Student mob calls out ‘racist’ musicologist

Student mob calls out ‘racist’ musicologist


norman lebrecht

August 02, 2020

Graduate students at the University of North Texas are demanding the head of Dr Timothy Jackson, a professor who called out the anti-racist academic Philip Ewell as an anti-semite. The details of their disagreement in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies can be found here.

The graduate students, supported by terrified faculty members, have issued the statement below. Ewell has prudently retreated from social media. Reasonable people should do their best to avoid UNT College of Music for the next few years.

If you want to read the source of the infection, click here.

Student statement:

We are appalled by the journal’s platforming of racist sentiments in response to Dr. Philip Ewell’s
plenary address at the Society of Music Theory annual meeting in 2019. Furthermore, we condemn the
egregious statements written by UNT faculty members within this publication. We stand in solidarity
with Dr. Philip Ewell and his goals to address systemic racism in and beyond the field of music theory.
As graduate students at UNT, we are compelled to provide further context and to demand action to
effect meaningful change. We would like to make it clear that the JSS is not a graduate student
journal; since 2010 (Vol. 4), it has been run primarily by Drs. Timothy Jackson and
Stephen Slottow. Many of us recently discovered that the journal is presented as graduate-student
run in some contexts; in fact, there is little student involvement beyond copy-editing, and students
have absolutely no say in the content of the JSS. In fact, outside of the advisory board (and in particular
Dr. Jackson), we have no clear understanding of who oversaw the publication of the responses to the
plenary session. As we join the search for answers to these issues, we will be working both publicly and
privately to change every part of the MHTE Division and College of Music (CoM) at UNT that
allowed faculty to platform racism in our name.
To this end, we as UNT graduate students demand the Journal of Schenkerian Studies should
immediately take the following steps, and we call on the UNT College of Music and university at large to
ensure these steps are taken.
1. Publicly condemn the issue and release it freely online to the public. Given the horrendous lack
of peer review, publication of an anonymous response, and clear lack of academic rigor, this issue of
the JSS should release an apology for its content and promote transparency by granting the public
access to it. We believe that all contributors should be held fully accountable for their
comments, which must not be hidden for the sake of the self-preservation of any involved
parties. Furthermore, we must learn from these mistakes rather than attempt to erase them. By
making this volume accessible to the public with a disclaimer from the CoM, we hope to enable all
scholars to address this problematic “discourse.”
2. Provide a full public account of the editorial and publication process, and its failures.
Throughout the publication of this issue, significant irregularities occurred in the acceptance and
solicitation processes, whether individuals with the title of editor were permitted to edit content,
and how the contents of Issue 12 were approved by any responsible oversight process. JSS must
make a public account of the process so individuals who intentionally subverted academic discourse
can be held accountable by their respective institutions.

The UNT College of Music has issued this surrender document:

The University of North Texas College of Music has begun a formal investigation into the conception and production of the twelfth volume of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, which is published by the Center for Schenkerian Studies and UNT Press. The University, the College of Music, and the Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology reaffirm our dedication to combatting racism on campus and across all academic disciplines. We likewise remain deeply committed to the highest standards of music scholarship, professional ethics, academic freedom, and academic responsibility.

John W. Richmond, Ph.D.
Professor and Dean of the UNT College of Music

Benjamin Brand, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair of the UNT Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology




  • Greg says:

    Dear Grad Students of University of North Texas,

    You’re students. You don’t get to ‘demand’ anything. Now: back to the practice room; you still have a lot to learn.


    The Grown-ups who have been hired to run the University of North Texas.

    • patrick G says:

      Or may be even better to tell the student to go home and close down this “university”

      • Another Nick says:

        The problem with absurd hyperbole like you’re spewing here is that some people, too many, take it seriously and believe that it must be validated in order to be, or at least appear, “woke”.

    • anon says:

      As a grad student, I wish faculty members would have some backbone and not bow to every single demand made by hatred-driven students. But there’s a culture of fear about speaking out against the dogma even among tenured professors.

    • Patrick says:

      It’s ok. They all have cognates in “barista studies”.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Yes. Texan students with big hats but no cattle.

    • J. Savage says:


    • DAVID says:

      But that’s unfortunately what happens when institutions are no longer places where education actually takes place, but first and foremost businesses: they need to cater to their consumers and indulge any of their whims. Satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back. The idea of true education, where the instructor still has some measure of authority, has been replaced by a model where the student cum consumer is king and must be satisfied at all costs — otherwise the flow of money might be compromised.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        They used their voices as children to get what they wanted and this has simply been transferred to the university campus.

