Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Musicology Now Welcomes New Editors

We are excited to announce that two new editors are joining the team at Musicology Now!

Brandi Neal is a reformed band nerd and originally from Sumter, SC. She received her BA in music from the University of South Carolina and later her MA and PhD in historical musicology from the University of Pittsburgh. A lecturer at Coastal Carolina University, her primary research interests are sacred vocal music from the renaissance and baroque eras, with a particular emphasis on the music of Nicolas Gombert, the semiotics of golden-age rap music, and musico-theatrics of popular music in the post-Trayvon Martin era. She has a rescue diva dog named Daisy.


Marysol Quevedo, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. She received her Ph.D. in musicology with a minor in ethnomusicology from Indiana University. Her research interests include art music in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution and more broadly the relationship between music composition and performance, national identity, and politics in Latin American music scenes. Quevedo’s chapter, “Experimental Music and the Avant-Garde in Post-1959 Cuba: Revolutionary Music for the Revolution,” will appear in the forthcoming collection of essays Experimentalism in Practice: Perspectives from Latin America from Oxford University Press, and she has written numerous entries for the second edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music and is a contributor to Oxford Annotated Bibliographies.

At Musicology Now, the content we ultimately curate is driven by you, our readers. As always, we encourage you to share with us your research, your insights, your innovative pedagogy, and reflections on the profession. If you have a piece you’d like to share or just an idea that you’d like to run by us, you can contact the team at musicology-now@ams-net.org.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Open Letter to AMS Members on the State of the Academic Job Market

To the members of the AMS,

Many of us in the discipline are alarmed by the ways recent hiring practices have affected the membership of our professional societies. We believe that we have a responsibility to respond to the realities of the job market, and to address the frustration and helplessness that many of our friends and colleagues have experienced. If we acknowledge that a traditional academic position is not right for every musicologist or ethnomusicologist, we can serve our students better. Most importantly, by embracing alternative academic (“alt-ac”) career paths, we contribute to the study and enjoyment of all kinds of music beyond the walls of the ivory tower.

There have been many conversations on social media, at annual meetings of professional societies, and in person that have attempted to address the issues creating resources and networking opportunities for contingent faculty and those who choose to pursue alternative academic (“alt-ac”) or non-academic careers. It is our hope that by compiling some of these suggestions here, we can begin better to serve our colleagues, our students, and our discipline. Some of these suggestions may turn out not to be possible. Others may take years to implement. Still others can be put into effect immediately. Some suggestions may require raising membership or conference fees on tenured and tenure-track members. But we hope that this will at least contribute to these ongoing discussions.

What the leadership of professional societies can do:

  • Form committees to serve the needs of contingent faculty and alt-acs, or subcommittees drawn from the committee for career-related issues (we understand that such a committee is already in the works in the AMS). 
    • These committees might host job fairs with both traditional and alternative academic opportunities, as well as other networking events at conferences. They might also schedule digital networking events for contingent faculty and potential employers, both traditional and alt-ac.
    • Such a committee might also keep anonymous statistics on retention and job placement from various programs, including alt-ac placement, as a resource for students thinking of going into musicology. It might also support longitudinal studies examining the paths of musicology Ph.Ds.
  • Stream conferences online, for a small fee if necessary. Allow those without funding to read papers over video conferencing technology, and to ask questions over twitter or other social media platforms provided they identify themselves. The Society for Music Theory might provide a model for this kind of engagement.
  • Include contingent faculty and alt-acs on program, membership, and other committees.
  • Identify scholars by area of interest rather than institution at professional meetings.
  • Include alt-ac employment opportunities on society announcement lists (see “what members can do”).
  • Stand behind the principles stated in the statement on AMS and Contingent Faculty (http://www.ams-net.org/administration/ContingentFaculty.php). Many of these standards are not being met at institutions that currently employ adjuncts. In those cases, consider collectively advocating for such members. (This may be something a committee devoted to contingent faculty and alt-acs could do)
  • Encourage institutions to offer positions at least two years if feasible, particularly for faculty who have served at the same institution for multiple years. Encourage other professional societies that serve similar interests to do the same. Possibly work with NASM to add some guidelines about this in accreditation procedures.
  • Create awards, prizes, and fellowships for alt-acs and contingent faculty.

What the membership of professional societies can do:

  • Form study groups to serve the needs of contingent and alt-ac members. These groups could sponsor panels where alt-acs can present their work. It would benefit the society to know about events at museums, new collections at major libraries, screenings of recent documentaries, or successful initiatives at teaching and learning centers. 
  • Be alert for alt-ac opportunities and forward them to society announcement listservs.
  • Contribute to funds and awards for alt-ac or contingent faculty.
  • Contribute to funds and awards for scholars from under-represented communities.

