The queerness (or not) of vocal high notes

Wednesday 15 January 2020, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Freya Jarman, University of Liverpool

As part of a wide-ranging project on the gendered implications of singing high notes, this paper takes a journey through various genres of western music exploring the gendered valencies of high notes. I will argue that high notes in vocal music can signify a range of concepts that may not, at first glance, be gendered (childhood, innocence, youth, passion, or racial difference, and so on), but that such concepts are intensely bound up with gender performativity. Centring on Judith Butler’s notion of gender as a set of “corporeal theatrics,” an illusion made up of an “array” of gestures (1991: 28) that surely include the voice (even if Butler herself does not identify it), I argue that ‘gender’ is not a self-sufficient category that ‘intersects’ with race, ethnicity, age, class, size, and so on; rather, I suggest that gender is precisely the intersection itself of all those features (even as they too are already performative). Viewed from this perspective, in which gender is an operation of power negotiated through various physical strategies including the voice, vocal high notes (whether absolutely high, or high in the vocal range) and their apparently multivalent nature thereby illustrate something of the radical complexity of gender performativity and its reach far beyond consideration of sexual difference.

Freya Jarman is a Reader in Music at the University of Liverpool. She works primarily on the voice and vocality in ways heavily informed by queer theory. As a dedicated ‘crossover artist’ in her musical taste and scholarship, Freya works on a wide range of musical styles and genres; her monograph Queer Voices: Technologies, Vocalities and the Musical Flaw (Palgrave, 2011) explores voices ranging from Karen Carpenter to Diamanda Galás. Recent projects include work on operatic adaptations, lip syncing, Christmas carols, and music in The Archers. Freya is currently working on a wide-ranging gendered examination of singing high notes, exploring case material including opera, Anglican church music, musical theatre, and contemporary popular music. She will be sharing some of this work in her presentation for us.

Location: D003, Sally Baldwin D Block, Campus West