Author Topic: When Dons Go Mad  (Read 499 times)

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Offline Florestan

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When Dons Go Mad
« on: March 30, 2021, 05:30:36 AM »
Oxford University considers ‘decolonising’ music syllabus to make it less ‘white European’.

Possible changes to undergraduate courses include reducing the focus on canonic classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven, in a proposed move away from “white European music from the slave period”.

It was reported that professors questioning the music curriculum’s “complicity in white supremacy” also proposed a lighter focus on western music notation, allegedly described in the documents as a “colonialist representational system”.

RTWT here: https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/oxford-university-decolonising-music-syllabus/

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What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Brian

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2021, 05:47:56 AM »
I don't understand, what is the problem? This is a music department, not a classical-specific conservatory or training program. It sounds to me like an obvious good thing for a music program to teach and expose more kinds of music.

Offline Florestan

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2021, 05:52:40 AM »
I don't understand, what is the problem?

You don't see a problem with Mozart or Beethoven being described as white European music from the slave period? Nor with western music notation being described as a colonialist representational system and complicit in white supremacy?

What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Brian

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2021, 05:55:46 AM »
And if you're about to disagree with me *Karl*, think about when you earned your degree.  It is a different world that we live in.
;D ;D ;D poor Karl when he reads this...

But yes, your points are very good ones. Given the economic disadvantages of young people today, and the bad oversupply of conservatory graduates on the market vs. demand, classical music training is looking less and less practical. I remember going to college 10 years ago (wow I'm old!) and talking to a bassoon performance major. She said, "Our training in music is so time-consuming, I'm basically stupid about everything else. I don't know any math or science beyond counting." She took advanced bassoon performance courses at another conservatory after receiving her bachelor's. Now...she's in the Army.

You don't see a problem with Mozart or Beethoven being described as white European music from the slave period?
I think the description of musical notation is overblown, but would be willing to hear an argument in greater detail. The description of Mozart and Beethoven as white European music from the slave period is 100% factually accurate.

EDIT: Oh, I bet I can guess what the music notation thing is about. My guess is that it's because European music notation (unintentionally!!) makes it hard to record the tones and rhythms of many non-European cultures. Obviously that is because it is for European music, it's not the notation's fault. But I can understand that if a student wants to specialize in, say, throat-singing or African drumming or traditional Persian music, there is no need at all for them to learn European classical notation.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2021, 06:00:25 AM by Brian »

Offline OrchestralNut

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2021, 05:57:04 AM »
You don't see a problem with Mozart or Beethoven being described as white European music from the slave period? Nor with western music notation being described as a colonialist representational system and complicit in white supremacy?

I think I understand what Brian is saying, and thus agree with him if it isn't a specific classical conservatory or training program.

Offline DavidW

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2021, 05:58:00 AM »
Yeah Brian I have a friend and colleague that went to music school.  You know what he did?  He went to grad school in English and became an English teacher.  He always discourages his students from going to music school.

Offline Florestan

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2021, 06:05:07 AM »
The description of Mozart and Beethoven as white European music from the slave period is 100% factually accurate.

Then how about Newtonian Mechanics, a white European science from the slave period, William Wilberforce, a white European politician from the slave period, Marxism, a white European philosophy from the slave period, Social-Democracy, a white European political ideology from the slave period or George Sand, a white European writer from the slave period? They are also 100% factually accurate.

How an educated and intelligent person can defend such nonsense is beyond my comprehension.


What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline DavidW

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2021, 06:06:26 AM »
I had deleted that previous post because having taking a personality test recently (actually a real one, not a quiz just for entertainment) I know that I tend to not keep people's feelings in mind when I express myself.

What I was trying to say was that Gen Z are much more conservative about choosing majors that will result in establishing careers.  That has created a crisis in music and fine arts because those degrees these days tend to not create opportunities like they used to.

How do these departments manage this crisis?  Well Oxford has decided to make their program more inclusive.  But that is not in the long term going to solve the problem.  We're talking about a generation that lives at home with their parents into their twenties, have difficulty getting work and launching careers.  This has only been made worse by the pandemic where job losses were by far the worst in the youngest group of workers.

Offline Florestan

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2021, 06:18:29 AM »
if a student wants to specialize in, say, throat-singing or African drumming or traditional Persian music, there is no need at all for them to learn European classical notation.

This is one thing, although it's like saying if a student wants to specialize in Urdu, there's no need at all for them to learn the proper spelling of English; branding European classical notation "colonialist" and "white suprematist" is quite another, namely madness on stilts, beside being ignorant in the highest degree, as ECN developped long, long before colonialism.
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2021, 06:21:15 AM »
Yeah Brian I have a friend and colleague that went to music school.  You know what he did?  He went to grad school in English and became an English teacher.  He always discourages his students from going to music school.

And mow he is going to, what(?), open up a poem repair shop?  Asking for a friend.... :)

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Offline Brian

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2021, 06:26:18 AM »
Yeah Brian I have a friend and colleague that went to music school.  You know what he did?  He went to grad school in English and became an English teacher.  He always discourages his students from going to music school.
A couple friends of mine here met and got married while in conservatory. She was a soprano and he was an organist. Now they own a restaurant together; he's the chef and she's the service manager. :)

Then how about Newtonian Mechanics, a white European science from the slave period, William Wilberforce, a white European politician from the slave period, Marxism, a white European philosophy from the slave period, Social-Democracy, a white European political ideology from the slave period or George Sand, a white European writer from the slave period? They are also 100% factually accurate.

