And all because of the ‘unwarranted privileging of Western art music’

And all because of the ‘unwarranted privileging of Western art music’


norman lebrecht

January 08, 2021

A fresh rant from the mad, mad world of American musicology. The author is Dave Molk, former Assistant Teaching Professor at Georgetown University. This is why you send your kids to college. Ready for it?

The 2020 presidential election once again laid bare the ongoing thrall of white grievance and the pervasiveness of white supremacy. We can’t be impartial about this—oppression within education is a reflection and a reinforcement of oppression within society, and when we fail to address injustice, we ensure its continuance. Let us push back against the claimed inevitability of this insupportable curriculum.

The best thing we can do for our students is to embrace an engaged, transformative pedagogy in which, as bell hooks eloquently writes in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, “our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.” This requires at least a realignment and probably a rethinking of what higher education is supposed to be.

With a transformative pedagogy, we recalibrate our classrooms into spaces where we acknowledge the humanity of our students and are explicit about how the work we do in the classroom relates to their lives outside of it. We talk openly with students and with each other about racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of identity-based oppression. That this call to arms isn’t a new one only underscores its urgency. That these discussions aren’t necessarily easy only underscores their urgency.

Read on here.



  • Rogerio says:

    Louder and Funnier!!!

    • Rogerio says:

      Slipped Disc is is predominantly a community of white men – marcus, Greg, Old Man, …
      wazzaaap Gustavooo! Mi Hermanooo!
      Gruss Anglo-G.! Malzeit mein Bruder!
      Norman Lebrecht – Mazel Tov!

      And if we stick together, we will be OK.

  • marcus says:

    Is there a translation into a recognisable version of the english language for that? Just another load of meaningless woke bingo salad.

  • AngloGerman says:

    The primary issue with the statements that these kind of people make is that they are not truly supportive of an open dialogue on ‘oppression’, but rather the opposite – that all views contrary to their own are disregarded, ridiculed, and branded ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, or ‘elitist’. The ‘recalibration’ of classrooms has strong echoes of authoritarian regimes -both past and present – and should be resisted by those who still pride themselves as being independent thinkers.

  • Greg says:

    Along with sight-singing and ear-training for music students though, right professor? Or do black notes on white paper signify oppression?

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Lets just say that the white keys on the piano have long held a privileged position populating the elitist key of C major.

      • Alexander T says:

        Very true.

      • John Borstlap says:

        The very fact that there are MORE white supremacy keys on the keyboard than ethnicity-challenged keys, is already proof of indiscriminate discrimination.

        Therefore the trend with the building of harpsichords as period instruments, to have the ethnicity of the keys reversed, is a laudible one and cannot be encouraged enough. Only if we can reverse racism in instruments, we can offer a better symbolism of a space in musical matters, entirely free from any thought of racism.

      • Ross Amico says:

        Oddly appropriate that at the time I read this there are “88” up-votes.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Oh, God; where are Gilbert and Sullivan when you need them??!!! Even the Python “Ministry of Silly Walks” would do.

    • William Safford says:

      In light of the white supremacist attempted coup and murders in the U.S. Capitol last week, your offensive attempt at humor is in even worse taste than usual.

  • Seriously? says:

    Just started reading original article. He talks about how art music curriculum is limited to only western art music that according to him is something students don’t listen to. Great, let’s have a curriculum based on Cardi B! Prepare your papers on the high art of twerking!

    • The View from America says:

      Why not?

      They’ve turned copulating into the level of “high art”, haven’t they?

    • John Borstlap says:

      It’s puzzling why Western art music is such a bad idea in Western societies. It is even endemic in non-Western societies like China and Japan and S-Korea, so why not in the West itself?

      • John Borstlap says:


        Just thinking….. It regularly happens in China, that a Chinese symphony orchestra, consisting entirely of Chinese players and led by a Chinese conductor, performs a Beethoven symphony to an entirely Chinese audience, in a Chinese concert hall built by Chinese architects. Would that be OK according to woke philosophy? Is that also a form of identity-based suppression? And who is suppressing whom?

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Need a translator and someone who signs so I can understand what this means.

  • Gustavo says:

    “We talk openly with students and with each other about racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of identity-based oppression.”

    Doing it “with students and with each other” is discriminating!

  • Fred says:

    I think there’s a good reason why he’s “former assistant professor” and not “tenured professor” .

