Beyond Britten's Boys: Singing Britten with Adult Treble Choirs
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Can music intended for children have a place in a feminist choral classroom? What social considerations must we take in teaching music intended for children to adults? Does singing songs intended for children, songs which may have themes of innocence and purity, with adults enforce gendered stereotypes? How can conductors use ideas of play in music intended for children to create empowering choral spaces for women and gender minorities? These questions lie at the core of my thesis, “Beyond Britten’s Boys: Performing Britten with Adult Treble Choirs.” Benjamin Britten’s treble music, most of which is intended for boy treble singers, is some of the most beloved music in treble choir repertoire. As such, choirs of adult treble singers (soprano and altos of all gender identities) perform Britten’s treble choir music frequently. Because of the ties in Britten’s music to ideas of innocence and play, I am examining how adult treble choirs can continue to sing this music, with consideration to social implications of their composition (for boy trebles) and thematic material (reinforcing ideas of innocence and purity). Furthermore, I am examining the role this music can have in the adult treble choir classroom, creating conductor’s guides focusing on play and feminist pedagogy. Overall, my thesis examines Benjamin Britten’s body of music for treble voices from historical, theoretical, pedagogical, and social perspectives. Chapter One examines Britten’s ties to childhood, and how his lasting relationship to childhood contributed to his composition for children and preferred treble sound. Chapter Two analyzes six works featuring child treble voices, arguing that childhood is a musical topos for Britten, and that understanding his musical language for childhood can help conductors in determining how to approach performing his work with adult treble choirs. Chapter Three discusses feminist pedagogy and social issues specific to adult treble choirs, culminating in a conductor’s analysis for performing two of Britten’s treble choral works with adult treble choirs. This thesis aims to contribute new ideas to the body of Britten scholarship, particularly in using topic theory and analyzing his works in context of adult treble choirs. In addition, it aims to contribute to existing conversations on repertoire for treble choirs open doors for similar study of other bodies of work for treble choirs.