Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


The Vocalizing Pianist: Embodying Gendered Performance

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Thomas Rosenkranz (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Nora Engebretsen (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Mikel Kuehn (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sidra Lawrence (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Mihai Staic (Committee Member)


The vocalizing pianist is a genre in which the pianist speaks, sings, and/or acts while playing the piano. Because of the presence of the voice, the audience perceives the performer’s sex and gender not only visually, but also aurally as part of performance. The voice connects the audience to the performer intimately, revealing the normative conceptions and gender ideologies inscribed on the performer’s body. Because the vocalizing pianist compositions specify neither the performer’s gender nor the voice type, cross-gender, cross-identity performance have been freely undertaken without an established performance practice. Although such gendered performances are common in vocal genres, pianists are now entering this unfamiliar field with the emergence of the vocalizing pianist genre.

As a step toward an interpretive performance practice, this document investigates the role of the performer’s voice, body, and gender, by reading the genre through the lens of feminism. Feminist theories such as gender performativity and l’écriture féminine are introduced and applied to case studies of selected compositions: Amy Beth Kirsten’s (speak to me), Brian Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam, and Stuart Saunders Smith’s Lazarus. Using the concept of the Death of the Author by Roland Barthes, the author also explores the performer-centric interpretative practice that emphasizes the centrality of gender in musical performance. This project articulates the importance of performer’s gender as an integral element of vocalizing pianist performance and demonstrates how understanding the gendered aspect of a composition adds greater depth and nuance to the performer’s interpretation.