‘Be a lady they said’a poem by Camille Rain­ville went viral this year because of a video by actress and poli­ti­cian Cyn­thia Nixon. Images of women are being ques­tio­ned – and with them our society as well. As a young artist and femi­nist, I notice this all around me. Visual arts, pho­to­gra­phy, lite­ra­ture, acting, music and media: ever­yone wants to par­ti­ci­pate in a con­tem­porary way – me too, of course – and initiate a dia­lo­gue on a topic bet­ween pride and shame: being a woman. And thus also against period taboos.

Period taboos: A rose as a symbol for menstruation

But what about clas­si­cal music? That’s what I stu­died and that’s the genre I’ve dedi­ca­ted mys­elf to. But doesn’t my clas­si­cal reper­toire con­vey a cer­tain image of women that I actually want to oppose? What is the posi­tion of musi­ci­ans today? Espe­cially as a sin­ger, I would like to find a posi­tion, because we work con­cretely with text set to music.

In the clas­si­cal song, the woman is a “girl flower”, a “rose-like”, fairy-tale beau­ti­ful girl: vir­gi­nal pure, well-beha­ved, decent and above all SILENT. 3000 years of patri­ar­chy have shaped this image of the silen­ced female sex. And yet the rose is a sym­bol for the vulva or even mens­trua­tion. “I have my flower/ fleur” still refers directly to the mon­thly blee­ding. But that is not what is being tal­ked about. Female sexua­lity and espe­cially mens­trua­tion are banis­hed from con­scious­ness. We con­ti­nue to use these beau­ti­ful images and repro­gram the infor­ma­tion behind them.

Sexism and classical music

In my pro­fes­sion, I often deal with sexism, sexual harass­ment in the work­place, and a lack of soli­da­rity among women, except when it comes to soli­dary silence. That’s the clas­si­cal bub­ble, and if you don’t want to be part of it, you’ll just have to leave. Modern sta­ging here still means dres­sing up the vil­lain as Hit­ler or showing naked bre­asts and a few upside-down cros­ses, – and if that’s too extreme for you, you just lis­ten to the 200th song reci­tal on the sub­ject of “love and love affairs”. I often feel tongue-tied in this business.

Alexandra Vildosola, Dialogue with a rose, Konzert über Periode, Konzert über Menstruation, Perioden-Tabu, Periodentabu, Menstruationstabu, Sängerin, klassische Musik, Streichquartett, Komponist, Rose Symbol Vulva, Rose Symbol Menstruation, Periode Tabu, Menstruation Tabu, Konzert, Konzertdesignerin, Vulvani

Fighting period taboos with classical music 

When Mara and I star­ted tal­king about this con­cept about 1.5 years ago, we immedia­tely star­ted play­ing with the image of the flower. Indeed, the talen­ted and edu­ca­ted sin­ger con­fi­ded in me that she felt redu­ced to her appe­aling appearance. So we put tog­e­ther a reper­toire that tells exactly that: Most import­antly, a young woman has to be pretty. But ins­tead of being silently pretty, she also speaks. She talks about little drops of blood on the floor, about get­ting “horny,” about the mys­tique of femi­nin­ity, and about the crea­tive power that lies wit­hin our mens­trual cycle. 

But she is not alone on stage, musi­cally and sce­ni­cally she is accom­pa­nied by a string quar­tet con­sis­ting of four young female musi­ci­ans. (That’s right, we only have five women on stage. Still, we don’t think mens­trua­tion is just a women’s issue. The seventh mem­ber of our team is a man. And the stu­died gyne­co­lo­gist is as pas­sio­nate about the sub­ject as we are.) 

A concert about menstruation and its reactions

When I told my mother over a year ago that I was doing a con­cert on mens­trua­tion, her response was, “Oh please don’t.” That was the sign for me that there was a need to talk. A year later, she also gave me an inter­view. There is a dif­fe­rence bet­ween “not wan­ting to talk about it with ever­yone” and “not wan­ting to know about it.” Ever­yone deals with mens­trua­tion in one way or ano­t­her, and yet one in five high school stu­dents doesn’t know three adults to whom they can turn with a pro­blem. The period taboo runs deep.

Period taboos only in other countries?

We have all heard “hor­ror sto­ries” from “distant” coun­tries and cul­tures. There, “mens­trua­tion” is taboo – but not here. We could immedia­tely add ano­t­her topic here: “colo­nia­lism” in our sub­lime cul­ture. But even in our edu­ca­ted, wes­tern world there are things that are sim­ply not tal­ked about and sho­cking sto­ries of girls who are left alone with blood, hor­mo­nal chaos and pain behind clo­sed bathroom doors.

Open the stage for menstruation: Insights into the concert

Alexandra Vildosola, Dialogue with a rose, Konzert über Periode, Konzert über Menstruation, Perioden-Tabu, Periodentabu, Menstruationstabu, Sängerin, klassische Musik, Streichquartett, Komponist, Rose Symbol Vulva, Rose Symbol Menstruation, Periode Tabu, Menstruation Tabu, Konzert, Konzertdesignerin, Vulvani

Tampon wonderland as the concert design

I am a con­cert desi­gner. In my con­certs, all sen­sory per­cep­ti­ons play a role. I also think about things like: With what mood does the con­cert­goer come into the con­cert space and how do I sen­si­tize them to my art? So we don’t make beau­ti­ful, clas­si­cal music and talk about mens­trua­tion in bet­ween. It’s more: the audi­ence enters a tam­pon won­der­land. The room beco­mes a fai­ry­land for 30 minu­tes in a sound and space instal­la­tion. Ever­ything is white, pure and appar­ently mens­trua­tion-free. Sun­light glit­ters in white tulle fab­ric and scraps of tam­pon adver­ti­sing emerge from every cor­ner of the room – “female empowerment”?

