Man Up / Man Down —2021

What is manhood?

In particular, what does masculinity look and feel like in 21st century America? These were the questions that launched me into writing Man Up / Man Down for Constellation Men’s Ensemble. The process began with several in-depth conversations on these topics with Constellation Men’s Ensemble’s Ryan Townsend Strand and Kyle Sackett. We wanted this new choral work to explore how masculine identity takes shape in our evolving world; how our personal histories of family, race, religion, education, status, exposure, geography, etc. affect the formation of our male identities. We also wanted to examine the societal pressures to maintain a certain male identity, even if that identity doesn’t feel true. We discussed myriad possible sources for texts, initially sparked by an art exhibit Kyle had seen at Richmond College called “Man Up! Man Down! Images of Masculinity…” The catalogue for this exhibit featured a quote from American sociologist Michael Kimmel, in which he summarized a long-standing model of masculinity. It begins like this: “No sissy stuff, that’s the first rule. You can never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity…” I read much of Kimmel’s writings after this, focusing mainly on his book, Masculinity In America: A Cultural History. Kyle and Ryan sent out dozens of questionnaires to a diverse collection of people, asking them to recall images of manliness from their childhoods, and to reflect on what they think manhood is in America today. The questionnaire responses led to the creation of more text ideas, as did scouring the internet for common conceptions and misconceptions of what masculinity is. We also sought out the perspectives of women and non- white writers. From the start of this project, our goal was to learn more about the different ways identity and perception take shape, to consider the words we use and their effects, and to form a more diverse understanding of CME’s charge of creating Music and Brotherhood.

Special thanks: to Ryan Townsend Strand and Kyle Sackett, for their collaborative genius in helping shape this composition.

Contact Robert Maggio for the score. You can purchase the CD on the Sono Luminus Website, or listen to it on all the major streaming platforms.

—REVIEWS—

This is the kind of man we encounter in Robert Maggio’s monumental, 11-part work Man Up/Man Down. Expectation and the harsh realities on man/woman inequity collide in Maggio’s work as the composer peals and chips away at the hollowness of male role modelling which – as the narrative prosody of the words tell us – has resulted in the near-destruction of contemporary body politic.

–Raul da Gama, thewholenote.com, Summer 2023

The titular work, Robert Maggio‘s Man Up / Man Down, is a large-scale, 30-minute exploration of the various perspectives of contemporary American masculinity. The declarative prosody is reminiscent of modern musical theatre, allowing the listener to understand Maggio’s often uncomfortable sourced text. Presented in eleven movements, with several being extremely short, the musical success of Man Up / Man Down derives from Maggio’s masterful command over the voicing within his vocal ensemble writing and implementation of cyclical motives, relating emotional themes across movements. He alludes to a wide variety of classical and popular musical idioms, using rapid style changes to emphasize shifts in demeanor. Constellation navigates these styles with ease, perfectly adapting on a whim.

There are multiple narratives told throughout Man Up / Man Down, starting with the tragic descent into neo-Nazism of Skate Park Guy: a loner who by the end of the work is completely immersed into a white supremacy group. Maggio, with text for these sections by sociologist Michael Kimmel, uncannily presents an all too often truthful tale of learned bigotry and how these groups prey on isolated individuals. Maggio connects each of the four “Skate Park Guy” movements with an ominous introduction and trudging, monotonous vocal lines.

Fittingly, the final movement, “West Point”, collects previous musical material and swells to an emotional apex. The movement intersperses more of Kimmel’s text with the traditional West Point Alma Mater. Maggio’s use of postmodern collage comes to full fruition, expertly alternating from dense, four-part chorale harmony to contemporary pandiatonicism and post-minimalist overlapping of text. The culminating line of text, relaying from whom the cadets have learned toxic definitions of masculinity, amplifies in intensity and impact as Maggio adds layer after layer, ending with an almost screaming statement of “I should be…”

–brutalnewmusic.blogspot.com, October 18, 2023

—TEXTS—

  1. Skate Park Guy 1 (Michael Kimmel)

Imagine a skate park in Long Beach,

and it’s about seven at night,

it’s just getting dark and everybody’s gone home

except this one lone guy wearing a flannel shirt tied around his waist,

kind of stringy, oily hair and acne, he’s about fifteen.

