NY musicologist: Eurocentric music education is a key transmission vector for white supremacy and we need to fight

NY musicologist: Eurocentric music education is a key transmission vector for white supremacy and we need to fight


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2017

Meet Ethan Hein, self described as Doctoral fellow in music education at NYU; adjunct professor of music technology at NYU and Montclair State University.

The headline text is his latest Twitter thread.

He continues:

I have nothing against European classical music as music.

But it’s time to stop teaching it as if it’s in any way superior to or more fundamental than any other musical tradition.

Otherwise we’re giving intellectual and cultural validation to those assholes with the swastika flags.

It is academics like this who feed the swamp of misinformation in which the Trumpists thrive.

Anyone still wonder why musicology got a bad name?

Read more here.


  • Adrienne says:

    I don’t like abuse, it’s not a substitute for reasoned argument.

    However, I’m extremely close to making an exception in his case.

  • Major Feng says:

    “But it’s time to stop teaching it as if it’s in any way superior to or more fundamental than any other musical tradition.”

    –Who does?

    “Otherwise we’re giving intellectual and cultural validation to those assholes with the swastika flags.”

    –Those being who, precisely?

    “White supremacy” is a tag you currently need to get funding from, or a job with, the George Soros Open Society Foundation or its hundreds of affiliates. Or with anything in the government that uses taxpayers money for “social justice”.

    Straight out of Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals”.

    • Ethan Hein says:

      At the schools where I teach, all music majors regardless of specialty need to learn classical history and theory. Aside from a few token jazz musicians who have been tacked onto the history curriculum, it’s not necessary to know anything about any other kind of music. Maybe that makes sense in Europe, but for an American university not to require even passing knowledge of America’s major cultural achievements from blues through hip-hop is educational malpractice.

  • Ungeheuer says:

    Some intellect. This ass may have been reading a certain New York Times classical music critic one time too many.


    Willing to bet the thugs would be incapable of recognizing a symphony, let alone a properly played one, from a tiki torch if it landed on their swastika.

    End of argument.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The music critic, quoting Mr T-Rex as stating in his speech in Poland that ‘we write symphonies’, continued:

      “Did he mean that Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony is simply greater than, say, an Indian sitar master playing a classic raga? Or an exhilarating Indonesian gamelan ensemble?”

      It may be helpful to state that the Eroica was written more than 200 years ago and that nobody is writing such music any longer.

      The critic explained that the scale of the classical, old musical works were, to some extent, in combination with Beethoven’s and Wagner’s ambitions, responsible for the notion that Western classical music is some sort of superior art form. Can something be ‘superior’ without resorting to comparing it with other cultural traditions? And in case it would be superior to a Beatles song, which this critic claims is as profound as Mahler’s 2nd symphony? And what if this symphony is not at all so profound as conventional wisdom has it, but mere blown-up Mendelssohn on a bad night? The whole argument is too vague and confused to draw any conclusion apart from the one that mr T-Rex is definitely unqualified to say anything at all about Western culture.

      I love Indonesian gamelang and I find Chinese opera (the old, traditional, classical one) strangely compelling in its intensity. On a rainy day I would prefer congo drumming to melancholic Rachmaninoff, but I do believe that the Eroica is indeed superior to any non-Western musical work. But that is nothing to be chauvinistic about, since that type of music was written long ago and we, as its inheritors, can only repeat its performances, as a reminder of what was possible in European culture in spite of its abberations, and of what we have lost since. So, there is nothing to be proud of when the Eroica is claimed as a type of music superior to other musical traditions.

    • David Osborne says:

      No Ungeheuer, not end of argument, not by a long shot. Richard Spencer aka the ‘punchable Nazi’ wrote his masters thesis on the musical criticism of Theador Adorno, in particular relating to Wagner’s works. Best to know your enemy a little better before making such blanket dismissals. It didn’t work in 1933, and it won’t work now.

  • Jim Clark says:

    But we should get used to it. There will be much more like this to come, and I think it is a winning assertion (if not a respectable argument). In a world where all the “interesting” issues revolve around race and gender, and facile ideology replaces reasoned argument, music, like literature, will disappear, or be shunted off to the margins for a few generations before it is eliminated altogether.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The sources of this way of thinking are cultural relativism (‘no culture or cultural product is better or worse than any other culture or cultural product and everything is merely a matter of individual taste’) and postcolonial guilt (‘who do we think we are, to enter foreign lands and impose our values there?’)

    Music education in the West is based upon Western music, since the West is the place where it developed and where it is practiced. That does not mean that automatically, in every music educational institution, the curriculum is based upon the idea that Western music is superior to any other musical tradition. Should Western classical music be taught at all in the West? Let’s project the same question into another culture: would it be normal to give Indian classical music a central place in India?

    Also, behind the ‘thinking’ of Mr Hein, lies the assumption that there is no position outside any culture from which we can make value judgements about cultures, since we are ‘the product of our own culture’. But that is not true: one can, through exploring other cultures and their histories, get a fairly good understanding of other cultures, as one can of one’s own culture, and make value judgements. And from this it is logical to conclude that music education in the West should have at its centre Western classical music, and that in the context of Western culture it is the most important musical culture. Such conclusion does not deny space and interest in other music cultures being practiced and taught in the West, but it would be crazy to, say, replace a conservatory curriculum exclusively by jazz, world music, hiphop, and pop music.

    To lay a link between classical music education and neonazi thugs, is unintentionally fulfilling one of the deep wishes of such thugs: destruction of ‘elitist’ practices.

    • Ethan Hein says:

      The “West” is also the place where the blues, jazz, rock and hip-hop developed and where they are practiced. Yet university music departments in the United States require much more study of classical music than any of the other “Western” musical traditions. This lopsided focus puts them strongly at odds with the rest of the culture. It’s no accident that few of the most culturally significant artists of the past hundred years went to music school (aside from a few, like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, who dropped out.)

      I’m a Westerner, and yet, the music of Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is nowhere near as important to me as the music of America (and sometimes Europe) in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. My musical life has been informed and enriched by studying classical music, but has also been hampered and stunted by it. Like most Americans who have access to music in school, I abandoned my formal study because of its excessive Eurocentrism, as do between 80 and 95% of Americans who have access to school music. I was left to my own devices to study the music that was meaningful to me and everyone around me. Nearly all non-classical musicians I know had a similar experience. This is to say nothing of the uncountable number of would-be amateur participants who are scared away by their music education experiences.

      Is John Coltrane less of a Westerner than Mozart? Is Kanye West less of a Westerner than Beethoven? You’re welcome to prefer the former’s music to the latter, but to say that “Western” culture is coextensive with European culture gives oxygen to Trump and his followers.

      • Sally Henderson says:

        I agree.
        America first !
        We need to look after our own culture, our own people and our own economy.
        I never thought I would be able to agree with a liberal academic, but times are changing and I like what I was reading.
        Classical music is a European import and in my view un-American, so I totally agree with your assessment: we need to focus on our own roots and get rid of influences from outside.

      • John says:

        …”the music of Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is nowhere near as important to me as the music of America…”
        Nothing wrong with that, as you are an American and ‘America First’ is a popular slogan right now, so why not extend that to culture as well ?
        The current administration might be open for your ideas.

    • David Osborne says:

      John, cultural relativism? You’re sounding a little Scrutonesque there. You, like he, can’t have it both ways. Fact is, until you completely immerse yourself in other forms of music and genuinely discover what makes them tick at a visceral level, you are in no position to assert cultural superiority for our art-form.

      You simply don’t know enough about for example HipHop, to be able make that call. Scruton rails about relativism on the one hand and then goes and decries scientism as applied to the arts. I too would like to believe in classical music’s inherent superiority, but I also recognise that that is a notion that has seriously damaged our art-form over the years.

      It was a big part for example of what allowed post war Darmstadt to silence dissenting voices. “Classical music is the greatest of art and we are it’s latest, most modern exponents.” It is a notion now that has been picked up and exploited by the emergent far-right, and it’s a notion we simply don’t need.

      • Sue says:

        Cultural relativism it most certainly is. And look what that little harvest has reaped.

        And you’ve got to wonder why students in their many millions in Asia are studying our western art music tradition if they don’t think it’s superior to most others. The future of the art lies, ironically, with those people since we in the west discarded our cultural iconography long ago and the tearing down of statues and ideas is now complete.

        Awful. Don’t be afraid of ‘superior’ because the alternative is frightening.

        • David Osborne says:

          Sue, there is no verifiable rational argument that justifies the notion that western classical music is inherently superior to other forms. And I say that as someone who has loved and lived for this art-form since before I could talk. Truth matters.

          And Sue you confuse me. Are you saying that the tearing down of the statues of the racist confederate war-mongers is a bad thing?

          • Steve P says:

            You mean the war monger that invaded a sovereign state which had legally voted to end its association with a tyrannical government? Remember, the Constitution itself was illegally written by…wait for it…rich slave-owning white men.

        • Father Ted says:

          That fella Hein is talkin a right load of bollocks. He should come over and stay with us at Parochial House on Craggy Island. We have a fantastic time in February with the Annual Ted Fest. He could come as Father Tod Unctious, you know the one with the very boring voice. Mrs Doyle managed to climb down off our roof so we can offer him tea or something stronger, ah go on there now. Father Maguire has just finished a song for Euope, My lovely horse for the next Eurovision, a real hit.

