Gender & music: Lorelei Ensemble reasserts that women “have the right to sing”

Kathryn Nicolai, News Editor

Faculty and students gathered with Lorelei Ensemble — a professional vocal company consisting of nine women — for a roundtable discussion about gender and music on Feb. 28.

Lorelei Ensemble was founded and is directed by the University’s Assistant Professor of Music, Beth Willer, and has a mission of advancing the repertoire of women’s voices and the work of women’s vocal ensembles globally.

Reinventing early works of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and early American repertoires and cultivating work that includes flexibility and strength of voice have been a large component of the group’s work. Lorelei Ensemble has commissioned and premiered more than fifty new works since its founding in 2007, and is described by the New York Times as “warm, lithe, and beautifully blended.” The ensemble enjoys touring nationally at numerous concert series, academic institutions, and venues. Lorelei Ensemble performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1 in the Weis Center.

Willer notes that unless you were a nun in a convent, music was not intended to be sung by women until the 19th century, and there is “a sense of empowerment that we get when we sing music written for men.” Singing early works originally written for men allows the group to “reclaim that repertoire that we have a right to sing,” Willer said.

Willer also describes Lorelei Ensemble as an ensemble that treats each individual as unique personal instrument rather than an alto, or soprano, which are the usual categorizations of voices. A feeling of support and individuality was expressed by numerous ensemble members.

“It was wonderful to see some of the questions and issues we take up in Women & Genders Studies classes in this small world of female vocal performance […] applied to this very specific arena,” Women & Genders Studies Visiting Professor, Erica Delsandro said, who co-facilitated the discussion alongside Willer.

Music education major and member of Beyond Unison and the University Choir, Delia Hughes ’21 plans to teach music in the future and said she benefited from learning about establishing community and support in the classroom and choir, as well as being aware of stereotypes and gender biases. “I felt inspired by today’s conversation with Lorelei and the women’s and gender studies professors.” Hughes said. “As a musician, I have experienced gender bias at music camps and in classes and it was super interesting to hear about these women who are professional musicians and how gender affects their careers and everyday life.”




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