DAMN. Thats a lot of misplaced outrage

April 22, 2018

It's been awhile since I've attempted a blog post, but I figured now would be a good time to get back into it.  I made the rookie mistake of picking a really difficult topic(female adjunct's rights/lack thereof) and ended up not being able to get it out in a timely manner. By timely manner I mean I can't seem to finish it. By can't seem to finish it I mean I wrote two sentences and thought "oh, %$@#".


 So I've decided to make exactly the same mistake and write this article!


Quick reminder that if something is underlined, its linked to a video/article/virus.



I think we can all agree on the following; that, if there is a 10th circle of hell, it is an amalgamation of all the Youtube comments/mean tweets, made manifest into a demon that forces you to watch "Never Gonna Give You Up" on repeat. Luckily, classical music videos seem to be exempt from this rule, since we're a combination of fancy and classy. Flancy?


FALSE. If anything, some of the most horrendous sentences ever typed have been about things you assumed were so unquestionably good that they were not really up for debate. Also, who are the people putting thumbs down to videos of Itzhak Perlman doing anything? Here are some winning quotes I dug up by searching random famous performers on Youtube:



Mitsuko Uchida, Mozart Piano Sonata K.330


-1 thumbs down(phew, maybe someone pressed it by accident)


-"She was rushing. Not good. I just heard Lili Kraus play this. Much better. Go try her." [WHAT]


Jasha Heifetz, Scottish Fantasy


-16 thumbs down[???] 


-"One has to suffer through 25 minutes of Heifetz to get to the meows ... oh well" [WHAT]



Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax, Beethoven Cello sonata No. 3 in A Major


-45 thumbs down[WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE]


-"Why does he add a pause on certain notes in the opening solo? Not needed and certainly it doesn't doing anything for this simple opening phrase...and then the pianist takes over at a different speed.! And those ridiculous faces." [GET OUT]


I also remember when I put up my first, live performance of Prokofiev Concerto No. 1 with the Oberlin Orchestra. I will never forget my first negative comment, mostly because I couldn't believe anyone with such a filthy vocabulary would bother searching out one of my videos. Trolls seem to have infinitely more time than the rest of humanity. I'm kind of envious.


This is all to say, when Kendrick Lamar won the 2018 pulitzer prize, the outpouring of negative criticism did not surprise me. But the comments were different this time. It wasn't just your run-of-the-mill anonymous filth. It doesn't take much to see a trend. I took comments from two normal news sources, and also Fox news. 


My top 3 (taken from NPR/Washington Post/New York Times comment section on Facebook):


1. I don't listen to rap and have no desire to...it's a language of self segregation..


2. Lol! What a load of poppycock! 😂😂😂"Music" for the illiterate!


3. They skipped decades of the greatest music humanity has ever seen; skipped Led Zeppelin, Depeche Mode

, Nirvana, Cat Stevens, and The Beatles, nominated a bunch of jazz and classical musicians, and then suddenly went to Kendrick Lamar? What a bunch of assclowns



My top 2 from Fox News comment section on Facebook (WAY too many to choose from, this is what it must have felt like judging the pulitzer. Also had to suppress multiple gag reflexes)


1. This has got to be the most boring, uninteresting, one sided Grammy show(Grammy's, eh?) yet. May as well have called it the BLACK RAP CRAP GRAMMYS. Sucked big time.


2. Go jump of a cliff. Rap is a part of the problem in America. I will not let my kids listen to that black poison.



Most of the critical response from responsible news organizations and music critics has been overwhelmingly positive. Indeed, when I asked my "Classical Music and Beyond" class about their opinions of Kendrick Lamar, the response was also overwhelmingly positive; and the few people who didn't like him had totally legitimate, non-racially fueled reasons for not liking his music. That is to say, lots of people like Kendrick Lamar, and not everyone who doesn't is a racist. However, that an award regular folks barely register in their daily lives has caused this much controversy is an inherently racist moment. We're having a lot of racist/horrible moments as a country so this may not feel like one, but it is. A black artist makes a CD using a black art form that does not adhere to traditional art music norms. Only the first part is unusual. Take a quick look at the list and you will see lots of rule breakers from many different cultural backgrounds(save yourself some time and start from the 90's). 


Historically, our critics and music lovers have behaved more like a facebook/youtube comment section than my articulate students when it came to african american music.  A Minstrel show was the extent to which white america "heard" black america from around the 1830's until after the turn of the century. That's embarrassing, no matter how good the intentions were of the early american ethnomusicologist who were doing it. Kendrick Lamar's win, regardless of whether its deserved or not, pointed out something glaringly obvious: Why has a genre as influential as R&B and Hip Hop been ignored for decades?


A quick glance over past winners of the pulitzer prize reveals a relatively diverse field, as far as gender and race is concerned, starting from the 1990's or so. In fact, we start seeing jazz musicians in the 2000's being recognized(posthumously in the case of many of the black artists). Let's think about that for a second. Jazz has been recognized as a major cultural force starting from at least the 1920's. It took almost a century for jazz artists to get recognized. Pulitzers began being awarded in the 40's. Reading about early criticism of the Pulitzer(and criticism in general) shows an organization that has slowly opened itself up to being less about the traditional and more about the contemporary.

For people who care about art music and the classical tradition, we have to do better. There have been a lot of very important art movements in the 20th century, but none has had a larger impact than Jazz and R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap. All your favorite 'impressionist' composers? Loved Jazz. Schoenberg's primary influence for creating the 12-tone scale? Probably not Duke Ellington but you never know. African American culture has been the single most influential art tradition in the 20th century in terms of global influence, and has received little/no acknowledgment from institutions that should be championing it. You don't have to love rap music to acknowledge its power as an art form, literally every foreign country with a "western" influenced pop scene comes from R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap. Should most pop music be considered for a pulitzer? Absolutely not, but 'pop' suggests the primary purpose for creation is for mass consumption, a tactic that is inherently anti-art. Most pop music should be used primarily to torture parents of tweens and as a reminder that you don't deserve to be happy. But pop music can no longer be relegated to one genre, and  classical music stands to  gain more than it loses when it attempts to identify great art regardless of genre. We should be thankful that the line that divides 'popular' music and art music is once again beginning to blur; it presents an opportunity for classical music to embrace a larger audience and previously unreachable demographics. In order to do so, we're going to have to start dealing with inherent biases we're unwittingly perpetuating.


And while I don't think I'll be rapping in between pieces anytime soon, I'd totally go to a concert of unaccompanied Bach and turntable continuo. 



For those of you interested in seeing/hearing for yourself, there is a lot of Kendrick Lamar on Youtube. Fair warning, his music features a lot of explicit lyrics.


Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue, feel free to shoot me an email at bjshea@iusb.edu. Unless you disagree with me. Then all I can offer you is a patronizing laugh and an eye roll.


-Dr. B






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