      • John Borstlap says:

        With all due respect, but it seems quite clear to me – and, I believe to quite a number of other people as well who are in no way Alt Right or reactionary – that people who take HipHop seriously as art music, are not qualified to say something meaningful about classical music. A chef cook who seriously discusses MacDonalds along Maxim’s, will invoke suspicion as about his expertise on the haute cuisine.

        I will not forget the story of the taxi driver in Shanghai somewhere in the eighties who drove a couple of members of a Western orchestra which was on tour in China towards a quarter with restaurants, and who would not start the engine before he had finished listening to a Beethoven symphony which was broadcast over the radio. So, there they all sat together through 2 or 3 movements, silently listening to Herr van Beethoven in a Shanghai taxi on a rainy evening. Only after the piece was finished, the driver wanted to know where to go…. and he said that every time he listened to Western classical music he was overwhelmed by emotion, that something like that could at all exist in the world. And then I think of all those spoiled, banal people in the West, complaining about the weather and the taxes and expressing anger about the ‘unfair’ privileges that those symphony orchestras are enjoying while pop music is seen as entertainment.

        • David Osborne says:

          Oh John, what nonsense. I’d rather a cultural relativist than a cultural bigot any day of the week. Lovely story about the chinese cab driver, but it does not prove your point. So please, I’ll have one more go at trying to enlighten you on this and then to hell with it.

          Much like the differences between the various religious beliefs, differences in our various musical affiliations can give rise to notions of ‘our way is the one true way’ . In music this phenomenon is by no means unique to adherents of the classical form. This is called fundamentalism, it is dangerous, unverifiable and wrong. We have seen where this leads in the religious world, and I accuse it of having done comparable damage to the music I love.

          Your suggestion that as you put it “people who take HipHop seriously as art music, are not qualified to say something meaningful about classical music”, is appalling. You sound like an old priest ranting against blasphemers. HipHop is indeed the most important new grass roots level artistic movement of the last 40 years. Not your cup of tea? Fine, it’s not mine either.

          It just seems to me that all these notions, (and I’m not going to shy away from using this word) of elitism, are a sign of deep insecurity caused by the diminishing role that classical music is playing in a fast changing world. A straw to be grasped as we sink into oblivion. If we can once again make ourselves relevant, rediscover our ability to actually do good in the world, then there will simply no longer be a need to try to assert cultural superiority. In the meantime, such protestations simply do more harm than good.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Following the ‘logic’ of this comment, hiphop is ‘doing good in the world’. Obviously, the author doesn’t know what it is…. and the idea that pointing towards the obvious differences between genres can only mean ‘bigotry’ betrays the usual egalitarian world view in which everything is OK. Fine! It is like sawing through the branche upon which one is sitting.

          • David Osborne says:

            That’s not following my logic at all, but HipHop has indeed given a voice to people who had previously been marginalised. I’m willing however to concede that what they are saying is at times pretty horrible.

            John, it may not necessarily be bigotry to point out differences, but that is not what you’re doing. You’re claiming cultural superiority. I’m not even necessarily claiming you’re wrong, just that there’s no way of ever proving it, and it is a conviction that was exploited by unscrupulous people across the course of the last century in a way that has genuinely harmed us.

    • David Osborne says:

      “To lay a link between classical music education and neonazi thugs, is unintentionally fulfilling one of the deep wishes of such thugs: destruction of ‘elitist’ practices.”

      Having conducted an extensive, at times stomach churning and at times terrifying investigation into who these people are, I can tell you you are way off the mark there. Do not underestimate them.

    • David Osborne says:

      “I believe in elites, I believe that culture and society, to a very large degree, not totally, but to a very large degree . . . come from the top down. I believe that elites set a tone for the country.”

      Richard Spencer, in a talk given at Texas A&M, December 6 2016.

      • Ian Pace says:

        ‘It was a big part for example of what allowed post war Darmstadt to silence dissenting voices.’

        Evidence for this having happened?

        • David Osborne says:

          Honestly Ian, learn your history. I’m not going to feed you the research. It’s commonly acknowledged even by their supporters.

          • Ian Pace says:

            This is my area of research, and it is little more than a conservative myth, entirely unbacked up with evidence. I think you are the one who should learn your history. One could start by identifying who constitutes ‘post-war Darmstadt’, how often they were there at the Ferienkurse, what music was programmed there (full programmes are available online for 20 years worth), what influence they had as teachers, the nature of programming much more widely in many countries, and so on. And try Bjorn Heile’s essay ‘Darmstadt as Other’ as well, certainly much more scholarly writing than Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise, which you commend so much.

          • David Osborne says:

            Ian, seriously I am not having this argument again. As with climate change, the science is settled. I’m sure John Borstlap will gladly engage.

          • Ian Pace says:

            It’s very far from settled, as a study of scholarly literature would show. But I suppose many people need their myths….

          • Frankster says:

            What a remarkable lack of historic knowledge with Ian Pace. One of my happiest moments in life was to see old Pierre Boulez forced to share a stage with both Henri Dutilleux and Olivier Messiaen. He and his allies had deliberately and successfully marginalized both for decades after the war and it was only recently that their worth was understood. They are now more respected and performed that Boulez will ever be.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The evidence of the postwar ‘Darmstadt’ ideology with its culture wars is so extensive that one would not know where to begin. But it was a matter of a cultural climate, i.e. what was expected from new music after WW II as this was voiced the most loudly in public space, rather than a real politbureau which prescribed the party lines as was the case in Soviet Russia. The Darmstad summer courses and Donaueschingen Musiktage, but also the BBC under William Glock in the sixties, the Parisian IRCAM adventure (Institute for the Retrograde Conservation of Abominable Musicians, as it is also called), – in every major musical centre there stood-up young sound artists who wanted to ‘cancel the past’, and polemicized like mad against existing music life, with a leninesque fury.


          Because it is impossible to make a cultural revolution permanent, boundaries have to be transgressed all the time so in the end we get this – a Darmstadt production:


  • Petros Linardos says:

    No, because musicology has offered a lot and still does. Look at the best best secondary literature and scholarly editions. Many great performances, especially historically informed ones, depend on good musicology. There is no shortage of it. A few notorious cases picked up by this blog do not define the field.

  • Stephen Soderberg says:

    Waiting for the go-to answer for everything: Schoenberg did it.

    • John Borstlap says:

      On a visit to Schoenberg in the twenties by a couple of French composers, among whom Poulenc, of all people, during the lunch a ball fell into the soup terreen – his children were playing in the garden – so that its contents were distributed over the heads of the participants. Upon which Schoneberg said: ‘THIS is what I want to do with music life.’

      • Stephen Soderberg says:

        Yes. Schoenberg was prescient. He saw all the little Borstlaps on the horizon. And I’d bet his French guests, including Pulenc, shared his joke. In 1893, Claude Debussy wrote to Ernest Chausson,

        Music really ought to have been an hermetical science, enshrined in texts so hard and laborious to decipher as to discourage the herd of people who treat it as casually as they do a handkerchief! I’d go further and, instead of spreading music among the populace, I propose the foundation of a ‘Society of Musical Esotericism’.

        As for you & your friends and your weird fixation with Schoenberg, Jeez! It’s really embarrassing. Get. A. Life.

        • John Borstlap says:

          “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.” Cicero, 1st century BCE.

          • Stephen Soderberg says:

            Surprised you would quote that. I’m certain you know the word ‘entartete’ but I would have thought you would have understood its history just a few years before you were born (including its nasty twin socialist realism in the Soviet Union) – and perhaps learned something from it before cherry picking music history to suit your preferences and those of your neocon coterie. Ah well.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Mr Soderberg is apparently under the impression that modernist ideology was right in claiming that the musical tradition was partly responsible for the 2nd world war and the holocaust, and that defending that very tradition (which has survived all that catastrophe and postwar modernist nonsense) could only mean a form of fundamentalism, cultivating individual taste. It is something like claiming that the idea that the earth is a globe is mere subjective opinion and prejudice.


          • Stephen Soderberg says:

            C’mon, Borstlap, you’re better than to try to foist a straw man on us. You know quite well what I’m saying, but you seem to have no idea how to respond other than to warp it into something more conducive to a canned refutation to an argument I’m not making. But as long as you’re promoting an article that was published in your own right-wing online journal – by an architect – that you believe supports your irredentist views, why don’t you cite this other article appearing in your emag – this one authored by a professional political consultant whose credentials to write on the state of music evidently don’t go much beyond his work with the Heritage Foundation, special assistant to Ronald Reagan and his current position as senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council (the list goes on):
            This gentleman begins his screed of religion-infused (this right-thinking Christian seems to know the OT better than any Jew & at one point he takes a crude pot shot at Schoenberg’s faith) factoids with this clever calumny:
            “The attempted suicide of Western classical music has failed. The patient is recovering, no thanks to the efforts of music’s Dr. Kevorkian, Arnold Schoenberg, whose cure, the imposition of a totalitarian atonality, was worse than the disease – the supposed exhaustion of the tonal resources of music.”
            I’m sure this line gave you all a giggle at your insular Institute, but defamation is not an argument & this article by one of the thousand opinionated professional hobbyists out there does nothing but embarrass whatever your cause may be. Will this tripe never end?

