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Gibson, Lorna A.C.

Beyond Jerusalem: Music in the Women's Institute, 1919-1969

Ph.D. Royal Holloway, University of London, 2005

Music in the Women's Institute has become stereotyped as comprising nothing more than the ritualistic singing of Jerusalem at monthly meetings. Jerusalem has indeed had an important role within the organisation, and provides a valuable means within which to assess the organisation's relationship with women's suffrage and the importance of rurality in the Women's Institute's identity. However, this thesis looks beyond Jerusalem by examining the range of music-making within the organisation, and locates the significance of that music-making within a wider historical-cultural context.

The Women's Institute's promotion of conducting - a regular part of its musical activity since the 1930s - is discussed as a potential indicator of levels of feminism within the organisation. My discussion concludes that a redefinition of the term "feminism" is needed and that the concept of "gendered spheres" of conducting provides a useful means of understanding the Women's Institute's policy. The chapter on the organisation's promotion of folk song reveals that until the early 1950s, folk song had a prominent role within music-making in the Institutes. In addition to subscribing to the Revivalists' notion of England's musical past, the organisation can also be seen as an outlet for Cecil Sharp's theory about the future of the English folk song, especially as an educative tool. This chapter provides a valuable context within which to understand the National Federation's first music commission, Vaughan Williams' Folk Songs of the Four Seasons (1950), which is shown to represent the pinnacle of the organisation's involvement with the folk song tradition. The National Federation's second commission, Malcolm Williamson's The Brilliant and The Dark (1969), is discussed within the context of a departure in music policy from folk songs and a recruitment campaign that embraced modern "high" culture. It also shows the organisation's commitment to "moderate feminism" at a time when the second wave of feminism was starting to gain momentum. The thesis concludes with an "Afterburn" about the National Society Choir (later known as the Avalon Singers), which highlights the National Federation's commitment to amateur music-making and reveals the extent to which musical standards had changed within the organisation over the fifty-year period.