    • Anonymoose says:

      You are a brave man!

  • patrick G says:

    Why dont the State of Texas close down UNT?

  • Sean Gismonte says:

    If Ewell does indeed show himself to he an anti-Semite, he is NOT an anti-racist. That piece he wrote is a flagrant waste of intelligence. Clearly he is of high intellect. He should also be penalized for wasting his talent on such a nonsensical argument.

  • Euphonium Al says:

    Reminds one of Henry Kissinger’s view that academic politics are so petty because the steaks are so small. Here’s what is actually happening as far as I can tell:

    1. Ewell’s theories on the Eurocentrism of musicology range from the blindingly obvious (non-Western white male composers have been historically dismissed throughout music history) to crackpot (Beethoven was merely an above average composer vaulted to fame primarily by whiteness).

    2. I’m not familiar in detail with all of Ewell’s public comments, but nothing about this exchange is anti-Semitic simply because the musicologist in question was a Jew.

    3. Even if one assUmes for the sake of argument Ewell is an anti-Semite, there’s nothing particularly “Black” about it, in the sense of being Lewis Farrakhan-style black nationalist anti-Semitism.

    4. I think I’m a hard pass on ever reading anything from Doctors Ewell and Jackson. They both seem like unpleasant ideologues.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      I don’t think the aphorism is original to Kissinger — unless he’s the one who changed “stakes” to “steaks” (the latter befitting a Texas institution, perhaps?).

    • Harrumphrey says:

      Are the “steaks” as small as Trump steaks?

  • John Rook says:

    Clamourings of University of North Texas Students. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • david hilton says:

    Let me get this straight: the essays challenging Professor Ewall’s address to the Society of Music by Professor Jackson and others are uniformly so racist, so inflammatory, so hate-filled and toxic that these UNT graduate students DEMAND that those essays must immediately be . . . .[pick one] . . . (A) suppressed and never published again? (B) destroyed physically? or (C) “released freely online to the public”?

    Yep, correct answer is (C). Irony really is dead in the USA it seems, at least on campus.

    These awful, scary essays — to the extent speech is ever scary — are currently safely limited to the limited universe constituting persons who subscribe to the Journal of Shenkerian Studies (yes, that actually is a thing). But the protestors want the speech they hate and fear to go viral on the internet, to be read by all and sundry, and to be promoted by the University.

    Words fail.

    • V. Lind says:

      Irony has never been understood in the US, in any walk of life. So nothing new there.

      It is an element of comprehension. Not the only one a lot of these nutters are missing.

    • John Rook says:

      Irony really is dead in the USA it seems

      ‘Twas ever thus.

    • Paul Murphy says:

      Let me assist you with some logic. When racist, horrific ideas are written in academic journals, yes it can be helpful for these terrible ideas to be aired in public so the racism can be viewed (and responded to) more plainly in the light of day.

      While the situation is complex, the way the professor at UNT handled the journal was appalling. He didn’t allow Mr. Ewell (who’s work was being criticized and reviewed in the issue) a chance to respond to any of the criticism or participate in the issue. Some of the pieces in that issue do indeed fall well below any reasonable academic standard (lack of peer review, etc) and some do contain blatantly racist ideas. The professor at UNT does deserve criticism.

      • Anonymoose says:

        Please give citations of and quotes from the places where blatantly racist ideas are present in the symposium. I genuinely want to be informed.

  • It speaks volume that the entire world has been held hostage in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where the establishment academia, media and others have promulgated their dreams of white-washing (no pun intended) history of all European values. There will come a day when the populace will awaken to the brainwashing.

    Was Beethoven a genius? !es!

    Was he one of the greatest minds in history? Yes!

    Was he white? Yes! Does it matter? No!

    Will LVB be remembered 250 years from now? Yes!

    Will anyone remember Prof. Ewell or these students? No!

    Long live the music of Beethoven and all other great human beings be they white, black, yellow or any other color.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Brilliant. But Ewell can recruit his army of malcontents into more damaging collectivism than merely complaints. Remember, it was the educated middle class, media and academics who supported the Little Corporal.

    • Harrumphrey says:

      When Ewell dies, his existence will be forgotten as soon as the funeral is over.

  • Alviano says:

    Feels like we are back in the witch hunts of the 17th century. These young people are ready to burn opponents at the stake!
    It is odd that i
    n the name of diversity we suppress diversity.

