Performing difference: exploring the social world of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Youth Chorus
AuthorLeske, Benjamin Patrick
AffiliationMelbourne Conservatorium of Music
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr Benjamin Patrick Leske
This thesis explores member experiences of the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Youth Chorus (the Youth Chorus), Australia’s first community choir for Same Sex Attracted and Gender Diverse (SSAGD) young people. SSAGD young people are more likely to experience social exclusion for their sexuality and/or gender identity in Australia. This thesis uses an interpretative phenomenological approach to analyse interviews with ten members, exploring the nuanced ways in which the youth chorus supports wellbeing and identity formation through choral musicking in a community setting. It is guided by a broadly hermeneutic interest in better understanding the complex individual and collective experiences of choir members. Findings, considered through the lens of Tia DeNora’s sociological framework of the music asylum (DeNora, 2013), suggest that the youth chorus offers a place of safety within the structures of the choir and with the support of its establishing choral organisation, Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus Inc. The youth chorus affords its members a place of ontological safety as a foundation to make music and socialise, within a musicking community where queer is the norm rather than exception. This position of safety is central to the choir’s music and health ecology (Gary Ansdell, 2014), upon which the construction and performance of difference is expressed musically and socially. The youth chorus provides its members with a musical and extra-musical platform to test out, rehearse, and publicly perform musical and social identities of difference, but where members at times also value sameness and conformity. I bring a critical perspective to the study, interpreting individual and collective identities within a gender and queer theory context. This lens highlights a tension between outwardly queer choir identity that celebrates difference and seeks to destabilise, against the value of the youth chorus as a musical ecology that affirms stable SSAGD identities. Reflecting on the choir experience, I suggest there is a combination of paradoxes and tensions apparent. Paradoxically, understandings of choir as an exclusive place or clique contribute to the sense of safety and inclusiveness. I suggest this sense of exclusivity, which directly challenges the inclusive public profile and worldview of the youth chorus, offers a distinct perspective for community music scholars. I examine these attributes with reference to several formative conceptual ideas of Lee Higgins (2012). I suggest the youth chorus and choral singing offers a place of gentle activism as members navigate their individual gender identity and sexuality journeys. Reflecting on recent studies of choral pedagogy, I consider implications, challenges, and opportunities for community choral leaders and facilitators who must balance these tensions when working with SSAGQ young people in choral music settings.
Keywordscommunity music; choirs and choral music; social inclusion; gender and sexuality; Australia choral music; music pedagogy
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