So harmony is now a racist term?

So harmony is now a racist term?


norman lebrecht

August 03, 2020

At Yale, all of music terminology is now considered racist. Read this latest musicological effusion:

Call for Papers: Deadline September 30
Key Terms in Music Theory for Anti-Racist Scholars:
Epistemic Disavowals, Reimagined Formalisms

Edited by Jade Conlee (Yale University) and Tatiana Koike (Yale University)

[Formalism, we should point out, was first used as a music-critical term by Joseph Stalin. NL]

How much do formalisms, and words themselves, remember of their problematic pasts? Music theory’s foremost contribution to music studies in the West is its analytical terminology; this vocabulary facilitates detailed discussions of musical surfaces across disciplines.

Nevertheless, the central claims and innovations of canonic theorists
such as Heinrich Schenker and Hugo Riemann root our basic descriptive concepts in
an intellectual lineage of elitism, eurocentrism, colonization, patriarchy, and ultimately
white supremacy. Terms such as pitch, scale, analysis, and work thereby coproduce a
musical formalism built around the affordances of the Enlightenment subject. These
historical issues are made particularly salient by the recent “Global Turn” in music the-
ory, which seeks to decenter the Western canon by demonstrating the commonality of
musical patterning across cultures. Present-day globalists share with nineteenth-centu-
ry theorists a belief in cross-cultural musical formalism, albeit one put toward differing
ends. German nationalist theorists used formalism to naturalize globalized ethnic and
racial power imbalances, infantilizing the music of other cultures in order to justify the
superiority of Western art music in ways that present-day theorists do not. Yet, when
present-day globalists deploy the same formalisms to draw comparisons across the mu-
sics of different cultures, the result is often an implicit disavowal of the power imbal-
ances nineteenth-century theorists so ardently upheld. This disavowal persists because
the transfer of music-theoretical formalism and its historico-ideological context from
German nationalism to American globalism largely remains uninterrogated. Can we
instead directly address the constellation of class, culture, race, and power that grounds
our discipline’s methods of knowledge production and presumed aesthetic objects by
redefining the formalisms music theory employs? Scholars in disciplines such as jazz
studies and critical race theory, for instance, have reclaimed formalism as a way of
critiquing and transcending the epistemic injustices that minority groups have faced
in Western cultures. Is it possible to redefine our theoretical vocabulary, formalizing
music in ways that embrace alternative theories of the subject and models of history?

Our volume takes up an anti-racist reimagining of music-theoretical formalism by ex-
amining the ideologies latent in the discipline’s foundational terminology. In a recent
blog post, music theorist Philip Ewell observes, “with respect to racial and gender mat-
ters, music theory—and the white-male frame generally—only recognizes linear time:
‘that was then and this is now, we don’t have the same problem with racism and sexism
that they did then, so stop talking about it.’” Like Ewell, we hold that to shift the field
of music theory toward an anti-racist praxis, we must first look backward in order to
move forward. We might find a model for such work in ethnomusicology’s postwar
examination of their field’s roots in nineteenth-century German comparative musicol-
ogy—an intellectual environment shared by many of the theorists whose work we wish
to revisit in this volume. The present compilation draws from ethnomusicology’s anal-
ysis of power relations and the academic gaze by asking how the West’s colonial history
and internal dynamic of white supremacy continue to color the claims music theo-
rists make about repertoires both inside and outside the Western art music canon. Al-
though revetting music-theoretical primary sources will complicate our relationships
with many of the field’s historical figures and concepts, such an undertaking also has
the potential to broaden the discipline, rendering music-theoretical topics accessible to
scholars passionate about race- and class-based analyses of intellectual history, media,
and aesthetics.
We are seeking short essays (ca. 6000 words) that think critically about one key term
in the discourse of Western music theory. Each contribution should cite important
moments in the term’s discursive history that bear on its usage in present-day music
studies. We then invite authors to think creatively about how such a history can inform
a critique of the discipline and offer a vision forward. Some questions authors might
consider in their essays include: How do these terms participate in producing musi-
cal ontologies that overdetermine the superiority of Western art music? What kinds
of idealized listening practices do these terms prescribe, and what types of listening
subjects do they take for granted? How might these terms operate in a new and specu-
lative formalist framework? We have chosen a key-terms format so that the volume
may serve as a teaching tool for advanced undergraduates and those new to the history
of Western music theory while also remaining relevant to advanced scholars in music
studies across disciplines. We welcome submissions from scholars at all career stages
and coming from any discipline, including music theory, ethnomusicology, popular
music studies, jazz studies, sound studies, and historical musicology. Authors may sub-
mit proposals on terms from the list below or may propose a term not included in this
list. Please submit a 400-word abstract and brief biography to by
September 30, 2020.

