Let the music message resonate

LGBT music to be featured in daylong conference

Anne Nickoloff, Staff Reporter

Tomorrow, Case Western Reserve University’s music department will host a colloquia called “Queer Popular Music—a conference.”

In a renovated church.

Instead of the religious activities or group performances usually hosted in Harkness Chapel, tomorrow will instead highlight LGBT culture with seven hours’ worth of presentations on queer music.

An event like this seems even more fitting after recent events like the University Program Board’s “Savage Love Live!” show and CWRU’s high ranking in Campus Pride’s most current “Top LGBT-Friendly Colleges and Universities” list.

“Queer Music” obviously wasn’t a topic chosen at random; CWRU’s Center for Popular Music Studies started its organized series of conferences last spring. “The topics will all have something to do with popular music, but will vary otherwise,” says Rob Walser, director of the Center for Popular Music Studies at CWRU. “This seemed like a great topic in part because of the outreach dimension.”

Mitchell Morris, the Valentine professor of music from Amherst College, agrees. “I think people will be vastly interested,” he says. “We are living through a period of amazingly rapid change with respect to the rights of LGBT people. After all—gay marriage, attempts to combat bullying and teen suicide, attention to the lives of those so long subject to marginalization and repression—all these topics are in the news, and so the conference is the right thing at the right time.”

Both Morris and Walser worked together to create the upcoming talk. Walser came up with the initial idea and consulted with Morris to organize the event’s schedule.

The theme “Queer Music” seems a little vague at first. According to Walser, queer music is “music made by and or listened to by sexual minorities of various kinds.”

Each talk will focus on music in relation to LGBT culture. Morris will present a talk called “Everyone is Gay,” which discusses topics of queer desire, alternative rock and abject identities. “I could speak about a huge number of topics: It’s a rich and complicated history we could tell, going back into the 19th century if not before,” says Morris.

Instead, his talk was conceived with the help of Walser, and will focus on post-Stonewall music, which spawned after the Stonewall riots in 1969.

“I myself am going to talk about the role of queer identities, especially the image of the outcast gay teenager, in the development of alt.pop and grunge at the beginning of the 1990s,” says Morris.

Other speakers include Alice Echols, the Barbra Streisand professor of contemporary gender studies at the University of Southern California, Stephan Pennington, the assistant professor of music at Tufts University and Judith Peraino, the professor of musicology at Cornell University.

CWRU Musicology Professor Susan McClary will respond to conference presentations.

Morris believes that the lineup of speakers will serve the topic well. “[Echols] is a true pioneer, working on these topics at a time when it was risky to do so. As for [McClary], it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that musicologists would not be able to do this work at all without her example and support. [Peraino] and I were graduate students together, and we have been friends and intellectual collaborators ever since. And [Pennington], I am proud to say, is one of my own advisees, and one of the rising stars of the next generation,” says Morris.

Walser is also excited for the variety of speakers. “I’m especially pleased to have [Pennington] involved, since he’s a younger scholar who is just starting to make his mark on the field.”

The free event is open to the public, and will last from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., but the seven-hour-long space will allow each speaker a rare opportunity to explain their musical passions in depth. According to Morris, the speakers’ ultimate goals are to reach out to communities involved with the music.

Walser believes the event is a great opportunity for students. “If you care about the issues that are being discussed, or you’re interested in finding out more about them, you couldn’t do better than attend the whole thing.”
Music subjectivity and acceptance go beyond jamming to a tune, according to Morris. “In learning to talk about the stuff of music—pleasure, desire, beauty, love, sorrow, pain, the currents of our feeling lives—we also practice the kind of talk that can bring richness and skill to our collective political life.”