Tag Archives: musicology


12 Mar

Gendered instruments

This is a chapter of my master thesis.


Is this still a fact, and what are we music educators doing in order to break with this cliché?


First, there is an extensive range of studies analyzing the gender-stereotypes of musical instruments. Hallam (2008) conducted a research among British school children aged between five and nineteen years, where she studied which instruments are the most gendered, and illustrates some of the possible reasons for those differentiations. According to her findings, girls’ (and women’s too) choice for an instrument depends on such factors as the shape or size of an instrument, its pitch and sound quality, and the physical characteristics necessary to play the particular instrument (Hallam, 2008: 7). In accordance with her results, girls are more probable to play small and higher pitched instruments, as example the flute, which is one of the most gendered musical instruments. 


As Gourse writes in her study about the jazz scene, female horn players experienced insults, or were even occasional physically attacked. It was unacceptable for men to see a woman blowing an instrument, which let to comments such as “I hate to see a woman do that” (Gourse, 1995: 8)


While today brass and woodwinds instruments are still extremely gendered, the saxophone is gender neutral. Amongst the various percussion instruments, there is a clear dominance of boys playing the Kit drums, whereas African drums are gender neutral.


Chart 1: Gendered Instruments (Hallam, 2008: 11-13)



Those numbers are conforming to traditional views on gender and practice of music instruments. Nicholas Cook wrote that practically all of Jane Austen’s female characters played the piano (1998: 106). This female preference for the piano, or keyboard is still ongoing today, as the research of Hallam (2008) proves.

Eklund Koza (1991) is noticing a comparable fact while examining the role of women in music as described in Godey’s Lady’s Book, popular in the nineteenth century. At that period, keyboard instruments were the most prominent among women, while men preferred instruments of the orchestral woodwind and string families such as violin and flute. The book does not mention any female musicians in connection with percussion or woodwind instruments (1991: 107).


As Zervoudakes and Tanur (1994, cited in Hallam, 2008: 9) remarked, a change in girls’ choice for instruments between 1959 and 1990 can be noticed, and one realizes that girls are gradually opting for both, ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ instruments.


It is important for girls or women to have role models. As Bruce & Kemp (1993, cited in Hallam, 29008: 9) found out, girls are more probable to choose a ‘masculine’ instrument if there are other female musicians playing that same musical instrument. This phenomenon has also been confirmed by Maite Hontelé, a Dutch trumpet player:


Well, girls find it in general nice to see that there is a woman who gives the lesson. Then they see that it is possible for a girl to play the trumpet. What I do while teaching is to support the girls in their choice to play the trumpet. (Interview on July 6th 2009)


She had two role models herself, from whom she could receive the confirmation that it is possible for women to play the trumpet successfully (interview on July 6th 2009).

May Peters, while teaching at the Puerto Rican conservatory was interestingly not only a role model for girls but also for her male students.


They [the male students] also tell me: wow, I think you are so great, Maestra! They even tell me that they would enjoy having a mother like me. This is for me the reason to be there; being a role model. (interview on August 3rd 2009)


A further influence is the social environment. Especially during the adolescence, peers have an enormous influence and one runs the risk of standing under enormous pressure if one is opting for ‘the wrong’ instrument (Hallam, 2008: 14). Again, the same occurred in the case of Maite Hontelé who found it extremely important in the early stages of her musical experience that female friends of hers played the trumpet as well (interview on July 6th 2009).


If, on the one side female musicians are slowly accepted playing ‘masculine’ instruments, on the other side one is still making differentiations in performance practices of women. The most apparent example is the one of female percussion players. Waxer states that, while men are playing the congas or bongos (both Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments used in Salsa, next to the timbales) mainly being seated, women are expected to play them standing up, since it is considered “unlady-like for a woman to be seated with her legs spread around a percussion instrument” (2001: 242).

She further mentions the female keyboardists, who also play standing up. The reason for this, according to Waxer, is the expectation that women show legs and dance while performing (2001: 242).




very sad news for the world of latin music

26 Jan

This message could be read yesterday at an email group i am a member of:

“As of January 2013, Latin Beat Magazine has ceased to exist, Yvette and Rudy Mangual have decided to discontinue the online edition of the magazine after having stopped the print edition about 2 years ago” Arturo Gómez. 

This magazine on Latin music was a real institution, and i have had the chance to also get some print editions of it. It was really informative, including very interesting articles, hit parades and album reviews. From now on, we thus have to find all that beautiful information somewhere else.

what a pity!


thank you Latin Beat Magazine

top 212 of 2012 written for mixedworldmusic.com

10 Jan


Of course, there was the release of Alberto Caicedo’s new album “a corazon abierto”, but next to that here my favourites. 

