"If Ewell’s claim is that music is racist when involving hierarchical relationships between elements, then we must ask where that puts a great deal of music created by non-white people."

Seriously. Who would argue that Coltrane's sax isn't the dominant element of "A Love Supreme"?

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All the music theory I've ever learned is based on that eminently black form of music - jazz. Does the fact that brilliant black musicians could read it and understand the sheet music or chord progressions inherited from European systems make them subject to white supremacy? I'm confused.

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Singers: we want to learn to sing in many styles,” and in general Jazz is not supported”. A discussion on Twitter. The posts from vocal music majors suggested the leading instructors wanted nothing to do with jazz. Yes, there are texts on jazz theory . Wagnerism pervades music I’m sure many jazz performers and listeners enjoy the theories of tonality. Some like Miles have done Juliard as did Wynton Marsalis who has played music very old as well. I watched the you tube and did not read in the essay until downloaded it from Alex Ross article. Ewell’s statement about Beethoven was mistaken rhetorical device. The late string quartets are modern.

I read Ewell not as a wokeiness piece and certainly a cellist musicologist knows. In our shrinking world music from strange places listed by Jihn might be heard and considered. Listening to Thai music decades ago in a quiet place beautiful but did not fit in my musical core.

I’ll write to the Audubon society asking name change and am burning Seuss books.( lol)

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Add Audubon and ornithology to the anti-racists' list of deconstruction: https://www.audubon.org/magazine/spring-2021/what-do-we-do-about-john-james-audubon

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Beethoven was merely above average. Who else are we going to put at the apex of the “common practice period” if not Beethoven? Is there some non-westerner that was perfect for this time and place (not too “classical” and not too “romantic” but juuust right) for example, steeped in tastes of a very, very specific Austrian culture of late enlightenment musical patronage with its rising middle class, growing audience, it’s love for perfectly challenging and tasteful music, inheriting the musical cultures of two previous eras from Italy, France and what will be Germany, and converging upon one extremely talented, rebellious man that will interestingly shake existing music (his 3rd symphony) and develop music into modernism (his grosse fuge) writing and using forms that he grew to be complex, beautiful and unique in the world of tonal music but with talent that transcends? Let me know...

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There are two names that I haven't yet seen mentioned: Susan McClary and John Miller Chernoff. They're both musicologists, and they come at the questions you've raised from opposite points on the spectrum. You should read McClary's FEMININE ENDINGS (it's relevant intellectual history), and you should see if Chernoff is willing to come on Bloggingheads and talk about what he learned from the Dagbamba back in the day. Drum dialogues. Who rules? How do the voices dance and work together? Would be a fascinating conversation. http://www.johnchernoff.com/

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Moving look at how the "Feel the Music Project" brings the beauty of music (here Beethoven's Symphony No. 9) to the deaf community. Imagine hearing the music the way these young people do. It's breathtaking (also note their... what's the word... "joy" at hearing it).


This doc overall is brilliant in showing the way Beethoven's music touches people the world over (from Kinshasa to São Paulo).

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I'm on a roll...first, jeremey and your "steel man." Much more germane and interesting is the way Miles "subverts" things. All the elements of sub-saharan African vocalizing are there, parallel thirds, chords, ensemble heterophony, the modal rather than tonal underpinnings, you name it. The references are unmistakable. The African underpinnings became even more of a structural force in his later work, starting with Bitches Brew.

Christopher, re the Vox article. I don't read the clarinetists' quote as a takedown of Beethoven or in a larger frame, quality, at all. It's easy to misunderstand because the author frames it in a tendentious way by referring to the interesting but here irrelevant issue of his race. The clarinetist

is pointing out what (still!) is a major problem with classical programming today, and that is the paucity of living composers on programs. We're not talking about bringing rap to the NYPhil, we're talking about bringing the enormous diversity (used here in the pre-woke sense) of composers writing today to a larger audience.

Finally, C MN, Riley's "In C" although certainly written by a white person, is heavily influenced by and owes its life to African polyphonic percussion music. If you listen carefully, each strand in the music has its own tone color and rhythmic shape, and these fade in and out of the ongoing stream. It's processual, where different elements take turns in the foreground.

I like to see these as examples of cultural collaboration instead of "cultural appropriation," whatever that truly means.

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"Is there any kind of music where some elements are not foregrounded while others are backgrounded, where some components are not regular guiding patterns over which other elements embroider or dance, where some components are the “marjoram” as opposed to the salt and pepper? "

Funnily enough, there arguably is--but it is also "white" music. Some minimalist music arguably fits this criteria, but it was created in the US in the 60s by what appear to be a bunch of white or Jewish people, judging by their Wikipedia photos (I would argue that basically everything in Western culture, but especially in the US, is the product of a long tradition of multiple ethnic and racial groups in dialogue and 'belongs' to all of them, but it is "white" by the rules of the current wokeness).

Terry Riley's "In C" (https://youtu.be/tbTn79x-mrI) is one of the earliest pieces. It's a weird composition--instead of traditional sheet music, the orchestra is given a bunch of fragmented phrases and told to play whichever ones they feel like whenever they want. The sheet music looks like this (https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/terry-rileys-in-c/).