  • DAVID says:

    All good intentions — but this tired, hackneyed and predictable rhetoric will do absolutely nothing to solve the issues it claims to address. To be blunt: how much does yearly tuition to Georgetown University cost? Instead of patting ourselves on the back with this self-centered, self-reassuring and virtue-signalling discourse, maybe we should actually stop talking and start doing — in other words, endeavor to enact concrete policies that will give a real chance to those who need it to get a decent education in order to get ahead in the world. Talking ad nauseam about a problem without ever taking concrete to actually solve it is a quintessential American specialty. Progress is slow but happens mostly due to demographic change — not through the ramblings of tenured professors who pontificate while remaining part and parcel of the very system whose conditions they purport to denounce.

    • Nicholas says:

      The intentions of this professor are not good. They are rooted in the dangerous theory of Cultural Hegemony espoused by philosophers such as Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci. This theory was implemented in the Soviet Union through the education system which cemented the totalitarian regime of the Communist party during the 1920s. Unfortunately, the professor knows what he’s saying and doing.

    • The View from America says:

      Didn’t you know? Interdisciplinary chit-chat is their stock in trade.

      Or as one wag once put it: “The people with the long tongues and the short brains.”

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      The only problem is people like the Former Ass. T. There’s no problem with the classical music canon. Just ask the Asians, or aren’t they ‘diverse’ enough?

  • V. Lind says:

    Well, I “read on here,” as much as I could stomach (it has been a vomit-inducing few days in the American wisdom department).

    Ph.D from Princeton — what in God’s name are they teaching there? Who were the outside examiners — Bono and The Edge?

    It increasingly appears that all the humanities are dropping the notion that you ground students in the history and formation of the discipline in question and give them the tools of knowledge and reference and context from which to form their own flights. Let us hope that the sciences, especially medicine and engineering, do not go the same way.

    People like this man Molk seem to me to have no place in a university propagating this approach. Artists have operated without the academy forever, especially in the sort of field in which he seems most interested. One of the things that has made hip-hop (a special interest of the new Dean at U of T) such a social phenomenon is that it has emerged from the street, where no training is required, no musical knowledge, the most fundamental language skills. It has depended upon a repetitive beat and a message its adherents can relate to. Whatever you think of it, it has communicated to a huge audience and delivered fortunes into the hands of uneducated, inexperienced young people. Its social relevance is immense and well worth study — in the appropriate department, You do not need a Ph. D in music to work on rap.

    You don’t need one to play Rachmaninoff, either, but somebody has to in order to produce quality teachers for neighbourhoods and local schools. We all know a great deal of music can be self-taught, but university students should be instructed in the giants of their subject and the material they produced. They’re students, not rock millionaires and rap entrepreneurs. They’re supposed to learn the whole picture.

    I have no objection to opening up curricula to previously under-represented artists or forms — but not at a cost to the canon, nor to recognition of its importance. These things should be givens, which need not make schools and departments hidebound. But if we are talking about Music departments that want to teach rap and electronic and dance music, etc., they have to be taught THERE in a ‘MUSICAL context. If you don’t want to do that (or it can’t be done) then teach them somewhere else or leave them to the street.

    Same with under-represented composers. Sure, include them. But don’t kid anyone that they are as great as Beethoven or Mozart or Wagner — until you find the one that is. And stop thinking these people were imposing superiocracies on the rest of the world. Each was just one man, composing. It was their métier. Don ‘t weave a conspiracy out of it.

    This is all getting SO tiresome.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Yes, it is; but that’s the point. We must remain more vigilant than their seemingly tireless campaign. It’ll all come down to a question of stamina. Don’t give up.

      • V. Lind says:

        We mustn’t. Agendas that set out to prevent the transmission of knowledge are intrinsically dangerous. I’m all for widening the scope of departments, and being open to new ideas and approaches, but not if they come with destruction of what has passed, or the attempt to impose 21st century motivations on 18th century actions.

        Just teach the bloody subject, which is music, not cod psychology or sociology. Any composer that can be included on those terms has a place in the conversation. But put the conversation in the context of the history and gradual development of music that has led to whatever previously ignored composer is under discussion.

  • Alviano says:

    “as bell hooks eloquently writes in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, ‘our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.’ This requires at least a realignment and probably a rethinking of what higher education is supposed to be.”