            But I and others out here are still left with a question. I’m very serious about this and I’d appreciate a straight, non-deflecting response from you:
            Other than the fact that, as far as I know, neither you nor your Institute have a police force or any way to enforce your views….
            – here it comes, the question to be answered, don’t flinch or try to “restate” or deflect –
            how is your position on the state of music (and that of your Institute, for that matter) any different from that of Andrei Zhdanov?
            This is NOT meant as a calumny.
            It’s a serious question,
            because I can’t tell the difference between your views and those voiced on your Institute’s web site and those voiced here:

            I’m sure you’ve read this wonderful document, but to help those who may not be familiar with it, here are a few of the many Zhdanov quotes that cause my confusion with you and your Institute:

            “The formalist trend brings about the substitution of a music which is false, vulgar and often purely pathological, for natural, beautiful, human music. … What a step backward it is along the high-road of musical development when our formalists, undermining the foundations of true music, compose music which is ugly and false, permeated with idealist sentiment, alien to the broad masses of the people, and created not for the millions of Soviet people, but for chosen individuals and small groups, for an élite. How unlike Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dargomyzhsky, Mussorgsky, who considered the basis for development of their creative power to be the ability to express in their works the spirit and character of the people [today read “audience”]. By ignoring the wants of the people [audience] and its spirit and creative genius, the formalist trend in music has clearly demonstrated its anti-popular character. … What has been the result of the disregard of the laws and standards of musical creation? Music has taken revenge on those who attempted to mutilate it. When music ceases to have content and to be highly artistic, and becomes crude, ugly and vulgar, it ceases to fulfil the demands which are the reasons for its existence. It ceases to be music. … a musical work is proved to be a work of genius by the scope of its content and depth, by its skill, and by the number of people who appreciate it, by the number of people it is able to inspire. [This sounds like something we can all agree on these days, doesn’t it? Argumentum ad populum triumphs: That’s why we have a President Trump right now.] … If an audience is expected to praise music which is crude, ugly and vulgar, and based on atonality and continuous dissonance, and if false notes and combinations of false notes become the rule, and assonance the exception, then the fundamental standards of music are being abandoned.”

            I can easily slide from reading Zhdanov into reading Borstlap and not notice any significant difference. And, please, I know you are as horrified as all of us about Stalin and his victims – I am NOT accusing you of being an evil Stalinist in the closet – if you try that attack it will just show you don’t get my confusion when, attempting to give you the benefit of the doubt, I try to separate your musical views from those of Zhdanov & cie.

            If you read through the entire document you can see that Zhdanov was entirely consistent. Once he makes certain assumptions about the socio-historical role of music, everything flows naturally with no cracks in the argument. How do you and your friends at the “Institute” manage to sort out this problem? How do you identify & espouse the good Zhdanov while erasing the bad Zhdanov out of the picture? Perhaps you’ve come up with that thing that has eluded us for a thousand years: an unassailable definition of “art,” and this is your Zhdanov filter. If so, you owe it to the world to share.

          • David Osborne says:

            Stephen, that is an excellent comment. You have truly pointed one of the great pitfalls of this debate. I agree that the analysis of Schönberg as you quote it is very wrong, I’m serious about that because music had reached a pretty ugly place by the time he came along, and much like the way punk saved pop from itself in the late 70s, Schönberg’s work was a breath of fresh air.

            In all fairness though, I don’t think our esteemed Mr Borstlap is advocating for the replacement of one totalitarian system with another. I think the notion of any kind of legislated official musical approach is appalling, although I can assure you beyond any shadow of doubt that such a thing does exist still in many parts of the world, most particularly here in Germany.

            However, I know that Mr Borstlap is on record as having stated something similar to this and I agree 100%. There are three parties and only three, that matter in this art-form and they are of equal importance. Creators (i.e. composers), performers (instrumentalists, singers, conductors) and audiences.

            The 4th party (educators, administrators) are of less importance and should act simply as a facilitator to the engagement between the first three. For way too long, this 4th party has exercised disproportionate power (and I’m talking here in particular about teachers, the education sector) whereas the desires and aspirations of audiences both current and potential, have been largely ingnored. Here is our problem.

    • David Osborne says:

      Ah, Stephen fancy seeing you here. I too have retired from battling the Slipped Dics, I’m not back, I’m just passing through.

      You may not have heard, but while you were away things have changed. Schönberg for example is now one of the good guys. After all he did save us from the horrors of dreary old plodders like Reger, Pfitzner and Schmidt.

  • Mihail Ghiga says:

    Can we put US in quarantine for stupidity, like we did with the pest? It seems endless and from all the political spectrum…

  • Walt says:

    Much African music has tremendous rhythmic complexity. We should stop teaching these tremendous complexities in music schools. By doing so we condone the notion that Africans are superior to whites.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Labeling people who deal with the furthering of classical music as being ‘white supremacists’ reminded me of communist East Germany.

    Everybody not conforming with the “correct” interpretation of history, provided for by the official state sanctioned ‘ Wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus ‘ ( scientific socialism ) was labeled a ‘Klassenfeind’, an enemy of the working classes .
    Once a Klassenfeind you were on a straight road to potential ruin, losing your job, your reputation, one could well end up in prison etc.
    Diverging opinions regarding this particular interpretation of history were not possible, it was a scientific method after all.
    And here we go again:
    Ethan Hein’s statements are of course based on the current en vogue and finally 100% correct interpretation of history, so he knows for sure where some of today’s ‘Klassenfeind’ is to be found: within the classical music education system, an obvious meeting point for white supremacists.

    ‘Old wine in new bottles’ springs to mind…


    • Ethan Hein says:

      Heinrich Schenker wasn’t just promoting the virtues of classical music, though. He was a proud and outspoken white supremacist, and he argued in his books that you shouldn’t try to separate his musical analyses from his political beliefs. I take him at his word.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Schenker was a narrow-minded nationalist, a nasty piece of work, but he saw something other analysts overlooked: the three-dimensional nature of classical music in fore-, middle- and background, and the inner space created by tonality. He once analysed Stravinsky’s concert for piano and winds, demonstrating how ‘wrong’ the music was in comparison with true baroque music. Thereby he unintentionally showed what Stravinsky was doing, so the whole enterprise had the unexpected effect of endorsing Stravinksy’ originality and effectiveness. Most of Schenker’s work had comparable results.

        • Ethan Hein says:

          The problem with Schenker is not his methods of analyzing the Western canon. The problem is that he believed the Western canon to be the only valid musical tradition, and tonal harmony the only valid musical system. These two assumptions continue to animate university music curricula in the United States and lead to a lot of atavistic and destructive pedagogy. I know plenty of university music theorists and they’re all very nice people individually, but they’re (mostly unknowingly) perpetuating a political ideology that gives oxygen to the worst elements of Trump’s following

          • Michael Endres says:

            As classical music theorists are fuelling these “worst elements” isn’t it about time to remove and replace these individuals ?
            We need enlightened instructors of a different kind, who conform to the new gold standard.
            I am glad to see that you offered an olive branch:
            as not all of them acted ‘knowingly’ maybe some of them — after a good old “re-education” — could be re-used ?

            Regarding Schenker: you take aim at his ( indeed dubious ) political beliefs, but you seem to think in general that Hip Hop is a commendable art form.


          • Ethan Hein says:

            Nowhere do I talk about removing classical music, its history or its theory from the curriculum. Decentering isn’t the same thing as removing. I’d like to make its study elective rather than universally required.

            It’s true! Hip-hop talks a lot about violence, misogyny, and other social ills. Good thing the Western canon never includes murder, rape, incest…

          • Kraig Grady says:

            Hip-Hop is a poetic form and even the way it is talked about here betrays this. What is mentioned is not the music, but what the words talk about. That is poetry.

          • Ian Pace says:

            ‘What is mentioned is not the music, but what the words talk about. That is poetry.’

            No, that is prose.

      • Felix Ang says:

        Schenker was Jewish, right?
        He lived in a time when there was less access to recorded music, let alone much beyond what was in print. I think the main difference between Western Classical and other musics is counterpoint (and maybe, to some degree, the development of its notation system, flawed as it may be)

        • Kraig Grady says:

          There is no problem calling Hip-hop poetry. Besides the words containing content, the words are chosen for both their meter and sound.

          • Ian Pace says:

            ‘There is no problem calling Hip-hop poetry. Besides the words containing content, the words are chosen for both their meter and sound.’

            Sure, absolutely. Just that is a different thing to ‘what the words talk about’.

  • Ian Pace says:

    I doubt there are many white supremacists involved in classical music education nowadays. But there are many, including myself, concerned by a tendency whereby most such education becomes almost exclusively about Anglo-American commercial pop, and maybe a few other variants which essentially adhere to the same conventions (found in ‘global hip-hop’ teaching and the like).

    There’s loads of empty rhetoric about what music is supposedly ‘relevant’ for today’s young people. It all stems from the same thinking as that of the late V-C of Queen’s University, Belfast, who said ‘Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old that’s a sixth century historian’ ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-36428212 ). Sadly many others are taking a similar view in all sorts of cultural areas, with the result that increasing numbers of music departments are becoming exclusively about commercial music and music technology.

