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I was always a musician. As a child, I could hear a melody and reproduce it on the piano, though I never had a lesson. I grew up at the beginning of the rock era, and played the guitar, an instrument easy to learn, but hard to play well. Like most guitar players, I didn’t know how to read music, so I learned by ear, a skill that translated to singing. It wasn’t until my 30s when I took a bachelor’s in English and music that I learned why everything I had always intuitively done made sense. “Oh, that’s why that’s a G7 chord!” Playing by ear made classical learning easier, and classical learning gave me real appreciation for the history of music, and the necessity of learning how to do it right.

I have, for some time now, been writing about the destruction of merit, and its replacement with tribalism of the most incompetent and mediocre sort in music. Music, of course, particularly “classical”—actually better labeled art—music is racist and sexist, and homophobic and transphobic and every other kind of ist and phobia. All of these insane allegations stem from music education, which supposedly indoctrinates budding musicians with these socially unjust pathologies.

Roger Kimball at American Greatness comments on art generally:

Here we have to make an important distinction. Art should be exempt from the pressure of politically infused contemporary passions. The fact that a painting or poem or novel does not pass muster with the feminists, the Marxists, or the partisans of the new racism of Black Lives Matter is neither here nor there. All that is a chapter of our current insanity. And it goes far beyond the world of culture, as illustrated by the fact that the University of Wisconsin just spent tens of thousands of dollars moving a boulder because someone said it had racist associations. Really, you can’t make it up. Nor do you have to: reality is always more flagrant than your imagining.

The point is that art should be evaluated primarily by aesthetic criteria. The governing question should be: Is it a good poem/novel/painting?

Indeed. Some would claim rap “music” a high art form, “authentic,” an “alternate way of knowing,” and all of that silliness. While rap has some of the elements of music, it is best understood to be accompanied poetry and judged on those criteria.

Heather MacDonald, at City Journal, focuses on the self-destruction of art music:

Classical music is under racial attack. Orchestras and opera companies are said to discriminate against black musicians and composers. The canonical repertoire—the product of a centuries-long tradition of musical expression—is allegedly a function of white supremacy.

Not one leader in the field has defended Western art music against these charges. Their silence is emblematic. Other supposed guardians of Western civilization, whether museum directors, humanities professors, or scientists, have gone AWOL in the face of similar claims, lest they themselves be denounced as racist.

The campaign against classical music is worth examining in some detail, for it reveals the logic that has been turned against nearly every aspect of Western culture over the last year. The crusade began within days of the death of George Floyd in late May 2020. [skip] Riots against police brutality broke out across the U.S.; institution after institution pledged to fight the structural racism that Floyd’s death supposedly represented.

The classical music profession deemed itself implicated in Floyd’s death. On June 1, 2020, the League of American Orchestras issued a statement confessing that, for decades, it had ‘tolerated and perpetuated systemic discrimination against Black people, discrimination mirrored in the practices of orchestras and throughout our country.’ The League was ‘committed to dismantling’ its ‘role in perpetuating the systems of inequity that continue to oppress Black people’ and expected its member orchestras to respond in kind.

Who knew, until the self-induced death of drugged and violent felon George Floyd, the world of art music was so racist, so culpable in every social woe?

That response was immediate. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra apologized for its ‘history of inaction to effectively confront the racist systems and structures that have long oppressed and marginalized Black musicians, composers, and communities.’ The Seattle Opera announced that it would ‘continue to prioritize’ antiracism and ‘make amends’ for causing harm. Opera Omaha sent a message to its ‘black community’: ‘We know that you are exhausted and recognize we will never fully understand the depth of your suffering. We know that part of your exhaustion comes from the heartbreak of our silence, inaction, and half-measures.’ Every communication that the opera sends out now concludes with the tagline: ‘We will listen more than we speak, but will not be silent in the face of injustice.’

What injustice have symphonic and operatic professionals perpetrated by producing excellent performances? Take the link and read the whole thing, but in brief, they have insisted on merit, which used to be self-evidently required for participation in excellent ensembles. What this means in practice is many symphonic musicians are Asians, far fewer are black, and black musicians have been expected to live up to professional standards. Of course, whiteness is the root of all evil. Even in art music, culture matters, and the very personal qualities necessary for excellence at the highest levels of music, such as talent, dedication, responsibility, delaying gratification and very hard work over very long periods of time, are suddenly racist.