    Damn, he’s discovered a liberal education. See what a Princeton PhD will do for you.

    Nay-sayers: you and your children are safe. He does not currently have an academic position.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Amazing how many of these self-congratulary types come out the woodwork at times like this. When reading this I’m glad neither of my kids went to college. They were spared this sort of rubbish.

  • J Barcelo says:

    He’s living in a bubble and needs to get out. There are good reasons why traditional Western harmony and theory are taught. But what this self-absorbed, racist professor doesn’t seem to know it that many American music schools DO offer theory courses in non-western music. Many schools have something akin to “World Music” departments or ethnomusic courses. My mentor, the late Mark Sunkett at Arizona State taught me all about percussion throughout South America, Africa and Asia. Non-western tuning systems were essential. He loved the enthomusicology studies, yet he demanded that all his students also be very competent in playing and understanding traditional Western music – he himself played timpani in symphony orchestras.

  • Duncan says:

    My only comment (request) on this is that we do not start automatically knocking all American musicology – there have been many articles and books by American scholars which have offered up valuable research, not least on aspects of English music – a subject that was ignored by our own musicologists for many years. Please don’t forget this Norman, when you are setting up your targets for us to fire at!!

  • Stefan Ufer says:

    What the ?!?! is this guy on about?

  • Alank says:

    Why do you mock these people?. You apparently support the political left that not only enables but promotes cultural suicide by western democracies. These sentiments are limited to isolated and fringe individuals in some obscure university and resident in an irrelevant and second rate music department, but are common among leaders in America’s educational institutions. An educational leader in Massachusetts was “proud” that the school system purged Homer from their curricula. The best example of this, however, is the Chancellor of the NYC school system who pronounced that “pursuit of individualism, perfection, and “worship of the word” were examples of “white supremacy” Just think, that man oversees the largest school system in the US. I wonder what MLK would think about that statement.

  • Couperin says:

    White millennial Princeton composition graduate cries about racism: film at 11.

  • Michael B. says:

    Does this guy actually think that timbre is not an essential part of what he describes as “Western art music”? Has he ever listened to Berlioz or Debussy, just to name a couple of composers who exploited timbre? Of course, there are many more, particularly in the twentieth century and later. The same is true of improvisation. It was clearly part of baroque music, not least in the use of the figured bass. It returned in the mid-twentieth century in certain aspects of the avant-garde (Boulez, Stockhausen, Penderecki, Cage, Lutoslawski). I don’t care if this guy is politically correct; he is musically incompetent.

    • SVM says:

      Hear hear! It sounds like Molk is not conversant with the wealth of the Western classical tradition, and has a very limited understanding of how it can be taught in an inspiring way. Molk speaks, quite rightly, of the importance of good teaching, and identifies, in very general terms, how the Higher Education system is not always amenable to nurturing that. But I find a lot of Molk’s criticism reductive and simplistic. A “single style”, indeed? Harmonising chorales (to take the instance of “traditional pedagogy” that Molk vituperates) offers a wonderful education in reconciling harmony and voice-leading, and is locupletative well beyond the confines of the Bach cantata (and by the way, the chorale is but one style within the domain of styles found in that type of music, as Molk would have realised, if he had ever bothered to play in or listen to just one of Bach’s cantatas all the way through… most of them are not very long).

      And, by the way, improvisation in Western classical music is also a vital facet of the musical styles that developed between the Baroque and “mid-twentieth century”, albeit one that is not taught widely enough (I was very fortunate in having the opportunity to study classical improvisation with some of its greatest living exponents at conservatoire). Beethoven, as well as being a great composer, was a great improviser (ironically, it was Beethoven who sounded the death knell for improvised cadenzas).

      As for “groove”, perhaps Molk needs to take a closer look at the nature of “tempo rubato” (in its multiplicity of definitions and manifestations). And as for “post-production”, perhaps Molk needs to take a closer look at the praxis of the recording industry in Western classical music. The “post-production” aspect may not be “powerfully foregrounded”, but it is surely instructive to scrutinise the aesthetic framework and practical means underlying the creation of a sound artefact that is accurate in relation to the notated score and sounds unblemished to an extent not humanly possible in live performance (so much so that live performance has become more risk-averse, for fear of disappointing audiences accustomed to the perfection of their favourite recording of the repertoire being performed). And, if we include electronic music (or the use of electronics) within the purview of Western classical music, then we have even more fertile ground to explore in both theoretical and artistic terms.

