I don’t want people telling me which music I may listen to

I don’t want people telling me which music I may listen to

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

June 05, 2021

Reader’s Comment of the Day from G. Vaillant, in response to the Beethoven is Black controversy.

I don’t want anyone telling me that I should listen to more music by non-whites (or whatever the US-Americans consider “white”) just because someone tells me I have to, I don’t want people telling me that I should favor women on an entrance audition at the institution where I have a small studio just because someone thinks that we should have more women in the university, I don’t want history rewritten, I don’t want to use the current-fashion inclusive language just because someone thought everyone should do it, I don’t want to stop performing Wagner because he was a grade-A a***e, I don’t want to listen to music by non-europeans and non-USAmericans just because someone thinks they are underrepresented amd I have to, I don’t want to apologize for the mistakes of my grandparents or my great-grandparents….

I want to be free to listen to what I want; I will take the best students regardless of their sex; I won’t ever attend a concert of tribal African music or mariachi because I don’t want to; I will speak freely without using ungrammatical because; I will perform Wagner and still think he was a terrible human being; and I will certainly not apologize for someone else’s mistakes and sins…

This current equality/parity/political correctness/inclusion/visitility/etc. fashion is hurting society, is making the division between men and women, poor and rich, white and whatever is non-white for US-Americans bigger, and is making everyone of us less and less free. I will think and act within the law as I see fit.


  • Awake, Not A Woke says:


  • Norbert says:

    @G. Vaillant

    I can’t argue with a word of that.


  • Andrew476 says:

    Well said.

  • Allardyce says:

    Well, this just about says it all. It’s not quite as ridiculous here in Europe, fortunately. Not yet, anyway.

  • Tully Potter says:

    The outburst from G. Vaillant is very strange, a bit like the assertions from certain people that ‘white lives matter’. It misses the point by such a wide margin that anything I may say is not going to change the mind of Mr or Mrs or Ms or Dr or Professor or Field-Marshal Vaillant. His or her contention that the movement towards a more equal, all-embracing, tolerant world ‘is hurting society’ does not apply to the society in which I move. I am quite happy to make every effort I can to prevent any fellow members of my society feeling put-upon or excluded or insulted. The day may come when such efforts of mine are unnecessary, but it has not yet dawned.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Seems about right. Too sane for the present day wakes though.

  • Rob Keeley says:

    Brilliant. Although I love a bit of mariachi now and then…

  • Maria says:

    Or obese but really fat or non-slim!

  • Smiling Larry says:

    You poor dear.
    Please don’t storm the Capitol.

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      See? Here we have a perfect example of the problem provided by Larry. This is exactly the problem: if you don’t agree you are labelled and disqualified, when not insulted. If you don’t agree, then you are part of the far-right groups that raided the Capitol in the capital city of the US. This is the problem. Thank you for providing us with such a perfect example.

  • will says:

    I can’t quite believe that nobody has commented on this, yet. Maybe we are all overawed that G. Vaillant has been bold and brave enough to articulate very powerfully what many musicians have been thinking for quite a long time, since all this equality/parity/political correctness/inclusion/visibility nonsense started.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The point of the movement is to remove unjust barriers. Where it becomes totalitarian thinking, it looses its grip on reality and its own sources. People are not first representations of a group, and after that an individual civilian, but are individual civilians first, and background generalizations are always dangerous and distorting the reality on the ground.

  • Anon says:

    Sounds swell.
    Considering that most cultural arts (rap, hip hop, jazz, r&b, k-pop, African tribal, Mariachi) don’t bother with diversity or inclusion, why does it matter in classical music?

  • Nick says:

    I don’t want ANYBODY telling me what to do, particularly the government bureaucrats, unless my action touches others negatively.

  • fflambeau says:

    “I want to be free to listen to what I want…” Dude, you have problems.

  • Tom Hase says:

    OK, here is a suggestion for compromise: I promise not to listen to British music anymore to atone for the sins of the empire, and also don’t listen to English tenors anymore, just to make sure. On the other hand, I am still allowed to listen to that asshole Wagner. Deal? Oh, by the way, Handel does not count as British, right?

    • John Borstlap says:

      The relationship between English tenors and British imperialism in the past may seem, for some people, a bit far-fetched. Unless one considers the threat of having tenors sing, by the British authorities in India to suppress rebellions, of course.

