Music in America, September 2020

Music in America, September 2020


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2020

As woke as it gets.

Right click and open new tab to enlarge.


  • RVW10 says:

    The performance royalties will presumably flow to John Cage’s publisher?

  • Give me a break says:

    No quarter for goons and thugs. Kick ‘em all out – now.

    • William Safford says:

      No quarter for goons and thugs. Kick ‘em all out – now.

      The single greatest source of domestic terrorism in the U.S. is right-wing white supremacists.

  • IntBaritone says:

    This is 100% true. For at least the new generation of singers. Makes one wonder if the music world in America really deserves to survive.

  • “Right click and open new tab to enlarge.”
    Didn’t work in Firefox or Edge or Chrome.

    But I squinted and read the tiny version. I was un-amused.

    No, that isn’t music in America. That is right-wing “commentary” in America. Why, it’s really the elites who are being oppressed!

    Har-dee har-har. FOX News cranks that siren 24/7.

    The artist’s name sounded familiar. I looked him up. Ah… that guy.


    “In 2006, Tinsley was arrested twice for driving while intoxicated, once in August and again in December, both Class A misdemeanors. After the December incident, he attacked the sentencing judge, Roderick McGillivray, in several of his comics.”


    Clearly there’s conservative exceptionalism at work. He wants to be able to get drunk, drive off in his car, and if anything goes wrong… it’s someone else’s incompetence that is the problem!

    And, clearly, from the way he staged this scene with piano on a proscenium stage with plush curtains and backdrop, the closest Tinsley has ever been to a real piano recital was a Tom & Jerry cartoon, c. 1947.

    • F. P. Walter says:

      Many college recitals take place on proscenium stages. Elsewhere as well. Not every venue is a big concert hall. But surely you knew that.

    • John Rook says:

      Yes, and all the wokies are saints. Silly of us to think otherwise.

    • True North says:

      My heart breaks for right-wingers. Just imagine the horror of being invited to consider a perspective other than your own. Oh, the humanity. Sending thoughts and prayers.

      • True North says:

        By the way, I count down-votes as badges of honour on this site… so keep ’em coming!

        • Kyle says:

          May I suggest that sarcastically and hypocritically accusing others of a lack of consideration while giving them none but in jest should not be worn as a badge of honor regardless of political affiliation?

          Warm regards.

      • Allen says:

        In my experience, left-wingers are usually the first to resort to ad hominem attacks.

        • J. Cacoyannis says:

          Yes, left-wingers on are record for saying the following about specific people: “such a nasty woman,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Crooked Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “the dumbest man on television,” “Pocahontas,” “suckers and losers,” “crazy Bernie,” “Morning Psycho,” “crazy, dumb and sick,” “crazed and incompetent,” “dumb as a rock,” “Alfred E. Newman,” “Cryin’ Chuck, ” “sleepy eyes,” “clown,” “doesn’t know much,” “crazy and very dumb” makes mocking gestures in offensive imitation of a disabled reporter…
          Heard enough? Plenty more.
          (all direct quotes from Trump)

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        It’s usually conservatives doing all the paying, since they’re the risk-takers, entrepreneurs and yes, pipers!! Oh, the humililty of economic dependence.

    • Nicolas says:

      Oh my dear, if we have to exclude artist who didn’t done insane things, we are condemned to watch child draw; and even with children, I am not sure to exclude drunken…

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Just reconfirms what we all see daily: liberals have no sense of humor.

      • Sharon says:

        There’s a lot of anger in humor. Perhaps the liberals have no sense of humor because in some cases they are less angry.

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        Yes, Trump, Mitch, deJoy and all the rest – they’re just so jolly. LOL for everyone! . . . and I hope your Cubs choke again – how’s that for non -Republican humor?

    • John Borstlap says:

      All of that does not diminish the truth of what the cartoon wants to say: a totally exaggerated vision of culture’s ‘corruption’ which, in fact, seriously damages the credibility of the BLM movement. Recently there was an essay on the website of the German well-known newspaper Die Zeit, in which it was explained that ALL of Europe’s civilisation, so: including all of its culture through the ages, was burdened by crime on a vast scale, unredeemable, helpless, hapless – an intrinsically BAD civilisation. All the ‘greatness’ of Europe’s civilisation (and by implication also of the rest of the Western world) has only be possible by exploitation and slavery. All of it. Really, ALL.