    It is notable that this phenomenon seems particular to the English-speaking countries, in which music and musical study are distrusted in general.

    • John Borstlap says:

      … maybe the side effects of anglo-saxon capitalism: everything is a commodity and everybody is free to engage in the market place.

  • Mike Schachter says:

    The so called humanities departments of US colleges contain more useless organisms than a toilet.

  • Steve P says:

    Jacques Barzun “The Culture We Deserve.” We’ll get to the bottom soon.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Mostly predictable points of view this time. There is an issue that did really worry me from the beginning and that nobody mentioned: What are the vandals do next, now that a new ‘target’ (Classical Music) is defined?

    • John Borstlap says:

      They will try, through the political channels, to have funding from governments stopped, and in the USA they will try to convince donors that they are supporting a rightwing, authoritarian art form which suppresses the blacks, gays, lesbians, multigenderlings, unemployed people, women, and which claims privileges that are entirely unjustified, and that the art form is only preserved for the old and mouldy. The best antidote would be to reduce the vandals’ numbers and that can only be successful through education from early age onwards, as we hope that presenting civilizational ideas to the young would somehow prevent them from becoming members of the ku klux clan.

      I think the populist and egalitarian attacks upon classical music as a genre is mainly the unintended result from the emancipation movements in the last century, when the masses acquired a voice which wants to stamp out anything that reminds it of some inadequacy or underdevelopment.

  • Olly says:

    Another quote from Ethan: ‘I say that hip-hop is a more salient cultural influence starting in 1980 because, while people made good rock albums after that, they did not make many influential ones. Compare it to jazz: Duke Ellington made some of his best albums in the late 1960s, but they were less culturally salient at that point than the Beatles and the Stones. In the same way, Guns N Roses made fine music in the late 1980s, but it was less influential than Eric B and Rakim.’ What determines ‘influence’ in such a context? The market, it would appear. I wonder which has more of a hand in the perpetuation of white supremacy: Schenkerian analysis, or the market? Schenker, obviously… This kind of stuff is intellectually disingenuous to another level.

    • Ethan Hein says:

      I’m flattered to be quoted, but you’re getting my argument backwards. I’m not measuring the cultural influence of e.g. Guns N Roses versus Eric B and Rakim in the 1980s by their market performance, I’m saying the opposite. Guns N Roses outsold Eric B and Rakim by orders of magnitude. But by then they were in the closing years of rock’s creative development, whereas Eric B and Rakim were making innovations that the rest of the music world is still catching up with.

  • John Borstlap says:

    To answer Mr Soderberg’s rant:

    He fell into the trap that Mr Hitler and Mr Stalin neatly laid-out for him: the annexation and instrumentalisation of art for political ends. Where these ends appear to be benign, that does not do much damage, but where they are utterly destructive, not only people but also the art suffers.

    If a dangerous criminal tries to convince us that 2 + 2 = 4, if we want to check whether this is, in itself, true, we have to overcome our suspicion and look at the arguments, instead of overturning the arithmetrical system to avoid that outcome. Hitler was vegetarian, and his armies marched on triads, are vegetarianism and triads now suddenly fascist? But: we knew all along that 2 + 2 = 4, and it is the same with art, which is an emotional symbolism in aestheticized, stylized form. Why aestheticized? Because beauty is a notion that answers a deep need of the human being, however differently it is understood and translated in actual form. A Jackson Pollock has beauty, but the comparison with a Vermeer reveals the primitive nature of the Pollock. If we only knew fast food, how could we know it was bad?

    The Future Symphony Institute is by no means a reactionary rightwing conservative Christian fundamentalist club. Its authors come from quite different spheres. If people who present themselves as conservative (like Scruton) come-up with apt observations, that does not make these observations suspect but is to their author’s credit: also here, we should look into the arguments….. If an understanding of art, of classical music, would mainly be found in ‘conservative’ circles, that would mean that there apparently is something in conservatism that is worth a serious consideration. I am not a conservative, because I don’t conserve things, but I see good things left and rigth and I try to be selective. All these generalizations are merely distorting the questions which do really matter.

    The same with Christianity. Western civilization has deep roots in religion, and all the important values of the Enlightenment are religiously inspired. Classical music was born from Christianity, let us not forget it, and a spiritual element has always been present in its products. That does NOT mean that a Shostakovich symphony is relgiously-defined.

    If Mr Soderberg had carefully read Steven Semes’ article he would have stumbled upon the important notion of ‘the holistic nature of human perception’, which is – by the way – supported by recent neuro science, and which liberates us from the politization of art.

    • Stephen Soderberg says:

      I had nearly finished my reply to Borstlap, but I am putting it on hold & will probably just forget about it. I did want to present my own view – not simply a rebuttal to his clumsy nonsense; but right now I need to digest and contemplate this article which was just brought to my attention:

      “Amazing Together”: Mason Bates, Classical Music, and Neoliberal Values
      (in Music & Politics: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mp/9460447.0011.202?view=text;rgn=main)

      The article ends:
      “I have attempted to argue that when classical music (or any other beloved art form or practice) is pragmatically re-oriented to align with hegemonic values, it contributes to the propagation of those values throughout society[!] The kinds of musical glorifications of corporate business strategies that I have identified in this article help to promote labor insecurity, market rationality, and globalization as liberatory forces for the general good, and thus they contribute to our increasing inability to envision alternatives to capitalism.”

      This statement, even when taken by itself, is not unrelated to points I would make about the clueless, much less sophisticated efforts of FSI who no doubt would, without a hint of irony, include the work of Mason Bates in their list of entartete musik.

      But not to keep Borstlap in suspense… Nice try, but no cigar.

      There’s a scene near the end of the movie Fail Safe where the American military, to avoid the worst possible scenario for both sides, is ordered by the President to give the Soviet military the codes to break through American evasive electronics – including information on which bomber is heading for Moscow & which is the decoy. The Soviets take this information and botch it – they believe the American’s identification of the lead aircraft is a ruse & chose to shoot down what they were told is the decoy. They then can’t catch the lead bomber which gets through. And Moscow – and New York – are toast.

      I don’t know if this will make any sense to you and your crew of cultural pissants. You are WAAAAAAY behind and out of your league (& I’m not referring to me, but you’re out of your league there too). So far behind you can’t see the real problems. And so set in your opinion and lacking in adequate skills needed to change that anyone who tries to tell you the problem you’re missing, you won’t believe anyway.

      So shoot down the decoy if you can. Good luck. Rail against noise pollution & ignore the rumors of a rise in sea level. Then just go back to sleep.

  • Olly says:

    Another quote from Ethan: ‘I say that hip-hop is a more salient cultural influence starting in 1980 because, while people made good rock albums after that, they did not make many influential ones. Compare it to jazz: Duke Ellington made some of his best albums in the late 1960s, but they were less culturally salient at that point than the Beatles and the Stones. In the same way, Guns N Roses made fine music in the late 1980s, but it was less influential than Eric B and Rakim.’ What determines ‘influence’, in such a context? The market, it would appear. I wonder which has more of a hand in the perpetuation of white supremacy: Schenkerian analysis, or the market? Schenker, obviously… This kind of stuff is intellectually disingenuous to another level.

  • André Weiss says:

    I don’t see anything threatening or outrageous about what Dr. Hein said. He never implied that European music was bad, just that it was on the same level as other music. Do any of us folks believe that European music is magically inherently better than anyone else’s music? (Which European music? Does yodeling count? Are we only talking about the ones developed/commissioned by rich European people in cities? Only tonal music? In the grand scheme of things, European tonality is fairly new. North Indian and Southeast Asian elite courtly genres are much older and much more historically stable.)

    In short, Norman, this post you’ve made is ridiculous. You don’t seem to have any goal other than to start silly battles in the comments section.

    • Ethan Hein says:

      Thanks for making this point! I say specifically in my original Twitter thread that I’m not arguing against the worth of European classical music as music. I’m arguing against its current role in American music education, a role whose negatives currently outweigh the positives. I myself didn’t come to appreciate the Western canon until I was reintroduced to it by a really good jazz educator.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      You wrote: “In the grand scheme of things, European tonality is fairly new. North Indian and Southeast Asian elite courtly genres are much older and much more historically stable.”

      That’s nonsense. These peoples have oral traditions (with all proper respect to their millenary traditions). We have scores. Our music is more “historically stable” than any other. And, I have to say, surely much, much better than any other that I have listened to.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “He never implied that European music was bad, just that it was on the same level as other music. Do any of us folks believe that European music is magically inherently better than anyone else’s music? (Which European music? Does yodeling count?)”

      Buit that is the point: there are good arguments to claim that Western classical music (including European classical music and American classical music as part of the tradition) is inherently better than other musical traditions, including Western musical traditions which are not classical (jazz, pop, country & western, yodeling, Hungarian mountian folklore etc.) and non-Western musial traditions – if we measure them to standards of complexity, psychological sophistication, inner diversity (the incredible variations within the tradition), potential for development, accessibility and universal appeal, and the possibilities it offers for individual interpretation. But in the same time, that is entirely irrelevant because it does not mean that other musical traditions don’t have their own value. On top of that: this tradition belongs to the past so there is no reason for chest beating, it is an inheritance and it is ridiculous to be chauvinistic about something that is not created by ourselves. It is a precious inheritage which shuld be 0preserved and cultivated, not thrown in the egalitarian bag in an attempt to not offend nitwits.

