Shannon Cochran will be joined by her childhood mentor, Margaret Clair, for a recital titled “The Female Gaze” to celebrate Women’s History Month. The novel music piece will be performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at San Juan College’s Connie Gotsch Theatre.
Soprano Shannon Cochran and mezzo-soprano Margaret Clair will be accompanied by pianist Levi Brown. The trio will display their finely honed talents for regional music aficionados.
Cochran said in a phone interview that rehearsals are going well, and things are shaping up for a “really lovely night.”
Even if an attendee isn’t versed in classical music, Cochran said some of the selections will be recognizable from television commercials or movies. She will lend voice to some of the newer female composers who have not received as much exposure or had their work performed as often. “It’s kind of nice to have that balance,” Cochran said.
The performance poses the question of how women might write for themselves through their own eyes.
Margaret Clair, Director of Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College, said that as a longtime performer she didn’t even think about women composers not getting their due.
“It didn’t even dawn on me that I was saying and singing the words written by a man about how someone feels,” she said. “Most of the classic songs, operas or arias, are written by men, so we’ve seen everything through that lens and I didn’t even question it for such a long time.”
Clair received operatic training with Blanche Thebom, who was the leading mezzo-soprano at the Metropolitan Opera for 25 years. Most of Clair’s performing was in regional opera in the San Francisco Bay Area, along with several European tours.
As an eclectic performer, Clair has delved beyond opera into operetta, recital and musical theater. Her endeavors include performance work with recording, voice-over, jazz and composing.
Cochran is now based in Cincinnati, Ohio, but she and Clair first met when Clair directed several choirs Cochran participated in as a child. Cochran now travels and performs in musicals across the country. She plans to move to New York City later this year.
“It’s Shannon’s recital … she’s really at the top of her game now,” Clair said about her former student, who now holds a doctorate in musical arts voice performance. “The student becomes the master,” Margaret wrote in an email.
Clair and her husband, Randy West, who manages Farmington Civic Center, moved to Farmington four years ago. Clair has a master's degree in voice and has taught voice performance at Iowa Wesleyan University and privately.
“I did a bunch of composing when I was in college as part of the composer’s workshop,” Clair said. Cochran will perform a piece called “Bali,” which was written by Clair. The piece is based on a Balinese scale consisting of five notes, a pentatonic scale that has an island or Asian feel.
Cochran said the program will be structured by language: Italian, French, German and English. Songs by male composers will be followed by songs written by female composers. By showcasing them side-by-side, the goal is to provide insights on the subtle nuances of how the two genders express themselves musically.
Between the language sets, Cochran will introduce composers and provide background on her reasoning for choosing certain songs.
The idea for the recital sparked between the two vocalists last October when Cochran and her former teacher shared a dressing room during Four Corners Musical Theater Company’s production of “Sweeney Todd.” They discussed how they could bring classical music vocal recitals to the college.
Cochran said they talked about different composers, songs they loved and the idea for celebrating Women’s History Month by highlighting female composers.
With the question of “how might women write for themselves through their own eyes?” in mind, Cochran was inspired to create a program of unique musical exploration.
Cochran performed recitals, one on German art form, when earning her doctorate in music performance. Her intent with this recital is to challenge the discerning “ears” of the listener.
Overall, the hope is that the audience will hear the nuances and complexities that distinguish female from male composers. Cochran said she desires, through her work, to help both to flourish and thrive independently.
The recital will attempt to address and answer the question of how the work of female composers differs from male composers by juxtaposing the male and female viewpoint.
Clair explained that some of the most performed classical works are by male composers writing from their perspective about the experiences of women. This raises questions about point of view, attitude and accuracy when analyzed.
Conversely, “The Female Gaze” is based on the female view of art and life.
The performance explores possibilities for more potential nuance, dimensionality and complexity when women write about their own experiences.
Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey coined the term “the male gaze,” which represents not only the gaze of a heterosexual male viewer, but also the gaze of the male character and the male creator of the film.
The female gaze is the female perspective in works of art and literature, opposite the male gaze. This feminist theory term refers to the gaze of the female spectator, character or director of an artistic work. More than gender, the female gaze addresses the issue of representing women as subjects who have agency.
Movies such as “Rebecca” and “Stella Dallas” are examples of early films where the narrative is told through the female protagonist’s point of view. This genre of film evolved into romantic comedies and dramas such as “27 Dresses” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” which attempt to represent the desires of female protagonists, and subsequently the desires of the female viewer.
Cochran anticipates a lively post-show discussion of the performance. “There’s a lot of really exciting things happening in Farmington, and I’m just so impressed by the facilities here,” she said. “It’s always wonderful to come back here.”
“I’ve been here four years and I’ve not seen a vocal recital,” Clair said, “so I think the classical music lovers are a little bit hungry for that genre.”
Tickets for “The Female Gaze” are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors, military and employees. Students are free with ID.
Tickets are available online, at San Juan College Bookstore and at the door the night of the performance.
Clair, Cochran and Brown are also core members of the city of Farmington’s Four Corners Musical Theatre Company. They are in rehearsals for the upcoming production of “Celebrate Sondheim,” which runs March 23 to April 2.