1. Eddie Montalvo – Desde Nueva York a Puerto Rico

2. Ruben Blades & Cheo Feliciano – Eba Say Ajá
3. Ondatropica – Ondatropica
4. Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan – The Goat Rodeo Sessions
5. Tcheka – Dor de Mar
6. Jose Lugo & Guasábara Combo – Poetic Justice
7. Izaline Calister – Kandela
8. Salsafuerte feat. Yumarya – Salsafuerte
9. Marta Gómez – El Corazón y el Sombrero
10. Pacific Mambo Orchestra – idem
11. Alex Wilson – Salsa Veritas
12. Jorge Celedon & Jimmy Zambrano – 10 Años de Exitos

Wereldmuziekmoment van het jaar
: Mijn eerste reis naar Colombia was zó inspirerend – wat leeft de muziek daar! Ieder dag viel ik in slaap met salsa en het eerste wat ik hoorde als ik wakker werd was weer een mooi nummer uit de radio. Heel 2012 heeft mij niks beters gebracht dan deze heel bijzondere, bijna drie weken eind december-begin januari 2011-2012, vol met muziek en cultuur. 


what is music?

25 Sep

i am busy preparing a class treating the question: what is music?

here a nice example….music or not?


what was first: music or language?

18 Sep

Hello dear readers

here is something interesting to think about on a lazy sunday. The article was published by Henkjan Honing one of my teachers at university of Amsterdam. It is a really fascinating topic. what do you think about this?


Published on Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com)

Music Might Well Precede Language

By Henkjan Honing Created Sep 14 2011 – 2:37am

French babies cry differently than German babies. That was the conclusion of a study published at the end of 2009 in the scientific journal Current Biology. German babies were found to cry with a descending pitch; French babies, on the other hand, with an ascending pitch, descending slightly only at the end. It was a surprising observation, particularly in light of the currently accepted theory that when one cries, the pitch contour will always descend, as a physiological consequence of the rapidly decreasing pressure during the production of sound. Apparently, babies only a few days old can influence not only the dynamics, but also the pitch contour of their crying. Why would they do this? The researchers interpreted it as the first steps in the development of language: in spoken French, the average intonation contour is ascending, while in German it is just the opposite. This, combined with the fact that human hearing is already functional during the last trimester of pregnancy, led the researchers to conclude that these babies absorbed the intonation patterns of the spoken language in their environment in the last months of pregnancy and consequently imitated it when they cried. This observation was also surprising because until now one generally assumed that infants only develop an awareness for their mother tongue between six and eighteen months, and imitate it in their babbling. Could this indeed be unique evidence, as the researchers emphasized, that language sensitivity is already present at a very early stage? Or are other interpretations possible? Although the facts are clear, this interpretation is a typical example of what one could call a language bias: the linguist’s understandable enthusiasm to interpret many of nature’s phenomena as linguistic. There is, however, much more to be said for the notion that these newborn babies exhibit an aptitude whose origins are found not in language but in music. We have known for some time that babies possess a keen perceptual sensitivity for the melodic, rhythmic and dynamic aspects of speech and music: aspects that linguists are inclined to categorize under the term ‘prosody’, but which are in fact the building blocks of music. Only much later in a child’s development does he make use of this ‘musical prosody’, for instance in delineating and subsequently recognizing word boundaries. But let me emphasize that these very early indications of musical aptitude are not in essence linguistic.

See for more information: Honing, H. (2011). The illiterate listener.

On music cognition, musicality and methodology. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press or http://www.musicalcognition.com.

Source URL: http://www.psychologytoday.com/node/74313

La Lupe

1 Sep

I found this amazing video of La Lupe singing in a church. She is still the same!

Below an except of my thesis, “WOMEN IN SALSA”, in which I was also analyzing her performance style……

     La Lupe

Guadelupe Victoria Yoli, who was better know as La Lupe or La Yiyiyi, was born on December 23rd 1936 in Santiago de Cuba, and died on February 29th 1992 in the Bronx, New York. Contrary to the huge amount of biographical information about Celia Cruz, little is known about La Lupe’s early life. This lack of documentation and the silence about her career made La Lupe a mystic figure (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 84). What is known is that her singing career started in Cuba, where she was, apart from being an elementary teacher by obligation, performing with a trio called Los Tropicuba that played in various clubs. Soon the other two members did not agree anymore with her singing and style of performing. Even though the band split, La Lupe continued to perform in clubs. From the beginning on, she divided her public in two parts: one that loved her, and one that could not stand her (Ayala in Boggs, 1992: 116).