List of Key Terms
Form Form
Pitch Ton, Stufe, Klang
Tonality Tonalität
Scale Tonreihe, Tonleiter, Skala
Key Tonart, Schlüssel
Work Werk, Meisterwerk
Cadence Schluss, Kadenz
Analysis Analyse, Reduktionsanalyse
Phrase Satz
Melody Stimme, Melodische Führung
Heterophony Heterophonie
Polyphony Polyphonie, Mehrstimmigkeit
Harmony Harmonie, Akkord, Klang, Dreiklang
Harmonic Function Funktionenlehre
Consonance Konsonanz
Dissonance Dissonanz
Polyrhythm Polyrhythmik
Meter Takt
Notation Notenschrift
Chord Progression Zug, Harmoniefolge
Musical Structure Ursatz, Hintergrund, Musikalische Logik



  • henrirenquist says:

    oh ffs, seriously?

    • John Mark Rozendaal says:

      What is your question?

    • Patrick P. says:

      These people aren’t musicians by any stretch of the imagination. Get a life ffs.

      • Har-Monica says:

        They’re just a bunch of bored, pseudo intellectuals in coordinated Halloween costumes…like JESTERS!!!!!!!!

    • anon says:

      These so-called scholars are graduate students, not professors. Isn’t saying you are from Yale elitist and oppressive under their world view. They are boasting about their privleged status as graduate students at Yale. I feel oppressed; don’t you.

  • Fiddlist says:

    Yale wants to get sued by the Orwell estate or what?

  • TUNTY says:

    Isn’t this pretty much just self-flagellation masquerading as scholarship?

    • Mvarc says:

      Unfortunately I don’t think it’s themselves they are seeking to flagellate. They seem to be wanting to whip into line anyone they disagree with!

      • A pianist says:

        They are hoping by self-flagellating they will be spared execution. But the woke mob will come for their careers too.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Spot on. One thing these naive and infantile ideologues don’t understand AT ALL is that these things have been copied and tried before and they’re usually the first one onto the scaffolds when it all goes so predictably wrong. That’s fair, though.

  • Anmarie says:

    May I propose that we do away with words altogether?

    If physical gestures are good enough for animals, they’re good enough for us.

    I’m turning my foot in a circle: Have a nice day.

    • Maria says:

      And I’m picking my nose! LOL!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I feel personally triggered by your comment because I don’t like circles as a shape. I’m going off to be assuaged by my comfort dog right now.

      Ridicule and satire will finish this rubbish off in a heartbeat, but that is disallowed now (as it was in Russia and is in China).

  • Omar Goddknowe says:

    How do these people get degrees of even hired?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      They are a reflection of the ‘academic’ world in which they exist. Let’s say ‘the canaries in the coal mine’.

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    A spoof, right?
    Or a load of pretentious codswallop?

  • John Mark Rozendaal says:

    Why do you say that, “At Yale, all of music terminology is now considered racist.”
    That claim isn’t made anywhere in the call for papers that you’ve shared. What is your source for that assertion?

    • Anonymoose says:

      Opening of para. 2 “Nevertheless, the central claims and innovations of canonic theorists
      such as Heinrich Schenker and Hugo Riemann root our basic descriptive concepts in
      an intellectual lineage of elitism, eurocentrism, colonization, patriarchy, and ultimately
      white supremacy.”
      The proposers are from Yale.
      Although SD’s claim may be journalistic overstatement, I cannot see that it is totally unjustified.

      • V. Lind says:

        So — how is a musicologist writing technical analysis of the development of the Late Quartets “rooted in…colonization” [sic]?

        Let alone the other stuff?

        What are they gong to do next — comb literary classics for “offensive” terms? God knows, they’ll find enough.

        Who’s going to fight back, when politicians, journalists and scholars won’t? These are professions trained in forming arguments. We know they CAN’T argue with the illogical and unreasonable demands of the professional victims, but surely it is a bit early in the proceedings that they WON’T. And these prople are set on dismantling history, philosophy and enlightenment — all the tools of reason and justice.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Elitism and Eurocentrism is, for European classical / serious music, entirely justified and normal. It has nothing to do with colonization, is not patriarchic, and does not imply white supremacy. These people don’t develop a new kind of musicology but an entirely new kind of psychopathy: sociopoliticoparanoia.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        It’s toxic. Craven cowards who’ve capitulated to corporate-speak. Alliteration intended.

      • John Mark Rozendaal says:

        Journalistic overstatement, not *totally* unjustified.

