‘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

Photo Cred­its: Alex­an­dra Vildosola

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

Photo Cred­its: Alex­an­dra Vildosola

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.