      In other words: away with us!

      Protests against such idiotic lies, products of ignorance and populism, are not ‘rightwing’ or ‘conservative’ but the common sense of factual knowledge.

      • John Rook says:

        John, what else would one expect of contemporary Germany? They were self-flagellating when I moved there in 1987 and don’t seemed to have moved on, since. As Sir Humphrey points out on Yes, Minister (or maybe even Yes, Prime Minister by that stage) Germany was still applying for readmission to the human race at that stage.

      • William Safford says:

        You do not live in America, just as I do not live in Europe. I cannot speak about life in Europe from direct experience. You cannot speak about life in America from direct experience.

        White supremacy is baked into the very fabric of America, from colonial days to today: from the redlining that created impoverished Black neighborhoods (look up redlining if you do not know what it means), to the incredibly high incarceration rate of Black people, to how routine it is for police to murder Black people.

        Most white people barely notice, at least on a day-to-day basis, because, well, they’re white. It does not affect them directly.

        Look at how many commenters to this blog disparage Black people. It’s not just the trolls; many others herein routinely, and often blatantly, show their contempt for those who have a different skin color from their own.

        This is a microcosm for life in America while Black.

        This barely scratches the surface of the scourge of white supremacy in America.

        As for the cartoon: in doing a mediocre job of mocking “woke” culture, it highlights just how far we have yet to go to expunge the scourge of white supremacy.

        If I were in that audience, frankly, I’d rather hear something new to me.

        Wouldn’t you prefer that the pianist perform one of *your* works? After all, you’re a live composer!

        • John Borstlap says:

          All of that is not the point…… Western musical culture in itself has nothing to do with American social problems, which are spelled-out world-wide and served-up in the most glaring colours. And that is tragic enough. But to play or not to play Beethoven has nothing to do with the absurdities of white supremacy ideology…… And, by the way, I think it would do Beethoven’s music much good if it were left alone more often, so that it will sound as fresh as it really is.

          • William Safford says:

            But it is the point. The cartoon does a mediocre job of setting up a straw man then knocking him down.

            In the process, the cartoonist mocks the very real horrors of the history of slavery and American apartheid.

            In this, you had it backward in a previous message: it is the cartoonist, and the narrative that he espouses, who has lost credibility, not BLM. He insults the memory of Beethoven to make his petty rhetorical point.

            In America, we do not have a Black person problem. We have a white person problem. It is white people who enslaved black people. It is white people who enforced apartheid. It is white people and the power structures created by white people who discriminate against black people. It is white people who have created the circumstances that triggered the current protests. (To their credit, many white people support the protesters, and are also out on the streets demanding reforms in support of BLM.)

            It is police — with historical roots in the capture of runaway slaves — whose repeated documented abuses so shock the conscience that countless thousands have gone to the streets to protest in the middle of a pandemic.

            As the comedian Chris Rock said: “There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

            Now, think about all the hateful and bigoted things that have been said and done in recent months about Black people. Just look at hateful comments against Black people on this website. Ponder the fact that this does not contradict Chris Rock’s point. We have this level of hate, *and* this is an improvement from decades past.

            But it is not good enough. And we have backslid seriously under the orange enemy of the people, who legitimizes hatred and bigotry and encourages it in his minions.

            I do agree with your opinion re Beethoven’s music.

          • American says:

            Thank you, William Safford. Well said.

    • Haydn70 says:

      Tell me Bobby, do you know what the “argumentum ad hominem” logical fallacy is? Look it up. Your post is a superb example…and, as such, worthless…just as your left-wing politics are.

    • Herbie G says:

      I suppose that we now need to add ‘Conservative Exceptionalism’ to ‘White Privilege’, ‘Cultural Appropriation’ , ‘Woke’ and ‘Politically Correct’ in the list of incomprehensible neologisms to be found in the armoury of the anti-white movement. Newton said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so it’s quite understandable that the obnoxious white supremacy movement headed by Grand Wizard Trump should spawn an equally obnoxious black supremacy movement as a mirror image. We need to recognise that BLM fulfils that role and reject it wholeheartedly but that’s not to say that we should not support action to bring the incoming President, whoever he may be, to account for the murderous brutality regularly meted out by the American police force to blacks and whites too. If the black Americans stopped being obsessed with slavery and mindless hooliganism and organised themselves, they could have a national strike that would bring the USA to its knees, especially now when their economy is reeling from Trump’s failure to recognise and tackle the pandemic. For that, they would need a leader of the calibre of Gandhi to take the reins. Look what he achieved through peaceful protest! Where’s the latter day Rosa Parks?