    • Mvarc says:

      I suspect NL was – rightly in my view – referring to and concerned by this in the very heading of the so-called “Call For Papers”: “Key Terms in Music Theory for Anti-Racist Scholars“. I was wondering if we could have a response from the “callers” but realised that would be as impenetrable as their own “call”!

      • Dragonetti says:

        It’s a nice thought but I feel that you will rapidly hit a brick wall. They are right and you are wrong and that’s the end of it. You really would stand more of a chance of rational dialogue if you discussed the merits of comparative theology with members of ISIS.
        I used to just chuckle at these people but all of a sudden their malign influence is popping up everywhere. I fondly thought that in my later years ( ie now) I would pass over the performing side of things to players of the younger generation after a good enough innings and take myself off for some degree level study. The subject wouldn’t matter. But I talked to some folk who’d already been there and was warned off luckily. You will get precisely nowhere from the start unless you talk the talk. Gobbledegook is compulsory; simple words and phrases are the exception. I realised that I’m quite happy where I am thanks. A narrow escape.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Great comments and you did have a lucky escape. The dogma and stiflingly closed minds is truly frightening. Stop funding these institutions. Put them out on a pavement with a sandwich board which says, “brain stopped working; any hand-outs gratefully received”.

  • Anon says:

    I would have loved to have seen James Hepokoski’s reaction when reading this…

    At least there still are musicologists at Yale with real contributions to the field of MUSIC!

  • marcus says:

    These people are having a laugh? Yes?

  • PHF says:

    This is a very important moment in history, we’re witnessing the birth of a new area of study: Musicolorgy.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I studied Musicolorgy (brilliant, BTW) decades ago and they attempted to indoctrinate me there. I told them to “sod off”. Yes, literally – but I still got the degree. My piers used to laugh and wondered ‘how do you get away with it” and my answer was standard, “I move my lips and speak”.

  • CYM says:

    Long ago, Sir Thomas Beecham commented,
    « A musicologist is a man who can read music, but can’t hear it »

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      There are severe problems with Sir Thomas Beecham’s comment: musicologists today are not all men, they don’t need to know how to read music, and the claim that they can’t hear it is discrimination against deaf people (not least Beethoven).

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Beecham knew as much about musicologists as he knew about harpsichords (“skeletons copulating on a tin roof”) and Stockhausen (“I trod in some once”). But he had a great sense of humour, to be sure. What we have now is what happens when a generation stops smiling and laughing.

    • Peter says:

      And the profession is full of them!

    • Greg Bottini says:

      The Beecham quote I remember is: “Musicologists – they know all about the -ology, but nothing about the music”.

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      He was spot on!

  • Bill says:

    The problem is, all of the papers to be written on Beethoven or Schoenberg have been written; there’s not much else to write about at this point. If you don’t publish, you perish.

    • George says:

      Completely untrue. There’s still much to be said about most of Beethoven’s works even just concerning analysis alone. And even more so with Schoenberg. Have you read everything?

    • Tamino says:

      No, the problem is, actual scholarly work is hard. It requires thorough vast knowledge and an analytical skillset.
      But churning out self-righteous and fuzzy „I feel, therefore I’m right“-opinion is easy.
      Society has the academic excellence it deserves (in average).

  • mary says:

    Elihu Yale (5 April 1649 – 8 July 1721) was a British-American merchant. President of the East India Company settlement in Fort St. George, at Madras, where he benefitted from the slave trade. Yale was a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut, which, in 1718, was renamed Yale College in his honor.

    Yale University relied on slave-trading money for its first scholarships, endowed professorship and library endowment.

    There, you wanted a racist term.

    • Alviano says:

      Yale also restricted Jewish enrollment until well into the XXs (someone else can supply the decade, but I am sure I was alive then). There are many things in the American past (and present) that we need to look at. Until we come to terms with the big ones, like slavery, ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, and the like, we can leave poor Schenker cold in his grave and content ourselves with interpreting “Meisterwerk” as “it’s really good.”

      • Jeanne says:

        Late 1960s, as I recall (Yale grad student 1980s). When my mom (math prodigy, graduated high school at 16) applied to Penn, it was the only Ivy without an anti-Jewish quota. For this reason it had a very high percentage of Jewish students, and still does. She loved it except for having very few spots for women and not being able to have her degree say Wharton, and commuting from home. My father ran afoul of the med school quota.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Rather like “The Guardian” then!!

    • Sarah says:

      Wow- Thank you so much for your comment!

    • Hoods OFF! says:

      “Yalies” either don’t know their history or are STILL trying to ignore it just like the Democrats and their KKK roots.