      For education, it is entirely normal to see Western classical music as central in the West and thus as the basis for music education. This does not exclude any other music education, but it points towards its position. When Indian classical music is central in Inda, Western classical music should be central in the West, I don’t see what the problem with such notion possibly could be apart from offending political correct fundamentalism.

      I thini we should be happy that we inherited such an impressive body of musical works, and in the same time be ashamed of ourselves that we no longer fully understand its value and no longer can add to its repertoire.

      • Ethan Hein says:

        “standards of complexity, psychological sophistication, inner diversity (the incredible variations within the tradition), potential for development, accessibility and universal appeal, and the possibilities it offers for individual interpretation”

        Complexity is an empirically observable quality. In some ways, the Western classical canon is highly complex (large-scale form, melodic elaboration) but in others, it’s comparatively simple. Hindustani classical has an enormously greater rhythmic complexity, as does jazz, and any hip-hop song on the radio is subdividing the beat more finely and in more varied intervals. The timbral palette of the symphony is limited compared to the infinite universe of sounds you can produce with a computer.

        As to psychological sophistication, the classical canon is richly varied, but within its own terms. There are states of feeling that it doesn’t access, that you can get to more effectively with synths or drums or gamelan or sitars (and there are states you can get to more effectively than with the orchestra than with synths or drums or whatever.) The symphonic “meta-narrative” that Christopher Small talks about in Musicking admits a lot of different musical narratives, but not every truth worth telling can be expressed as a narrative. Sometimes you need an open-ended cyclical mood. Sometimes you need improvisation. Sometimes you need the audience on its feet dancing, or singing along.

        As to accessibility and universal appeal, that’s another empirical statement that’s easy to refute on its face. The world is full of people who find the canon accessible and meaningful, and it’s full of people who find it inaccessible and meaningless. Beethoven isn’t any more universal than Coltrane. That doesn’t mean he’s without value – his historical significance is enormous, and within his cultural context, he’s the greatest. But his cultural context is remote from the lived reality of 2017, and the music world is too big to focus our attention exclusively on just his corner of it.

        • Ethan Hein says:

          As for education, the Western canon is not an adequate preparation for every kind of musical creation, performance, or understanding. Every undergrad music theory student has to learn a rule set whose usefulness and validity falls off sharply the further you move in time and space from the era of Mozart. To teach every undergrad that parallel fifths are wrong, that tritones always have to resolve, and that all harmony is based on triads is like teaching them that everything in the universe is made of earth, air, fire and water.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Good luck with the minor attempt to scratch at the Western musical tradition….. thanks to people like you, the nonsense of the populists will be proud to think that hiphop has any cultural meaning. Good job!

        • John Borstlap says:

          The complexities of, for instance, the classical music of south India – which is, by the way, beautiful and spiritual – are on the material level: they are in the layers of timing of the manifold pulses. The complexities of Western classical music are not in the notation at all, which is mostly quite simple, but in the numerous musical and psychological and emotional references and relationships. Because of the great variety within the tradition, works are subtly referring to each other, openly or covertly, forming a wide net of relationships and ambiguities. It is a very different type of complexity than in other cultures where the overall mood or character is much more fixed and inflexible. Compare a Gamelan music theatre piece with Don Giovanni.

          Jazz and hiphop are entertainment, and hiphop of the lowest possible kind. Period. But jazz can reach considerable artistic heights in the hands of the most gifted, but it is still meant as entertainment, nothing wrong with it (I love jazz), but please, don’t confuse it with art music from which we demand more.

          (Any time I want to type the word ‘hiphop’ my fingers cramp in disgust.)

          Comparing the timbre possibilities of a symphony orchestra with what can be produced with a computer reveals an embarrassing ignorance about the rich range of music composed for the orchestra, including 20C sound art. Also it is a thoroughy materialistic remark. It is an utterly unprofessional remark and quite embarrassing for the ‘musicological profession’.

          The psychological sophistication of Western classical music has a wider range than any other musical tradition – i.e. non-European classical traditions. The states of feeling provided by drums and synths are of a kind, not interesting enough to be treated in serious musical works. (But we have quite some fascinating and compelling rhythmic noise in Stravinsky’s Sacre to compensate for it.) The states of feeling as created by sitar and gamelan are due to its physical sound colour and cultural associations, and don’t touch individual emotional territories – that is what these traditions are about, they are about the collective, or the spiritual in a collective sense, or the divine or whatever, but not about the individual. The eastern mind sees the individual as a modest member of something much bigger and wider: read eastern philosophy and religious writings. Chinese landscape painting is about the landscape and people in it are minor details, being part of it, reflecting this attitude.

          Open-ended moods there are enough in Western classical music, as there is improvisation – i.e. worked-out improvisation. For instance, Beethoven is full of worked-out improvisation, functioning as fantasy and variation. Real improvisation has hardly any place in the tradition because of its severe limits: structural and expressive. But the notation leaves enough space for an improvising quality in performance and the best performers pick this up automatically, especially in chamber music and the piano.

          Dancing or singing along is not part of art music.

          The accessibility of Western classical music is proven by its increasing popularity in the Far East. And no doubt it will be also popular in subsahara Africa when conditions are favorable. There is even an increasing interest in it in India.

          And so on and so forth…. the wide range of confusion of your comment I find quite embarrassing and I sincerely hope you don’t find my critique aggressive, because that is not meant in such way at all, I just hope you will explore – as a musicologist! – Western classical music a bit more and deeper before making such unsophisticated comments, which merely give teeth to the philistines (as other comments on this thread amply demonstrate).

          I would recommend Sir Roger Scruton’s “Aesthetics of Music” which presents an accessible but extremely apt collection of analysis of the tradition and its meaning, including the 20C modern music problem:


          • Ethan Hein says:

            Wait, this is entertainment? This demands less of you than Mozart? Have you ever actually listened to it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_znSj_mDO-Y

            “there is improvisation – i.e. worked-out improvisation”

            If it’s worked out on the page, it’s composition. Improvisation is conceived in the moment, by definition.

            “Dancing or singing along is not part of art music.”

            This is an extraordinary statement. If people are participating, it isn’t art? Do other readers of this site agree with it?

            If you’re making an argument about cultural significance based on popularity, hip-hop is the most listened to music on Earth.

          • Pianofortissimo says:

            Yes, for the classical listener John Coltrane’s music circa 1965-1967 can be said to be more ‘demanding’ than Mozart’s, but not in a positive way (unless the listener has a morbid taste for clinical conditions). In this period his production presented with a chronologically progressive deterioration of musical form, the few tonal references left succumbed to noisy, chaotic microtones, complex rhythms gave place to a nearly arhythmical percussion background, and it seems that some of his ‘best’ improvisations in this period were done under the influence of LSD.

            Is this the best you have to make your point, Mr. Hein?

  • Ian Pace says:

    I wonder if all those who give the usual unfounded nonsense about the domination of the modernism, Darmstadt, blah, blah, blah, know how many times Boulez’s complete Pli selon pli has been performed in the US?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I thought that at least one Pli had been performed in 2006 in the local library of Climax (Kansas) by a university ensemble on tour, but the 4 audience members threatened to strangle the singer after 10 minutes so they decided to move-on.

      Another Pli was scheduled for the Ambler Hall (Bartlesville, Oklahoma) in 2011 but since nobody turned-up, and the conductor lost his score in the motel, the concert was cancelled.

    • OK Ian, I’ll give you an insider’s rundown of how the system works here in Germany. Other European countries are mostly similar, as is the UK. As mentioned by others on this thread, the US, largely due to it’s lesser reliance on public funding, is actually starting to shake off it’s modernist chains, so things there are a little different.

      Here there are three imperatives that decision-makers must stick to: the first is that when you program new music it must only be work that is avant-garde. The second is that you must continue to provide opportunities for new composers entering the system, and there are many of them. Thirdly, there are cosy relationships with the big publishing houses to be taken care of. A quick glance at the register of for example Universal Edition will give you a fair idea of what these are bringing to the table, and what type of work the decision makers are looking to program.

      Now given that there is no audience driven imperative to perform any new music at all, programming does tend to favour the work of new, younger composers. New work commissioned by orchestras tends to usually be mercifully short, so as not to overly disrupt the programming of 18th and 19th century music which the audience is really there to hear. These works are then almost without exception shelved and never heard again. Music schools keep knocking out new young composers, which keeps their teachers in a job. Orchestras and opera houses can claim they are justifying their funding by supporting new music.

      Therefore, in the case of Pli Selon Pli- it’s not that they wouldn’t like to program it more often. It’s just that it fails to meet the criteria because a) it’s not a new work and b) it is way too long. I mean, what is it 1 hour 10? Unfortunately, without the audience driven imperative, such works are going to miss out.

      So we continue on this road to nowhere. Since the Darmstadt festival has been around, not one single piece of new classical music has emerged from Germany to capture the imagination of the public at large in any meaningful way. The last to achieve that was Richard Strauss with the Vier Letzte Lieder almost 70 years ago. This despite the country throwing about the same amount of money at the problem as the rest of the world combined. Ist dies etwa der Tod?

