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2, June 2010, 141Á149
‘One equal music’: an exploration of gender perceptions and the fair assessment by beginning music teachers of musical compositions
Professional and Leadership Education, Oxford Brookes University, Harcourt Hill, Oxford OX2 9AT, UK (Received 16 July 2009; ﬁnal version received 10 November 2009) Previous research in education has investigated the relationship between gender and perceptions of musicality, suggesting that teachers’ assessments of boys’ and girls’ achievements in music are different and unequal. This empirical study attempts to explore that relationship in more detail, building on research from the late 1990s, by asking whether teachers’ quantitative judgements of musical compositions are linked with their perceptions of the gender of the composers. Sixteen beginning music teachers studying at a large university in the UK were the subjects of the study. The article describes the three stages of the research and the subjects’ responses to each stage. Although the small sample size prevents firm conclusions being drawn, the results tentatively suggest that the beginning teachers did link perceptions of musical quality with perceptions of gender. This finding is discussed, and recommendations for further research are made. Keywords: music; gender; composition; assessment; initial teacher education
Introduction Over the last few decades, the complex nexus between musical discourse and issues of gender has been the subject of a number of investigations, some of which have dealt primarily with biologically determined gender (notably Bowers and Tick 1986) whilst others have adopted a wider brief extending to gender identity and sexuality (Cusick 1994; McClary 1991; Pegley and Caputo 1994). Lucy Green’s (1997) monograph Music, gender, education, however, represents the first extended analysis of gender issues in the context of music education, and its importance and influence, alongside those of allied publications (Green 1988, 2001, 2002), have consequently been widely recognised throughout the music education sector. A clear thread running through Green’s text is the idea that musical meaning in the Western world is far from gender neutral, and that the ‘gendered’ meanings expressed by and around music help sustain a ‘musical patriarchy’ (Green 1997, 15) that alienates and excludes women and constrains their musical development within society. Central to her concept of the ‘gendering’ of musical meaning is a distinction between ‘inherent’ meaning and ‘delineated’ meaning, in which the former ‘operates in terms of the interrelationships of musical materials’ (Green 1997, 5, original emphasis) whilst the latter is derived from music’s ‘mediation as a cultural artefact within a social and historical context’ (Green 1997, 7).
ISSN 1461-3808 print/ISSN 1469-9893 online # 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/14613801003746592 http://www.informaworld.com
Evidence synthesised from questionnaires and structured interviews reveals that whilst secondary school teachers ascribe boys’ success to their ‘imagination. an alarming discourse on the nature of girls’ and boys’ ability to compose music is exposed. must be viewed through the lens of social interaction. improvisatory ability and natural talent’. creativity. 57Á8). that systematically furthers the . traditional and reliant on notation’ (Green 1997. exploratory inclinations. The inevitable dominance of delineated meanings in musical discourse. Legg It has been suggested that Green develops the concept of delineated meanings more fully than that of inherent ones (Boyce-Tillman 1999. For how can an enterprise be feminine if actual women are excluded? (McClary 1991. . She suggests several credible reasons for this phenomenon. Green describes a power relationship based not on a simple. ‘one-dimensional assertion of power by men over women’ but rather on a complex web of ‘tolerance and repression. In the field of musical composition. And one of the means of asserting masculine control over the medium is by denying the very possibility of participation by women. divisions from which musical patriarchy springs’ (1997. 196). including Susan McClary’s convincing theory that: To the very large extent that mind is defined as masculine and body as feminine in Western culture. inventiveness. Where did these startling opinions come from? Did Green in some way provoke such judgements or ‘lead’ her respondents’ answers? It is certainly arguable that questions inviting teachers to make comparisons between the sexes in relation to composition (Green 1997. society employs ‘a pre-existing pedagogic discourse invoking masculinity and femininity as a way of evaluating the woman’s work’ (1997. achievement by girls was believed to be the result of working practices ‘characterised as conservative. 