    About Ewell: his technique of self-publicity is very effective. He gets a lot of attention and we cannot criticize without being condemned. He is not the first to use this tactic.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      This is one and the same cohort who bleated about HUAC. Same people, same grievances, same attempt to trash the system. Those fools who were hauled before HUAC were trying to do then what these yokels are doing now; advocate marxism into the culture through academe and the arts. The difference between then and now is that a great many Americans were fighting and losing their lives to defend the free world from tyranny. It was unforgivable betrayal from the comfy middle class.

      • Mr. Knowitall says:

        Praise be! Sue has come out in favor of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the witch hunt directed by disgraced thug Senator Tailgunner Joseph McCarthy. My admiration for your brave, if reactionary and demented, stand is boundless.

        • V. Lind says:

          She has nailed her colour (white) to the mast.

          I share your reaction to her blatant ugliness — though to be fair, in her limited and twisted and utterly reactionary and ideologically-based world, she has never tried to hide it. Perhaps she is afflicted, in that she cannot ever consider another’s point of view — a common failing of totalitarians everywhere. Napoleon Pig lives.

  • Amos says:

    Whatever you think about the controversy at hand how are the students a mob and how do you know that the faculty is “terrified”. I assume the hyperbole is at least in part because the issue involves anti-semitism. Express your opinion but don’t engage in disinformation.

    • Count Pete says:

      Granted, it’s not so bad as being eaten by a shark, but I think people can be terrified of losing their job.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Sorry to read this. UNT (once NTSU where I did some undergrad work) has a terrific, first-class music program. The wind band is spectacularly good and the jazz program second to none. Now liberals are taking over Denton and surrounding area and infecting it like they did Austin. This Cancel Culture and constant demands of political correctness must stop!

    • V. Lind says:

      Another American misapprehension. There is nothing remotely liberal in this approach. Kindly look up the word and then read up the term. It is clear you haven’t a clue what it means and are just mouthing the usual vitriol hurled by the sort of rightwing media that reduces everything to them and us, the latter day version of Nixon’s Enemies List.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Oh yes, there’s definitely a lot of wind.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      That said, it’s a regional program in a university. Not on the level of the conservatories and major music schools.

  • M McAlpine says:

    It would help of course if places like this had some kind of entry requirement for students – like intelligence. Some of the faculty could probably do with some of the same!

    • Herbie G says:

      Klemperer said: ‘A musicologist is someone who knows everything about ology, but nothing about music’. I am embarrassed to say, however, that of all the long lists of musicologists posted in various threads dealing with petitions to ban this and that, I have never heard of any of them. Do they really exist or is someone perpetrating micturitional larceny?

      As for entrants to university, suggesting that they be intelligent is discriminatory and elitist. Everyone is entitled to a degree as a human right but Tony Blair introduced a policy of sending only 50 per cent of school-leavers to university, thus instantly expanding the elite and causing hordes of candidates for university places to chase all kinds of ‘confetti’ degrees – such as Media Studies, Film Studies and Fashion Merchandising. That left the other 50 per cent without a degree to be traumatised, demeaned and doomed to lifelong failure. Look at Richard Branson, Lord Sugar, Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis, and John Major – think of what they could have achieved if only they had attended university!

      To achieve Blair’s target, we now have dozens of universities that have never been within sniffing distance of being able to complete the entry forms for University Challenge, let alone appear on the programme. The running cost for these sink-holes is enormous and most of the successful entrants will be encumbered with massive debts for tuition fees in order to obtain degrees that will be of no use whatsoever on a CV. To me, this amounts to legalised fraud.

      There’s still a lot of prejudice to be overcome too; I have heard that someone with a First from the University of East Neasden (formerly Neasden Borstal) would probably be rejected in the jobs market in favour of someone with a 2.2 from Oxford!

      There’s a simple way to end all this inequality. First, ban all these useless courses, phase out all the universities that have never made it to University Challenge and let the remaining ones cater for students who need degrees to pursue careers such as Law, Medicine, Fine Arts and the Sciences.

      Second, convert these closed universities to Technical Colleges (remember those?) for those who wish to pursue much-needed vocations like Information Technologists, Computer Programmers, Electricians, Engineers, Plumbers, Builders and Carpenters – such courses to be in tandem with Business Studies and apprenticeships. That has worked well in the past.

      Third, everyone should, when leaving school, be asked what was their favourite subject; the interviewer then presses a button on the keyboard and the printer provides a pretty diploma to say ‘This is to certify that John Doe likes History’, to which will be affixed a pretty red ribbon, by means of a blob of sealing wax with the school’s emblem stamped into it and with the head teacher’s signature at the foot. All will now have at least one degree of one kind or another and, in the words of W S Gilbert, ‘when everyone is somebody, then no-one’s anybody’. True egalitarianism!

