The Piano Man Music

Usher in the light of Equality

American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald   | Photo Credit: Bob Dear (AP)

The #MeToo campaign on social media has caught fire. Women across the board are coming forward to highlight how unsafe the world is for them. And the profiles of those posting are as diverse as the stories surfacing. It is a world gone out of whack. That the world is unfair is known. That it is cruel on an everyday basis is also expected. How immune we have become has been all too painful.

In a recent response to a close friend who celebrated the International Day for the Girl Child through a series of photographs of women musicians, I argued passionately for equality. Celebrate them as musicians, I argued, not wanting my friend to highlight gender as a qualifier for eminence. I was categorically told off by a number of people. In analysing the response to this, I learned yet again that we live in a world that is bizarre and brazen in its inequality. These stories were poignant for another reason.

Throughout history we have celebrated women symbolically. From the Greek Muses to our own Saraswathi, the feminine is venerated in our artistic systems. And yet, objectification is where we are firmly ensconced in our current artistic narrative.

Gender bias

How often I am witness to conversations in the audience of how a certain performer looks on stage. When it comes to women these conversations become graphic and endless. How terribly guilty I feel that I have not turned around and slapped the person talking. Women accompanists continue to be given secondary status. Women performers given better opportunities for their looks. There is no point pretending that this is not true.

Someone asked me why there were so few famous composers who were women. Part of that is the status afforded them by the male order. And a gnawing belief that it was either above their station or that their work could not possibly be taken that seriously. What is surprising is that the trend continues.

I think especially of Clara Schumann (nee Wieck). She took care of a genius at home, who started going insane (he was to kill himself in 1856). She was also a brilliant pianist, who first popularised all of her husband’s works. If not for her, we would not have had his works become as popular as they have today.

We celebrated Deepavali this week. There is no festival without true enlightenment.

Here is to MS. Here is to Gauhar Jaan. Here is to Clara Schumann and Nadia Boulanger. And Ella Fitzgerald. And Mary J Blige, come to think of it. These and many others like them broke the mould and established mainstream presence. And often, the industry fashioned itself around them.

So go look them up. And listen to their music. And let the light actually come in. Happy Deepavali to you.

The writer is a well known pianist and educator based in Chennai


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 7:38:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/let-there-be-no-gender-bias-in-the-appreciation-of-music/article19882321.ece

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