98) and that this. 15). The critic’s support for the composer continued. in turn. Green’s proposition emerges clearly: when judging music written by a woman. and their influence over our understanding of inherent meanings. even a discrete critical vocabulary. music is always in danger of being perceived as a feminine (or effeminate) enterprise altogether. ‘virile’ and ‘powerful’. she argues. collusion and resistance. in a chapter focusing on the implications of gendered musical meanings in the school context. 151Á2) Later. The examples marshalled in support of this argument are persuasive.142 R. that would never be applied to music composed by men. her affirmation that the teachers’ . 6) is an assertion of how difficult it is to discern such meaning in musical ‘objects’ which. However. but whereas his praise for her music had previously employed terms like ‘strident’. 102. Green’s own claim that inherent meaning is ‘neither natural. the revelation prompted a switch to vocabulary including ‘delicate’ and ‘sensitive’ (1997. Green retells the story of the twentieth-century Scandinavian critic whose championing of a young composer-compatriot was interrupted by the discovery that ‘he’ was in fact a ‘she’. 198Á9) were flawed because they implied a presupposition that such differences existed at all. by their very nature. values are particularly gendered: the delineated meanings attached to music written by women bringing to bear a set of stereotypes. . excludes women’s participation. help to prohibit a view of music and musical activities that values the achievements of men and women equally. The linguistic gendering here is self-evident. Green argues. see also Hennessy 1998). also Green 2002. Certainly. nor essential nor ahistorical’ (Green 1997.
the concept of patriarchal ‘gate-keeping’. and. to those training to become secondary school music teachers. Brooker. unfolds over 36 weeks and combines periods of intense study at university. the ‘gendering’ of discourse surrounding women’s music and the consequent suggestion that ‘women composers [and] women’s compositions have been unjustly devalued’ (Green 1997. Music education and the initial teacher education (ITE) context Green’s research has far-reaching practical implications for all kinds of music professionals. It is clear that the mediating factors in the ‘prohibition’ mentioned above are anything but straightforward. In common with other such courses across the UK. with periods in local secondary schools. by the high degree of subjectivity that is arguably inherent in the evaluation of musical works (Stanley. Given the small sample size. Looking at a group of beginning secondary school music teachers (n016. discouraged. modern university in southern England. 194. carried out a decade after the publication of Green’s seminal text. First. but her findings are clearly of especial importance to the secondary school music teacher community. and Gilbert 2002. therefore. 90) Á raises stark issues of equality of opportunity and educational entitlement. dictated by the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial Teacher Training (TDA 2007). at the level of the individual practitioner.Music Education Research 143 responses revealed ‘a high level of consensus and were marked by an unsolicited convergence around a central core of issues’ (Green 1997. see also Mills 1991). quantitative exploration of one aspect of the complex problem she identifies. 114) uncover serious implications for the validity and reliability of assessment. ridiculed and written out’ (Green 1997. On the other hand. during which time the beginning teachers attend lectures and take part in seminars and workshops. ‘prohibited. In turn these suggest the need for further work in raising awareness of these crucial issues. by extension. The research reported in this article. This latter point is further complicated. by which women are excluded from composing activities Á by which they are. PGCE students might be viewed as having an unparalleled opportunity either to perpetuate . the study questions the role that gender plays in forming perceptions of musical quality. if not in practice. as beginning teachers working with teenage children. The implications of Green’s research for this specific group of people are great. my emphasis) provides a degree of assurance in the trustworthiness of the process. suggesting that developments in perceptions. of whom nine were female and all were White British) undertaking a programme of initial teacher education (ITE) at a large university in southern England. however. of course. is a small-scale. The various ways in which her research matters to music educators can be divided broadly into two categories. its basic pattern. Second. the results should not be regarded as conclusive. under the supervision of a school mentor. that. have taken place over the past 10 years. the line between which can sometimes be blurred. Several interesting themes emerge. during which time they undertake observation tasks and gain practical experience of music teaching. the potential to subvert or challenge the status quo is slender. directly and indirectly. The specific context under examination in this article is a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) course undertaken by a cohort of 16 beginning music teachers at a large. and it seems evident.
