Ritual Soundings: Women Performers and World Religions. University of Illinois Press, 2019.
This book documents ways in which women’s performance practices engage with and localize world religions while creating opportunities for women’s agency. This study draws on the rich resources of three disciplines: ethnomusicology, gendered studies of religion, and religious music studies. It is a meta-ethnography formed by comparisons between different ethnographic case studies. The book analyses women’s performances at religious events in cultural settings spread across the world to demonstrate the pivotal roles women can play in localizing the practice of world religions, exploring moments in which performance allows women the agency to move, however momentarily, beyond culturally determined boundaries while revealing patterns that suggest unsuspected similarities in widely divergent religious contexts. With the rise of religious fundamentalism and with world politics embroiled in debate about women’s bodies and their comportment in public, ethnomusicologists and other scholars must address questions of religion, gender, and their intersection. By reading deeply into, but also across, the ethnographic detail of multiple studies, this book reveals patterns of similarity between unrelated cultures. It invites ethnomusicologists back into comparative work, offering them encouragement to think across disciplinary boundaries and suggesting that they can actively work to counter the divisive rhetoric of religious exceptionalism by revealing the many ways in which religions and cultures are similar to one another.
Listening to an Earlier Java: Aesthetics, Gender and the Music of Wayang in Central Java. Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land-, en Volkenkunde monograph series, vol. 237. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2007.
Infrequently performed, “old-style” shadow puppet theatre or wayang from the Surakarta-Klaten area of Central Java still has a following of devoted practitioners and fans. The signature element of this style of performance is a specialized solo accompaniment called grimingan played on the gender, a fourteen-keyed metallophone which can be heard when the puppeteer speaks narrative or dialog. Based on extensive musical and cultural analysis, I argue that the male puppeteer and his key musical accompanist, the female gender player, are an embodiment of a Javanese aesthetic that is replicated on many levels of culture, from everyday interactions and community events to mythical and cosmological ideas found in the present, but also in the distant past. This aesthetic is expressed through representations of a process in which male, female, chaotic, and ordered elements interact to generate states of well-being. The importance of this aesthetic, despite historical shifts in gender construction, is evident in stories and myths about legendary Javanese women and female gender players and in the twelfth-century, Old Javanese translation of the Indic Bharatayuddha. Comparative analysis of key scenes from the Bharatayuddha links the distant past to the performative interaction between the male puppeteer and the female gender player in old-style wayang today. The musical tradition of female-style grimingan makes it possible to listen back to an earlier style of Javanese performance that has endured despite cultural and political upheaval during the colonial and postcolonial periods.