Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catchup Post I

There were a few things I had meant to mention here earlier, but managed to get distracted by grading or Youtube or something of that sort. So, I'll try to reconstruct that. Also, I have a tentative plan to see TWBB on Sunday. I hope it works.

This past Monday was, as I'm sure you're all aware, Martin Luther King day. I'm used to celebrating this as the typically first day of classes at Swarthmore, but here at our little midwestern school, they declare it a holiday. And to mark the occasion, I attended a panel put on by the music school, which included two, count 'em, two musicologists. One was Jane Fulcher, whom we've recently hired on here, talking about Ravel, but emphasizing the importance of teaching music socially and politically. And while part of me worries about spin, or creating politics around pieces, or selecting music based on politics, she's right. The educational experience is diminished without this in several ways. Certainly part o learning about a piece is understanding how it was composed, received, and performed, and that knowledge just doesn't work without knowing about personalities, identities, cultures, and the political implications of all these. But there's more. I loved how attuned my Asian music professor here last year was to issues of contemporary global and intercultural politics. Music, in short, feels so much more relevant when you can use it to understand your own world, and this has been something I've been working to put into my own teaching practice. Second up was alum Guy Ramsey, who gave a very thoughtful examination on what diversity should mean and how if plays out. How diversity isn't just looking diverse, but recognizing differences, rather than trying to promote sameness through the promotion of equality. And an interesting counterpoint was offered by Aaron Dworkin, who remarked about African American and Latino members of orchestras. After some terrifyingly sad statistics, he pointed out that if orchestras want to include in their mission statements a need or community ties and outreach, then they need to reflect that in their make up. Classical music isn't seen as a young music or a black music, in part due to the lack of players, performers, or administrators. While I've heard some opinions about screening auditions, the fact that administrator jobs are not screened, but still reflect an almost absent black/latino voice in their outreach, education, programming, and artistic direction points to a larger trend. I think the most interesting part of the panel was a question about separate orchestras. Ramsey suggested this might be the way to go, that HBCs do wonderful things for creating diversity and developing leadership roles for students, and that all-minority orchestras might work similarly, while Dworkin elt the impact would be negligible, or furter entrench the current problems. I side more with Dworkin, in part because HBCs are not an end but a step towards some future, whereas minority orchestras might very well feel like the end of the road in the world.

It's nice to celebrate a holiday in a way that left me feeling informed, engaged, and hopeful. I can only hope Groundhog Day goes similarly.


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