      • John Borstlap says:

        The Four Last Songs is the truly new, melancholic but hopeful music after WW II (1947) and not Le Marteau sans Maitre (1954), the latter being sonic art and not music. Modernism after WW II was Germany’s passport to the free, modern, western world. A tradition of anti-traditionalism was established, and is still thriving, and being funded generously, and Germans applaud politely – not doing so, let alone protesting, would raise suspicions about their political sympathies. At least, that is what they imagine. The inclusion of sonic works in otherwise regular classical concerts is thus a reasuring signal of normality, however ugly, awful and destructive the effect.

        But Strauss had compromised himself terribly, as he himself realized later-on, escaping in fervently reading Goethe and other German classics to reconnect with the best, the classical side of German culture, and it is from these sources that we owe the Last Songs. In fact, there was a great lesson in these songs, which was completely ignored by young German composers at the time who only wanted to thrown the entire past into the dustbin of history and begin from scratch. But since these songs still exist and form one of the greatest gems of the repertoire, one hopes that some day young German composers will pick-up the suggestion and explore the language where Strauss left-off. But that would require the courage to question the entire postwar consensus which is duefully carried-out by the programmers at German orchestras, opera houses, chamber music series etc. even where they privately abhor the stuff.

        • Some abhor the stuff, indeed they have told me as much but also many do not. It does seem that it is these voices that prevail. Mr Scruton has an interesting theory on that:

          “The safest procedure for the anxious bureaucrat is to subsidize music that is difficult, unlikely to be popular, even repugnant to the ordinary musical ear. Then one is sure to be praised for one’s advanced taste and up-to-date understanding.” (From ‘The Music of the Future’, address to the Donaueschingen Festival).

          Yes, perhaps but he does make a serious error here. It is not bureaucrats or Governments that make the decisions. In almost all cases music is funded at arms length, there exists some sort of attempt at a ‘seperation of powers’. Instead we have something called ‘peer assessment’, which is an utter disaster of course because it represents a blatant case of conflict of interest.

          • John Borstlap says:

            The bureaucrat hands the money to the boards knowing that they will do ‘the right thing’ since the members have vested interests in the ‘right direction’ that music has to go. But this is different in every different country. Mostly such boards are made-up by ‘experts’ of Klangkunst, so that a loop of interest is created. The funding of new music is a highly complex thing but essentially, Scruton’s point makes sense. New music festivals like the Donaueschingen are not paid for by the audience.

  • Stephen Soderberg says:

    I owe myself an apology. Not for wandering in here, but for staying more than a few minutes in a place with someone who is clearly more delusional and narcissistic than Donald Trump. I had not thought that possible. But still I tried to dislodge him from Airstrip One where he lives in his head. A fool’s errand. Then he cracked what he obviously thought was a clever joke. The detachment from any sense of humor really freaked me out. I also confess that I got curious & listened to the very little of his music one can find on YouTube. I do not recommend this. Clearly there is a reason he does not want his music up to compare with others. The only thing for me now is to go take a shower to try to wash off the remaining dirt of derivative Glass. Bye all.

    • John Borstlap says:

      if you refer to that bad performance of Avatara on Youtube, that is by no way representative, in fact it is a distortion. But how could you know? Better shelve it next to the other things you could not know.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Ethan Hein is a smooth talker.

    “Nowhere do I talk about removing classical music, its history or its theory from the curriculum. ”
    If it weren’t for a little detail, which reads that “… they’re (mostly unknowingly) perpetuating a political ideology that gives oxygen to the worst elements of Trump’s following.”
    “They” are the music theorists and teachers.

    So right wing extremists, white supremacists and Neonazis are on par with people who advocate classical music.

    Such absurd and insulting nonsense closes the door for a grown up discussion about the broadening of musical horizons outside the conservative classical canon, which is by all means possible and necessary.

    End of discussion for me.

    • Ethan Hein says:

      Advocating classical music is fine. But that is not what I observe to be happening in university music departments, certainly not the ones where I teach. American universities teach classical music as if it’s the only valid form of music. That’s a slight improvement on the way they used to teach it, as if it is was the only kind of music that existed at all, but curriculum standards are still narrow and hegemonic. To get a music degree from, for example, NYU, you need to thoroughly master classical voice leading, but you can be perfectly ignorant of the blues, jazz, improvisation, drumming, recording, or production. It’s the myopic focus on European classical tradition at the expense of all other Western music practice (not to mention non-Western) that gives oxygen to the white supremacists. Some (not all) of the blame for all this contempt for everything outside of the European classical canon can be laid at the feet of Heinrich Schenker, as plainspoken a white supremacist as you could ask for.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I don’t think white supremacists have any idea about the all-inclusiveness of the classical Western repertoire and its accessibility, and its openness to anybody with the intention to broaden and deepen their experiences. As for education, real education: an education in Western classical music is an excellent basis for later explorations into other music traditions. If you understand something of voice leading and what polyphony is and can achieve, you can hear how primitive most pop music is (not to mention h h), and the limitations of non-Western traditions. If you understand the effectiveness and the limitations of melodic notation, you begin to understand the greatness of the best soloists in treating notation in a quasi-improvisational manner, and the subtle variations of pitch in Arabic and Indian music. Etc. etc….. so, the link with white suprematists seems to be far-fetched.

        The irony of the Schenkerian cult in the USA is, that in the 1930s many Jewish musicologists fled to America, and they were the academics who proclaimed the superiority of the Middle-European music over all other musics, so: also over French and Russian and Italian musics, since at that time music was highly politicized and interpreted in nationalistic terms. This influx suddenly ‘matured’ American musicology and brought the strong influence of this Beethoven complex in its curriculae.

        • Ethan Hein says:

          An education in Western classical music is an excellent basis for later explorations into other music traditions that have similar harmonic systems and overall assumptions to Western classical music. If I wanted to write songs like Billy Joel or score Hollywood films, I would definitely benefit from classical training. If I wanted to play the blues, or produce electronic dance music, or rap, or participate in any part of contemporary musical culture, classical training wouldn’t help much. What classical training does seem to do is make people unable to appreciate that melodic and harmonic elaboration aren’t the only valid avenues of musical expression. Hip-hop is harmonically “impoverished” the way that the classical composers made terrible beats, and the way that opera recitative makes for terrible rap. It’s fine to be uninterested personally in hip-hop, and not to enjoy it, but to dismiss the major global musical innovation of the past forty years entirely because it doesn’t adhere to a specific historical value system is atavistic.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Do we really wish to treat a phenomenon like HH as something that deserves serious academic attention, and as an ‘art form’ to be ‘understood’ by and ‘instructed’ to young people? Do we want to make sure that young people are fed with fast food and sugary drinks, and will be prevented from finding-out that there might be more healthy food out there? Do we want young people to respect violence, crime and bad taste? Do we want to prevent young people from getting to understand something of what our civilization has wrought in the past, an inheritage that came down to us free of charge? Do we want a living culture at all? I suppose you are particularly fond of music types which are, let us say, not very ambitious in an aesthetic sense but raising them to professional levels seems to create an insurmountable barrier to any serious musicological functioning.

          • Ethan Hein says:

            Dismissive comments from people with “taste” about hip-hop are practically identical to the language once used to dismiss jazz as being “noise,” “unmusical,” “immoral” and all the rest. Now we recognize jazz to be a serious art form, and all that highbrow contempt to have been plain racism. The mass audience was decades ahead of the academy on recognizing the value jazz, and now the same situation is playing out with hip-hop.

          • Felix Ang says:

            Jazz 70 years ago is not analogous to Hip Hop today…sorry to burst your bubble. Early hip hop may have had some poetic content, but today’s hip hop is mass-commercialized music, spread around the world. The pop idols are walking billboards. Computer programs can prepare beat tracks and musical decisions are increasingly simplified to maximize familiarity to the listener (read: consumer) based on algorithms and consumer research. Sure, there are some better rappers than others (Kendrick Lamar comes to mind), but they aren’t musicians any more than they are poets, and good luck comparing Kanye West to T.S. Eliot.

          • Kraig Grady says:

            There is a major difference here in that those in the European tradition recognize and approve of the worth of institution teaching about it. In the case of other musics such as the blues the practitioners do not recognize these institutions as providing anything of worth. It claim to authority is strictly self proclaimed. In terms of world music, It requires active members of those communities to teach them or a least teaches who have been trained by such. In the case of Hip-Hop, what connection from this community has academics established and where is that communities acknowledgement of what is taught as being legitimate.

  • L Farrell says:

    Excellent, guess that means we can get rid of his job first thing.

  • David Osborne says:

    Once again, I find nothing wrong with what Ethan is saying. I think it most revealing that so many here take such extreme offence. What are we an art or a religion? I actually think this reaction reveals a deep insecurity about our place in the world. If classical music is as wonderful as we think it is (of course it is!), then unsubstantiatable claims about it’s inherent supremacy are completely unnecessary. Indeed they do us great harm.

    Most importantly I have spent a fair few weeks recently researching an article on the far right, and the role classical music plays in it’s continued emergence. This has meant venturing into their territory, and finding out what it is they are actually saying. Distasteful and disturbing to say the least, but what I have discovered backs up Ethan Hein’s argument 100%, albeit the situation is perhaps more complex than it might at first appear.