      Molk repeats a lot of clichés, some of them worthy, but his attempts to expound them amount to a lot of prejudiced waffle. It is a pity, because there are some interesting issues to consider. Fortunately, there are some far more sophisticated interrogations of these issues out there. See, for example:

      (Butt’s chapter is available as a free ‘preview’)

      The above discusses music in UK Higher Education; if you want some interesting and provocative discussion of music in USA Higher Education, the writings of Peter Kivy are a good starting-point.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Another hopeless case of obsessive-oppressive identity disorder. The most effektive, evidence-based therapy is defunding.

    🙂 Dr Pff

  • No Identity-destroying woke zomie army says:

    “We talk openly with students and with each other about racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of identity-based oppression”

    These woke zombies don’t know what identity is in the first place.
    Identity is not making everyone bloody exchangeable, and replacing oneself and one’s culture, heritage and traditions with that of some socalled “disadvantaged oppressed” group.

    What some people call oppression is more like a bloody silent invasion, marked with smearing of guilt and shame.

    Open up your damn eyes. Bloody disgusting.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    These are tough times if someone simply likes the music.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Hilarious. He ticks all the clichéd boxes in the first couple of sentences before flagellating himself with a cat o’ nine tails while writing the rest. Self-hating 101, this is how to do it. Maybe he should just end it all now and achieve nirvana.

  • Patricia says:

    “Former and Assistant Teaching Professor.” A real scholarly source, to whom I would turn for political and usicological opinion. Turn over a large, wet rock and see what comes crawling out.

  • William Safford says:

    I disagree, NL. Once you strip away the specialist jargon, those are a bunch of great ideas.

    How do I know? Because I actually read the article. Thank you, as always, for supplying a link to it.

    As usual, here’s the question for everyone else: how many of you actually *read* the linked essay?

    There are so many positive ideas in it.

    Basically, the idea is that Western conservatories train musicians in very narrow, focused ways, that can serve to inhibit learning in other areas of music making. This includes limiting the repertoire, and limiting which composers are considered worthy of attention.

    This has direct relevance to all of us who want to go beyond performing music of the “Three B’s.” Frankly, that should be all of us.

    This has real world implications.

    I just finished listening to a conference presentation (online, of course) about music from South America.

    If you perform this music like you were trained to do in a Western conservatory, you will lose all its nuance and character.

    It would be like trying to perform Bernstein’s West Side Story or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as if they were Mozart: that is to say, stylistically completely wrong.

    In order to do justice to the music, one needs to learn and understand the character of the music, by studying things that you won’t (usually) learn in a conservatory: how the popular music on which the music is based sounds, how to create a performance that is consistent with its sources (thus tying this conversation to the recent one about Dvorak and his American influences), and much more.

    It also concerns what music is valuable. There is music composed by people other than the “Three B’s” that is worthy to be performed and listened to. But we will never know about it, if someone does not advocate for it, and if people close their ears to new sounds, and if people denigrate the music because the composer and/or performers are not white, male, and dead.

    This is incredibly worthy–again, once you strip out the jargon.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A Scottish scholar in the 19th century attempted to rewrite the Old Testament, stripping it from the oldfashioned jargon, but he ended-up with three pages of nonsense, plus the encouragement ‘Thou shallst commit adultery’. Then he tried the same with the New Testament and found that only the Apocalypse of Johannes could be preserved exactly as it is. For some purposes, jargon seems to be necessary to get the discombobulation across.

    • SVM says:

      I did read the article before commenting, and I think Safford is being too generous, having done an elegant job of transforming some of the better ideas implicit in Molk’s waffle into something more coherent. Yes, there are indeed (as I said in my earlier comment) some important issues to discuss (and, as I said in my earlier comment, others have done a far better job of discussing them)… but Molk fails to expound them effectively, opting for vague clichés and simplistic generalisations that betray a very limited understanding of Western classical music and the potential for it to be taught in an effective and inspiring way. I realise that there is a lot of second-rate teaching, but that should not serve as a pretext for vituperating and delegitimising the musical traditions that such teaching claims to elucidate.

      But of course, it is much easier to vituperate than to lead by example… what has Molk done to further great teaching in/of the Western classical tradition (or, if Molk lacks the time/expertise to do such front-line work himself, what has he done to facilitate others’ efforts to further great teaching?)?