He’s the kid that gets bullied in school,

he has no friends,

he’s gonna go home,

have a quick dinner,

and then go down to the basement and play video games all night,

blowing up the rest of the world.

That’s his daily routine.

  1. All the Silences (Rachel Girty)

Sad preacher,

cowboy with a frozen look.

I remember a professor

nostalgic for the days of high camp and the closet.

I think of my ancestors,

of the word inheritance.

I think of masculinity

and go back to my Catholic school Latin class.

Virtue. Honor.

I think of video game heroes,

how silent, how impossible they are.

I think of Humphrey Bogart’s stare.

A terrible power,

a terrible responsibility,

but only in the movies do these little moments make sense.

All the silences.

How it feels to be shaped by hardness,

to have to grow to fit its shape.

  1. Interlude I: Manhood in the 21st Century (Various)

I should use my platform as the dominant gender

to uplift and support the movements of marginalized groups:

feminism, Black Lives Matter, anti-racism

I am confident in myself and my sexuality.

I am emotionally mature.

I respect boundaries.

I challenge gender roles.

I am authentically myself.

I am allowed to cry.

I can be a caretaker.
I can be a homemaker.
I can be a high-heeled, tattooed, glitter bombed, wig wearing, defiance of Dads gone-by.

  1. Skate Park Guy 2 (Kimmel)

And into the skater park come these guys who are like awesome and scary.

And they start talking to him,

“Hey, how you doing, what’s up?”

And by the end of the conversation they say,

“You should hang with us.

You’re really cool.

You should hang with us.

We have awesome parties.

You should hang with us.

Everybody gets really drunk,

It’s really fun,

and there’s girls,

and then, after everybody’s drunk and stuff,

we all take painkillers

and we go out in the streets

and we look for immigrant groups and we have fights with them.

It’s fantastic.

Dude, you should definitely come with us.”

  1. Jet (Tony Hoagland)

Sometimes I wish I were still out

on the back porch, drinking jet fuel

with the boys, getting louder and louder

as the empty cans drop out of our paws

like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.

Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,

bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish

and old space suits with skeletons inside.

On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,

and it is good, a way of letting life

out of the box, uncapping the bottle

to let the effervescence gush

through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances

in unison, and then the fireflies flash

dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation

for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex

someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night

as if remembering the bright unbroken planet

we once came from,

to which we will never

be permitted to return.

We are amazed how hurt we are.

We would give anything for what we have.

  1. Interlude II: Refrains & Misconceptions (Various)

I should man up.

I should be stoic.

I should be strong.

I should be a protector.

I should be big and brave.

I should be competent.

I should have it all together.

I should pretend I don’t need any help.
I should be able to do it on my own.

I should be able to deal with everything on my own.

I should be able to handle anything.

I should be a great lover.

I shouldn’t express affection.

I should have an insatiable appetite for sex.

I shouldn’t be emotional.

I should have sex, money and power.

I shouldn’t be weak.

I shouldn’t break down.

I shouldn’t cry.

 

Emotions are scary, weak, and problematic.

I am ashamed about being seen doing therapy.

The thought of going to therapy and crying with another person is scary.

I am going to try other solutions first: isolation, substance use, aggression.

 

We all cheat.

We all want sex.

We are only nice to you so we can sleep with you.

We can’t express our feelings.

We have no feelings.

We are the opposite of women.

We cannot handle successful women.

We are mama’s boys.

We have it easy.

We don’t experience pressure.

We love fixing things.

We are sloppy.

We live for sports.

We like violence.

  1. Skate Park Guy 3 (Kimmel)

So he goes with them,

he goes to parties,

they go fight,

they do all these things,

and they’re telling him,

“You’re one of us,

you’re a pal,

you’re a comrade.”

And so what he gets, at that moment, has nothing to do with ideology.

They haven’t even talked about it yet.

They talk about how he’s a cool dude,

how he hangs out with the guys,

how he’s one of them,

he’s part of the family,

he feels completely a sense of connection, community, camaraderie.