A choir to combat period taboos

When the audi­to­rium lights are tur­ned off, the men­ar­che begins. I call this part of the con­cert ” Blosso­m­ing “. Bet­ween the pie­ces, howe­ver, not only the five musi­ci­ans on stage share beau­ti­ful and frigh­tening sto­ries about the first blee­ding. In elec­tro­nic sound­s­capes a cho­rus of mens­trua­tion is crea­ted sur­roun­ding the audi­ence, which I have built from various inter­views. My inter­view part­ners will be spea­king again and again during the con­cert (editor’s note: Britta was also one of the inter­view part­ners for the con­cert). We also take the time to do some mens­trual edu­ca­tion. So we talk about loving par­ents, mens­trual cramps and the big lies of our society.

Overflowed with shame and made a taboo

In the second part, the five musi­ci­ans are “over­flowed” by shame. We repre­sent on stage the attacking society as well as the shame-stri­cken vic­tim. And in the end it beco­mes appa­rent that these are often the same people. The four musi­ci­ans try to silence Mara, to teach her shame and finally shout the name of the block at her: “Cover yourself”. In the third part, “Fading?” it then beco­mes mys­ti­cal. Mens­trua­tion is cul­tu­ral-his­to­ri­cally the begin­ning of all life, a source of magic, mys­ti­cism, sanity, and super­na­tu­ra­lism. Yet images of mens­trua­tion were demo­ni­zed and the more sac­red some­thing was in matri­ar­chy, the more dan­ge­rous it was to patri­ar­chy. So the sac­red mens­trua­tion “tapua” beco­mes a taboo.

The last block is my sum­mary. I can see mys­elf as a poli­ti­cal acti­vist, a mys­ti­cal god­dess of my own mens­trua­tion, or just a woman who knows herself. This results in a stron­ger woman and ulti­mately a healt­hier society. Don’t let anyone tell you how to act. Ins­tead of a “good girl,” be a “good to yourself girl.”

The costume as the centerpiece

But the cen­ter­piece of this con­cert is the cos­tume. Our sin­ger Mara enters the stage in a ball gown and glit­ter cape. But in the course of the con­cert she gets undres­sed piece by piece, expo­ses herself and starts to let her mens­trua­tion become visi­ble. Tog­e­ther with a cos­tume desi­gner, we desi­gned the four lay­ers of the cos­tume in such a way that Mara is gra­du­ally “deli­ve­red” on stage and figu­ra­tively sheds the chains of society. In the end, the fairy-like princess stands in front of the audi­ence in her under­wear, hiding neit­her her body nor her menstruation.

Classical songs, electronic compositions and jazz elements

But there are not only clas­si­cal songs to be heard. The sound­s­capes evolve into elec­tro­nic com­po­si­ti­ons and time and again jazz ele­ments emerge in impro­vi­sa­tion and works by Mag­diel Bap­tis­tin Vail­lant to break with the clas­si­cal reper­toire. The ligh­t­ing moods and the musi­ci­ans’ posi­ti­ons in the room fur­ther sup­port these mood changes.

Music cannot exist without context

In the end, we don’t have ONE solu­tion, but ideas, thoughts and above all a con­ver­sa­tion about period taboos. Because the clas­si­cal music busi­ness also has the task of ques­tio­ning things. Music can­not exist without con­text. Because NO sta­ging is also a kind of sta­ging. And even though this is ques­tio­ned espe­cially in these times: that’s exactly why art is rele­vant to the sys­tem. Every time we as artists go on stage, we also get this stage to com­mu­ni­cate with our audi­ence. So far, howe­ver, we have not had the oppor­tu­nity to be on stage with “Dia­lo­gue with a rose”. Due to Corona, two attempts have already fai­led. But at the end of Novem­ber we were filmed the con­cert in the final of the con­cert con­cept com­pe­ti­tion d-bue.de. Next year we finally want to pre­sent our mens­trua­tion con­cert live and hope­fully get the oppor­tu­nity to per­form at dif­fe­rent venues.

Classical music as an ambassador against period taboos

In any case, our team, con­sis­ting of the string quar­tet (Laura Ion, Myriam Geßen­dor­fer, Lilia Rubin, Kiara Kon­stan­tinou), the sin­ger (Mara Maria Möritz), the com­po­ser (Mag­diel Bap­tis­tin Vail­lant) and mys­elf as the artis­tic direc­tor, are on fire for our first mens­trua­tion con­cert, in which clas­si­cal music beco­mes the ambassa­dor of a new female figure and against period taboos.

Alexandra Vildosola, Dialogue with a rose, Konzert über Periode, Konzert über Menstruation, Perioden-Tabu, Periodentabu, Menstruationstabu, Sängerin, klassische Musik, Streichquartett, Komponist, Rose Symbol Vulva, Rose Symbol Menstruation, Periode Tabu, Menstruation Tabu, Konzert, Konzertdesignerin, Vulvani
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Bold, wild, exis­ten­tial - this is how Alex­an­dra Vil­do­sola makes con­certs, con­stantly sear­ching for pla­ces, the­mes and music that pro­voke con­cert expe­ri­ence as a com­plete work of art. The Ber­li­ner by choice doesn't want to miss anything - lite­ra­ture, cul­ture, poli­tics and her world, because that's what she makes con­certs out of. Alex­an­dra Vil­do­sola stu­died clas­si­cal sin­ging at the HfM in Nur­em­berg, Ger­many and is now begin­ning to explore the expe­ri­men­tal music indus­try as a con­cert designer.