Whilst all these issues deserve thorough consideration. secondary school music educators seem not to have done so to any significant extent. We can only speculate as to how this imbalance impinges on the current debate. The data from Green’s survey showed that the predominant discourse amongst teachers was that whilst girls work harder. Mozart and Beethoven to be characterised as dominant driving forces in the musical history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of those playing the electric guitar. Is it possible that the inherent harmonic possibilities of polyphonic instruments such as the guitar are a better preparation for composing than the predominantly melodic possibilities offered by essentially monophonic instruments like the flute? Without further detailed research. Carlyle’s Great Man Theory (1841). A more detailed examination of the implications concerning assessment brings to light two further issues pertinent to beginning music teachers. The second obvious category of indirect discrimination is the cultural ‘genderstereotyping of instruments’ of the kind referred to in the recent article by Hallam. given the prevailing dominance of teacherassessments in the UK’s public examinations at secondary level. 196Á8) of a series of perceptions amongst music teachers relating to the relative quality of girls’ and boys’ work in composition. Stalin and Roosevelt. Legg or undermine girls’ exclusion from composing activities. The first way in which music education can indirectly discriminate against girls is by denying them appropriate role models. Indirect discrimination. Comments like ‘boys seem to have a greater creative spark’. pronounced preferences for certain instruments were demonstrated by boys and girls. is harder to identify and harder to eliminate. it is still common for Bach. only 19% were girls. whilst a mere 11% of flautists were boys. there can be very few schools today that organise subject entitlement on the basis of gender. Whilst history educators seem to have addressed this issue (see for example Johns 1979. these same people have a further opportunity and responsibility. So whilst it is unusual for twentieth-century history to be taught through close study of Churchill. a series of interesting issues emerges. thanks in part to the national curriculum. are for the most part over. as their careers progress. music education risks indirectly discriminating against girls by denying them role models. . Similarly. Looking more closely at the implications concerning indirect discrimination. to ensure that their assessments are not subject to the gender inequality that Green describes. for example. In this study of 150 music services across the UK. It is possible that examples of direct discrimination in relation to musical composition remain. More research is much needed in this area. perhaps above all others. 196Á7) typified the . They. Two areas present themselves immediately. Hitler.don’t have as much natural ability’ (Green 1997. Woodbum 2006). which no longer prevails in history lessons. The days of woodwork for boys and cooking for girls. for example. of course. this can be no more than conjecture. have a chance to redress the balance where opportunity and educational entitlement are concerned. by its very nature. boys’ natural ability was greater. has a corollary that is still reasonably prevalent in music education.144 R. The first of these relates to Green’s identification (1997. but. If it concerns itself only with male composers. and it is to be hoped that future work will shed light on some of the specific problems and concerns that follow. Rogers. and Creech (2008). the scope of the current research means that the majority of them will be left undisturbed here. . ‘boys are more creative’ and ‘girls.
as a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A degree of compromise was required in responding to these aims. Where this is the case. Partly in order to justify the time the research would take. If these unenlightened beliefs were to be shared by the beginning music teachers. but some do require music to be composed in response to a particular ‘special event’ (AQA 2008). It was in response to these conflicting demands that the method described below was devised. Assessment tasks in music seldom use concrete situations of the type where gendered language is possible. and make impossible. Gipps (1990. see also Green 1997. the project sought to ascertain whether the beginning music teachers in question were unfairly biased towards one or the other sex when they assessed a range of musical compositions. This notion led to the formulation of a second aim. it seemed fair that. This chain of decisions prompted the twin objectives of the project to be formulated in the following way. beyond the general contribution to research literature. quantitative assessments of compositions would be influenced by their perceptions of the sex of the composer. whilst more girls solved a problem relating to the water-absorbency of kitchen towels. it was hoped. the likely danger is that this prejudice would interfere with. in fact. however. First. Looking at the range of assessment issues. In one experiment that she reports.Music Education Research 145 views of many of her respondents. those associated with assessment seemed more focused and more immediately compelling than those addressing entitlement. . to be as fair as possible when making assessments in future. the demands of the second aim were that the beginning music teachers be made fully aware of the concepts and issues under examination. discovered. or in a particular style or tradition. it tried to discover whether the student teachers’ summative. fair evaluation of the pupils’ work. Objectives It was clear that addressing all or even most of the issues raised above in a meaningful way here would be impossible. Of all the possible areas for exploration revealed in the previous discussion. the project would have significant value to the teachers themselves. The range of interesting and important problems was simply too great to be tackled by a project of this size and scope. Specifically. Perhaps equally serious is the danger that girls exposed to these views would be socialised into believing that their skills in composition were limited by their sex and. more boys were able to solve exactly the same mathematical problem when it was expressed in terms of the number of nuts and bolts in a toolbox. Whilst the classic experimental methods suggested by the first aim seemed to require that participants approached the activities as naively as possible. helping them. Clearly. would actually underachieve. as a piece of research. who would later go on to assess pupils’ compositions for public examinations. the importance of this second aim would be yet greater if an unfair bias were. 240) has shown that success in mathematics and science is affected by the feminine or masculine wording of a question. The second issue here concerns the nature of the tasks set for assessment. it is perhaps possible that advantage to one or the other sex is created. which was to raise awareness amongst the teachers of the potential dangers of gender-bias in the assessment process. however. the question of whether teachers favour boys over girls in a material way seemed the most important one.
