Silent Choirs: Space, Body and Identity

Laura Lamas-Abraira | Researcher, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain

Joan Pujolar | Professor of Sociolinguistics and Director of Doctoral Program in Humanities and Communication, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain

Alba Colombo | Social Scientist and Researcher, Arts and Humanities Faculty, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain

The festival of the Cors Muts or ‘Silent Choirs’ has a longstanding tradition at the Barceloneta neighborhood, a traditional fishing area nowadays integrated at the city center of Barcelona. It is celebrated on Whit Monday and on the previous weekend, although nowadays it does not retain its religious meaning. Its origins are linked to a street march organized by the choir societies created by Josep Ansel Clavé, who promoted a workers’ education in Catalonia during the XIX century. During the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1975) these choirs were not allowed to sing in the march, giving rise to the name of the festival. Once democracy was restored the choirs continued being silent and since then every year they celebrate the festival by dancing instead of singing, with movements and clothing of a satirical nature.

FestSpace is a HERA research project that studies the socio-cultural potential of events that take place in the public space of different European cities. We explored the Cors Muts festival in relation to (1) memory, belonging and the rapid change of the neighborhood’s social composition; (2) the interplay between public space, gender, and body.

These choirs are intimately linked to the neighborhood, determining their member’s social identity and the staging of the festival itself, characterized by an intensive occupation and use of the public space. The choirs claim their right to use public space on their own during the festival, a view that often clashes with tourist and newcomers’ understandings of the festival, the gentrification process being presented as the source of social conflict. On the other side, traditionally, these were men-only choirs and when female children had their first menstruation, they had to stop being active participants to become a (non-dancing) supporter. During the last decade several women-only choirs were created to fill this gap, serving to rework – to a certain degree – the gendered ideology surrounding the festival. In this presentation, we will explore how this incorporation of women into the celebration raises issues and contradictions and how the neighborhood’s identity is represented through the occupation of urban space and its accompanying bodily performances.