Tuesday was the best day ever! Really. Began with rain, stayed clement, had a productive shopping trip over three stores with an unusual soundtrack: Muzak.
There’s a Muzak channel on the SiriusXM app. They don’t call it that, and they don’t call it “Easy Listening,” perhaps because they think that term still has a stink among the people who subscribe to satellite radio. The boomer demo that looked at Mantovani as stuff their aunt listened to. Syrup and sap. I’m not saying it’s great, but it sets a mood - and when you hear 70s songs set to those tell-tale orchestrations, it flings you back about half a fargin’ century to, well, your aunt’s house. It made for some very pleasant shopping. Which is the intention.
I could take about half an hour, then checked out before someone came up and offered some Geritol and prunes.
Later: text from Rotaria! In Spain! How wonderful. Seems she’d been doing an assignment for school on urban matters, and the subject was shopping malls, and lo, behold - the course was talking about Southdale. And lo. And behold:
She was, shall we say, surprised. I could hear her reaction, one finger held up sweeping back and forth: and I am like, what is this? Him. I know. An I don believe it. I tell my teacher I live with him in America, and teacher is like, that’s nice Judith, yes of course you live with him in America.
Went shopping again in the evening, and had the Summertime Moment when the song is right, the highway is empty, the clouds are gorgeous, and I could pull some Gs on the bend where the road turns north. Most normal day of the year, in a way. How we have come to crave normal.
I was walking alone through the deserted atrium of my office tower the other day when I decided I did not want to listen to riled-up radio or find some old radio show that would, without question, feature William Conrad and Howard McNear, because they were in EVERYTHING - really, imagine that 65% of the TV shows you watch had the same six actors. I hit the satellite classical station, and was transported in a second -
By Korngold. His career is a story that would make a good movie. Annointed by Mahler Himself as a child, fled the Nazis, made a career in Hollywood as a film score composer, almost wrote the entire melody of the Star Wars theme (John Williams completed it, to be charitable) and did some “serious” work. The Violin Concerto’s third movement is like a soundtrack for an 80s Steven Spielberg movie that was made in an alternate dimension, and as I walked through the atrium I was gripped again by that sound, a particular sound - joyous, optimistic, a bit bombastic, over-the-top, exultant. The sound of the movies, yes, but of a particular time and sensibility.
It just feels gone now. It feels like it’s on the other side of a wall that went up in the last few years.
And maybe that's good!
In the modern world of Enlightened Clickbait, it is not enough to make a case for expanding the musical canon, or encouraging new varieties of contemporary music. No, you have to phrase it like this.
There comes a point in some abusive relationships where the victim wakes up out of their Stockholm syndrome and learns that they need to plan an escape. As you communicate with others and you get a taste of freedom, you learn that the force you thought was protecting you is in truth keeping you in danger.
For those who haven’t encountered abusive relationships, you may support the abuser, or wonder why the victim doesn’t just leave. But you don’t know what it’s like to live in a world where you can’t tell truth from myth.
Yes, this is the piece called "It's time to let Classical music die." Because classical music is an abusive partner, you see.
Unfortunately, not everyone can escape. But having the knowledge that your abuser is an abuser itself can be freeing. It can help you find the next step in your journey towards liberation. But you need a community to fall back on. You need people to talk to so that they can keep you safe, so that they can help you understand the truth, and so that they can teach you the abuser’s techniques and how to fight them.
My fellow musicians of color: it is time to accept that we are in an abusive relationship with classical music.
The few scraps given to minorities are overwhelmingly white–occupied by white cisgender women or LGBT+ individuals. The few PoC who are given access to institutional space are most often light skinned and non-Black while also exoticised and tokenised.
Two things: one, the finest and most exacting orchestra in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies program, with which I was previously associated, had a Puerto Rican man as its conductor, and two, the number of Asian-American students participating in the MYS groups was quite high. I suppose you could say including them as the winner of the soloist competition and letting them perform full-strength concertos was tokenizing, but you’d look stupid trying.
Apparently this isn't the author's first run at the subject.
. . . and that led me to my second article, “Escaping the Mold of Oriental Fantasy“–a personal history of isolation and colonization, of how Western classical music participates in the act of destroying culture and replaces it with its own white supremacist narrative.
Europe is not the only place with a classical music tradition. Every major culture in the world has a tradition of creating music that expresses the height of human achievement.
Nice way of erasing the contributions of minor cultures, there; seems like it has a top-note of supremacy, what with the implication of cultural heirarchies, but whatever.
Warning: his writing sounds like fugue assembled from different fugues.
Yet much of the Western world pretends that they were the only ones to compose music beyond entertainment, and use other classical traditions not as a source of inspiration to grow together, but as a resource for stealing techniques and growing their own genre at the expense of other cultures.