the teachers regarded these views as ones that they certainly did not share. 196Á8). let alone prudent. the teachers were asked to respond to 10 short excerpts of nineteenth-century music. Legg Method The research project took place in three stages over an academic year. Where it came to assessment. between 16 and 20 marks. Some two weeks later still. in a seminar session dealing with issues of assessment. and ‘demonstrate a completeness [and] wholeness’. A small amount of pre-reading was required (Green’s 2002 article) and the beginning teachers were invited to share their experiences and views on the subject.146 R. whilst in the top band. was the organisation of sounds. Given this observation. was one memorable comment. a consensus emerged in which gender was not regarded as an issue they would consider actively. The underlying discourse was certainly that in the decade or more since Green’s research took place. An initial seminar was used to present and discuss some of the issues arising from Green’s research. as in the original document. Thirty marks were available for each piece. 44). The teachers were asked to record whether they believed each piece had been written by a man or a woman. it would be ‘musically interesting and satisfying’. and in particular the idea that teachers might consider boys to be more creative than girls (Green 1997. and descriptors were used to identify achievement bands within those marks. especially in relation to the extended school placement they had just completed. during an unrelated session on listening materials. they were asked to rate the works quantitatively. nor was an explanation for the task sought or given. when. . The focus of these criteria. Moreover. On this occasion. ‘make inventive and idiomatic use of the chosen medium’. for example. There was a high level of interest in Green’s writing and all teachers regarded the beliefs that Green had uncovered as old-fashioned if not repugnant. A directed discussion took place and was concluded with an activity in which teachers got together in pairs to organise a hierarchy of values relating to the broader issues of music. the teachers listened to the 10 excerpts for a second time. prevailing attitudes had shifted significantly towards a much more egalitarian position. ‘This is no longer a problem’. there was no obvious opposition to the notion that guessing the sex of a composer might be possible or desirable. The excerpts were each about a minute long. Responses and results Teachers’ responses to the first of these seminars were unanimous. The second stage took place a month later. according to criteria adapted from those used to assess pupil compositions for public examinations (AQA 2008. gender and education. nor was it a factor that they believed they would allow to impinge upon their judgement. a piece should show ‘successful use of simple resources’ but would be ‘of limited ambition’. Teachers gave a mark out of 30 for each work and were asked to write a brief comment summarising the reasons underlying their given marks. it would ‘organise sounds to produce an effective sense of structure and some colour’. First. the teachers’ responses to the second seminar were surprising in two ways. in the final stage of the implementation. between 26 and 30 marks. but they were not required to give a reason for their choice. Between 6 and 10 marks. and were taken from piano miniatures and duo sonatas firmly rooted in the Western classical tradition.