  • GGV says:

    We, both men and women, are being oppressed by the “one-way-of-thinking” police. This self proclaimed arbitrators of what is correct and acceptable persecute any opinion they consider that is not politically correct; persecute any person who questions the artifices of inclusive and “correct” language; try to impose their quotas by sex and race (who cares about quality and talent! Perhaps sometimes to benefit their own careers?); decide what and who is racist, sexist or discriminatory; decide what is historically correct and what historic injustices (colonization, for example) need to be repaired and how; shame those who not adhere to their politically commands by labeling and shaming them on the [social] media…

    I rebel against this tyranny. The tyranny of those who want to impose what they want, in this case their way of thinking and their solution to this reality. And it is indeed a reality: we do not live live in a perfect world where there is no injustice, discrimination, and suffering. These things are real, are wrong and need to be corrected. The solution is complex, but it cannot be achieved with ideological impositions, with imposed quotas, and with violence (yes, the violence of causing people to self silence their opinions for fear of being publicly criticized and shamed).

    Things will not change by prioritizing women over men (for example in conducting, where women are still a minority of the students, but a majority of the new signings in orchestras and agencies); by setting quotas (for example, in music schools); by changing the language; by focusing on, and rewriting, history; by shaming those who do not agree with our opinions; by seeing only one side of the story… What is being done is just an aesthetic reparation, like painting over a mold-infested wall. Things change organically over time. That is the only way change is real and long lasting.

    And to finish I can only say one thing: Viva La Liberta! [glorious Mozart music sounding in the background].

    • Richard Slack says:

      Sounds like a way of (to misquote St Augustine) “let’s have diversity but not I’m my lifetime”

      • FrauGeigerin says:

        It is more like “diversity is not needed, only quality”. What we need is to encourage people with talent to train (regardless of their sex and race), and to help find the resources for those with talent who can’t afford to study and train to do it. Then talent and self-effort will speak on its own.

  • Patrick says:

    The “division” is because you are pushing yourself away.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    I’m confused. Isn’t all this cultural diversity and social equity exactly what the Americans and Europeans have been voting for and supporting with government programs and taxes? Based on everything I’ve heard and read from my musician colleagues and the professionals here at SD, government funding and intervention is the answer to classical music’s budgetary woes. This is exactly what we voted for, isn’t it?

  • Euphonium Al says:

    This is a rather defensive way of thinking about things, and in large part playing victim and railing at straw men. Who among us is being forced to attend mariachi or African tribal music concerts? Which concert halls have actually dropped Wagner? (Hint: none that I know of). You don’t have to be a leftist to understand Christopher Columbus didn’t invent America; in fact, it is the alt right and whites nationalists who wish to rewrite history in the States. Pretending slavery never happened is the true rewriting of history, and no one is saying slavery is the fault of any living individual. As for pronouns, I’m not quite sure why it’s so cumbersome to say “them” instead of “him” if you know that’s what someone tells you they want. I think about it this way: if I have a friend named Robert who prefers no longer to be called by his childhood nickname “Robbie,” I will try to remember this and call him Robert. It’s a matter of simple politeness and manners, not politics.

    Is it silly for people to pretend Beethoven was Black? Of course! But this high dudgeon rebuttal is nearly as silly, I’m afraid. Protagonist and antagonist deserve each other in this case.

  • Hobbes says:

    You are completely free to listen to the music that you want to. You can choose whether to be interested in someone else’s research and conclusions. This conference is very clearly not about restricting any of this. It’s about having a discussion, presenting research, and asking questions.

    Allowing these discussions, and giving respect to those involved (even if you disagree with/have no interest in either the whole premise or their offerings) is exactly what free speech is all about.

    To be honest, I quite like the idea of the accuracy of historical record and understanding being questioned. That’s not re-writing it…it’s checking that what has been written in the first place is correct!

    • John Borstlap says:

      The text in the post is ‘figurative speaking’, to make a point, and should not be read as a literal defence against some real force that wants the author to listen to this or that.

  • Political gamesmanship says:

    Sign !

  • BRUCEB says:

    G. Vaillant manages to get everything wrong… except this —

    “I will speak freely without using ungrammatical because;”

    — which is perfect.