He provides some examples of Western classical music quoting some tonalities or rhythms of other culture’s music. He's got a point; it's amazing how much that Viennese Catholic guy White Supremacist Mahler got away with stealing tonalites born in the Levant. This music, therefore, reinforces White Supremacy:
White supremacists believe that the white race is the most advanced. Which means that non-white people are inherently less intelligent, less emotionally mature, and less civilized. In other words, white supremacists look at non-white people as a step in between them and barbarians.
He gives them too much credit. Actual white supremacists don’t seem them as an intermediary at all, but the actual barbarian. But realize that the term White Supremacist has become synonymous with anything you want to discredit. And why wouldn't you want to discredit it? Supremacy infects all! The management and musicians of orchestras from coast to coast long for the day when a piece is in 8/8 time and the conductor flashes the OK sign before he picks up the baton! ARE WE ALL ON THE SAME PAGE AND I DON'T JUST MEAN THE SCORE
In order for this ideology to stick, white supremacists need evidence.
Panic at the Aryan Bunker: boys, we all know the lesser races are, well, lesser, but dammit, we need proof!
They don’t have truth, but they do have power, and they use their power to manipulate non-white cultures to make them appear as though they are more barbaric than white people.
Seems to me that Holst and Resphigi did a pretty good job of describing European barbarity in musical form, no? Not by borrowing a tonality or motif to making something sound Otherized, but by depicting actual violent barbarity.
Strap in, because this is going to be good:
The most common way to examine this phenomenon is to look at the Middle East’s track record with LGBT+ and women’s rights. After colonization, the Western powers supported conservative despots to increase instability in the region to prevent the area from becoming communist.
One of the most effective ways to prevent communist infiltration is by destabilizing a society. Got it.
The far right regimes they supported enacted some of the worst human rights abuses in the world.
I recognize that Middle Eastern politics is very complicated territory. And I can’t accurately state what happened in the Middle East within a paragraph. But the West’s attempt to impose itself on the region as an act of modern colonization is well documented and researched.
These human rights abuses are now used by the West as evidence of the Middle East’s backwards values. The West is more developed because women appear to have more freedom.
By hiding the fact that these regimes were initially supported by the West, they create the unreal case that feminism is a Western value that the Middle East is too barbaric to enforce.
If I get this right, the institutional - dare I say religiously systemic homophobia of Iran (I know, I know, Persian, not Middle East) exists because we supported the secular Shah, and the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia has no organic relationship to culture whatsoever. Got it.
Also, “Women appear to have more freedom” in the West.
Later, he talks about a piece that was written about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, how it was triggering for his mother, and then this:
In all of these pieces, the message seems to be questioning why warring factions can’t get their acts together and stop fighting. They generally suggest that these victims need saving and it’s calling on their listeners (who are white since classical music audiences are almost always white) to act as white saviors and stop the violence through their charity. While coming from a meaningful place, this narrative saves no one and actually worsens the effects of white supremacy.
Bad person:" that harrowing piece on the effects of war compelled me to donate to Medicins San Frontieres, and contribute to refugee assistant programs."
Good Person: "You fargin’ Nazi icehole colonist with your savior narrative!"
Anyway. The peice about LETTING CLASSICAL MUSIC DIE isn't speaking to everyone. He’s addressing fellow BIPOC musicians, if I can use the term that looks like a Cold War acronym for some now-disbanded program, and he's encouraging them to form their own music that speaks to their culture. Inasmuch as his gassy philippic has a thesis, it’s this:
Western classical music is not about culture. It’s about whiteness. It’s a combination of European traditions which serve the specious belief that whiteness has a culture—one that is superior to all others. Its main purpose is to be a cultural anchor for the myth of white supremacy. In that regard, people of color can never truly be pioneers of Western classical music. The best we can be are exotic guests: entertainment for the white audiences and an example of how Western classical music is more elite than the cultures of people of color.
Let's restate that, and pare away the line “one that is superior to others,” because that is an addendum to his thesis:
Western classical music is not about culture. It’s about whiteness. It’s a combination of European traditions which serve the specious belief that whiteness has a culture.
Maybe it's just sloppy writing. Hell, I know it's sloppy writing. All these dreary banal orthodoxical substitutions for insight. But: if he said "It serves the specious belief that whiteness has a culture that is superior to all others," you would have one point. He makes two: whiteness does not have a culture, and to make it even worse, the whitenes brigage thinks the culture they do not have is superior.
This isn’t uncommon, or even worthy of cocked Spock eyebrow anymore. White people constitute a powerful, malevolent, unified force that makes Thanos look like Hamlet, but they also have no culture. (If they bleat a protest, they will be informed that their "culture" is entirely borrowed or stolen, or poisoned by the racist marrow in its bones.) This is, to use their term, erasure, and effectively removes 2,000 years of history from the books and replaces it with a Pantone strip of bone-white paint overlaid with a 404 page.
