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.