MSU Honors and Exhibits Music Student’s Research

College of Music undergrad recognized for complex exploration of music and gender.

A large poster exhibiting Anna Goodson’s research is on rotation as part of ongoing displays through MSU's Neighborhood Engagement Centers.

A student in the MSU College of Music with an interest in musicology was the second student in two years to take top honors in the annual university-wide forum recognizing the scholarship and creative activity of undergraduates.

Anna Goodson received first place in the humanities and performing arts category of the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum for 2015. Goodson’s presentation “Laurie Anderson’s Slimy Beauty” (see abstract below) examined how the work of women musicians is influenced by commercial, social and cultural pressures to perform within particular standards of femininity. In 2014, College of Music graduate Jane Sylvester took first place in the same category for exploring feminized nature in a Franz Schubert song cycle.

“Anna’s topic dealt with music, but also about images and cultural ideas about women, and how youth and beauty are valued above other things,” says Marcie Ray, assistant professor of musicology. “What Anna did really well in 15 minutes was to take complicated and abstract concepts and make them clear to the uninitiated.”

Ray explains that Goodson’s work answered a question many ask: Why aren't there more female composers? She says Goodson disputes the common notion that women are simply “not as good” as male composers by showing the difficulties women have in negotiating an identity in the music world.

The work of composer and musician Laurie Anderson provided the basis for Goodson's research, particularly the single “O Superman.” Goodson's presentation illustrated how Anderson assumed an androgynous persona in an attempt to make her music, not her gender, capture the attention of critics and listeners.

“I wanted to explore how hard it is in the world of contemporary music to make an impact without body or gender being the focus,” Goodson says. “Specifically, I wanted to show how difficult it is for women to present their music.”

Goodson is a dual major in music and English with concentrations in musicology and creative writing. She developed the concept for her presentation after taking Ray’s graduate-level courses that focus on music, gender and sexuality.

“It was a powerful moment for me when Dr. Ray first talked about Anderson,” she says. “I started developing an interest in Anderson’s work, and how she blurs lines between electronic and classical music, as well as the divide of male and female with her personal style.”

The poster Goodson developed for her presentation is on rotation as part of ongoing displays through MSU's Neighborhood Engagement Centers. In the meantime, she is in the midst of expanding her presentation to a larger paper she hopes to publish in a scholarly journal or present at a second conference. She also continues to avidly listen to and study Anderson’s work.

“The more I research her, the more impressed I am about the way she carries herself,” says Goodson. “I would so much like to meet her or to see her live. It would be an amazing experience.”

ABSTRACT: Laurie Anderson’s “Slimy Beauty”

Scholars such as musicologist Susan McClary, author Kathryn Van Spanckeren, and professor Jon McKenzie have examined Laurie Anderson’s self-fashioning as an androgynous musician. Despite scholarly interest on the interaction between her gender and her music, researchers have paid little attention to the representation of androgyny versus femininity in her album artwork on CDs such as Big Science and Talk Normal. My paper addresses the contrast between the distinctly feminine portrait of Anderson on the album cover of Talk Normal and the first track on the CD, “O Superman (for Massenet).” I argue that the feminine portrait undermines what Anderson has achieved in O Superman, a decision that reflects cultural unease over Anderson’s gender-defiant persona. This essay uses the example of her single “O Superman” to explore larger trends in her music because it is the piece directly in juxtaposition with the album cover of Talk Normal. By presenting her as specifically female, Warner Brothers privileges a certain interpretation of the song – the interpretation of a listener listening to a specifically female artist. My project, by closely examining Anderson’s status as a female artist and the resistance against her decision to express herself as gender-neutral, sheds light on the way in which a female musician’s art often is informed by gender expression.

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