Anyone saying that Europe has no culture ought to be laughed out of the room. Oh but that’s not what he’s saying, he’s saying that Whiteness - you know, that thing, that force, that gigantic Stay-Puf monster lumbering through history - has no culture. Sure, Vienna had a culture; Finland had a culture, and so on, I guess, but saying Whiteness has a culture would be like saying the Sun has a plot.
Not to say there isn’t good stuff in that culture-free tradition of not having a culture!
It’s not uncommon to love your abuser. I know the experience, and can understand how hard it is to leave. Despite all that classical music has done to me, I still can’t help but marvel at the religious splendor of Bach’s works for organ. Nor can I help but weep at Tchaikovsky’s raw expressive power.
I hate to break it to you, but you just made the case for the cross-cultural appeal of Western music. Almost as if it speaks to something universal in the human heart.
I will forever love my favorite composers. It is possible to be critical about the way classical music is treated and to adore the individual works which inspire you at the same time. I am not making a judgment call on specific works in the canon, but instead their function in modern classical music institutions.
RELAX MOZART HE’S NOT GONNA GET SPECIFIC ON THE CANON
YOU MIGHT GET A PASS
Then he talks about fellow BIPOCians to make their own stuff, and i say that's great! Have at it! But:
In order to leave our abusive relationship, we need a community. It’s time to let Classical Music die.
By which he means, BIPOCians should not play it.
It’s time for us to recognize that engaging with these institutions, that contributing to the belief that our participation in composer diversity initiatives is doing anything to reshape the institution of classical music, and that classical music is an agent of cultural change instead of a placeholder to prevent composers of color from forming our own cultures, is ultimately furthering colonization and prevents us from creating artwork capable of real, genuine expression.
Fantastic! Everyone who’s not white stop participating in those peculiar “composer diversity initiatives” that White Supremacists have cleverly developed to colonize things. Form your own cultures! Break free of all the hideous strictures that prevent people from composing music. We can form militias that strike back against the roving gangs of Boosey & Hawkes who break down the doors in the garrets and burn the scores of the colonized..
To ensure this is achieved as swiftly as possible, I call upon all cultural institutions to confine their grants to those who conform to White Supremacy, and also, for the sake of decolonizing those whose false consciousness keeps them participating in White Supremacy, fire everyone who is not certifiably white.
Right? Wouldn’t this be helpful? Isn't a clean, honest break the best path to the future he wants?
Note: I do not believe this, and think it would be absolutely horrible and wrong and poisonous.
Writing for an audience of rich white people is no longer a priority of mine. Instead, I want to create music for my community. Instead of contributing to white culture and helping them erase my own narrative, I want to use my ability to create art to keep my culture alive.
Remember, folks: when you listen to a group of people from every ethnicity on the planet play Sibelius, you’re helping to erase Lebanese identity. And that’s on you.
Now I’m going to give you some real hate speech. An Arab story set to music by a Russian, played by actual Lebanese orchestra, conducted by Lubnan Baalbaki. False consciousness everywhere, right down to the Roman colonialist interior of the hall. (Although it has Byzantine elements, which suggests - and I just hate to say it - that cultures intersect and breed new combinations, because that’s what people do on the micro and macro level, and it’s one of the things that pushes history and culture forward.)
Don’t even get me started on the Western dress of the musicians. Does the tragedy of internalized colonial narratives override the sin of cultural appreciation? I think so, but I need to know.
It's 2020, after all. If speech is violence, surely music is first-degree murder.
What, did the most interesting news come in late?
The headline above the masthead is an eyegrabber, though. It’s convention that has perished.
We’ll get to the hotel, which was assured, in a bit.
As for the country which was likened:
Ah, now it resembles. Wikipedia:
On May 30, 1925, Sikh police under British command opened fire on a crowd of Chinese demonstrators at the Shanghai International Settlement. At least 9 demonstrators were killed, and many others wounded. Escalating the incident, on June 23, 1925, a heated demonstration in Shamian (then spelled Shameen) took place as part of the Shakee massacre. Troops under foreign command killed more than 50 Chinese protesters and wounded almost 120 more.
It would, to put it mildly, get worse.
Lincoln men agree:
It was the Cornhusker, and it stood until 1978. Then: boom. (Video of the implosion.
Seems odd, but once you think about it - of course, there had to be a point at which these were new. And this was that point.
Was it a big deal? It was a big deal.
An ad gives us a perfect look at summer style in the middle of the decade.
Things seem as if they’re going in the right direction, no? Reds on the run, prosperity, good clothes, a new hotel.
The Huntling family is picking up stakes and moving to Cal-ay-for-ny-ay, and you can have their house if you outbid everyone else.
If you’re curious:
I’ll bet he hung on a bit longer.
As Anthony Burgess once noted about an erroneous fatal diagnosis: learning you have a year to live, in a way, sounds like a promise and a guarantee.