      “Academics” have selectively EDITED their history into a pristine bubble and live in steep retardation.

      When their “whole truth and nothing but the truth” comes full circle soon, it will be a HORRIFIC day of reckoning for these snowflakes, eh??

      Looking forward to their losses of Federal funding and expectation of repayment once their own roots of slave labor and looting are unearthed!!!


  • Ned Keane says:

    What a load of cobblers… I despair.
    The lack of self-awareness is impressive.

    • PaulD says:

      Hans Sachs was a cobbler. Please don’t lump him with this crowd of Stalinists.

      BTW, I did check the slang reference. I will add it to my own vocabulary.

  • sam says:

    Proposed term changes for the 21st century:

    Heterophony = non-binary-phony
    Polyphony = non-monogamous-phony
    Consonance = con-daughter-nance
    Meter = me-ter, you-ter, us-ter, them-ter, it’s all good
    Notation = no-means-no-tion

    • christopher storey says:

      Sam : I thought polyphony was to be heard on the recent wonderful youtube of a parrot singing the Queen of the Night aria

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      ABSOLUTE GOLD!!!!!

      “Middle Eastern heterophony”? Racist non binary-phony?

  • DAVID says:

    As a true act of contrition, they really should commit to shredding all scores from their many libraries belonging to the western canon (that very canon without which, one should recall, they wouldn’t be collecting a paycheck), stream the whole event live, and then start over with an entirely new musical corpus having no relationship to the tradition preceding it (this, actually, might be extremely difficult to achieve). We are here no longer dealing with music, really, but with a mental illness that has overtaken much of American academia in many disciplines for the past 40 years and which is only coming to fruition at this point in time. It’s an illness that supersedes any discipline, appropriating it and making it subservient to an ideological agenda steeped in recurring, worn-out cliches, in the impossible attempt to address insatiable, infinite grievances supposedly held by a segment of the population which otherwise still enjoys, on a daily basis, the comforts of the very bourgeois existence they claim to question and combat. Of course, no one will actually read these studies, and even fewer people will take them seriously. Yale calls themselves a “music department,” but a search on their website for faculty under “graduate” and “performance” results in “none” and their faculty for “performance” and “undergraduate” results in a grand total of 6. This only confirms their conception of “music” not as something to be actually practiced in the actual world, but as a sheer theoretical endeavor confined to academic research and never fated to make it to an actual stage. Do these people actually listen to music? I personally doubt it, and if they do, it’s probably in a rigid and clinical manner, since their conception of music expunges even the slightest élan of spontaneity from it and makes it impossible to experience the true joy of the musical experience.

    • Pablo says:


    • anon says:

      The performance professors work in the School of Music not the Department! I agree with a lot of what you say, but get your bloody facts straight

    • Marcellus says:

      Unfounded charges. On the Yale website, search “school of music,” not “music department,” to find the performance faculty.

    • Joseph says:

      Yale University has both a “Music Department” and a “School of Music.” They are not the same schools. Academic study (theory, composition, etc.) is the domain of the Music Department. Performance is the domain of the School of Music.

    • DAVID says:

      Yes, I did — alas, after the fact — realize that indeed they do have a separate School of Music, which I did not expect, as in IU Bloomington, one of the best schools in the world, there was no “separate” music department — everyone, performer or theorist, was part of the School of Music. I believe that’s also the case for most major music schools. It was also odd to see some performing faculty on the “Music Department” side as opposed to the actual “School of Music.” In any case, I still believe my original argument holds. In a way, this strange segregation of music between “theory” and “practice,” supposedly requiring 2 separate branches in the same institution for a single discipline, speaks volumes. Music is not a theoretical endeavor; it is not something confined to arcane and contrived scholarship, but is ultimately destined to actually be performed and heard. I’m pretty convinced any major composer in history would simply scratch their heads, were they privy to this sort of academic pretentiousness and nonsense.

      • DAVID says:

        As an addendum, please allow me to post this clip, which essentially summarizes what I’ve been trying to say:

      • B. O. says:

        All of these “academics” need to be rounded up and deported to the utopias they worship but can’t correlate one single positive measure of substantive success.

        None of the Leftist intellectual wimps can pass either the linguistic or financial requirements to enter “better” nations legally like their precious Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. so just DEPORT ALL OF THE PROTESTERS!!!!


