These are challenging times for the classical music world. Critical Race Theory and its fellow travelers are targeting music blasting away, cutting the ground out from under them much faster than they can shore up their foundations.
The Mathematics of Systemic Racism
The accusations against classical music are like those in other fields. There are not enough blacks or Hispanics among classical music’s audiences, orchestras, conductors, administrators, composers or patrons. The Critical Race Theory agitators allow only two possible explanations. The classical music establishment is either overtly or “systemically” racist. No other options exist.
There is no evidence of overt racism. Indeed, for over thirty years, elite schools of music have actively recruited black and Hispanic musicians. They have combed the libraries for works composed by the members of “marginalized” groups. They have written orchestral settings for tunes written in other genres, like jazz and rock and roll. The results have been disappointing.
The Critical Theory racists argue the problem must be more profound. Some sinister currents of a racist culture must prevent blacks from succeeding in the classical music world.
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Most orchestras were already hanging on by a thread before the current cultural attacks. Indeed, audiences for classical music are shrinking.
Fifty years ago, most high schools had orchestras. Most children never became professional musicians, but the experience put them in a position to appreciate classical music and attend concerts.
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Since then, the number of school orchestras has steadily declined. Parents conditioned by three generations of rock and roll buy their children guitars and drums—not violins and French horns. As music teachers retired, many school systems shifted those salaries to science and math programs.
That factor partially explains a phenomenon that critic Terry Teachout noticed in April 2005.
“Classical music in America is in an increasingly tight corner. Though many established performing groups continue to draw respectable crowds, most are finding it harder to do so, and even still-popular ensembles like the New York Philharmonic are watching their subscribers grow grayer by the year. The mainstream media long ago lost interest in classical artists. Classical radio stations are fast becoming a thing of the past, and the major classical-record labels are in terminal decline.”
“The Whiteness of Classical Music”
These declining audiences have forced orchestras to shift their fundraising efforts to a decreasing pool of corporations and foundations interested in financing their work. As a result, the orchestras are finding that the world of classical music supporters is intimidated by “woke” leftists.
Thus, the purveyors of classical music are especially vulnerable to charges like the following from The New Yorker’s Alex Ross.
“The whiteness of classical music is, above all, an American problem. The racial and ethnic makeup of the canon is hardly surprising, given European demographics before the twentieth century. But, when that tradition was transplanted to the multicultural United States, it blended into the racial hierarchy that had governed the country from its founding. The white majority tended to adopt European music as a badge of its supremacy…Little effort was made to cultivate American composers; it seemed more important to manufacture a fantasy of Beethovenian grandeur.”
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Emotions Run High
Many arguments refute Mr. Ross’s analysis since minorities are very involved in music. African-American composers and musicians used their abilities in more popular (and more profitable) musical forms. Universities like New York’s Julliard School can point to long-established programs to recruit musicians from minority communities, creating opportunities that often go unfulfilled. Asian musicians are increasingly numerous and prominent on the American classical music stage.
However factual those arguments may be, they do not translate well into the “woke” lexicon. Such points are much too logical and do not enter the leftists’ favorite emotional realm.
Corporations and foundations are horrified by the “anti-racist” mentality that spins off from Critical Race Theory. Risk-averse corporate cultures shriek in terror at the very idea of blundering into the crosshairs of cultural controversy. Many large foundations, like the very liberal Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, stop subsidizing the suddenly radioactive organizations.
So the orchestras capitulate. Heather Mac Donald documents the depths of their submission in her article “Classical Music’s Suicide Pact.”
“[T]he 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 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.”
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The Seattle Opera went one step further. In 2020, they released a video with the captivating title, Crescendo for Racial Justice in Opera. It features five black and Hispanic panelists, moderated by the organization’s “Director of Programs and Partnerships.” This groveling program is unimpressive. The “Social Justice Warrior” stance does not convince anyone.
Countering the Marxists
The orchestras, opera companies, and schools should stand out as the conservators of a valuable social tradition. The soul-lifting qualities of classical music are much needed in a materialistic world. Jumping into the gutter with their detractors only gets them dirty.
The cultural Marxists do not care about classical music or the presumed legions of the “oppressed” musicians. They want to move toward an egalitarian society where there is no room for any excellence. They do not want to lift up the musicians; they want to stop the music. The unity of cultural Marxism with Critical Race Theory makes sense because they both seek to create class struggle and destroy the social harmony that should exist in a genuinely Catholic society.
Indeed, the socialist “utopia” is nothing but a gray hell of despair.
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