    • John Borstlap says:


      As everybody knows, composers need to have a name beginning with a B to acquire immortality, and many strive after that tantalizing letter – not all of them succeed in the end. It’s ‘to B, to B or not to B that’s the question’: Bonteverdi, Bach, Bozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Braff, etc. It’s a pity that Chopin tried desperately but got stuck with his C. Vivaldi actually was named Bivaldi but he changed to the V because he did not want to join the rat race. That’s why he was ignored so long. With Voulez it was the opposite.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Agitprop which could come straight out of the Soviet Union handbook.

    • William Safford says:

      Why, yes, Sue. It must be that people who advocate for multiple musical styles, and racial and other forms of equality, must be Communist.

      Make Joseph McCarthy proud, Sue!

      Make McCarthy’s right-hand man, Roy Cohn, proud!

      Make Roy Cohn’s last protégé proud! That man? The Orange Enemy of the People!

  • JussiB says:

    How’s this math problem for ‘transformative pedagogy’?
    Shaniqua bought 3 1/2 yards of music paper, if she uses 2/3 of the paper to write a new commission “Fanfare for the Black Man”, how much will she have left?

  • Greg Bottini says:

    I hope I never have to look at that awful picture ever again.
    Please stop posting it, Norman.

  • Alexander T says:

    A few remarks:
    -These are American social issues. (Yes, the UK does have its own issues but nothing like the US).
    -This is not their cultural heritage. (Their own classical music simply doesn’t stand the comparison).
    -Most classical music worth listening to was written by Europeans
    in countries that:
    a) were, at the time, 99% White.
    b) played no part in the Atlantic slave trade and consequently had little or no bearing on early American history. (The UK and France being exceptions).
    – Austria and Germany, the two “powerhouses” of classical music had no empires. Bach, Haydn, Beethoven et al, therefore, can hardly have been writing music to celebrate White superiority.
    -If you hardly listen to Western Art music, don’t enrol on a music course which prioritizes it.
    -Some American universities have departments that emphasize other types of music.
    -If classical music is such a bone of contention in the US, there should be music departments that do not include classical music in the syllabus. This might help put an end to some of these tiresome debates.
    -Last and by no means least: like it or not, the cultural achievements of Europe dwarf those of most of the rest of the planet. If some have a problem with that, they should find something else.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Thank you. What a breath of fresh air. And common sense.

    • E Rand says:

      Hear hear!!!

      (file the excellent comment above under – “Inconvenient Truths”)

    • John Borstlap says:

      All true.

      I would add that both the Italian and the German lands, in the periods when their greatest music was written, were relatively backward. It seems they spent more time on other interests than empire building.

      Also I would add that European culture has shown to be entirely accessible to any artist with enough talents to absorb its values. This is shown by the numerous non-European classical musicians and composers.

    • William Safford says:

      The mere fact that you posted all of this drivel, in the wake of a white supremacist attempted putsch, is in incredibly bad taste as well as factually questionable.

      Not only do you not put anything to an end, you broach much that should be refuted.

      Just one example:

      “…Germany, the two “powerhouses” of classical music had no empires.”

      Oh, really?

      The former German colonies, comprising parts of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, New Guinea, and numerous other West Pacific / Micronesian islands, might disagree with your false assertion.

      What was that you were saying?

      The rest of your dreck can also be dispensed with equally easily with facts and informed opinion.

      • John Borstlap says:

        German empire building only came about at the end of the 19th century when most of the great German music was already written. Also, German composers preferred Austria (Beethoven, Brahms).

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Thank you, William. As usual, you’re right on the mark.

      • Alexander T says:

        What tosh.
        The world does not revolve around the US be it in Musicology or in Politics. Therefore there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to refrain from expressing an opinion because of what may be happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
        Re the German empire. Do your homework!!
        Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann were long gone by the time Germany turned to empire building, and both Wagner and Brahms were nearing the end of their lives

      • Seriously? says:

        You should really learn some history. So you want to hold Bach accountable for the slave trade? How dare him indulging in polyphony without inclusive use of ethnic instruments from around the world. During his time Germany was as much far from it as was Russia in 19th century. Unless you want to ban Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. Wait, there was a serfdom, but I guess for you that doesn’t count since serfs were the local whites.

  • José Bergher says:

    Oy vey, the article by Herr Professor is just an example of groiser meshugas.