    • Bruce says:

      Or just hit “CTRL” plus the “+” key to enlarge this whole page. (CTRL/- will shrink it back again)

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You have to laugh the way the Left starts crazy social movements and when it inevitably goes pear-shaped they try to project their perfidy onto its critics. Absolutely priceless!!

      • Eric says:

        Without left social movements you would be back in the kitchen where people like Jordan Peterson want you because of your “innate biology”. For that matter you wouldn’t be able to vote either.

  • where now? says:

    One could make up some statements, provocative but quite plausible, to illustrate the other side of the argument:

    Met opera usher to poor person sitting in an unused seat up front: “Sorry Bud, the beautiful people are back from their summer places. You’ll have to go back to standing room.”

    Blue-haired lady in pearls at the Phil: “Why Sedgely, isn’t it nice to see some of those colored people sitting there in the back. They’re finally getting some culture.”

    Wiener: “The downfall of the Philharmonic came when they admitted women a few years ago. Now they’re even playing John Williams’ music.”

    Flutist: “Of course we are white men playing the music of white men for white people. That’s tradition. Let’s not destroy that with superficial notions of equality.”

    Patron: “I don’t believe she was assaulted. I’m glad they got their jobs back.”

    So woke, we are.

  • nicolas says:

    Mmmh, of course you understood I wanted to write “if we have to exclude artists who did insane things”.

    And you understood also that it is a sarcasm… As said Charlie Brown “Don’t You Know Sarcasm When You Hear It ?”

    Charlie Brown… Main character of the comics “Peanuts”. Author: Charles Monroe Schulz. He introduced in “Peanuts” a black character (Franklin) in 1968. Even if a lot of Newspapers stopped publishing “Peanuts” because of this initiative, he kept drawing Franklin.

    You will tell “Ah, so he was a democrat of the left wing”. No: he voted republican during all his life; and he accepted to draw advertise for a bedding company, knowing that it hire scabs.

    Don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure that a comic strip can give you, just because the guy do things you disapprove. After all, it is just a gag; if you like it, laugh; if you don’t, skip to the next one.

  • Phillip Ayling says:

    Ravel, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Foss and quite a few others wrote concertos for Left-Hand only. The Righties have already been marginalized in the Concert Hall.

  • Urban Dictionary says:

    “The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue”

    “Deluded or fake awareness.”

    “When a successful enterprise is deliberately run into the ground for the sake of liberal ideals.”

    ‘”Wokeness” occurs when a white, upper-class person pretends to hold opinions they imagine a black lower-class person might hold. The word itself is an incorrect tense of “awake” – referring to the perception that the black working class have a poor grasp of grammar. ‘

    “[…] having just discovered some politically Progressive ‘truth’ about society or the oppression and class status of marginalized people, and the obligation to treat them as extra-special/revered in society.”

    “[…] In short people who are ‘woke’ are fake amateurs who aren’t at the slightest into politics and are most likely victims of indoctrination from biased and lying media”

    “Being completely deranged, hysterical and seeing racism/oppression in virtually everything.”

    “To be asleep and uncritically accept whatever nonsense social science professors dream up to advance Marxist goals. As with most liberal speak the meaning of the word is the opposite of the word’s standard meaning.”


  • Florestan says:

    Unfortunately, many an American university music department is moving very clearly in the direction of this cartoon. Examples: Why teach figured bass? It was only used in Europe from 1600-1800 by whites. Why teach music by dead white Europeans when they were all part of repressive, colonialist cultures? Why teach the Ring or Parsifal since they were created by an anti-semite? Etc.

    • John Rook says:

      One could also say that music by dead, white men played (or even enjoyed, perish the thought!) by those who do not fit that description is, by their own definition, ‘cultural appropriation’. Oh, sorry, didn’t realise it was a one-way street…

    • Emil says:

      I am amazed how much the moral panic over ‘wokeness’ relies on inventing slippery slope arguments that literally no one is making.
      50 years ago, civil rights were to lead to literal communism in the US. 15 years ago it was that gay marriage would lead to the legalisation of bestiality and pedophilia. Now somehow recognising historical and social facts of racial inequality will lead to the abolition of the written alphabet, or whatever other nonsense.