Black musicians produced manifestos complaining of their mistreatment at the hands of white administrators and conductors. Weston Sprott, a trombonist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, along with three musicians from three other ensembles, declared in the New York Times that the reason there are not ‘more Black artists in orchestras’ is ‘racism.’ Six black opera singers made a YouTube video about opera racism at the invitation of the Los Angeles Opera. L.A. Opera’s president, Christopher Koelsch, introduced the discussion. ‘I come to you today as the white male leader of this institution,’ he said, staring dazedly at the camera. L.A. Opera was committing ‘anew to self-examination and . . . to do our part to heal wounds that are hundreds of years old.’ Most of the discussion centered on Floyd’s death, but tenor Russell Thomas also told of being rebuked for routinely showing up late and for talking on his cell phone during rehearsals for an unnamed opera. ‘They were putting me in my place,’ Thomas said, though his behavior was the result of his uncle dying in a car accident, he maintained. Only a black singer would be denied ‘a basic amount of consideration.’

For those who understand the reality of classical music, these complaints are bizarre. No one sings or plays in an opera—the most expensive to produce live art form—without decades of professional training. Competition for the relative handful of roles and chairs is cutthroat, and other than a mere handful of virtuoso performers, every singer or player must teach and moonlight as a soloist to make ends meet. Black singers in an opera company are anything but oppressed—they’re among the musical elite, a small and exclusive company.

Russell Thomas demonstrates a deplorable degree of ingratitude and entitlement. Musicians learn from a very early age to show up on time. Particularly in the highest levels of music, time is money, and it’s rude and unprofessional to waste the time of others. It’s also an excellent way to become an ex-professional musician. They also learn to pay attention during rehearsal, which is absolutely necessary to perform on any level. Cell phones are the bane of competent, professional musicians, and distracting a rehearsal with one just isn’t done; it’s absolutely bush league and something no one should have to warn a professional against.

Few also understand symphonic auditions have, for as long as anyone living can recall, been blind. Prospective players perform behind a screen, so directors judge only their skill, not their appearance or even their gender. Bizarrely, race hustlers want to do away with this convention, demanding instead inclusion in orchestras based on race and gender—or lack thereof–not ability. In a field where top-level ability is the entry-level requirement, this is not only counterintuitive, but destructive.

In another City Journal article, Heather MacDonald illustrates the deconstruction of art music:

Now a British classical music organization has inadvertently ripped the veil off the diversity arithmetic, and the consequences may be far-reaching. Earlier this month, the English Touring Opera told nearly half its orchestral musicians that it would not be renewing their contracts for the 2022 season because it has ‘prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra.’ In other words, as a bunch of white guys you must be cleared out so that we can boost the collective melanin levels among our musicians. Your talent does not matter; your skin color does.

Here, at last, were concrete, publicly identified victims of a preference regime. The reaction was swift. Since the Sunday Times broke the story, the English Touring Opera has been thrown on the defensive. Arts Council England, a government arts funder and the opera company’s main patron, is backpedaling on its aggressive promotion of diversity after the company claimed that it was only following the Council’s mandates in terminating the white musicians. It turns out that the public has little stomach for watching the diversity sausage be made.

That, gentle readers, is the point. Art music exists because enough patrons exist to support it. Not only that, millions of everyday people take great pleasure in occasionally taking in performances of Messiah or the Mozart Requiem, among countless other masterworks. When they spend their money, they expect to hear the best. Take the link and read that article as well. In yet another City Journal article, MacDonald explains how these civilization-destroying trends are destroying music education:

Other music professionals understand the danger. One educator warns: ‘If conservatories start admitting by race and ethnicity, close them down. As soon as standards are modified, the game is over. Mediocrity is like carbon monoxide: you can’t see it or smell it, but one day, you’re dead.’ Woke music administrators are relativizing excellence as a malleable white Western concept. Mention ‘quality’ in a meeting of performing arts managers, and you may be accused of ‘sending the wrong message.’ The music educator scoffs at that dodge. ‘We should face the facts. Excellence is easily identified. There are hundreds of thousands of composers; the world knows 100. Conservatories audition student conductors for 15 minutes, but you can detect their caliber in the first 10 seconds.’ Some Juilliard professors have taken early retirement rather than risk conflict with the identity-obsessed mob. The striving for excellence is now secondary, says Earl Carlyss. ‘It is terrifying when politics takes precedence over quality.’

