My Talk At Loomis Chaffee 2/5/19

I’ll be speaking at Loomis Chaffee on Tuesday February 5th at 9:55am. Here’s the text of my talk. Intro posted below.

Have you ever thought about why songs are organized the way they are? Why do they have the specific parts they do and why are these parts put together in the ways they are? Or why certain compositional structures or techniques are meaningful in specific historical or cultural contexts? Or why most people, people who don’t play music or understand music theory, can nevertheless understand the sounds in songs and find those sounds meaningful? Or how sounds communicate things apart from images and lyrics?

These are both technical music questions and broader philosophical questions about what people value in art and in society and why–they’re questions which require both music theory and philosophical theories to answer. Today I’m going to use both of these theoretical tools to explain some ways music uses a society’s already-existing ideas about gender to organize sounds into something that communicates a message to us. And these messages can be more than just emotions. Songs can communicate social norms, ideas, and other kinds of messages to listeners.

Today I’m going to talk about how music uses existing ideas about gender–about masculinity and femininity–to both make sounds legible to audiences and to communicate norms and ideas. The first half of the talk will focus on explaining how this works, and the second half will use that framework to help you all hear why Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” is a diss track…and who it’s dissing (it’s not her ex boyfriends).