  • “From the beginning we have spoken of the special Viennese qualities, of the way music is made here. The way we make music here is not only a technical ability, but also something that has a lot to do with the soul. The soul does not let itself be separated from the cultural roots that we have here in central Europe. And it also doesn’t allow itself to be separated from gender. So if one thinks that the world should function by quota regulations, then it is naturally irritating that we are a group of white skinned male musicians, that perform exclusively the music of white skinned male composers. It is a racist and sexist irritation. I believe one must put it that way. If one establishes superficial egalitarianism, one will lose something very significant. Therefore, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to accept this racist and sexist irritation, because something produced by a superficial understanding of human rights would not have the same standards.”
    –Dieter Flury, former solo-flutist of the Vienna Philharmonic. Transcribed and translated from “Musikalische Misogynie,” broadcast by the West German State Radio, February 13, 1996.

    • Anonymoose says:

      The question is not “Did (and do) racist and sexist attitudes exist in the world of music” but “Are such attitudes so all-pervasive that the whole tradition of Western Classical music must be dismantled and then, if there is a demand for it, reestablished in a completely new set of terms”. The answer to the first is “certainly, yes”, but I am not so sure about the answer to the second.

    • Alviano says:

      Isn’t Flury making the argument that women should not be admitted to the VPO? Do we really want to go back to that now?

      • Doofus1714 says:

        Yes, Alviano, he is. DF is an excellent flutist but clearly not the deepest thinker….and to use this unfortunate, pretentious, “Boys Club” quote in this context is even worse. This blog is terrific for information but a LOT of unrepentant fools come out of the woodwork here.

    • John Borstlap says:

      `It is a racist and sexist irritation.´ This refers to the VPO mainly being a white male Viennese orchestra. But he was wrong to claim that ´the soul´ cannot be separated from its cultural roots in central Europe. What about Zubin Metha working with the VPO in a Beethoven or Brahms symphony? (I myself write ´Viennese music´, while not stemming from that place.)

      I understand his defence of the VPO´s freedom to organize themselves in whatever way, like London gentlemen´s clubs and Italian mandoline ensembles or soccer teams or baseball teams, which is all perfectly justified. But a musician – or any artist – can grow into any culture, not according to locality, gender or ethnicity, but to his/her talents and personality, and especially: imagination. This has already been proven for half a century with musicians from all over the world playing European classical music.

      Even a very local orchestra with a very local tradition like the VPO can preserve its unique character through players from quite different countries or cultures. That is one of the few truly great improvements of our times: the accessibility of cultures, who no longer are locked-up within their locality.

      Flury has meanwhile retired from the VPO.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Conflating human rights and racism with the modern Vienna Philharmonic – or any other European orchestra – is the job of scoundrels who are driven by envy and resentment. But, above all else, they’re first class bullies who would have loved living in the USSR, in those grey uniforms. The difference, of course, is that they also had guns with which to enforce their social engineering.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    They’re so woke at Yale – they have to be. The school’s founder Elihu Yale was a slave trader and owner. They have to do something to make sure that they’re not seen as racist. But how in the world is something like “scale” racist? These people need to lose their positions and get a real job. Whatever it is they do, it’s utterly meaningless and unimportant. No one, except fellow woke musicologists, cares. Maybe if any good comes from Covid-19 it will cause colleges like Yale to thin the ranks of professors like this.

  • D** says:

    These people have way too much time on their hands. I hope they realize that jazz studies have become a very common and well-accepted feature of many music schools. Are we now going to call jazz theory and jazz terminology biased?

    Here’s a little secret for these so-called experts: Music schools have been offering courses and degrees in ethnomusicology for years. If a student is interested in the music of Morocco or Indonesia or Zimbabwe, there are professors who specialize in it. Many universities have gamelan ensembles. This doesn’t seem to be biased or racist to me, but what do I know?

    I used to music in public schools (state schools for readers in the UK) that were mostly African-American. All of us tried to present our students with music from a variety of cultures. About 25 years ago, a so-called expert from a nearby university was paid well to present a mandatory workshop for music teachers. He said little that was memorable or practical, but there is one suggestion I do remember. He knew something about Korean music, and suggested that string teachers teach beginning violinists to play microtones. Really? Many of our students were struggling to get their fingers in the right places on the fingerboard, and teachers are supposed to teach them microtones? After he left, the teachers who were present, white and Black, quietly ignored his advice.

    • Sisko24 says:

      What you tell about your experience as a music teacher seems to reflect a bad truth about our society. Namely, that too many people feel a need to say something, ANYTHING, no matter how chaffy what they have to say may be.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      The fact that one note is higher than another mirrors and empowers the elevation of one race above another and is therefore racist, the elevation of one sex above another and is therefore sexist, the elevation of born women above trans women in the scale of femaleness and is there transphobic, and the elevation of one person above another and is therefore elitist. You really do fail to appreciate the cultural significance of scales.

