Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Music Criticism


James Deaville




Amidst the recent scholarly backlash in Western thought against the mind/body split, the field of musicology has begun serious consideration of the role of "the body" in musical discourse. In making a contribution to the current discussions about the body in vocal performance, this thesis is concerned with the "vocal body" as a cultural construct. Specifically, this study argues that the limits our bodies know, the thrills our bodies feel, and that which we identify as bodily are continually recreated and renegotiated through social mechanisms within various cultural forums. In examining this perspective, I investigate the vocality of Cathy Berberian, with particular reference to Luciano Berio's work Sequenza III, as a unique forum which calls attention to our own abilities to participate in the creation of various cultural possibilities for and through our bodies.

Using Cathy Berberian and Sequenza III as points of reference for the discussion, the intentions underlying this thesis have been four-fold: 1) to interrogate the underlying philosophical presuppositions of Roland Bathes's concept of the "grain of the voice" in which, I argue, the emergence of the body in singing is positioned as an asocial/acultural phenomenon; 2) to demonstrate how vocal performance is capable of discrediting the perception of a natural, asocial body by drawing attention to constructedness of institutionalized norms in Western classical concert performance and by transgressing these very norms; 3) to demonstrate the relationship between constructions of the body and constructions of identity; and 4) to explore my own relationship with Berberian in determining conceptions and experiences of the body in my singing voice. The theoretical basis of my discussion has largely been informed by Bathes and Judith Butler as well as by the work of numerous musicologists, especially Suzanne Cusick, Joke Dame, Wayne Koestenbaum, Elizabeth Wood, Leslie Dunn and Nancy Jones.

McMaster University Library

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Music Commons