  • fred says:

    to this we’ve come…..(probably at the instigation of a professor who wants to settle a score), and for those brainless students it WAS anti-semitic

  • Adult says:

    Start PAYING your Student Loan Debts!!!

    Then we’ll talk…like ADULTS.

  • Phf655 says:

    Based on the reporting on this blog over the last few days, it is inappropriate to refer to Ewell as anti-racist. He substitutes what should be unacceptable black racism for unacceptable white racism. Unfortunately, in today’s pseudo-intellectual climate the former is considered acceptable.

  • Anon says:

    Dr. Timothy Jackson writes:

    “Why, then are there so few Black professors of music theory in American universities? Is it because of a conspiracy by racist Schenkerians practicing their inherently racist analytical methodology, as Ewell would have us believe? Of course, I understand full well that Ewell only attacks Scheneker as a pretext to introduce his main arguments: that liberalism is a racist conspiracy to deny rights to ‘people of color’. He is uninterested in bringing Blacks up to ‘standard’ so they can compete…

    I would like to propose that genuine solutions lie elsewhere, especially by the African American Community, establishing different priorities, by addressing the deficiency of background in classical music caused by few opportunities for serious training, and by the removal of systemic barriers in American society at large. As I see it, a fundamental reason for the paucity of African American women and men in the field of music theory is that few grow up in homes where classical music is profoundly valued, and therefore they lack the necessary background. To master classical performance practice on any instrument, to achieve musical literacy, and theoretical competence, on must begin intensive regular practice from an early age. Low socio-economic status does not preclude any racial group from doing so; poverty does not prevent setting priorities; it is not solely a matter of money. All four of my grandparents were poor working-class Jewish emigrants who had fled from Central and Eastern Europe to the United States and England with the clothes on their backs, who spoke heavily accented English, which they wrote phonetically to the end of their lives. Yet, my mother recalled that even during the Great Depression, when there was barely enough to eat, her parents somehow scraped together the money to buy her a cheap violin and pay for lessons! … “

  • mary says:

    Academic politics are so so vicious because the stakes are so small.

    This is truly a tempest in a teapot, concerning an obscure academic area in an obscure academic field at an obscure academic institution in an obscure corner of an irrelevant state (Texas should’ve been part of Mexico, until it went to war with the US, and lost).

    Beethoven needs Schenkerian analysis like he needs a boil on his nose.

  • christopher storey says:

    ” reaffirm our dedication to combatting ( sic) racism on campus and across all academic disciplines.”

    Well , in that case you had better investigate the anti-white racist statements made by Philip Ewell, and do it immediately

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    “If you want to read the source of the infection, click here.”

    ignorants, that you
    ignorant may remain
    we shall
    instruct you.
    ——Abridged course.

    Reiner Kunze, the East German poet, writer, Czech-German translator, and existential dissident who wrote this very Brechtian verse in 1969, also carved in frozen marble the following briefest chapter from his 1976 collection of essays, ‘Die wunderbaren Jahre’.

    Kunze had spotted a toxic gem, a printed hydrogen cyanide cristal, in a 1975 paper from a leading Czech medical (!) journal which, of all things, attacked the exiled Czech intellectuals who deigned resist the Communist régime :
    “…Also the Trotskyite Pavel Tigrid-Schönfeld (Jew — Editor’s note)…”

    To the quote, Kunze added only two italicised words :
    ‘Pasteurella pestis.’

    Reiner Kunze was an early detector, for he was clinically aware that the germ of anti-semitism was endemic while mutated to a progressive variant.

    The German original is quoted at the end of this post.

    “ ‘…Ebenso der Trotzkist Pavel Schönfeld-Tigrid (Jude – Anm. d. Red.)’, Praktischer Arzt, Zeitschrift für ärztliche Fortbildung, Prag, 20. April 1975, S.233…

    Pasteurella pestis.”


    DIALEKTIK // Unwissende damit ihr // unwissend bleibt // werden wir euch // schulen.” —— Kurzer Lehrgang.

  • Anonymoose says:

    I read quickly through the symposium, enabled by your link. I could not find the ‘racist sentiments’ that the students complain of.

  • Joel Lazar says:

    When will academe go after Adorno? Asking for a friend.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Or “The Guardian”, which started from the proceeds of the slave trade. (Sound of crickets)

    • Clevelander says:

      would be pretty funny to see them go after the guy who invented the framework they’re using to go after him

  • marcus says:

    These “students” are completely f*****g barking. I do wonder what, if any, sort of world do they want to see?