Conventions of scholarship are under attack as well. The distinguishing feature of Western classical music, which allowed an unparalleled transformation of style over seven centuries, is that it is written down, unlike other world musics. Notation allows us, miraculously, to hear what people were playing in the fifteenth century. But music departments are under pressure to eliminate the requirement that students can read scores, since such a requirement is purportedly exclusionary. Antiracist musicologists are jettisoning even more basic norms: source documentation. New York University musicologist Matthew Morrison scoffs at ‘Western (colonial) notions of ‘documentation,’ as he put it in a November 2020 tweet. In his study of black people, he doesn’t ‘put everything on paper. Some stuff is meant to be kept and transferred orally (and ritually).’ In other words, ask Morrison for his written sources, and you may be accused of racism. It is a ‘colonial impulse’ to ‘desire to . . . have access to everything,’ Morrison warns fellow academics and potential fact-checkers.

In other words, history doesn’t matter, scholarship doesn’t matter, all that matters is race hustling and virtue signaling. Conservatories, by the way, are specialized schools where the best students study under the best teachers in hopes of becoming among the best professional musicians. Julliard was once among the handful at the top of that musical mountain, but has, in recent years, gone woke. Imagine, gentle readers, carpenters who disdained mathematics and measurement in favor of diversity. Imagine teachers who refused to learn to read. That’s the state of musicians who refuse to teach, or learn, music notation and theory. Had I not learned those basic building blocks of music, I’d yet be no more than a reasonably talented guitar player who knew only a handful of chords, enjoying music, but oh so limited, lacking knowledge of a greater world.

Final Thoughts:

Part of the Messiah score in Handel’s hand

Today’s virtuosos, the professional singers and players at the highest levels of music, began in childhood. Their talent manifested early, and they worked and learned through middle school, high school, college and/or conservatories. Their gender and race mattered not at all. What mattered was their talent, but more than that, their dedication, responsibility, even humility, for all great musicians know there is always someone better, more capable, more experienced, and until recently, they knew no one was going to hand them a job for their gender, lack thereof or confusion about, or their race. Musicianship is a life long pursuit.

Yet it is the existence of good music programs in K-12 education and in colleges that allows even those who will never be professionals to rise as far as their talents and interests allow. It is in them, and in others who are not musicians, but appreciate beauty, man’s greatest accomplishments live.

Music, the arts, are among man’s most sublime accomplishments, examples of the best human beings can do. Those peaks can be reached only through merit, striving for, and attaining, the best. This is among the hard won gifts of western civilization. What then, of those gifts, those millennia of effort and sacrifice, if everything learned, everything built on, is disdained by those unwilling to work, to be responsible, to learn, to preserve and build upon it?

What of western civilization if its greatest artistic accomplishments are abandoned for tribalism, racism, envy and hatred, if the mediocre are exalted and the truly excellent are canceled?

When symphony orchestras, when opera companies, when fine choirs and ensembles are no longer excellent, why should any talented child strive to join them? Why should any school spend money on music programs when that money can be better spent on DIE bureaucrats and indoctrination?

Even if music education is rekindled in the public schools, how, in a time when mere blackness is celebrated, whites are racist and merit is scorned will black kids, browbeaten since birth never to “act white” by doing such things as being on time, being reliable, engaging in “inauthentic” practices like classical music or doing the very, very hard work of practicing enough to become capable of playing in a symphony or singing at the highest levels of music ever reach their potential? What favors are we doing them?

What, gentle readers, what do we stand to lose, what will future generations lose, what will humankind lose, when the best we can produce, our highest artistic aspirations, are reduced to such little measure?