    • John Borstlap says:

      This caveat might cover an abyss of misunderstanding. May only people with a robust sense of smell lift the lid.

      From today onwards, I will be a carnivore, drink cognac and smoke havanas, try to love hiphop and Stockhausen, destroy my Wagner- and Bruckner collection + all my CD’s of the piano concertos of Mozart, to be sure that I won’t be infected by Hitler’s and Stalin’s taste. Because, as we know, as soon as a psychopat expresses a like for something, that something must be pure evil. So happy that these two people showed me the way.

      • David Osborne says:

        That’s the spirit John. For my part however I will continue to love myWagner- and Bruckner collection + all my CD’s of the piano concertos of Mozart, not because I believe them to be inherently superior to other forms of music but because they represent who I am and everything I love. And I will continue reaching out to new people with this great art with a clear conscience knowing that by doing so I am the fascist’s worst nightmare. Or one of them.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      The historical malady of our time is false perception. Our continuing existence depends on avoiding it. Do some thinking about what you have just written: It seems that you have fallen prey to some kind of pied piper.

    • Claire says:

      “What are we an art or a religion? I actually think this reaction reveals a deep insecurity about our place in the world. If classical music is as wonderful as we think it is (of course it is!), then unsubstantiatable claims about it’s inherent supremacy are completely unnecessary. Indeed they do us great harm.”

      Bingo. This about sums up my feelings on the subject. I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reaction when I read Ethan’s tweets was to disagree, but the more people I see reacting with instant anger and vitriol, posting vile personal insults instead of attempting to make an argument, the more I think that he may have a point, and maybe too many people do have a motivation for their reaction beyond wanting an art form that they love to flourish. I applaud those of you who disagree with his tweets but are having a civil debate about it.

      If a person is truly confident in themselves as someone who is intelligent, attractive, successful, etc., then they do not feel the need to go around proclaiming to everyone how superior they are. Those that do do this tend not to be well-liked. In the same way, people who try to “prove” how much better Western music is than everything else are giving us the same image. Will some people continue to love and listen to and perform Western art music regardless? Yes. But they are not doing anyone any favors.

      (And to be clear, Ethan is arguing against this attitude, not against teaching classical music at all.)

      That being said, the argument over whether (and to what extent) other music genres should be taught in music school alongside classical music is an interesting one, and good points have been made on both sides of it. Something that hasn’t been brought up is the practical side of things – how this would realistically be accomplished. I’m sure Ethan is aware of this, but if you go to a conservatory, or a university music program that’s modeled after a conservatory, it’s basically trade school. The priority is practice, and students tend to be very resentful of anything that eats away from their practice time (such as required classes that they don’t want to take). And it’s very hard to tell them to practice less (and tell their teachers they should practice less) when they all want orchestra jobs or faculty positions, and only about 10% will get them. Yeah, you could argue that several semesters of theory are a waste of time for some people, but at least that can be justified as relevant to the music that they’re trying to become experts at and the jobs they’re trying to get. My point is that if you earn a 4-year degree focusing on solely classical music, you have still really only scratched the surface in terms of knowledge of that type of music.

      But in the 21st century it just makes sense to have education that reflects all of the great music in the world, both Western and non-Western. I wonder if those intent on reforming music curricula to provide a more holistic education should focus on the development, from the ground up, of programs that do this, rather than trying to change conservative programs that have been doing things basically the same way for centuries. Many schools offer a BA in music, and that program is something that could be reformed to allow for a greater degree of choice, with more of a focus on breadth, and more classes on music in a variety of genres and from all cultures.

      • John Borstlap says:

        “If a person is truly confident in themselves as someone who is intelligent, attractive, successful, etc., then they do not feel the need to go around proclaiming to everyone how superior they are.” Of course. But that is not the point at all. Mr Hein wants hiphop given the same status as classical Western music in music education, and that is a populist intrusion to the detriment of something infinitely better. The whole approach is revealing a grave ignorance about what Western classical music is, and that has nothing to do with the qualities of non-Western cultures. In the West, a regular music curriculum is indeed supposed to be based upon Western classical music, what is wrong with that? Let it be extended with other musics, as long as they are serious music cultures, but this watery, egalitarian approach is merely revealing incompetence, NOT an all-embracing cultural pluralism.

  • Peter M says:

    Classical music must be bad as some white supremacists like it.
    And here for some proof: Hitler liked it ( sort of ), and look what he did !
    But wait a moment…he was a vegetarian…now I am confused.
    Have to do more research into vegetarianism.

    Hip Hop: interesting how Hein ignores the way this musical form condones rape, torture, violence, misogyny, you name it !
    The link above supplied by another commentator which leads to some rap texts made my blood curdle, I was not aware of this disgusting Dreck of a language.
    In classic/romantic opera such behaviour gets usually revenged and dealt with, but never glorified as in this violence driven music which Hein is so charmed with.

    Of course: Rap is black music, so it cannot be criticised, particularly not by white people. It needs to be glorified, it gruesome content idealised as some social critique, the biggest holy cow of the left.
    Enough said.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Hitler was not ony a vegetarian, but also did not drink alcohol and did not smoke, and he did not only love Wagner, Bruckner and Léhar, but also dogs and young girls. Now, here there is a whole list of inclinations to avoid if you want to be sure you are not a fascist, or white suprematist, or neurosynchronicist of some kind, or a music critic. A couple of years ago I wanted to publish my memoirs about my study years, and called it ‘My Fight’ – because at the time the modernist revolution was also raging through the educational institutions – and the extensive text was already accepted by both British and German publishers, until the German publisher informed the British one about how the title would translate and the whole enterprise was dropped. The fascist arm is long indeed, even posthumously so.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    An idiotic statement that you should not have elevated by posting it here.

    • Mister Knowitall says:

      Unfortunately that is true.
      There is no point discussing anything with people like Hein, it’s like opening your front door and argueing with a Jehova’s witness.
      PC far-leftists are ultimately made of the same wood as those dreaded white supremacists:
      intolerance being the main driving factor, and making no allowance whatsoever for other opinions.
      Disagree with any of their views and you will be labeled a Nazi.

  • Stephen Soderberg says:

    Just checked back in this morning expecting this bizarre fistfight to be over. I didn’t leave before because of a knockout punch, but simply because I was ashamed that I too had jumped into the ad hominem pigpen. After reading additional “comments” – especially from the incredible Borstlap (surprise) – I do have two things to add before leaving again. I’ll try to keep the ad hominem to a minimum. To make these points clearly separate so they can’t be cleverly conflated into a straw man, I will number them. Apologies for using Arabic numerals rather than Roman — I hope this won’t further outrage anyone.

    1.) I find myself in TOTAL agreement with Borstlap, Goebbels, Zhdanov, Ghandi, Mother Theresa and others who, like them, have mastered elementary arithmetic as it was introduced to the West from the East: Yes, 2 + 2 = 4. No disagreement whatsoever. Where I and, I think, many others, disagree with Goebbels, Zhdanov, and Borstlap and their ilk, is when they try to claim that 2 and 2 are the *only* pair of numbers that add up to 4.
    This is called argument by analogy, and it depends on the opponent understanding the analogy so he can defend why he doesn’t accept it. I won’t hold my breath.

    2.) Borstlap, I don’t necessarily believe you are a racist. You have, however, made some incredibly “insensitive” remarks. The word “primitive” in the context you used it is just *one* example — but I chalk most of this up to social ineptitude. I say this so you will not take the following question as aimed at your attitude toward other races and cultures. This question is NOT about your attitudes and beliefs, it’s about your competence to make claims about music outside your sub-culture (for lack of a better word). The question is really quite simple. You have, here and elsewhere, made claims about the superiority of Western “classical music” (with the exception of “modernist” musics since 1945). You’re certainly not the first to make such a claim. Now, let’s give you credit for a passable technical competence in the music you subscribe to — you obviously know a lot of words & how to put them together well enough to fool anyone at a Manhattan cocktail party. The real question is this:
    What is your TECHNICAL expertise in hip-hop, reggae, rap, etc. that gives you license to make valid judgements comparing the artifacts of one culture vs the other — citing the TECHNICAL superiority of one over the other yet without even a single analytical example? What is your technical competence, such as from a study of the huge complex world of Sub-Saharan drumming patterns — not just how the music of the “other” affects you whenever you hear it on the street, because if that’s all you’ve got, any attempt to contrast, compare and, especially, judge is worth no more than the random man on the street.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Don’t worry, he’s still locked-up in the library.

      I think I know what your problem is, since it’s mine too, the other day I showed him my analysis of Marteau sans Maitre to show how it’s put together very complex, but then I was told ‘it doesn’t matter how it’s put together’. So, he talks about aesthetics, we all think here, and I think it’s true. Some months ago I found a piano thing, Ludicrous Tonalus or something by an old German Hindamit which, in my free time! I played through in the cellar and showed him how very very intelligent it was made with all the ups and downs and mirror things. Really clever. But also then ‘it did not matter’. Once when filing one of those bunch of boring letters I asked him about total serialism and jazz, and the answer was that total serialism had the same aesthetic result as total randomness and that jazz if it’s any good, depended on instinct. ??? What can you do with that. So, whatever you come up with, there always seems to be something else you hadn’t thought of.


