the work of the performer has helped me gain a more accurate view of women’s contributions to music history, and has helped me to acknowledge the agency of performers and other non-composing musicians throughout history and in the present day.

I think that this project is important because we are committed to making academic work accessible to students and performers. Our work helps to enable dialogue between students about the way we treat women in music, and it has been incredibly rewarding to see how our work has influenced the student culture here at Mason Gross.