She is remembered for her extreme performances, and the term Lupismo, which will be explained in the following section, was created in order to describe her way of performing. Lupismo was however inacceptable for the revolutionary government of Cuba, and consequently La Lupe had to leave the island in 1961.

She moved to New York, where she at once became celebrated as the Queen of Latin Soul. La Lupe performed and recorded with Tito Puente which brought along a growth in popularity. It was important for her that people knew that he did not create her. “I have my own talent. But he was instrumental in my becoming famous here. The man had faith in me” (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 90). It was however the same Tito Puente that made her disappear from the music scene when he fired her in 1968.

What is intriguing is the reality that, contrary to Celia Cruz, La Lupe is usually not acknowledged for her contributions to Salsa music (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 91). As Richie Perez, who was a member of the Young Lords movement [1] said in an interview in 1996:

La Lupe was something else. Aside from the fact that women never got that much of a play in Latin music, La Lupe had already gone down when this music [Salsa] was coming up … By the mid sixties she was gone already, she was not prominent.  (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 91)

Some musicians described her having been more of a performer or entertainer than a skilled singer. As la Lupe was clearly not recognized as singer, she was overlooked in the historical development of Salsa. Her exclusion from the Salsa history can also be explained by her aggressive behavior on stage, (Washburne, 2008: 159) which will be explained below. Aparicio believes that the fact that she “transgressively eroticized herself as a feminist act of resistance” (Aparico, 1998: 183) was the reason for her neglect.

What was Lupismo? [2]

Washburne (2008: 159) calls La Lupe the chusma diva par excellence. José Esteban Muñoz (cited in Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85) explains that chusmería finds its origins in the Caribbean bourgeoisie. A chusma was a person belonging to the working-class and whose behavior, style and way of talking did not correspond to the upper-class manners. La Lupe’s chusma was articulated through her “subversive sexuality, (…) songs about illicit love, drinking, nomadism, and lack of social status” (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85), a demonstration of a displaced and bohemian identity.

La Lupe is remembered for her excess while performing. It is worth citing the following quote of Guillermo Cabrera Infante who remembers a performance of La Lupe at La Red he attended:

The woman would hit and scratch herself, and later bite herself, her hands, and her arms. Unhappy with this musical exorcism, she would throw herself against the background wall, hitting it with fists and with one or two movements of head, she would let loose, literally and metaphorically, her black hair. After hitting the props, she would attack the piano and the pianist with a new fury. All of this, miraculously, without stopping her singing and without losing the rhythms of the warm calypso that she transformed into a torrid, musical zone. (cited in Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 85) 

La Lupe’s performances were marked by self-eroticized, stripping acts, moments of possession or ecstasy, which were linked both to drug abuse and Santeria[3] experiences (Aparicio & Valentin-Escobar, 2004: 83).  Next to her unusual style of performing, La Lupe owned a very sultry voice, which she used to scream on and off-stage (Boggs, 1992: 117). Contrary to Celia Cruz, she emphasized her erotic movements with tight and revealing clothes, in order to cause a sensation (ibid.: 116), and a make-up style normally associated with prostitutes (Aparicio, 1998: 182).

Muñoz talks about this specific behavior of mixing both female (visual) and male (gestural) attributes, and calls it being “between well-known stereotypes of male and female essences(cited in Washburne, 2008: 162, emphasis in the original). However, most scholars (Aparicio, 1998; Negron-Muntaner, 2007) would agree that La Lupe’s style of performing has to be recognized as ‘feminine’, which includes in its descriptions terms such as desiring, hysterical, and impossible to contain (Aparico, 1998: 108, hyphens in original).

[1] The Young Lords were formed in 1959 in Chicago by Latin American immigrants (Ogbar, 2006: 154). They started as a group defending themselves against enemy gangs, that surrounded them, but in 1967, they realized that they should organize more beneficial actions. This led to an opposition to street violence and a peace treaty that was signed by all surrounding gangs (Ogbar, 2006: 156). On July 26th of 1969, a new section of the Young Lords was founded in New York.

[2] Both, video example 4 and 5 are illustrating La Lupe’s style of performaning

[3] Santeria is a syncretic religion spread all over the Carribean region. The word Santería can be translated from Spanish as the “Way of the Saints” (wikipedia.org).