Voices that matter : hearing the corseted body in American domestic performance




McLemore, Bethany Shae

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Musical performance and curation provided artistic outlets for middle- to upper-class women in the nineteenth-century U.S. and their resulting collections, called binder’s volumes, provide a valuable record of their musical practices. Moving beyond earlier musicological studies which use binder’s volumes to reconstruct performance practice, I argue that binder’s volumes can, when taken in dialogue with women’s other material goods and the material of their actual bodies, show how women created and expressed their own identities through material culture and how the continual intra-actions among their bodies and objects impacted their lives, performances, and contemporary notions of femininity. In this dissertation, I examine the material agents involved in women’s musical and gendered performances in the nineteenth-century United States, as well as their material and ideological repercussions. Specifically, I consider the intra-actions of the body, the corset, musical curation, and musical and gendered performances to understand how performance animates the body, how music, marketing, and mass products alter the body, and how the body experiences and impacts performance. I argue that the practice of corseting had a concrete impact on women’s singing and both corseting and popular song performance impacted the body, the voice, and notions of ideal femininity. Considering musical performance through and beyond performativity—as an act that has tangible bodily repercussions—brings the “material turn” of recent feminist theory into dialogue with musicological studies. Going beyond considerations of embodiment and performativity to consider the material impacts of art on bodies, as well as the impact of bodies on music and social constructions deepens our understanding of musical and gendered performances, and also allows the body to act as a locus of performers’ agency.



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