In order to respect the participants’ privacy.0 18.9 Majority view of composer’s sex M M M F F F F .8 19.7 27. and Table 1. However. particularly in relation to public examinations. and expressed doubt about the overall reliability of the process. Judgements of quality compared with imagined sex of composers. Some found the assessment activity challenging. Of the 10 excerpts.2 17. Second. Mean average of marks given 29. whilst it was equally strongly agreed that another four were composed by women. however. The apparent correlation between the higher-scoring pieces and the pieces thought to have been composed by men seemed at odds with the teachers’ stated view that gender was never a factor in their assessment of pupils’ work. marks given by individuals were not considered or discussed at any point in the implementation. Only the remaining three excerpts were contested. the musical ‘delineations’ concerning success had become inextricably linked with those concerning maleness.) Responses to the third seminar were equally interesting. The discussion that followed focused on a comparison of the data from the second and third seminars. Evaluation At the end of the third session. all 10 pieces were composed by women. in the teachers’ minds. Whilst this by no means provides incontrovertible proof of bias. the teachers were given the chance to evaluate the project using a structured questionnaire. The results were collected and aggregated. Four strands were developed across the 15 completed questionnaires. detecting an ethnocentric focus on the development of musical ideas that would privilege compositions adhering to a broadly Western classical style. eight teachers felt that although aggregating the data had been useful in order to ‘protect’ individuals. this had also hidden the results of the few teachers who appeared to buck the trend. All teachers.Music Education Research 147 Second. Others questioned aspects of the criteria. They would have liked these ‘outliers’ to be more prominently represented.1 23. First. there was strong agreement (80% or more) that three were written by men. there was a surprising level of agreement amongst the group about the sex of the imagined composers. it is a partial answer to the question of whether teachers might allow gender to count towards quantitative assessments. completed the task. (As it happens.8 24. summarised in Table 1. so that each excerpt had a mark out of 30 representing the mean average of the 16 marks it received. with no clear agreement on the sex of the composer emerging. the overall picture helped to problematise the teachers’ opinion that the attitudes Green revealed in her research are no longer prevalent. To use Green’s terminology. it seems that. five teachers thought that the rather specific musical provenance of the excerpts was an unnecessary confusion.
however. in particular. Legg that. had been successfully realised. Finally. The small numbers involved. Manchester: Assessment and Qualiﬁcations Alliance. There is also an issue concerning the validity of the exercise. and Hargreaves (2003). nearly everybody agreed that the activities had raised the general level of awareness where gender issues in music composition were concerned. rather than to provide scientific evidence of bias. a larger empirical study of gender perceptions amongst music teachers must be a priority. their judgements in relation to pupils’ compositions would be more robust. whilst they might have been biased where salon music of the nineteenth century was concerned. These last two strands indicated that the project’s second aim. References AQA (Assessment and Qualiﬁcations Alliance).148 R. in the current context and in others. it should be made clear that a causal link has not been proven. 2008. Colley. was to raise awareness of the issues. GCSE Music 3271 speciﬁcation. and that. Acknowledgements I am grateful to Dr Jane Spiro for her comments on an earlier draft of this article. their preconceptions had been challenged. but not precisely the same as. These areas are allied to. in terms both of subjects and musical excerpts. The rationale behind the project. in order to increase the level of consciousness with regard to this important topic. make it difficult to assert findings with any level of statistical certainty. Notes on contributor Robert Legg is senior lecturer in music education at Oxford Brookes University. building on the useful work of North. In terms of recommendations for future research. Last. The activities probed teachers’ perceptions of quality and of gender. Third. 10 of the 15 respondents commented that the seminars would help them to keep fairness in mind as they undertook future assessments of pupils’ work. the important area identified by Gipps (1990) concerning the nature of tasks set and their relative bias towards successful completion by boys and girls is one that is yet to be explored adequately in the music context. This could be achieved using a similar methodology to that employed here. It would also be useful to examine pupils’ perceptions to see whether they also link delineations of gender with those of quality. Looking at the influence of the gender of the assessor as a further variable (see Greatorex and Bell 2004) would be possible if a larger sample was studied. . the question of whether composer-gender influences assessments. With that in mind. to raise awareness amongst the teachers of the dangers of gender-bias in assessment. the principal recommendation made here must be that such activities and discussions are worth rerunning. And whilst the former may hint at the latter. Conclusions Caution must be exercised in drawing conclusions from the ‘experimental’ part of this project.
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