      • John Borstlap says:

        ‘All parts of the body are important. But they are not important in the same way, and some parts are more important than other parts.’ I Ching, a couple of thousands years ago.

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Somebody should save humans from themselves.

    Hint: it cannot be another human being, as History has repeatedly shown…

  • Edoardo Saccenti says:

    People brace yourself, soon there will be no more performances of Wagner’s operas. Get hold of CD if you still have them as Wagner music on digital such as mp3 format will be erased

    • William Safford says:

      When is the last time that Wagner was performed in Israel?

      Just sayin’….

      • William Safford says:

        Wow. Six thumbs-down for that comment (as of now).

        At least six people take umbrage at the fact that a rabid anti-Semite’s operas aren’t performed in Israel….

  • simon says:

    “How Musicology will eat itself” – title of my submission to a forthcoming online conference

  • tomtom says:

    God help us!!!!

  • Ellingtonia says:

    There is bull**** and utter bull****, take your pick!

  • Bass One says:

    Total bollocks.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    If a respondent to this call for papers can argue successfully that ‘harmony’ is no longer an acceptable term, then we are all doomed!

    • Anonymoose says:

      If you read the last paragraph carefully [and if I have understood it correctly], it is inviting studies of the way key terms like ‘harmony’ have been used, particularly whether they have been used to overvalue western music as against other ethnic music; and asking for suggestions of how they may continue to be used in ways which do not involve assumptions of cultural superiority. Nowhere is it said that the terms in themselves are unacceptable, or should be replaced by others!

      I don’t think that this is a totally worthless project for a forum, although navel-gazing comes to mind; I wonder if the terminology of the physical sciences [to which music partly belongs] is being subjected to the same scrutiny.

  • Freddynyc says:

    This is the beginning of the end for Western civilization. It’s had a good run however……

    • Tamino says:

      Hopefully not everywhere, but the collective death wish – or is it just mental obesity? – seems to run strong in US academic circles apparently.

  • Allen says:

    This is the most rambling, pretentious, pseudo intellectual claptrap I have read in a very long time.

    I’m copying and pasting it into a Word file just to use as an example to others.

  • Emil says:

    That is not at all what this is saying and you know it.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    “Key Terms in Music Theory for Anti-Racist Scholars:
    Epistemic Disavowals, Reimagined Formalisms”

    Every single one of these vocables is of Greek or Latin origin. Every single one but two, that is.

    I call out cultural appropriation.
    Sorry, I’ll do that again, with the de rigueur shouting:

    Let the Yale luminaries put out their ‘Verbotsliste’ of ‘Entartete Begriffe’ (as we must now call them) without exploiting Greek or Latin.

    As it stands, the allowed words in the expurgated title of their list are:
    “in for”.
    Plus one hyphen.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Why stop at Greek and Latin? Ban all words with Indo-European roots!

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, let’s talk about cultural appropriation!! The trouble is there’s so much of it I’d hardly know where to start. It would provide a great academic tome if it were seriously discussed.

    • Dragonetti says:

      I seem to recall that ‘entartete Musik’ was once a popular idea with someone these folk might have heard of.

  • Rob says:

    Desperate times, desperate measures.

    • M2N2K says:

      Unfortunately, these kinds of “measures” make these times much more desperate instead of making them less so.

  • Francis Schwartz says:

    What is the contemporary definition of the term “Quatsch“?

    • Dragonetti says:

      I believe it is an acronym now: Quantitative überall twaddle sexist chronology Hauptstimme”
      (Or something similar)

  • John says:

    How do I put this without seeming offensive? Well here goes – ‘what a load of bollocks, self-regarding piffle, words, words, words signifying…..’nothing’.

  • Minnesota says:

    Some clarification about Yale: The “Department of Music” seems to be a small operation for graduate students in music history, “theory,” ethnomusicology, and musicology. Some of the professors in the Department have joint appointments in other fields, and I am sure that has a lot to due with the twists and turns in the current musicology spectacle.

    The “School of Music” is much larger and is where you go at Yale for performance training for instruments, voice, conducting, etc. It is much more in the direction of a conservatory. Probably best for the two to be separate, since they appear to have almost nothing in common.

    • Nick says:

      The School of Music (Yale) has a long history of existence, but a rather short history on achievements!! No wonder!

  • Peter San Diego says:

    Just out of curiosity: who are the Yale luminaries in the photo?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Most of 19C & 20C music theory is indeed rather formalistic and deals with the classical tradition. Only in the 20th century there developed the discipline of ethnomusicology and since non-Western music cultures did not develop a rational analytic system like the one in the West, the analytic terminology was used and new terms simply invented. There has hardly ever been a tendency to pass value judgements on non-Western cultures, in contrary, they have been researched respectfully and, where appropriate, with puzzlement. My suspicion is that the musicologists of the post simply don’t know all of that, and they naively think that the terms themselves are implicitly colonial, MUST be imperialistic and suppressive, so that they have a new subject to explore and congratulate each other for being morally on the right side of history.

