10/07/2015

Studying Gender and Music in China

  • Bess Liu '16 with Professor Xi You, an active Chinese pianist

Bess Liu '16 was one of two winners of the 2015 Alice Drum Summer Research Award in Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies. She is a double major in Music and History with a minor in German and German Studies. In this story she reflects on her summer research.

During this past summer, I conducted a few interviews and fieldwork for my music senior independent study research on “Female Piano Pedagogy in Modern China.” This research focused on female piano professors, teachers, and students and aimed to analyze how piano pedagogy reflected and, at the same time, actively changed the gendered roles for female musicians in China. I conducted my interviews with female pianists, teachers, and students in a few cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing. Through interviews and fieldwork, I found that women made crucial contributions to piano pedagogy and music education during every era since the early 20th century.

            “During the Cultural Revolution, all Classical music scores were confiscated. We had nothing, really nothing, to work on,” said Professor Shizhen Ying, one of the oldest female piano professors from the Central Conservatory of Music in China. She recalled her experience of writing the first piano pedagogy textbook in China during the early 1980s: “After the end of the Cultural Revolution, I began to write Piano Pedagogy because we desperately needed textbooks during that time. However, we did not have many resources on piano pedagogy from foreign countries; the only thing I could do was to [start from] scratch and try my best to speak truth from my own teaching experience."

            The women I interviewed ranged from retired piano professors who were born during the 1920s to current undergraduate piano major students from major U.S. conservatories. They shared different stories and perspective on the relationships between gender and music. In the end, music is a lens, as it reflected nuances and changes in gendered roles through the years. Music is power, as it has created a special public sphere for women to fulfill more social roles in the male-dominated Chinese society.

"Music is power, as it has created a special public sphere for women to fulfill more social roles in the male-dominated Chinese society."
Bess Liu '16
  • With Professor Shizhen Ying (right) and Professor Yiming Pan
  • At the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing
  • On the campus of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing
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