  • Patrick says:

    Before you say “avoid the UNT College of Music”, you have much to learn. It is a distinguished institution with performances of the highest order:


    Oh, yeah….and jazz…..

    It is so much more than you project.

  • Karl says:

    Look at all the white nationalists posting here. A women named Robin Angelo wrote a book called “White Fragility” where she describes the “disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged—and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy. ”

    You are all like children having a tantrum. Denial of racism is the most racist belief of all.

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    OK children, run along now. Nothing to see here.

    Everyone will get their A at the end of the semester as we all know you are brilliant.

    Onwards to your doctoral dissertation which no one will read and will bore your advisors to near death.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Soon to be followed by uniforms and truncheons. Useful idiots in lockstep.

  • Postmodern theory led to new methodologies in the social sciences that question self-referential cultural perspectives. It was first applied in anthropology, most famously by Claude Levi-Strauss and spread to other social sciences. It’s value was also quickly appreciated by ethnomusicologists and from there led to new insights in broader musicological studies.

    Ewell is not doing much more than provocatively riffing on these themes by touching on the racial and nationalistic ideologies that surround the Western classical music cultural world. And by the way, thoroughly demonstrated here on SD–something Norman consciously exploits to provoke participation on his site.

    So yes, Beethoven is not much esteemed by the vast majority of people, not just in the USA, but around the world. Ewell thus examines the extent to which we use the Western classical music canon to reaffirm our sense of superiority, especially when most people are barely familiar with the music, and even though minoritized cultures by dint of education are excluded from appreciating it.

    It’s an important and practical discussion. If classical music is to survive, it is vitally important for academics to study and debate how its perception is altered by societal norms which is the main purpose of Ewell’s ironic provocations.

    On a more mundane level, given the tone and ignorance in the comments frequently found on SD regarding these issues, there is an irony in referring to the UNT grad students in question as a mob. Still, stirring up mob reactions, a mainstay of journalism, and a good way to have people discuss an increasingly marginalized art form. It also increases the number of hits and helps pay this site’s bills.

    So back to the fine American sport of bashing intellectuals and academics with our superior knowledge and more refined cultural tastes, a hallmark of our red blooded American whiteness………

    • Anonymoose says:

      Are you sure that Ewell’s ‘provocations’ are ‘ironic’? My impression is that he says exactly what he means.
      You attribute to him the aim of encouraging ‘study and debate’; ‘study’, yes, but ‘debate’ suggests the validity of more than one position. There is surely only one acceptable position when racism is the topic.
      So if I were to say “Having seriously thought about and come to terms with my own Eurocentrism, I believe that there is a hierarchy of cultures, and that European culture with its derivatives is among the superior ones; and I am willing to argue that position”, I very much doubt if I would get a platform in academia.

      • I think there is irony in his remarks since he is a rather accomplished classical cellist and thus closely involved with the literature he is taking to task.

        As to your second point, beliefs of cultural superiority can have a wide range of complex associations, some much more racist than others. And there are varying views about what is racist and what isn’t. For example, Viennese sociologist, Prof. Roland Girtler, of the University of Vienna, observed in a 1996 interview with the West German State Radio:

        “What I have noticed that is interesting, is that the Vienna Philharmonic would also never take a Japanese or such. If they took one, this also would somehow by appearances put in question the noble character of Viennese culture. But this is not racist!” (See: “Musikalische Misogynie,” broadcast by the West German State Radio, February 13, 1996.)

        Girtler also made the same assertion in a written article: See Roland Girtler, “Mitgliedsaufnahme in den Noblen Bund der Wiener Philharmoniker Als Mannbarkeitsritual”, Sociologia Internationalis, Beiheft 1 (1992).

        In the English-speaking world, his view likely would be considered racist. We see that not only musical evaluations, but also our concepts of racism are culturally conditioned. Given the often lax view of racism in Vienna, its recent history is surrounded with yet more ironies.

  • Maria says:

    Thank you, Mr. Lebrecht, for posting this and also your previous post on this subject as the atmosphere on campuses is becoming more and more toxic.

  • Nick says:

    Missed the key word:

    These idiots should NOT be university students. Bartending – is what they should do for a living. They all have a great example to follow in D.C.

  • Doug says:

    I’d like to suggest we all take a few minutes to write or call the Dean of the College of Music at UNT, John Richmond, to let him know how illiberal and anti-intellectual his actions are and how he is complicit in nothing short of a Maoist Cultural Revolution.