    • Herbie G says:

      On the other hand, when will they investigate the virtual absence of white performers in Rap and Reggae? Sounds like generic exclusionism to me, as well as a lack of diversity.

    • Araragi says:

      Sadly, this mentality is not limited to music. They also say, why care about the American Constitution when it was written by white slave owners. As if one has anything to do with the other.

      • William Safford says:

        “As if one has anything to do with the other.”


        White supremacy is written into the very fabric of the Constitution.

        It has been only partially expunged by subsequent Amendments, and the expiration of one provision.

        It is a rhetoric device to suggest that people do not care about the Constitution because it was written by white slave owners. (Note that many participants in the Constitutional Convention were *not* white slave owners, and at least one was an abolitionist.)

        To deny the white supremacy embedded in the Constitution, is to deny the very history of its creation, and the effects to this day of the white supremacist choices made over two hundred years ago.

        • Araragi says:

          “White supremacy is written into the very fabric of the Constitution.”

          The Constitution does not reference race. No one reading it without other knowledge about American history would know there was racial slavery in America. There were concessions made with the southern states where slavery was tolerated by the Constitution but nowhere is it endorsed. Such concessions were made because we would not have formed a union without them – and perhaps then not have won our independence from Britain. I’d be curious to know what specific provision/s in the Consitititon, as amended today, you believe support white supremacy.

          • William Safford says:

            You clearly have never studied the Constitution.

            The Founding Fathers used euphemisms in the Constitution to mask slavery and other structural white supremacy. That is why you do not see the word “slave” appear in the Constitution until the Reconstruction Amendments, which banned slavery*. (The asterisk is because slavery still exists in the context of prison–but I digress).

            You doubt this? Read:

            “The migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.”

            –Article I, Section 9

            The meaning of this clause: Congress was expressly denied the power to prohibit or regulate (other than a low level of taxation) the slave trade, until 1808. It was Constitutionally-protected economic business activity.

            This could easily be rewritten to read: “The migration of Importation of Slaves shall not be prohibited….” The actual text is clunky writing to get around using the word “slave.”

            How important was this clause to the Founding Fathers? It is placed before the Habeus Corpus clause.

            Still not convinced? Read:

            “The Congress,…shall propose Amendments to this Constitution,….Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article….”

            –Article V

            The slave trade–the importation of slaves–was so strongly protected, that the Constitution prohibited this clause from even being amended! It is one of only three clauses that are protected from amendment. If it didn’t have an expiration date, then it would still be in force today!

            *That* is white supremacy in the Constitution.

            Guess what? It’s only one example. There are more! I dare you to find them.

          • Araragi says:

            I didn’t say there were no references to slavery in the constitution, only to race. The passage you reference was a concession with the southern states. It was a terrible concession to make and it’s noteworthy that the day it became Constitutionally permissible to do so, the slave trade was abolished by Congress. But my question relates to the Constitution as it is applied today, and in light of the Reconstruction Amendments, not a passage that expired over 200 years ago. You said white supremacy is still embedded in the Constitution and I ask where, under the Constitution as applied today, there is still white supremacy? This is a sincere question, not an antagonistic one so no need to respond defensively.

          • William Safford says:

            I’m happy to do so.

            Here is one example:

            “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, *except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,* shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

            –13th Amendment, Section 1 (emphasis mine)

            Many people believe that slavery was ended in the United States with the 13th Amendment.

            This is false.

            To be sure, slavery was Constitutionally eradicated in almost all aspects of our country. It was a transformational change in our country, one to be lauded.

            But it was, and remains, incomplete.

            Putting aside the real-world examples of slavery and near-slavery in the late 19th and early 20th century (e.g. sharecropping, peonage), the 13th Amendment contains an enormous loophole, which I highlighted:

            The penal system.

            Why were Black people arrested–usually on trumped-up charges–tried, convicted, and sentenced to hard labor, starting right after the Southern torpedoing of Reconstruction in the late 19th century?

            Why can prisons force inmates to work on chain gangs (unless prohibited by law)?

            Why is it permissible for prisons to pay inmates pennies per hour (or less)?

