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Thread: Did you know that "Classical Music is Inherently Racist?"

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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    Default Did you know that "Classical Music is Inherently Racist?"

    I came across this gem in my google feed last night:

    https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/its-tim...cal-music-die/

    "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."

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    If those things are true, then they are subconscious, and not overtly intentional. While the part about Western culture being "superior to all others," that attitude may well be true, even consciously, but the racist baggage that goes along with it is a largely subconscious part of the overall cultural outlook of the times.

    It is true that Western Man has led Mankind for many centuries, unless we adopt a radical 'misanthropic' stance which sees civilized Western culture as the destroyer of the planet, threatening to destroy us all with H-bombs, and sees more 'primitive' cultures like the Hawaiians as being "superior" in their harmony with the environment.
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    Senior Member MatthewWeflen's Avatar
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    What I find bizarre about the piece is the way the author attempts to nullify the traditions out of which "western classical music" springs as though they are merely some sort of parasitic entity that feeds off of cultures of people of color.

    Like, I'm sure this guy has experienced racism. And I'm sure various figures throughout the history of CM have been racist, or have appropriated the cultures of others to use in their music. But all white musicians being a parasitic creative nullity? That's pretty rich. I don't think that's what they thought they were doing...

    Cultures borrow from each other all the time, in every direction. And people are racists all the time. I do not, however, see anything particularly racist about classical music.

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I don't think any white people here can imagine what it is like to grow up and live as BAME. I am amazed you don't see more posts like that from people who have chips on their shoulders and a deep resentment of the dominant culture.

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    Senior Member vtpoet's Avatar
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    "Yes," answered the old racist, whilst listening to a violin concerto by Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and sipping a fine Rosé, "only a superior white European culture could produce a concerto like this."
    Last edited by vtpoet; Jun-25-2019 at 15:14.

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    Senior Member vtpoet's Avatar
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    One unfortunately hears this same assertion as regards traditional poetry—meter, rhyme, forms.

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    Senior Member vtpoet's Avatar
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    And in fairness to whoever wrote that on your Google feed (I didn't follow the link), do you remember all the tripe about Suzuki recording his Bach cycle in Japan?—and questions as to whether the Japanese were capable of, to be blunt, performing Bach as well as the Europeans? Hard not to read that as racism 101.

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    He's not all together wrong. Go to any symphony concert in any city in the US and here's what you are likely to see: an audience that hugely older and white, an orchestra that has very few minorities although Asians make up a large percentage of many groups, a conductor who is probably a man of European extraction if not citizenship, and a program list that is dominated by dead, white, European males.

    It's not always that way, of course. In the state of Arizona, the Phoenix Symphony is led by Tito Munoz. Former music directors included Theo Alcantara and Eduardo Mata. The current music director in Tucson is Jose Luis Gomez from Venezuela. The conductor of the Southern Arizona Symphony is Brazilian Linus Lerner. I know nothing (other than rumors) about their sexual preferences, and I don't care. All three orchestras play a lot of music by non-European composers. Charges of racism in classical music are just wrong - maybe this clod needs to get out of his bubble on the East coast and come see what is happening elsewhere. I don't ever expect to see big changes in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York, or Philadelphia - the deep pocketed donors know what they want. Look at the southwest and you'll see a lot of progress in places like New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California.

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vtpoet View Post
    And in fairness to whoever wrote that on your Google feed (I didn't follow the link), do you remember all the tripe about Suzuki recording his Bach cycle in Japan?—and questions as to whether the Japanese were capable of, to be blunt, performing Bach as well as the Europeans? Hard not to read that as racism 101.
    If the same questions were made about a Russian conductor, orchestra, and choir would it be legitimate or racist? The reality is people in Germany today would have a more similar cultural framework to Bach's than those living in Japan. I see no reason to conclude that it would, therefore, be more difficult to understand Bach's music if you were from a non-Germanic culture. Suzuki himself has stated that his shared culture with Bach (both of them being Lutheran's) helps in his interpretations and this all certainly isn't to say that this results in an insurmountable challenge.

    Regardless, whether or not there is widespread racism in classical music the article is patently ridiculous. Capitalism, and the resulting wealth transfer out of the hands of a few uber-rich nobles (who largely supported Classical Music rather than popular/folk music) into the hands of many more people, (who largely support popular/folk music) has been one of the worst things that have happened to Classical Music; this is but one of many examples of clearly wrong statements.

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    Senior Member vtpoet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BachIsBest View Post
    I see no reason to conclude that it would, therefore, be more difficult to understand Bach's music if you were from a non-Germanic culture. Suzuki himself has stated that his shared culture with Bach (both of them being Lutheran's) helps in his interpretations and this all certainly isn't to say that this results in an insurmountable challenge.
    "In my youth, professional critics sometimes dismissed non-European classical musicians for lacking the cultural insight needed to penetrate to the core of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms; today you almost never hear such claims from professionals. They have instead come to recognize non-European classical musicians not just as equals, but as full members of a culture with no geographical boundaries or privileges." On Suzuki from here.

    Just to say, the quote both confirms some of what the OP quoted, but also argues that classical music has moved well beyond that.
    Last edited by vtpoet; Jun-25-2019 at 21:01.

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    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    Music is music, I find it absurd to think that classical music itself is inherently racist. But it has come from a culture which has racism woven into it's fabric. It can't escape that association and it can become a symbol for racism. Trump himself argued in a 2017 speech in Warsaw that western culture is superior because (among other things) "we write symphonies." This was given as a justification for exclusion of refugees, a clear white-supremacist dog whistle.
    Last edited by Baron Scarpia; Jun-25-2019 at 23:18.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    Music is music, I find it absurd to think that classical music itself is inherently racist. But it has come from a culture which has racism woven into it's fabric. It can't escape that association and it can become a symbol for racism. Trump itself argued in a 2017 speech in Warsaw that western culture is superior because (among other things) "we write symphonies." This was given as a justification for exclusion of refugees, a clear white-supremacist dog whistle.
    Well, the fact is, music reflects the culture which created it. Western culture gave us the Enlightenment, and basically, it all comes from the Greeks. What did the Mayans do? They invented the calendar, and star-gazed, and gave us corn.

    So what did we do with the corn? We made whiskey.

    Classical music is inherently Western, and all the baggage, accomplishments, and guilt which goes along with it.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jun-25-2019 at 23:18.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "If anything is sufficiently complex, it will eventually reveal a layer of profundity."

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe."

    "Art is the forgotten language of the soul."


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    There is no such thing as 'whiteness' in this context, that's a political term that applies strongly to present day US rather than to historical art.

    The man who wrote the article has serious identity issues.
    Last edited by 1996D; Jun-26-2019 at 00:06.

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    Senior Member BachIsBest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vtpoet View Post
    "In my youth, professional critics sometimes dismissed non-European classical musicians for lacking the cultural insight needed to penetrate to the core of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms; today you almost never hear such claims from professionals. They have instead come to recognize non-European classical musicians not just as equals, but as full members of a culture with no geographical boundaries or privileges." On Suzuki from here.

    Just to say, the quote both confirms some of what the OP quoted, but also argues that classical music has moved well beyond that.
    Just to clarify I never said that cultural differences precluded good interpretations just that it could make it more difficult. I agree with the stated Suzuki quote.

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    That style of cultural criticism, while important in a lot of ways, can sometimes be taken to extremes. Also, it’s pretty easy to find any opinion you want on internet. All Western art forms with old traditions can be criticized this way. Hardly radical.

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