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I loved this article! And it also felt like such a beautiful refutation of something I read a few months back in Vox. I'll paste it at the bottom.

I can't read music, and don't know the theory, but I'm a lifelong admirer of Beethoven, have laid flowers on his grave in Vienna and visited the room he wrote his famous Heiligenstadt Testament. Therefore, I'm in no way impartial, but I'm willing to accept some people don't care for his music. Many notable Italians (I believe Verdi being among the most famous) greatly disliked him and voiced their distaste for his work - no flowers for Verdi (although credit where credit is due, his requiem mass is breathtaking). And perhaps for Professor Ewell it's a matter of taste as well - fine. However, to make a "professional judgement" you undoubtedly teach your students is educational malpractice of the worst kind.

It's all so funny though because one member of the Elect (thank you, Professor McWhorter!) calls Beethoven "just above average" while others are saying the opposite. They really need a Council of Trent-like moment to sort out which dogma is sacrosanct and which is anathema. Vox, however, goes on to contend that Beethoven is not just good, he's so good that he's actually too good and his music (especially that piece of classicist, bourgeoisie propaganda, i.e. his Symphony No. 5 in C minor obviously) should really be shuffled down in the repertoire (if allowed in at all). Here's an excerpt from the ABSURD article:

"New York Philharmonic clarinetist Anthony McGill, one of the few Black musicians in the ensemble, agrees that Beethoven’s inescapability can make classical music appear monolithic and stifling. He likens the inescapability of the Fifth Symphony to a “wall” between classical music and new, diverse audiences ... since we’re not promoting any of the composers alive today that are trying to become the Beethovens of their day."

So basically, Beethoven was too talented and therefore should be "verboten" (that argot worked out nicely here). Well, let me take a page out of their sanctimonious playbook and say: "Whoa! How dare you?! He was 'differently abled!' I mean your Mozarts, your Haydns, your Bachs (yes, all of them... especially C.P.E.) I get, but Beethoven gets a pass! Also, did you know he was routinely looked down upon for his low birth, and wasn't allowed to marry whom he wanted due to an arbitrary, antiquated idea of marriage?! ALSO, wait for it, he was an immigrant from another country. I mean, I know we're all against hierarchies, unless they consist of grievances, so dear comrades, in the name of the Kendi, the Coates, and the Robin DiAngelo , hear my plea! Beethoven can stay!"

But for real... I feel like I'm losing my mind when I hear what the Elect say... and so, to quote another madman, "Using Ludwig van like that! He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music!"

For more absurdity, read the whole Vox article below. And I for one will be telling everyone else I know who feels like they are losing their respective minds to come here, subscribe, and read this! Too late for the cult, but we can save the next one... maybe even one of Ewell's students. And Professor McWhorter I will forever cherish your inclusion on the the Große Fuge as a reference in this article! It's other worldly!

Here is the Vox piece (other worldly in a much different, bad way)


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As someone who studied Shenkerian analysis as a music composition major and assisted with early implicit racial bias research as a psychology double major and currently plays rock, blues, and jazz, I can say this Ewell character and his “argument” are beyond ridiculous. I cannot believe that he actually believes his argument about the racism of Shenkerian analysis. I could easily demonstrate how every track on “Kind of Blue” by Mile Davis can be usefully understood by two-part counterpoint as they Ursatz, how melodies and solos work with neighbor notes and passing tones. All tonal jazz harmony is predicated on the notion of hierarchical relationships between notes. All music worth listening to has foreground and background elements - it’s an elementary principle of arrangement. He might as well condemn the whole amazing history of Black American music as inherently racist. This is so sad. All this because we don’t have a workers party or understanding of class in the US and for-profit media have turned us all back into middle schoolers...

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Many of the core concepts in Western music theory are based on the relative power of movements between octave, fifths and fourths; circle of fifths; secondary dominants etc.

All of these relationships are derived from physical vibrational phenomena which simply exist.

To consider any of this a basis for racism is insane. It’s like saying water privileges hydrogen over oxygen.

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My favorite quote these days is in my email signature: "The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men." — George Eliot

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How is playing half the string (1/3, 1,4 etc...) and discovering that that is an octave (5th, 4th etc...) above the whole string then writing down the findings in a new notation and creating what is known as tonal music out of it, then developing that music for roughly 250 years known as the “common practice period” from the Baroque to the Romanic era into very complex tonal relationships of polyphony, harmony, homophony and melody, spreading that knowledge of music and notation around the world to nearly every culture, using it to make sense of indigenous music, developing popular music out of it from jazz to hip hop... racist??? I bet that the same people who call tones “racist” are the same that go to a MET production of Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ or ‘Turandot’ and say “the overt racism of that music isn’t problematic because it’s beautiful art.”

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This is both scary and amusing to me as I’ve had the thought of not wearing a Beatles tee shirt in an off-day of teaching on campus.

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Adam Neely's video on YouTube really isn't terribly literate. There is a vast body of music theory that has been around for nearly a century that investigates music(s) outside of what is known as the Western common practice period. He seems to think that that enterprise is still avant garde. Plus his gendering of some analytical strategies is just plain silly.

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