Sounding The Feminists – DkIT Music Symposium


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Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Ireland this week, DkIT Music Symposium questions why female musicians are under-represented in our cultural history.

Over the past three years Ireland has witnessed a resurgence of feminist activity and public debate around gender inequality and the participation of women in Irish society. The need for feminism in the Irish cultural context was starkly foregrounded with the centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising in 2016. Initially cultural commentators noticed the lack of acknowledgement of the role of women in the War of Independence: women were largely absent from the historical narrative being presented. In November 2015 The Abbey Theatre announced its programme for the centenary year of nine men and one woman. Within a week of the programme announcement the Waking the Feminists movement had been formed, the purpose of which was to campaign for awareness of the need for gender equality in Irish theatre. A few months later the National Concert Hall announced its Composing the Island series for September 2016 in celebration of the Rising. Featuring the work of ninety composers (almost 200 compositions), only 17 works by living female composers were programmed versus 74 by male composers.

Prompted by this concert series and following in the footsteps of Waking the Feminists and international groups such as female:pressure (Vienna) and Fair Play (Brussels) the Sounding the Feminists working group was established in 2017 with the purpose of promoting gender equality and opportunities for women in music in Ireland and to encourage debate in this area.

This Friday 23 November 2018 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland, and in honour of the occasion the Department of Creative Arts, Media & Music at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT), in association with Sounding the Feminists and the Centre for Creative Arts Research, hosts a one-day symposium on women in popular and traditional music in Ireland. This fascinating event brings together scholars and community activists engaged in work to address gender imbalance in both the music industry and academia.

The symposium has been organised in response to the wider artistic movement in Ireland around the need to better document and promote the contribution women have made to modern Ireland’s cultural history. The event kicks off with a panel on women in popular music in Ireland exploring the themes of trauma, gender inequality and women’s rights across the genres of pop and electronic dance music, followed by a round table discussion on contemporary feminist initiatives in the Irish music scene. Representatives from a variety of national music organisations including Fair Plé, the Gash Collective, Improvised Music Company, Mnásome, Girls Rock Dublin and Sounding the Feminists will engage in a conversation with Dkit’s Dr Ann Marie O’Hanlon on why feminism is needed within the Irish music scene today and what these respective groups are doing to improve the lot for female performers across a variety of genres.

L-R: Dr Ann-Marie Hanlon (Dundalk IT), Rossella Bottone (Girls Rock Dublin), Joanne Cusack (Fair Plé), Sinéad Furlong (Mnásome) and Dr Laura Watson (Sounding the Feminists)

A later panel discussion on women in country and traditional music in Ireland explores female narratives in country music song, 1990s post-feminism in the traditional music context and feminism and cultural nationalism in musical theatre.

The symposium concludes with a keynote address titled ‘Raging Mother Ireland: The intersection of faith, fury, and feminism in the body and voice of Madga Davitt (FKA Sinéad O’Connor)’ by Dr Aileen Dillane, lecturer in music at the Irish World Academy of Music, University of Limerick. Dillane draws on musical examples from the early 1990s to 2018 argues that Davitt’s ‘songs and stories are powerful and poignant, resonating both historically and in the current moment, with various inflections of Irish womanhood.’ Dillane notes that ‘the architecture for how we do feminist historiography and historicise and appreciate our female “mavericks”, will help us think about the academic and social work that is yet to be done.’

The Sounding the Feminists Symposium takes place on Friday 23 November from 9am-5pm in the Department of Creative Art, Media & Music, Carroll’s Building, Dundalk Institute of Technology. The event is open to the general public will be of particular interest to anyone with a passion for promoting and publicising the creative work of female musicians. For more see: https://soundingthefeministssymposium.home.blog

Feature Image: L-R: Joanne Cusack (Fair Plé), Dr Laura Watson (Sounding the Feminists), Sinéad Furlong (Mnásome) and Rossella Bottone (Girls Rock Dublin)

Image Credits: Ciara Wilkinson

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