Farley Miller is a music scholar, composer and performer living in Berkeley, CA, where he is currently pursuing an MFA in Electronic Music & Recording Media at Mills College.
Let’s start at the top:
I’m an MFA candidate at Mills College, a school that offers undergraduate degrees for women and post-graduate degrees for both men and women. It is, by and large, referred to as a women’s college. My program of study is titled Electronic Music and Recording Media. From what I understand, the music department is the only department in the college with more men than women. What’s worse, to the best of my knowledge, my program is the most egregious offender. I have been informed that this is an issue.
During my first semester at the school a student wrote an improvisational piece for several percussionists. Their musical actions were dictated by spinners; they would flick the spinner (such as in a game of Twister) and play whatever musical “action” it landed on. This is, more or less, par for the course given the school’s open mentality on music-making. However, the piece was originally called “I want to _____ her,” and the program notes featured an exhaustive list of both positive and negative verbs. Unfortunately, it included the word “rape.”
The aftermath of this piece and the grab bag of confused, angry and wounded feelings it raised about gender – especially in the context of a department with a significant population of male students and professors – has set the tone for my time at Mills College.
I am now in my second year. Next semester my class will be premiering our thesis compositions. What ideas to engage? As a budding musicologist interested in the subjects of nationalism and identity and value construction in music, my research has focused heavily on music with text. Perhaps because of this influence I feel, likewise, that in my thesis composition I should employ text. What text?
So you know that I go to a women’s college. You are also aware that my first year has been framed by the issue of being conscientious and respectful of one’s audience. What if I were to set the poetry of a feminist to music?
Would that be crossing a line?
To what extent can a member of the white man genus engage the sentiments of a discourse that has arisen out of a desire for equality, almost entirely withheld by those of my “kind?”
So I’ve chosen a series of poems written by Mina Loy entitled Love Songs. I chose them because they resonate with me. If that’s the case, am I completely missing the point of the poetry? Who is to say that these poems were written for me? As a man, can I understand Love Songs? If we assume that I cannot, how could I possibly do service to the words by adding my own music? Will attempting this project be a bigger slap in the face to the institution I am seeking to honor than if I dealt with purely abstract music (as many of my colleagues are)? Or, does this speak to the ways in which we are transcending the gender conflicts that Loy encountered during her lifetime? Can I add something positive to this dialogue between men and women by working this out?
I have no answers yet.
But it is hard to get the words out of my head.