Heather Beers

CU headshot

Heather Beers is a third year doctoral student at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. As an Associate Instructor there, she taught String Class Techniques, Introduction to Fundamentals of Music, and Teaching Music in the Elementary Classroom. As an instructor at the Fairview violin program, she teaches large and small group classes. Previously, Ms. Beers was the string area coordinator and instructor of double bass at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She coached sectionals and chamber music within several public schools located in Central Ohio. As a double bassist, Ms. Beers is a section bassist in the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. She formerly was a member of the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, Westerville Symphony, Lima Symphony Orchestra, Newark-Granville Symphony Orchestra, and Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. She is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, the International Society of Bassists, and the American String Teacher’s Association.


Performing ourselves: A content analysis of gender images in double bass method books

Instrument choice can be defining for students, particularly due to the association of musical instruments with gender (Abeles, 2009; Abeles & Porter, 1978; Conway, 2000; Dezell & Leppla, 1992; Doubleday, 2008; Eros, 2008; Fortney, Boyle, & DeCarbo, 1993; Griswold & Chroback, 1981; Kruse, et al, 2015; MacLeod, 2009). Based on their instrument choice, students are identified socially as being aligned with their biological gender or deviating from culturally established norms. It is valuable to examine in detail the mechanisms that reinforce gender norms within traditionally masculine instruments, such as the double bass (Griswold & Chroback, 1981; Koza, 1994). In addition to an overall lack of string research literature (Heaney, 1994; Jueng, 1999; Kantorski, 1995), there is a shortage of research in double bass topics (Kantorski, 1995; Leavitt; 1997; Salatino, 1962), and a lack of literature on string method books (Britten & Sheldon, 2004; Dakon, 2011; Fanelli, 2001; Hash, 2011; Howe, 1995; Kovacs & Kovacs, 2013; McDannald, 2012; Tast, 2015; Tsugawa, 2010). For Butler (2004), gender is not a static assignment, but rather it is performed, and the performativity of gender is the mechanism by which gender norms are perpetuated and naturalized. This framework can be a useful philosophical lens with which to interpret a quantitative content analysis.

The purpose of this study is to examine trends within widely used double bass string method books and their role in either preserving or challenging the traditional gender associations of established sex stereotypes. Additionally, this investigation explores how the images and the text within the books contribute to normalizing or deconstructing gender norms through the treatment of gendered bodies on the page, including normalizing or deviating language, and any implicit or explicit hierarchies surrounding the images (Kruse, et al., 2015). Widely used double bass books (N = 49) from these heterogeneous string methods published in the United States were included in this study. Wide use was determined through research-based lists (Ahmed, 1971; Contor, 1951), inclusion in the ASTA String Curriculum (Benham, et al., 2011), and inclusion in two lists of top-selling methods for the year 2014 provided by representatives from music distributors Shar and J.W. Pepper (D. Cossey, personal communication, March 11, 2015; T. Parrish, personal communication, March 16, 2015). The resulting book list spans from 1923 to 2012, an 89 year period, which was divided into two groups: pre-1968 and post-1968.

Preliminary findings for pre-1968 books indicate 30.28% of the total images were female. Post-1968, the female images increased to 38.06%, as did androgynous images, from 4% to 5.5%. While the overall number of images of females increased, 38.06% does not represent gender equity as defined by Koza (1994), and suggests continued underrepresentation of women within these books, which is consistent with the literature (Baker, 2003; Humphreys, 1997; Koza, 1994; Kruse, et. al 2015). Only three of the books depicted a woman in a teaching role, and in two of these instances, the location of the image or the language near the image undermined the hierarchical impact of the inclusion of a powerful female model. These findings suggest females were particularly underrepresented in positions of power, which is consistent with broader findings about women’s marginal depiction in texts (Gupta and Yin, 1990; Taylor, 2003). Additionally, instances of subtle sexism were present in books written as recently as 2002. These persisting instances of problematic portrayals of women and subtle sexism are consistent with previous research (Blumberg, 2007; Denny, 2011; Klein, et. al., 1994).

For Butler (2004), these instances of subtle sexism through language may constitute regulations that continue to reinforce gender norms and restrictions. For example, images of females demonstrating correct bass technique were sometimes accompanied by language undermining the capabilities of female musicians. These regulations, for Butler, function to  “[naturalize] the hegemonic instance and forecloses the thinkability of a disruption” (p. 43). By including examples of women modeling correct technique alongside language that reduces their stature, the idea of learning from or becoming a capable female bass pedagogue becomes more remote through this regulatory process.

The structure of ensembles within the European Art Music tradition have historically relied, if not insisted, on the subjugation of individual expression and the erasure of individual difference for the cohesion and uniformity of the whole. Disruption of the binary concept of gender begins with rediscovering individual expression, musically and personally, through the concept of performativity. Butler (2004) suggests the importance of tracing “the moments where the binary system of gender is disputed and challenged, where the coherence of the categories are put into question, and where the very social life of gender turns out to be malleable and transformable” (p. 216). However, there is no one single recommendation that will fit every context or local classroom culture.

In agreement with MayDay Action Ideal #1, the implications of this research suggest that disruptions to the binary understanding gender are locally and culturally situated. What serves as a disruption in one community might be within the norms in another; therefore, disruptions could be derived from the individual musical and personal expression of the student within the context of the community. Teachers might examine their use of materials, language, choice of models, and performance attire that serve to destabilize gender norms. For example, when selecting models for students to emulate, they might draw on performers, composers, and conductors that subvert gender norms by including videos and recordings of female bassists, male flautists, and transgender musicians. Perhaps teachers could instill their students with a sense of hope of the possibility of engaging in music making while delving into the unique and continually evolving process of performing their gender.