    It reminds me of the work of trendy Edward Said, who simply dismissed all Western attempts to understand non-Western cultures (his notorious ‘Orientalism’), claiming that all those silly Westerners merely poured their arrogance and eurocentric projections upon ‘the Other’. Talking about arrogance, and ignorance. Of course Said was enthusiastically embraced by all the nitwits of the West who thereby could avoid to seriously study the field of research which has already been carried-out since the early 19th century. This would, namely, really take much time and patience, and much analysis. Roger Scruton has already made mince meat of such ridiculous attempts at cultural suicide and pointed towards all the patient work Westerners have done, often living most of their life in the East, like RIchard Wilhelm who made the first correct and extensive translation of the I Ching in the twenties, while living in China.

  • Karl says:

    This is the way things are going to be in the new Woke America where we choose truth over facts. All white people and everything white people invented or created is racist.

  • JJC says:

    Yet more Gaslighting.

  • Harold Stover says:

    To roughly quote whoever said it first about academia, the fights are so fierce because the stakes are so small.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    I get that scales can be oppressive. But maybe they’re onto something if you consider that the white [open] notes are given greater value than black notes, even though the white ones are sometimes perceived as boring or unimportant. The black notes are more interesting, but they can also come off as very frightening when you’re confronted by lots of them on the staff. And what are we to say about the implicit bias of terminology like “accidentals,” hmm?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I get culturally confused. How come that the Chinese pentatonic scale uses the black keys on the piano? And if they play the scale on the white keys, isn’t that racist?

    • Byrwec Ellison says:

      My sincere apologies if I inadvertently slurred any notes.

  • Harrumphrey says:

    But wait. According to this doctrine, aren’t universities themselves racist and non grata? Would the existence of a Yale music department be in itself the epitome of elitism and privilege? If the musichiatrists want to be taken seriously they must put their money where their mouths are and resign the posts immediately, en masse. Then they must protest the universities for the un-woke institutions they are. Until then, all credibility is withheld.

  • John Borstlap says:

    I always feel uncomfortable with the term analysis since it reminds me of the colonoscopy of my uncle William after which he became a fanatic trombone player in the local brass band in Leeds.


  • Mick the Knife says:

    Abstract: The whole notion of a “dominant” in western music is a musical construct of the oppressive white man. Therefore we must only hear non-tonal music where all tones are created equal to promote equity among us. M. t. Knife, University of the Herd

  • George says:

    Can’t believe people are getting paid for this.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Marxism in its full opus moderandi.
    Good luck with it, history is full of its successes.

  • Michael Endres says:

    correction…spellcheck…sigh … Modus operandi.

  • Smiling Larry says:

    If they don’t like Wellington’s Victory, why don’t they just come out and say so?

  • C Deazely says:

    Question re Schenker;- I read somewhere that he wrote to Universal Editions basically rubbishing the music of Schreker on the grounds of his type of analysis, but with the backhanded remark that he hoped it was making the publisher a lot of money – implying that they should put up with Schreker’s music and use the cash for better purposes.

  • Carlos says:

    Stop the world, I want to jump off!

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Its actually easier to “jump off” when its spinning rather than stopped. You should say, “make the Earth rotate 20 times faster, I want to get off”. Take a physics class sometime, its interesting.

  • CYM says:

    Lenny Bruce would comment :
    « It’s so simple to be a wise musicologist : Just think of something stupid to
    say, and then, don’t say it ! »

  • 5566hh says:

    This ‘effusion’ may be silly, but of course it doesn’t mean that everyone at Yale shares this view. The statement only conveys the position of two people, not necessarily every academic at Yale. I’m sure lots of people there have different views/ideas.

  • Elvira says:

    Say what?
    Can we gargle?

  • William Safford says:

    Many words and phrases in English (I leave it to others to discuss other languages) have ugly associations attached to them.

    How many people reading this, realize that:

    – “sell down the river” is a direct reference to selling slaves down the Mississippi River;

    – “being gypped” is a slur against the Roma people;

    – “it’s very white of you” is of white supremacist origin.

    I could easily list words and phrases that deprecate Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, Muslims, Blacks, and many others of diverse ethnic and/or religious backgrounds.

    Sure, it would be easy to list the N-word and other obvious slurs, but many are less obvious. Often they are coded language, or expressions so embedded in our lexicon that many may not be aware of their ugly origins (myself included).