    • JIves says:

      John is a composer of full-scale orchestral works. As such, I have every confidence that he has all the technical skills needed to analyze your typical hip hop, or reggae tune (geez, especially reggae) on the fly, as it’s playing on the radio. He will notice a simple harmonic progression (if there is any), an inevitably four-square beat, yes they are drizzling triplets over them these days, (wow innovation!) a whole lotta words he may or may not relate to, and a whole lotta samples. He may or may not enjoy it, but he has all the technical knowhow required to evaluate the piece. (sorry to put hypothetical words in your mouth, John, you rock)

  • Stephen Soderberg says:


    [Comment re: Sir Roger self-censored.]

    Still waiting for a simple unequivocal response from you. Was the question not clear?

    What part of “What are your qualifications?” do you not understand??

    • Stephen Soderberg says:

      While we’re waiting, perhaps we could all contemplate the difference between true, justified belief and contingent, unjustified belief.

      • John Borstlap says:

        As said before, you seem to think in technique which has no value in itself and JB tried to tell you about aesthetics. It’s difficult isn’t it? So we think here as well…. keep trying! (But don’t apply for a job here, the selection procedure is lethal.) If you can still not get around the whole thing, here on the estate we regularly read bits of Scruton’s Aesthetics on quiet evenings, to make sense of our job. Good luck!


        Scruton is very very conservative, but still there’s much in the book that makes sense, we wonder how that is possible, but there you are.

        By the way, sometimes we also play recordings of sub-sahara percussion ensembles, not too loudly of course, and we love it!


        • Stephen Soderberg says:

          I don’t generally read articles by someone who, in my opinion, sullied his own reputation by writing articles for big tobacco, and, as far as I know, never apologized or changed his position. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) I understand where he was coming from, but there are a lot of dead people out there that likely didn’t appreciate the finer philosophical arguments he was paid to make about the consumer’s right to get hooked by big tobacco’s lies. At least, that’s what I read in the papers. Maybe it was fake news. But what the hell, the Queen forgave him & I believe he’s written a book on ethics.

  • Stephen Soderberg says:

    OK. Once again. I understand you will deflect to the grave because authority appears to be something you cannot admit to be lacking in any area you decide to bloviate about. But by your consistent attempts to deflect it appears my question has hit your insecurity nerve. Regarding the very specific question I raised, I believe you know quite well that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You just know a few peanut gallery words. I.e., you’re faking it. Like everyone else, you certainly have the right to personally like or dislike any music, but when you try to act in a role of disparaging authority, unless you can demonstrate that authority, you’ve crossed an ethical line. But I now believe you’re stone deaf to any criticism aimed at you, whether it’s justified or not. So once again…

    Borstlap, YOU ARE NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION WHICH SIMPLY REQUESTS SOME DEMONSTRATION OF YOUR COMPETENCE IN THE SPECIFIC AREA YOU ARE DISPARAGING. All we have been left with is your hate and fear of something you obviously haven’t made any attempt to understand let alone engage in any meaningful way before tossing it on your very large personal garbage heap.

    Forget your “technique” deflection. I should have known better than to give that bogeyman to you, because it is increasingly obvious you have none in this area, have no intention of getting it, and need to disparage anyone who has it. All you seem to have any enthusiasm for is composing straw men. I NEVER said technique has value in itself, but for your edification, I believe techne IS a sine qua non in any art – in ANY style or culture – in order for anyone to do, let alone coherently talk about that art. It’s the beginning, not the whole — and if you ain’t got it from the get go, anything you try to express will be a muddle. I’m sorry you appear to have had a difficult time with your teachers on this point, but your Kampf (cute story, but I don’t believe it) is not everyone’s.

    I will repeat my question one last time, just to give you one last chance to convince anyone to take you seriously. And I’ll make it even easier by focussing on just one tiny part.

    Outside of your personal opinion of hip-hop, what study – research, reading, analytical listening, performing, article in a peer-reviewed journal, ANYTHING – have you made of hip-hop that would convince anyone to take your negative comparison to “classical music” seriously?

    Unless you can give us a reasonable, believable answer to that simple question, there is no conversation or debate on any subject that I would care to engage in with you. So the probability is that you will now have the last word. Go for it.

  • J Meyer says:

    It is too bad that things went crazy between Mr. Borstlap and Mr. Soderbergh. This is a missed opportunity to engage with problems raised by Mr. Hein whichhave gone totally unaddressed.

    • Putting that little stoush to one side for a moment, I would have thought this has been a very worthwhile discussion.

      • Stephen Soderberg says:

        Stoush? Are you an Aussie, David? 🙂 Well…….

        Actually, the J Meyer you replied to is not a real person.
        It was me, Stephen Soderberg, pretending to be “J Meyer.”
        It was an experiment I’ve wanted to try for many many years & finally said what the hell, let’s try it. Lebrecht provides the perfect Petrie dish.

        There certainly is a case to be made for allowing pseudonyms in comment free-for-alls such as Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc. The usual argument against this is that people should be held personally accountable for their speech (the opinion of many who’ve never worked in a high level wage-slave job). From experience (“believe me!”), I sympathize with those who feel the need to remain silent or anonymous (been there). But there is another BIG problem here that hasn’t been recognized until recently, though it’s probably been going on for many years.

        The possibilities are not just two: one person willing to use their real name and another person choosing to use a pseud on the web. The third possibility is one that has just finally come to public attention during the past U.S. election: bots and trolls taking several (in the case of the campaign, tens of thousands) identities, giving the appearance to the gullible of huge support for or against one viewpoint or just causing general chaos.
        Now …

        I’ve always wondered how easy it would be to create several email accounts, make up several screen names that seem to be supporters, make a statement about some bogus conspiracy or whatever, and then use my bogus identities to argue in support of my conspiracy theory, as if there was a ground swell for my brilliant theory and smothering any opponent by shear numbers – all of whom were… me. The idea of winning support by taking over a conversation with dozens of my selves is tantalizing. Someone should compose an opera … No. Back to my point ……

        This dark thought came back to me over the past week as I read and reacted to this thread. My suspicion began when Borstlap related a bizarre story about “memoirs” he had written about his student years (see earlier in this thread). When I read it I immediately said to myself, this doesn’t ring true. The idea that two publishers, one German and one Brit (significantly, both unnamed – no way to verify) both accepted his “extensive text” (there was a contract?) – but then both reneged when they suddenly realized what “My Fight” translates to in German, suggests that publishers are the stupidest people on the planet and who don’t speak the language they publish in, have never done translations, and have zero knowledge of their own history. But, given this somehow was actually the case, we must then also believe that both (unidentified) publishers rejected the entire book (which they had already “accepted”) rather than simply requesting/demanding a different title & publishing the text they allegedly already “accepted.” Puhleeeeeze! I have known others in my life who make up crap like this. (Harry Frankfurt has done the definitive analysis of bull shit.) But this time it led me to another question.
        There is certainly a slim chance that what he has related as a personal experience is true. But if this is actually just a “story” fabricated to support his argument, ego, whatever, how far is he willing to go beyond just making stuff up?

        My concern generally stems from a few simple questions I’ve had for a long time: Who am I talking to? Are they real? Are they who they represent themselves to be? Are they real people with their own independent arguments and opinions? And, relevant here: How do I know that on-line supporters of the views of someone I am arguing with, *especially* those posting under pseuds, are not inventions of my interlocutor created and multiplied to defeat challenges without the need to provide any valid arguments?

        So I decided to see how easy it was by creating a free email account not connected to my real name to get past Slipped Disc’s meagre “requirements” and then post a comment under the pseud “J Meyer.” It took about 15 minutes & required no special tech knowledge. If I was so inclined I could create a dozen avatars to help me destroy opponents by smothering with sheer numbers any attempt to argue with me. Reasonable argument then becomes irrelevant as everything is a fake argumentum ad populum (the ultimate absurdity). John, your answer to my relatively innocuous post showed me that you were responding to someone you assumed was real and worthy of a response.
        You responded to a fraud.

        Now, scroll back up this long string of comments. The commenters divide into two groups. Those with actual names that have a verifiable existence on the internet (you, me, Borstlap, Heim & a few others), and those that are hiding behind pseudonyms with no possible way to verify who they are or even their “reality.” And most interestingly, at least in this case, the pseuds seem to be statistically supportive of Borstlap or indulging in lame arguments with him that recognize his authority. To me it’s as if we are watching Borstlap talk to himself. I’m not saying he is actually using avatars to give the appearance of support from others, but I AM saying that I have NO WAY of knowing that he is NOT doing this.

        And Slipped Disc, having let J Meyer comment without indicating that J Meyer is really Stephen Soderberg – evidently having no idea (or not bothering to check) that the two are one in the same – has demonstrated that in this forum, reality is irrelevant.

  • Kraig Grady says:

    What schools actually teach only historical western classical music? A very small percentage by my observation. I there any real statistics or is all imaginary. Who teaches 4 semesters of harmony or both 16th and 17th century counterpoint. Where are these schools?

  • Kraig Grady says:

    If i was a student now , I could see no reason to go into permanent debt for the rest of my life to learn about pop music. I can just go listen to the records and see the groups unless you feel that academic institutions has some special insight to this music. What makes them the authority on it? QWHy should they teach it?