  • Alexander Graham Cracker says:

    I can’t bring myself to click “read on here.”

    • William Safford says:

      That’s too bad. It’s a very good read, and way better than what has been portrayed.

      • V. Lind says:

        No it isn’t.

        • William Safford says:

          We disagree.

          I do not have to agree with everything posited in that essay, to recognize that the author identifies a bunch of valid issues, and addresses them forthrightly and with insight.

          Too many commenters on SD have brains like steel traps: they snap shut with the slightest touch, crushing whatever new idea triggers them. In most cases, they do not even need to read a word in the original source to jump to unwarranted conclusions.

          For example, we saw that over and over again in the Dvorak “cultural appropriation” topic, where the conclusion actually was that Dvorak *didn’t* do cultural appropriation, but the commentariat was having nothing of that.

          It really is sad.

          (I do not put you in that category, I hasten to add.)

          • V.Lind says:

            Glad to hear it.

            But I found little meritorious in this admittedly well-written article. I went back and read it again, to try to find what had appealed to you. But I disagree with too many of his assertions to support his overall argument.

            What on earth does this mean: “We need to talk about how white male identity politics has shaped Western art music.” Are you suggesting that Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven even thought about “male identity politics”? Any identity politics are a recent construction. (Except, perhaps, class). And if that assertion does not hold up, then the rest of his argument is fruit from the poisonous tree.

            His equation of research with perpetuation is also seriously flawed. The whole point of research is to learn more, with a view to perhaps forming an original insight. It is NOT about digging back and imposing current predilections on other societies and therefore invalidating something because it does not suit current thinking.

            “The bald assertion that the traditional pedagogy provides any and all necessary and fundamental knowledge needs to be defended, and I don’t believe it can be.” Well, who’s asserting it, let alone defending it? All these researchers are looking for more, not resting on what is already known.

            “We present music almost exclusively by dead white European men under neutral course titles like “Basic Musicianship,” allowing the two to conflate into a tautological definition of what qualifies as “Real Music,” and re-inscribing racial and gender hierarchies in the process.” So: teachers teach music from history, and that history happens to be European and therefore white…and all sorts of very grievance-oriented current objections are imposed to going back to basics…all I see here is attitude. Yes, the composers were white. Fact. (Not conspiracy). Sounds to me as if someone is hoping to insert some alternative facts here. I think most of us have had just about enough of those.

            “Canonizing only white composers of Western art music is racist. Requiring all students to use a white lens to approach, understand, and critique music is racist.” I disagree with the first sentence, so the second does not compute for me.

            I could go on, but as I read this article, what I see is a coded plea to teach the music Molk likes — rock and electronic and dance and hip-hop — in the academy with the same reverence we have shown the acknowledged western masters of music. I have no objection to courses in contemporary music (will it include Elvis and The Beatles and the Stones as well as Smokey and Beyoncé and of course the immortal Michael Jackson?). But couching it in this ermine wrap of sociological importance and relevance and of course inclusivity is just so much codswallop.

            The music academy is not there to sit around talking about racism and sexism and racism and all the rest. By all means throw a course or few on the sociological and historical situations of music. It’s a legitimate field of inquiry, if it can get past whingeing about the number of women in certain orchestras or the phenomenon or rising interest and talent in classical music in Asia while black Americans are apparently woefully under-represented in their orchestras, or the absence of electronic dance music from mainstream concerts.

            But take out unfounded, or at least unproven (that would take some kind of scholarship), attitudes about racism and just get on with teaching music from its origins to wherever you want to go. You’d be surprised how much the students could learn about actual music. Which is why they SHOULD be there.

          • William Safford says:

            I have witnessed some of what the author discusses, you frown upon, and others mock and disparage.

            I have observed music students, from all sorts of backgrounds, who want to learn about music, but whose artistic and employment goals are not specifically performing or teaching classical music.

            I have watched many of them dutifully learn aspects of classical music history, theory, and other subjects that were not tailored in any way to their goals.

            I also watched students drop out, because they were not being taught what was relevant to them, or it was not effectively being made relevant to them.

            I have also talked with Black students, with female students, with students who are not from a white European background, who *are* there to learn about classical music. Even as they learn about classical music, they have expressed sadness at how little representation they have in the ranks of these composers, these performers, these historians, and more. Many would love to have role models, but historical ones are few and far between. Many others are interested in classical music, but in areas outside the Teutonic and Gallic traditions.