            Why does the United States have the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized country, and one of the highest in the world?

            Why is something like one quarter of the world’s imprisoned population, incarcerated in the United States, supposedly the land of the free?

            Why are our prisons, in many cases, so worse, so more inhumane, than those in most other industrialized countries?

            Why is a disproportionate percentage of the prison population Black?

            Because of the white supremacy built into this clause, and enforced by our police, our judicial systems, and the prison industrial complex, and aided and abetted by our elected representatives.

            Is the highlighted phrase necessary for the function of jails and prisons? No.

            But it is necessary for forced labor within prisons, from chain gangs to prison laundries.

            To learn more, I recommend the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. It is an excellent starting point to learn the history of law enforcement and the 13th Amendment through the lens of white supremacy.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I’m always profoundly shocked when listening to a Haydn string quartet, knowing of the Prince Esterhazy household. I return regularly to the quartet series to get shocked again and feel my moral highground radiating in rainbow colours. So, in a way, I’m grateful to the prince.

  • Orchspork says:

    Instead of merely posting a reductive cartoon about a complex issue that is relevant across multiple cultural spheres of the United States, this blog could also direct attention to the nuances of the ongoing discussion by calling attention to thoughtful pieces such as Alex Ross’ recent New Yorker piece, providing a reminder of what appears to be an overlooked possibility: that one can acknowledge and delve into the complexities of history in the mindset of contemporary moral norms without creating an all-or-nothing scenario and dismissing the implications of that history outright, which in this case is the marginalization of the voices of artists, academics, and composers in the context of Western art music the United States.

    What is particularly confounding about the attitudes in these comments is that the concept of providing a platform for previously marginalized voices is not a new topic; there is an astounding number of wonderful composers who were at the very least censured during and leading up to WWII (if not much worse), including some that Norman has featured on his blog in order to rightfully help bring them into the modern repertoire. There are foundations dedicated to these composers and their works, including the Orel Foundation and the Leo Smit foundation, and James Conlon has gone so far as to begin a ‘Recovered Voices’ initiative at the Colburn School to introduce the next generation of musicians to this repertoire and instill a passion for confronting the wrongs of the past by giving new life to the music of the oppressed. Why then is it so offensive, in the context of the US, to advocate for composers who have been previously marginalized on the concert stage, if it is driven by orchestras musicians in communities that have independently deemed those composers have been oppressed in a way that they would like to acknowledge and address with their audiences?

    Among many of the decision-makers in the performing arts, the discussion is not centered around demonizing the music of the canon and never playing it again – the focus is around which voices are being brought to the table and onto the concert stage. There are less nuanced and more reductive versions of this argument, but to me, working in a large American orchestra in a major metropolitan area, the heart of the matter is “who ELSE do we want to explore? What can we learn from other perspectives?” This is markedly different from a focus on “who do we get rid of?” Of course if you are playing more of other composers you will play less Beethoven, but the argument of this cartoon focuses on warring extremist ideologies of the pantheon of masters vs the two-dimensional social justice warriors, and leaves out a critical reality in this discussion: the musicians and the communities they serve. In spite of the flood of digital performances over the course of the pandemic, which can so often be viewed by anyone, anywhere, any time, many if not most arts organizations in the US are focused the most on continuing to cultivate their relationships with their neighborhood, city, and state. It is lost on me why so many people believe that decisions about the entire industry need to be one-size-fits-all, rather than each organization having the agency to make decisions based on following their mission in the context of their community.

    • William Safford says:


    • John Borstlap says:

      There is much music to be explored aside of the war horses, but isn’t that a subject entirely different from the discussion about racism and white supremacy which are supposed to be ’embedded’ in the works themselves?

      Instead of a professional attention into the matter of exploration and programming, an idiotic ideology paints music with colours that have nothing to do with the works.

  • Joss says:

    Without rejuvenation, one cannot dream. Yes, it is possible to confront the music that can extinguish us, but not without rejuvenation on our side. Lamentably, he tonality of the present time seems to demand a maturing of our auras if we are going to survive.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maturity has never been the characteristic of the human world, because of the force of numbers. The differences between types of people within the species is much greater than between the different species of the animal world. It’s an evolutionary mystery why this is so.

  • M2N2K says:

    This cartoon reflects current trends so well that it gave me a quintessential “laughter through tears” moment.