How an educated and intelligent person can defend such nonsense is beyond my comprehension.
Yes, these are also mostly accurate, although you could debate Marxism, George Sand, and social democracy depending on when you define the end of the slave period (as an American I of course would say 1865, but for Marx and most Europeans except Turks, the slave era ended in the 1830s).

I still do not understand your objection on this point. I don't think you are complaining about the self-evident truth that Mozart was white, European, and lived during the slave era. I think you must be complaining about why someone would identify Mozart as such, i.e., you are complaining that Mozart's music is being identified as not universal in its expression to all humanity?

Offline Brian

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2021, 06:33:46 AM »
This is one thing, although it's like saying if a student wants to specialize in Urdu, there's no need at all for them to learn the proper spelling of English; branding European classical notation "colonialist" and "white suprematist" is quite another, namely madness on stilts, beside being ignorant in the highest degree, as ECN developped long, long before colonialism.
The analogy is not very good between speaking/writing in two languages and composing music in two notation systems. There are many reasons to be bilingual (as you know!! :) ) but the only reason to learn a second musical notation language is to write or perform music from it.

I think we can reach some level of agreement on your second point. When these activists identify something like music notation as "colonialist," usually what they mean is that the application of the concept by many people is colonialist - not the thing itself. Otherwise, it is like blaming cars for car crashes. I could be wrong of course, but I think what they dislike here is the idea of, say, Europeans going to Africa and trying to fit the folk music into western notation. The problem would not be the actual notes and bars and things on the paper. If anyone is arguing that the notes themselves are white supremacist, I would like to see that argument because right or wrong, it would certainly be interesting!

Offline Florestan

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2021, 06:39:54 AM »
A couple friends of mine here met and got married while in conservatory. She was a soprano and he was an organist. Now they own a restaurant together; he's the chef and she's the service manager. :)
Yes, these are also mostly accurate, although you could debate Marxism, George Sand, and social democracy depending on when you define the end of the slave period (as an American I of course would say 1865, but for Marx and most Europeans except Turks, the slave era ended in the 1830s).

I still do not understand your objection on this point. I don't think you are complaining about the self-evident truth that Mozart was white, European, and lived during the slave era. I think you must be complaining about why someone would identify Mozart as such, i.e., you are complaining that Mozart's music is being identified as not universal in its expression to all humanity?

Precisely. In the current ideological environment, saying that "Mozart was a white European composer from the slave period", while factually 100% accurate, shifts the focus from music towards topics of "whiteness", "European-centrism" and "slavery", as if Mozart's music (or he as a person) has got anything to do with any of those, and can make his music uninteresting or even repugnant to black people, especially kids and youngsters who have not heard one single note of his.
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2021, 06:44:04 AM »
The description of Mozart and Beethoven as white European music from the slave period is 100% factually accurate.

It's also music from the period before electricity, before public transport, before anesthetics, and before female suffrage. Why not identify it that way?

Most likely because the point here is to demonize and discredit by association. It's like describing Shostakovich as "a composer who reflects the values of a communist society." Well yeah, this is literally true, but it's an over-simplification which tells you very little about the music he composed.
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Offline Florestan

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2021, 06:46:42 AM »
It's also music from the period before electricity, before public transport, before anesthetics, and before female suffrage. Why not identify it that way?

Most likely because the point here is to demonize and discredit by association. It's like describing Shostakovich as "a composer who reflects the values of a communist society." Well yeah, this is literally true, but it's an over-simplification which tells you very little about the music he composed.

Yes, exactly.
What is Music? How do you define it? Music is a calm moonlit night, the rustle of leaves in Summer. Music is the far off peal of bells at dusk! Music comes straight from the heart and talks only to the heart: it is Love! --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Brian

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #15 on: March 30, 2021, 06:50:00 AM »
It's also music from the period before electricity, before public transport, before anesthetics, and before female suffrage. Why not identify it that way?
I think these composers have been pretty frequently identified as coming from a time before female equality/rights (in the context of why Nannerl and other women did not receive similar opportunities) and even sometimes identified as coming from pre-electricity (they sure used a lot of candles in Amadeus!).


Offline OrchestralNut

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #16 on: March 30, 2021, 06:58:16 AM »
On the lighter side of things, I wonder if we can re-route the Voyager 1 back to earth to include some more inclusive music.  We don't want the aliens to think we are not woke.  ;D

Offline j winter

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #17 on: March 30, 2021, 06:59:12 AM »
And now he is going to, what(?), open up a poem repair shop?  Asking for a friend.... :)

 8)

Actually an English degree is extremely useful, IMO.  I've always felt that... hold on... yeah Joey, that's a '97 Coleridge, a classic... as I was saying, the ability to express oneself clearly in writing is... dang it Joey, it's not Wrath of Khan, it's Kubla Khan!  Stupid teenagers, gotta go...
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.

-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #18 on: March 30, 2021, 08:21:09 AM »
I think these composers have been pretty frequently identified as coming from a time before female equality/rights (in the context of why Nannerl and other women did not receive similar opportunities) and even sometimes identified as coming from pre-electricity (they sure used a lot of candles in Amadeus!).

BTW, the "slave period" never ended. Slavery was legally abolished almost everywhere, but an estimated 40 million people worldwide are still slaves. Therefore, any composer living today could be described as composing "music from the slave period."

https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/highlights/
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Offline 71 dB

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Re: When Dons Go Mad
« Reply #19 on: March 30, 2021, 08:32:54 AM »
What are they planning to teach in Oxford instead of Mozart and Beethoven? Aboriginal didgeridoo-composers from Australia?

It is funny how now that even I have gotten into western music theory and notation, it is suddenly racism. Things ALWAYS go wrong for me!
« Last Edit: March 30, 2021, 08:35:08 AM by 71 dB »
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