    Should it be any surprise that one or more such expressions may have crept into parlance in classical music?

    Many, possibly most, musical expressions may very well be innocent of such associations. But it would be a surprise if *all* were.

    This is a time in our history when many minds are being opened to the very real unresolved issues surrounding systemic racism, white supremacy, bigotry, homophobia, chauvinism, xenophobia, and much more.

    I applaud those in the arts who wish to make positive study of, and contributions to the dismantling of, old bigotries and shibboleths. Kudos.

    I hope that people reading this, share this ethos.

    • Nick says:

      What are YOU smoking? I wanna try that too :-)))

    • Anonymoose says:

      White people, especially cisgender males, must, when using English, engage an internal censor to avoid causing offense to anyone else, even if the offense needs a linguistic historian to reveal it either to the offender or the offendee.

      Or, even better, abolish the worldwide use of English, ineradicably colonialist/imperialist in origin (ask the Britons).

      Seriously, there are dangers in tackling the problems of the present time by wholesale attempts to purify the language.

      • V. Lind says:

        Cisgender? Are you caving in to this garbage? If you mean males, say males.

        The whole thing started with the notion of “gender,” which was originally used when sexual politics began to be a conversation, because American prudes were uncomfortable with the word “sex,” which had done fine before. “Gender” is a term referring to grammar — in English it is restricted to pronouns, but in many Romance and other languages classifies all nouns with varying inflections.

        There are four grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter and common). A list of 58 sexual options, known to the disciples as genders, is provided by ABC News for Facebook — though I am exercised to see the difference between “Transsexual Male” and “Transsexual Man.” (If someone “knows,” spare me). Some — most — of the others are surely a joke. “Female to Male” and “FTM” are listed separately (and n several other locutions).

        I am reminded of my innocence when I first red The Alexandria Quartet as a teenager, where the city was described as having “five races, five languages…and more than five sexes…” At the time I was exercised to figure out what the fifth was. Unfortunately, I would not be today.

        The mid-20th century has a lot of sins to answer for!

      • William Safford says:

        Have you ever connected a MIDI *slave* keyboard to a *master* keyboard?

        Or at least have you heard music made that way? (Hint: you have.)

        What was that about the “dangers in tackling the problems of the present time by wholesale attempts to purify the language”?

    • Anonymoose says:

      In my earlier reply, I engaged keyboard before brain. Sorry.
      Yes, dismantling old bigotries through critical study of the past is praiseworthy and to be commended. Increasing everyone’s awareness of unacceptable aspects of the past, with a view to eradicating those aspects in the present, is entirely laudable.
      But (a) let us critique the past, but not censor it; (b) let us not create new bigotries and shibboleths in eradicating the old; and (c) let us be a little bit humble in regard to both the past and the present, remembering that there will (we hope) be a future to scrutinize us.
      Last word, I promise.

    • I think this point is well made. The problem is this tsunami of pretentious, tortuous, ill-conceived manifestations of an attempt to Do Something, Anything… I am reminded of Swift’s scientists of Lagano, was it, who endeavored to extract moonbeams from cucumbers. Anyone smart and energetic to establish themselves as grad students at Yale could probably devote their spare time working on redlining, policing, homelessness, living wage and revived unionism…you know, real things.

  • Tamino says:

    The next words up for demolition are: up, down, forward, backward.
    Away with all that racist misogynist blunder!
    Hail the new Cultural Revolution. Mao would be proud.

  • Garry Humphreys says:

    At least a year’s contributions to Private Eye’s ‘Pseuds Corner’! Pretentious crap (not a word I normally use in public)!

  • Nick says:

    Cool!!! Love it!! Idiocy on the pride parade!!

  • Judy says:

    This is an extreme result of the “publish or perish” mode that almost all schools are in. The need to publish (or write papers for symposia) in order to be promoted has resulted in a glut of material, much of which is just silly, and academics desperately trying to carve a niche by pushing their fields into far-fetched realms. If promotion and tenure committees would focus more on quality of teaching, this would be better.

  • This has already been done…By Cage.

  • BrianB says:

    Zhdanov must be laughing and applauding in his grave. Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, et. al. must be weeping and turning in theirs. But even Zhdanov’s anti-formalist rants weren’t as nutty as this.

  • Old man yells at cloud says:

    Hearty congratulations to Norm and his acolytes for daring to challenge the notion that musicologists be allowed to ask questions! Masterful clickbait as demonstrated by the predictable comments. Who will he pick on next?

  • Anonymoose says:

    Almost anything can be racist, in the same way that almost anything can be obscene. Discuss.