Composer Barbara White (PhD ’97) was recently featured on NewMusicBox in an article by Frank J. Oteri. The wide-ranging converstation touches on how White’s works grapple with issues of gender equality and abuse (for instance in her 2012 opera Weakness), her teaching at Princeton, her intentional efforts toward performing with musicians from a variety of backgrounds, and a survey of her extensive catalog of compositions.
Weakness intersects with the rising awareness of how sexual abuse has been tolerated in so many sectors of society.
“For Weakness, White chose to set an old Celtic legend about a spirit woman named Macha whom a despotic king forces into a fatal race with his horses despite her begging him, as well as the entire community, to spare her.
‘What ends up happening is that there is no empathy,' Barbara White explained when we visited her at her home in Princeton, New Jersey. 'She is scapegoated, subjected to abuse. It has a real patriarchal aspect to it. There is a woman with gifts, and it’s a problem for this king. He has to stomp her out, and no one helps her.’”
White doesn’t shy away from difficult issues in her teaching at Princeton either, raising provocative questions about how to explore contemporary music.
“I was thinking very much about what this tradition is. Where do its boundaries lie? Who’s been brought in? Who’s been left out? Going back to the title, “Music Since 1945” is a problematic title now. When I was in graduate school, we would have taken for granted what we meant by “music.” But now that could be any music, and that’s a good thing that we have this more ecumenical view. So I changed it to “Music After Modernism” and thought very much about: Do I include the important pieces because they’re the important pieces? Who decided they were the important pieces? And did they keep being thought of as the important pieces because we’ve said so? So it’s really interesting. I’ve been looking at some anomalous composers and pieces. I’ve been thinking about alternate examples. It’s fascinating even to think of a linear narrative. How true is a linear narrative that we would make?”
Read the entire interview at NewMusicBox, which includes photo galleries and video as well, and find out more about Barbara White's rich and energetic career.