    • V.Lind says:

      I was confused by “visitility” too.

      • BRUCEB says:

        Well that at least is a relatively understandable typo (T uses the same finger as B, and the next time that finger was going to be used was for a T), but I honestly could not figure out what “without using ungrammatical because” was supposed to mean.

        • Ashu says:

          [but I honestly could not figure out what “without using ungrammatical because” was supposed to mean.]

          Knowing languages other than English, I found the nominalization of an adjective so natural that I scarcely noticed the oddity until you mentioned that it was beyond you.

  • Kathleen E King says:


  • Kenneth says:

    It’s a shame such a comment can be seen as controversial. Lamentably such are our times…

  • Couperin says:

    I want to be free to not invite this person over for dinner!

    • mynameismine says:

      You are. But I cannot say that I don’t want to impose quotas for works written by minorities composers or women and that we should perform only the best pieces by the best composers regardless of their gender and race in my organization and express this views publicly without being labeled in a very negative way. We have all being silenced, and some people are not happy.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    And now you only need to become Emperor of the Universe to pursue your agenda. Ignorance is bliss, apparently.

    Perhaps one should listen to Florence Price, Adolphus Hailstork or George Walker and others bc they have written interesting music?

    Same reason why people should listen to Joachim Raff, Manfred Gurlitt or Emilie Mayer, to name three other neglected composers more or less at random. None of them black, and only one a woman. Neglected nevertheless.

    Or, more precisely, that would be a reason to put these people onto the program of classical concerts instead of the millionth rendition of Brahms, Beethoven, Bruckner. Just a thought…

    Not my thought, btw. A certain Eduard Hanslick already complained in his days that the umpteenth performance of the Haydn “Creation” should be skipped in favor of lesser known pieces – even if the “Creation” were the best and most wonderful piece of music ever written!

  • Emil says:

    I’m sorry, who is policing what you listen to? By all means, listen to whatever you want, who cares. But any person’s right to listen to what they want is subject to an organisation’s right to perform what *they* want – and if music by women, minority, or excluded composers sells (because that is what *other* people want to listen to), well then that’s that. By all means, buy single tickets to only the concerts you want, no one will force you to attend a concert.
    Meanwhile, if I have an interest in attending different concerts with different repertoire, then I’ll do that. And civilization will be just fine.

    • Emil says:

      What this boils down to is, ‘I object to people wanting to listen to things I don’t want to listen to’. It’s not very different from Kurt Masur’s anecdote, when he was MD at the NY Phil, of receiving a letter about next season’s program, saying ‘If I wanted to listen to vocal music, I’d have subscribed to the opera!’

    • Saxon says:

      Um…the evidence is that programming “women, minority, or excluded composers” does not particularly sell tickets. Which suggests they are being performed for other reasons…

  • Patricia says:

    It’s pathetic that so many American orchestras now seem to be on the ‘inclusion and diversity’ bandwagon. One expects it from universities. But the mission of orchestras is to play the music written for them – not to indulge in tacky political shenanigans.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Very true.

    • J Barcelo says:

      Except that when those orchestras go to philanthropic organizations, major corporations, and government agencies with their hand out looking for money, nowadays inclusion and wokeness are very much a part of getting that funding.

  • Oh dear... says:

    What an idiot. Foolishly merging several issues into one. This helps no-one and serves only to massage his (if I may?) ego.

  • Patrick says:

    Oh yeah, and….

    “ I will speak freely without using ungrammatical because;”

    Say whaaaat??

  • Terence says:

    Most people will act this way, even if they are not willing to state it publicly.

    Programming second-rate composers or holding PC based events is doomed to failure as the audience won’t be there.

    Vote with your feet & your wallet and crush this woke madness.

  • Herbie G says:

    A very eloquent contribution, and it indicates that there must be be something very wrong if someone even needs to put forward, let alone has to defend, this fundamental principle that underpins any civilised liberal society.

