Kimberly White will receive the K.B. Jenkes Award, given to an outstanding McGill graduate receiving a Doctoral degree in 2012-2013 in the Social Sciences and Humanities on Friday, May 31st, during spring convocation for Music. The prestigious award honors her exemplary academic record, the excellence of her thesis and the significance of her research.
Originally from Sherwood Park, Alberta, Dr. White studied English literature and music at the University of Alberta, completing her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in 2003 and her Master’s of Arts in musicology in 2005. She was recently awarded a two-year postdoctoral fellowhip from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), to be held at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, and to be supervised by Professor Mark Everist.
She chose to come to McGill first of all to study with Professor Steven Huebner, a renowned expert in French music and 19th-century opera. “I was certainly also drawn by the reputation of the Schulich School of Music, the new facilities, the exceptional library resources, and the university’s location in Montreal, one of Canada’s most fascinating and exciting cities with a vibrant cultural life.” Her doctoral studies were generously funded by a Dr. Richard Tomlinson Doctoral Fellowship and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship.
Dr. White’s dissertation is a study of the profession of opera singing and the representation of female singers at two of the most important lyric theatres in Paris in the 19th century, the Opéra and the Opéra Comique. Professional operatic singing afforded women the opportunity to overturn entrenched ideas about labour by earning high salaries and assuming social, gender, and sexual roles that were forbidden for most other women in the nineteenth century. However, their testing of the acceptable boundaries of feminine behaviour—even in an industry that depended upon their participation and complicity—meant that their position, both in the workforce and in society-at-large, was fragile. Her dissertation uncovers new perspectives on the social, economic, and cultural status occupied by women in a cultural field shaped by hierarchical structures and patriarchal ideologies. She found evidence of their remarkable professional agency through close examination of their papers, contracts, and correspondence, revealing their extensive contributions not only to music and theatre culture, but also to the emergence of female emancipation. Her dissertation fills important lacunae, on the one hand, in women’s history that has overlooked female wage earning in the theatre and, on the other hand, in musicological scholarship that has generally neglected to consider the “work” of a singer’s art.
Dr. White’s study of female singers has been awarded a number of prestigious national prizes, including the jury’s prize at the Société québécoise de recherche en musique paper competition (2010) and the George Proctor Prize from the Canadian University Music Society (2010). She has presented her research at several international conferences, including the American Musicological Society (2010, 2012), the 19th-Century Music Conference (2010, 2012), the Feminist Theory and Music Conference (2011), and the Société française de musicologie (2012).
Now that her doctorate is completed White is on to other projects at the University of Southampton, examining the phenomenon of opera-in-opera and professional singers as opera characters in French music drama of the 19th century, focusing on genres from grand opéra to vaudeville. Once her postdoc is completed, she hopes to find a position at a university to teach courses in musicology and continue her research on opera, women in music, and music as a social practice.
When asked what advice would she would give to a future graduate student considering Schulich, White responded “Take full advantage of the exceptional facilities at the school and the wonderful possibilities Montreal has to offer to pursue your research, as well as professional and cultural activities. Get involved in departmental and university activities and student groups – this is a great time to develop your social and professional networks. At the same time, don’t feel you have to limit yourself to only participating in activities at McGill University or Schulich School of Music – there are many opportunities for meeting other graduate students from other universities and developing your research or performance interests in Montreal. And, finally, make sure to appreciate the wonderful support you will receive from the faculty and administration at the Schulich School of Music – it is truly an exceptional department.”