            These students also know the history of the suppression of Black, female, and other possible role models from the past, or learn about it, or at least they learn that it exists.

            I’ve been familiar with bits and pieces of this history for decades, in part because my great-uncle knew several of these composers and performers personally, and he performed their music, and he coached and taught them. I know of two spiritual setting that were dedicated to him. But most other people do not have that kind of link to such musicians.

            One of the reasons that students can learn this history, is because musicologists, historians, and others are doing the legwork to make this information available, and to bring this information to the attention of all of us. Otherwise, students, as well as the greater world, might continue to think that classical music was, until our lifetimes, merely a dead white male European endeavor.

            Of course, in many ways it was effectively that. In, say, the 18th and early 19th century lands that eventually became Germany, the population was almost exclusively white. So, classical music was an endeavor of white persons as much by default as for any other reason.

            However, that does not address why women at the time were denied the right to be musicians, at least outside certain carefully-delineated boxes. If a lady wanted to play harpsichord for herself and her friends, that was acceptable; but a female violist would never have been hired by an orchestra of the time. Etc.

            Many students find learning about these inequities and discrimination fascinating. A few of them grow up to be musicologists, music historians, music theoreticians, and more.

            Now they’re doing research that interests them, that is relevant to them, and can be relevant to us if we keep an open mind.

            By the way, I’m delighted to have a discussion like this with you. *This* is what the comments section of SD should be like, not the promulgation of right-wing lies, propaganda, and hatred.

            Thank you.

          • V.Lind says:

            I have no objection, as I think I have made clear in this and other discussions, to any field of legitimate inquiry. But I see universities as centres of learning being shrunk every day, as they are turned more and more into job training centres. The Humanities as a field of study was once an honoured undertaking. These days one department after another is being reduced or closed. (I am always heartened to hear a contestant on University Challenge say they are studying Classics — it means that somewhere, some department is still teaching it).

            Here, I thought we were talking about music faculties, which are for people who are committed to music and in which I think they ought to be taught Purcell and Handel and Haydn and Mozart and all the other big guns for their sheer musical quality. The sort of inquiry you are talking about belongs in “music appreciation” classes, for students who wish to learn about classical music in order to enrich their own learning experience (something I thoroughly applaud).

            They can talk there about neglected musicians and the reasons for it, and about alternative forms of music that emerged from such neglect, and the traditions of world music (though these belong, in my view, in the serious music faculties too and I believe the better ones do include them).

            But there is a need to separate sociological from musical concerns, and this is where I think Mr. Molk fails in his argument. Especially since he has walked willingly into the maw of the trending predilection for imposing 21st-century sensibilities on societies and the handful of geniuses being studied that had no reason to consider such questions.

            If Molk and his posse want to lobby for departments of popular music forms, good luck to them. But I wish he and his ilk would leave the canon alone, and stop trying to make Mozart and Beethoven sound like George Wallace. I don’t know that his interests really belong in the academy, but he is welcome to make that case. However, until he can approach the giants of the past with the appropriate appreciation of their role in the development of music, I for one am not prepared to take him seriously.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There is a special department in the London Clinic of Psychatric Tribulations for people who suffer from ‘read-on block’. Research has revealed that painful reading experience in early youth can cause difficulties which hinder internet explorative development later in life.

  • American education? No one need worry that anything will get done.

  • Fred Funk says:

    Dave Molk is in more dire need of lip service than any white man in history.

  • Marj says:

    These “musicologists” need to do a bit of serious research that takes a lot of slog in the library and online, and write something that advances our understanding of the field rather than pontificating about racism.

  • Herbert Goldberg says:

    24 carat bovine excrement. Need anyone say more?

  • Concerned Opera Buff says:

    Molk’s bio says he is a rock guitarist. I guess that means he could no more appreciate Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”,
    than fly to the moon.

  • Dragonetti says:

    Let’s not get too worried about this sad individual. He spends all his time in a lonely ivory tower discussing bovine excrement like this with other pseudo-academics. Any influence in the real world will be very limited and he does have the wonderful ability to give us a good laugh.