  • Daniel says:

    This was “comment of the day”? Blimey. You can listen to whatever music you like (I agree with you about Wagner, by the way – repulsive person; wonderful music) and you can be thankful that you live and work in a country that is thoroughly committed to free speech – you can stand on a street corner and say all sorts of offensive garbage with no legal repercussions at all. No one is asking you personally to apologize for your grandparents’ mistakes. Should you rise to be President and become spokesperson for the State you might very occasionally find yourself in the position of saying sorry on behalf of a nation for unspeakable past wrongs. The trouble is that there are these annoying things called employment contracts, in which you agree to do certain things in return for your employer paying your mortgage. That’s not an infringement of your right to free speech and thought; it’s a financial bargain that you willingly made. It sounds like you’re employed as a music teacher within a university. If so, I query why you’re so opposed to inclusivity, in that applicants’ unique circumstances are taken into consideration (as opposed to sticking resolutely to an apparent meritocracy which in reality can be the expression of societal inequality) and unwilling to broaden your listening horizons, but, regardless, you’re really going to have to face the fact that you’re going to have to do your job in the way that your employer wants you to or they’re going to stop paying your mortgage.

  • I am grateful for your courage in speaking your mind. It is time that we hear more than one side of this debate. It is not necessary to demolish Western culture in order to build more just societies.

  • Helen Wynn says:

    Love those comments. Good thing you don’t live in America or you would be cancelled. I am sure you would be mortified if your Facebook account were frozen or Twitter cut you off. I am hopeful your comments are more representative of a great many people’s views on the subject. Sickening what is happening and I can only hope I hang in long enough to see this Critical Race Theory, so popular in America, finally defeated for the virtue of individuality and merit.

    • Hayne says:

      “…hope I hang in long enough to see this Critical Race Theory…finally defeated…” Oh, it’s coming. This totalitarian mindset will be defeated.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I never knew there exists something like a ‘critical race’.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    News Flash: No matter what radio station you tune into, no matter what streaming service you subscribe, no matter the music publisher you buy your sheet music from or the concert series you attend — your music is curated for you. Even if you subscribe to the Idagio streaming platform with its 2 million albums, I guarantee there’ll be composers and works you won’t find there.

    Someone decided the menu you would have to choose from. The music director of your local symphony orchestra decided what composers you would hear next season. Someone decided to make it a whole lot easier to hear Giacomo Puccini every year at your neighborhood opera house than Giacomo Meyerbeer — and downright hard to hear Gaspare Spontini in any given year. Even Ruth Leon was happy to recommend something for you to see and hear every day.

    Our “standard” repertoire is a great start, and in fact, there are many artists and listeners whose musical explorations start and end there. But if you’re hungry to hear something new, an unsung voice, the unusual find, then you might find that repertoire severely limiting.

    The good news is that any path you want to take to discovery is a valid one. You can take the chronological “music appreciation” drive through history from Gregorian plainchant to post-minimalist Bang On A Can — or you can focus on Impressionists and branch out from there.

    It’s no less valid or valuable to attend a concert of composers of one ethnicity than it is to hear an all-Russian program or one by all composers of Russian-American-Jewish-Brooklynite extraction. If an all-woman concert leads you to discover the works of Grazyna Bacewicz, Dora Pejacevic, Rebecca Clarke or Galina Ustvolskaya, your musical experience will be enriched for it.

    Maybe you reject Portuguese fado and Senegalese mbalakh on principle. Maybe you don’t care that William Grant Still married the blues with sonata-allegro form in his Afro-American Symphony. Maybe the Pacific drumming traditions of Taiko, Kapahaka and Rarotonga that explode out of Gareth Farr’s exhilarating “From the Depths Sound the Great Sea Gongs” do nothing for you.

    But the history of this art form we call “classical music” has deep veins of rejection running all through it. Rejection of new styles, new composers, new music, foreign sounds. If ever there were an art form whose creators needed to be nurtured, needed listening forums where they could work to improve their craft, it’s this art of writing complex music — music of rhythmic or melodic or harmonic or structural or color complexity.

    The consumers of other art forms — dance, theater, poetry, painting — are hungry for new works. They welcome new artists and authors. They anxiously await the latest works by their favorite creators. How many of us follow the latest works of John Adams or Magnus Lindberg?

    “Politically correct” is an Orwellian pejorative for “considerate” or “sensitive” — language intended to make a vice out of something virtuous. “Inclusion” is another way of saying “magnanimous” or “welcoming” — which ought to be an aspiration, not an object of derision. So by all means listen to what you want, but define your taste by what you like — what you think is good — and not what you reject.

  • PianistW says:

    Thank you for saying it out loud!