  1. Flower Beds (Jericho Brown)

I come from a family where generation after generation,

we, for the sake of beauty, tended our houses,

our land, our lawns, our flower beds.

There were gardens in the backyard

where you grew greens, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes,

but in the front yard,

you had a flower bed for no reason other than the fact that it was beautiful.

Those are the kinds of things we don’t know or see about each other,

particularly when we think about Black men.

That’s who my dad was.

He was also a lot of awful,

but I have to remember that he taught me that.

I remember turning the corner to our house when I was a kid,

entering the driveway, and hearing him say, “Ooh that’s pretty.”

I got to see something in him that isn’t what people automatically think about him

when they simply think of his image.

This is why I’m interested in this thing called masculinity.

…in our minds, in our perceptions, we keep leaving stuff out of it.

People have to fall in love.

People have to take care of their kids.

I want to make sure men know it’s possible to have feelings

and that those feelings are okay to have.

I think our world would have us believe they’re not okay to have.

 

  1. Interlude III: A life just like their fathers’ (Kimmel)

“I will work my ass off at a job that I hate

for a boss that I hate,

who’s an idiot,

but I will work hard,

I will pay my taxes.

And in return for that,

like my daddy before me and my grandfather before him,

I will be able to support a family by myself,

and I will be able to buy a house by myself.”

 

So this is the bargain they feel like they wanted,

and it’s gone;

they can’t do it.

And they feel like they’ve been betrayed.

 

…and now they have to talk about gender-neutral bathrooms?

And now they have to talk about same-sex marriage?

Their heads are exploding.

It’s not that they’re against these reforms;

they’re completely bewildered.

They don’t know what to do.

 

I think we do ourselves a great disservice

if we don’t pay attention,

not to the opposition

but to the anguish that comes

from being so bewildered by the extent and the rapidity of this change.

If we don’t pay attention to that,

we will lose them.

  1. Skate Park Guy 4 (Kimmel)

And they say,

“You’re a real man, you’re awesome.”

And then, and only then,

do they start saying,

“You have a sacred mission.

You have to preserve the white race.

You, as a man, have to do this.

You have to preserve the white race.

We have to do this together.

You’re one of us,

you’re a pal,

you’re a comrade.”

  1. West Point (Kimmel)

(Hail, Alma Mater, dear!

To us be ever near…) 

I was at West Point,

an auditorium full of cadets,

(Help us thy motto bear,

Thru all the years.)

and I asked them,

“What does it mean to be a good man?

(Let Duty be well performed.

Honor be e’er untarn’d.)

You wake up in the morning,

you look in the mirror, and you say to yourself,

‘You’re a good man.’

(Country be ever armed,

West Point, by thee!)

‘You’re a good man.’

What does that mean?”

Here’s what they said (now this is West Point):

“Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, 

do the right thing,  

stand up for the little guy,   

be a provider, 

be a protector.” 

I asked, “Where did you learn that?”

And they said,

“Well, it’s everywhere. 

It’s our culture, it’s Homeric, it’s Shakespearean, 

it’s the Judeo-Christian heritage.” 

“So, that’s what it means to be a good man.

tell me if those show up for you when I say this:

‘Man up, be a real man.’”

“Oh no, that’s completely different.” 

And they said

“Tough, strong, never show weakness, 

win at all costs, suck it up, 

play through pain, be competitive, 

get rich, get laid.” 

I said, “Where did you learn that?”

And they said, in order,

“My father, my coach, my guy friends, my older brother.”

 

—PERMISSIONS—

Michael Kimmel’s writings were used with permission of the author, published in the Summer 2018 issue of Signs in the article “Ask a Feminist: Michael Kimmel and Lisa Wade Discuss Toxic Masculinity.”

 

Rachel Girty, “All the Silences” used by permission of the author. Copyright ©2021 Rachel Girty.

 

Tony Hoagland, “Jet” from Donkey Gospel. Copyright ©1998 by Tony Hoagland. Used by permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, www.graywolfpress.org. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Jericho Brown, “Flower Beds” Excerpt from Atlanta Magazine Interview by Jericho Brown. Copyright ©2019 Jericho Brown, used by permission of The Wylie Agency LLC.