    • SVM says:

      I wish I could agree with you, but the reality is that waffle like Molk’s is becoming very influential… at the expense of the real issues (some of which are implicit in the more lucid fragments of Molk’s prose). For instance, with all the talk of “decolonisation”, why is there not greater emphasis on studying music and academic literature which is not in English (and yes, that would entail us English-speakers making more effort to learn other languages…)? Should we not be concerned that academic discourse is so dominated by anglophone scholars and literature written in English (next time you read a piece of academic writing, take a look at the bibliography or reference-list — even the ones in languages other than English tend to cite an enormous quantity of English-language sources), whilst other languages are under-represented? To my mind, it is an enormous injustice that English-speaking scholars can often remain monolingual with almost no adverse consequences for their careers (even when they travel to countries where the native language is not English), whilst scholars whose native language is not English are increasingly compelled to formulate their ideas and research in English if they want to get noticed.

  • Ross Amico says:

    How many of those who swarmed the Capitol this week had a conservatory, or even university, education, I wonder?

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    It seems that most US college degrees should better be cancelled.

  • Michael James says:

    Are students who want to study music allowed to look around for people who might teach them?

  • Sharon says:

    The reason that the Trumpians feel aggrieved is that they do not feel that they have supremacy. They believe that they have been marginalized on all fronts. A lot of it has to do to the weakening of the unions and the deindustrialization of the US economy.

    Actually, because quality musicianship requires so much time and money in training, quality music, in any culture, necessarily belongs largely to elites. Is using the word “quality” elitist.? In any profession or culture the work that requires more time and effort to learn generally has more quality.

    It may be a shame that economically poorer students do not have more access to quality music education, but if this guy was so concerned about elitism maybe he should not have been teaching at the most prestigious and expensive Catholic college in the country, Georgetown.

    Of course, “former” professor is the operative term . He may not have gotten tenure because his research papers were not considered to have sufficient “quality”. Even at an expensive tuition university the teaching students is considered secondary to the research. The prestige of the institution which is based on its supposedly “quality” output generally takes precedence over actually teaching the students. Teaching is considered to take less effort or intellect, and thus has less “quality” than research.

    • V.Lind says:

      I agree that research is important: “publish or perish” was the mantra of faculty when I was a student (at a prestigious department in a prestigious institution). Publication depended upon new and original material, which required research.

      But I studied with some of the foremost scholars in the world in their fields, and cannot recognise the notion that “teaching is considered to take less effort or intellect” than research. I found the standard of teaching phenomenal — my professors were good communicators, enthusiastic, well prepared, accessible, demanding. They knew any student in front of them could be a colleague in a few years, and treated them accordingly — with respect (which was reciprocated in those days. I obviously date myself).

      Elites should dig in and fight back. They can open their doors wider to anyone prepared to climb their staircases, and send out some of their graduates to start recreating quality where it is needed most — in schools and communities. But send them out well-educated.

      Trump did nothing I am aware of to strengthen unions or rebuild industry. He would be innately anti-union, and he never built anything in his life. He bought and sold (and cheated). He is not interested in addressing, or resolving, his base’s grievances or marginalisation — he is interested in exploiting it, which means keeping them “marginalised.” And he has thrown in racism, hatred of “others” (including anyone who does not vote as they do — fellow Americans though they be), with “alternative truth” and “fake news” (i.e. lies) as his medium. Those evils will live after him, and present the greatest danger to any sort of achievement.

      This movement of “diversity, equity (I still think that’s the wrong word), inclusion” is a very misguided attempt to reach these people. It fails to recognise that they do not want to be included, and of course they hate diversity and equity. I am all for opportunity for all with no-one excluded because of anything like their sex or their skin colour. But I have opposed quotas since I was very young, when things like busing, which I always thought a dreadful idea, and affirmative action, which even to a young teenager seemed like the wrong way to apply needed correctives, were introduced. All this sitting around talking about how badly we have been done to instead of providing the education to help them show the world what they lost in ignoring these capable people is just foolish. And so patronising.

  • Malcolm Jay Kottler says:

    David Molk has website:

  • William Safford says:

    For all of you who wonder why word salads are so prevalent in academia and why there is so much emphasis on these essays rather than actually teaching students, you merely need to read the essay by David Molk that is the very topic of this blog post.

    A quote:

    “We continue to rely on the traditional pedagogy for three interrelated reasons….Second, *because institutions prioritize research over teaching, we prioritize research over teaching.*” (emphasis mine.)

  • BruceB says:

    The photo looks like a regietheatre shot of “Ballo in Maschera”