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Kyle DeCoste

Kyle DeCoste is an ethnomusicologist from Canada who lives and works in New Orleans. He holds an MA in Musicology from Tulane University, where his research examined the New Orleans brass band scene through a Black feminist lens. He is a staff contributor for the Society for Ethnomusicology’s SEM Student News and is an active organizational member of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO).

“From Object to Subject: New Orleans Brass Bands, Gender, and the Liberated Voice”
New Orleans brass band music is without question male dominated. In a city with approximately 50 brass bands (each with about 10 members), there are few more than a dozen female brass band musicians in the city. The large majority of them are members of the Original Pinettes Brass Band, the city’s only all-female brass band. Despite the existence of the Pinettes, the generic sound or “voice” of New Orleans brass bands has remained circumscribed by normative masculinity, which has in part lead to a musical canon featuring lyrics that sometimes stray into objectification and misogyny. The best known example of objectification can be found in the lyrics to the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Casanova,” which includes the memorable line “Bitch bend over / Take ‘em off / Take your motherfucking drawers off.” With lyrics like this, rejecting objectification while still accessing the brass band canon requires skillful maneuvering.

bell hooks argues that moving from silence to speech—the act of talking back—constitutes for the marginalized a shift from object to subject (hooks 1989). For female brass band musicians, to move from object to subject through acquiring this agency necessitates the navigation of normative gender roles that shape the gendered landscape of musicianship. For the Pinettes, their collective voice places a premium on vocal ability, which leverages the trope of female vocalist and stands in stark contrast to their male counterparts. Their lyrical content also resists the narrow and limiting definitions of womanhood put forth by brass band music and society at large. Using ethnography, interviews, and secondary literature (Black feminist theory, sound studies, ethnomusicology, and performance studies) this presentation aims to explore the ways in which the Pinettes have used vocals in instrumental music to carve out a collective voice within a patriarchal music tradition.

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