‘Respectability’ and classical music: Examining the intersections of class, gender and race to understand inequalities in musical training

Anna Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The classical music profession in the UK is characterised by vertical and horizontal patterns of inequalities relating to gender, class and race. In order to understand the ways in which social identities as shaped through historical patterns and institutional ecologies contribute to creating these inequalities, this chapter focuses on the intersection of class and gender. Drawing on a qualitative study of young people playing in classical music groups in the south of England, the chapter introduces Beverley Skeggs’ notion of respectability as a valued quality of middle-class femininity to shed light on patterns of self-selection into classical music education and careers. This concept reveals the way in which classical music has historically been seen as a highly appropriate pastime and career for white middle-class women through the control and restraint it requires in the body. In this way, class and gender align to create the patterns of participation within classical music education and careers that can be seen today. However, despite this alignment between classical music’s practices and the embodied qualities required of middle class women, this group are still underrepresented in positions of power and prestige in the classical music industry. As well as class and gender, a further intersectional axis can be added by theorising class in the UK as a racialized concept, thanks to its historical formation in the context of the British Empire. This article therefore demonstrates ways in which classed respectability also implies whiteness, and traces this assumption within the normative practices of classical music.
Translated title of the contribution‘Respectability’ and classical music: Examining the intersections of class, gender and race to understand inequalities in musical training
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)45-63
JournalAgone
Volume65
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2021

Keywords

  • classical music
  • inequalities
  • class
  • gender
  • respectability
  • music education

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