Cornell University

Musicology Colloquium: Heather MacLachlan, "Understanding LGBT choral musicking as a social movement"

Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 4:30pm

Lincoln Hall, 124
Dept of Music, 101 Lincoln Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-4101, USA

Heather MacLachlan (Ph.D., Cornell University, 2009) is an associate professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.  She is the author of Burma's Pop Music Industry: Creators, Distributors, Censors (University of Rochester Press, 2011), and of scholarly journal articles and book chapters on a variety of topics.  She has published works about music-making among Burmese migrants, American country music, music pedagogy, and the LGBT choral movement.  Dr. MacLachlan speaks English, French and Burmese and has taught in each of these languages at various times.  In 2018 she served as Visiting Professor of the Humanities at the Parami Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Yangon, Burma.

Abstract: This presentation is based on fieldwork conducted among the singers and leaders of GALA Choruses, an umbrella group representing more than two hundred community choirs, most of which are located in North America. GALA Choruses’ member choirs include so-called men’s choruses (in which the large majority of singers are gay men), women’s choruses (in which about half of the members are lesbian women), and mixed choruses (in which transgender singers are most likely to participate).  

GALA insiders often talk about GALA choirs and their musicking in the aggregate as a “movement," and refer frequently to the GALA Choruses mission statement, which is, "changing the world through song." The GALA movement is therefore both musical and political - that is, it aims to perform music and it does so in the service of a social-change mission. In this presentation I analyze the work of GALA Choruses by looking at the organization through the lens of social movement theory. I argue that GALA choirs are most accurately characterized as part of the integrationist wing of the gay rights movement.  Further, I argue that concertizing can and should be understood as the pre-eminent collective action engaged in by GALA choirs; in other words, singing in public is their preferred “tactic,” as social movement theorists describe it.

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