What departments can do:
  • Seriously consider the objectives and purposes of PhD and MA programs. If students in the program are not successful in the job market of their choice (traditional or alt-ac), consider shrinking, eliminating, or substantially reforming the program. 
  • Advertise PhD programs that include preparation for alt-ac careers in programs and on listservs.
  • Encourage students who show interest in alt-ac careers to pursue those opportunities.
  • Think creatively about what funded graduate students do. Mix teaching with administrative work, arts advocacy initiatives, and other similar opportunities.
  • Encourage interested students to seek funding from university resources outside of the department, including teaching and learning centers, university museums and special collections, or radio stations.
  • Form relationships with university career centers to figure out how we can better prepare students for both traditional and alt-ac careers.
  • Invite contingent faculty or alt-acs to speak as part of a colloquium series, even if they must participate over video chat. Bring in alt-acs or career center professionals to do workshops with students.
  • Consider non-dissertation capstone projects for students interested in alt-ac careers.
  • Consider recent economic research on how unconscious gender and racial bias affects hiring and admittance practices. The AMS has already compiled information on this here: http://www.ams-net.org/committees/cre/unconsciousbias.php.
  • Engage with university diversity offices to improve representation from a variety of backgrounds, races, and interests at all levels in our discipline.
  • Actively recruit graduate students from diverse backgrounds into programs.
  • Provide resources to increase retention for students with financial, medical, or familial hardship.
  • Keep accurate data on placement and retention, and make that data available to professional societies.
What individuals can do:
  • Be realistic with students and potential students about the realities of the job market. Manage expectations of incoming or potential students regarding the availability of traditional academic jobs.
  • Help contingent faculty access resources at university libraries, or provide lodging when contingent faculty are researching in the area.
  • Mentor contingent faculty who are still on the market. Provide feedback on job application materials, potential publications, and teaching. Help them network with both traditional and alt-ac professionals, or non-academic professionals if they desire.

We offer these ideas in the spirit of conversation and dialogue, and with the fervent hope that we can make musicology and ethnomusicology better.

Sincerely,

Jacky Avila
Katie Baber
Samantha Bassler
Micaela Baranello
Daniel Barolsky
Paula Bishop
Dan Blim
Carolyn Brunelle
Charles Carson
William Cheng
Amy Cimini
Elizabeth T. Craft
James Deaville
Andrew Dell’Antonio
Dean Disher
Samuel Dorf
Mark Durrand
Kristen Dye
Louis Epstein
Robert Fink
Denise Gallo
Michael Gallope
Devora Geller
Joyce Waterhouse Gibson
Naomi Graber
Andrew Granade
Dan Guberman
Elissa Harbert
Michael W. Harris
Deborah Heckert
Kelly Hiser
Holly Holmes
Blake Howe
Eric Hung
Matt Jones
Susan Key
Kendra Leonard
Teresita Lozano
Brooke McCorkle
Sharon Mirchandani
Sarah Elaine Neill
Anna Ochs
James Parsons
Thomas Patteson
Laura Moore Pruett
Marysol Quevedo
Graham Raulerson
Alexander Rehding
Linda Shaver-Gleason
Jacob Sagrans
John Spilker
Victor Szabo
Susan Thomas
Kristen Meyers Turner
Robin Wallace
Naomi Walton-Smith
Leah Weinberg
Reba Wissner

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Does "Music Trump Politics"? Dennis Prager and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra

By Ted Gordon

Dennis Prager in 2013.  Photo Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez, LA Times (via Getty Images)

In March of this year, Guido Lamell, the music director of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra (SMSO)—a community orchestra comprised mostly of volunteers, which was founded in 1945 by Los Angeles studio musicians— invited conservative radio personality Dennis Prager to guest conduct Haydn's Symphony No. 51 at the SMSO's annual fundraising concert, held at Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall. Prager had previously raised money for and conducted several orchestras in Southern California, he writes, because he "want[s] to expose as many people to classical music as possible." For Prager, "classical music" is a core component of Western culture, which he claims is under attack by secularism, multiculturalism, the Muslim faith, same-sex marriage, academia in general, and the "war on Christmas." In addition to his stance on "Western culture", Prager has claimed that "heterosexual AIDS [...] has been entirely manufactured by the Left," and has also recently teamed up with comedian Adam Corolla to make a documentary film about safe spaces, rape culture, and free speech on college campuses, tweeting "There's no culture of rape at our universities. There's a rape of the culture." In addition to finding Prager’s radio program “interesting,” Lamell praised Prager’s promotion of classical music, which has been a constant talking point in Prager’s show since he began his radio career in 1982. Lamell recalls that Prager "would play excerpts of classical music [...] and talk about the glories of Beethoven."

Prager’s invitation immediately sparked controversy, launching an otherwise insignificant performance of a Haydn symphony into the national spotlight. In an interview on National Public Radio, Lamell sidestepped political issues by arguing that his invitation to Prager was based solely on the the latter’s support for classical music, and the idea that Prager would draw a new kind of audience to the SMSO: "I never heard anyone else on national radio talking about classical music. We knew that he might be reaching an audience that classical arts don't always reach." Lamell's invitation was explicitly intended to create a new group of people for desiring, and taking pleasure in, classical music--a pleasure, according to Lamell, that is apolitical. Lamell argued that music and politics "are two entirely different worlds: Political discourse is one realm, and music is another realm.” Comparing music to an “eternal flame, Lamell chose his words carefully: “music trumps politics.” Prager, for his part, echoes this sentiment: "great music should transcend political differences."

Several members of the SMSO felt otherwise. Four performers wrote and co-signed a letter asking people not to attend the concert, arguing that Prager's presence would alienate their community of players, patrons, and audience--many of whom count themselves among the groups that Prager scorns: LGBTQ people, Muslims, and atheists. They write: "Dennis Prager's publicly stated positions are fundamentally at odds with our community's values and [...] the proposed concert would deeply damage our orchestra's relationship with our community." They cited Prager's moralizing, apocalyptic rhetoric and his hateful speech, including his propagation of the myth that homosexual men are endemic pedophiles; his attack on Representative Keith Ellison for choosing to be sworn into office on a Quran; his arguments for the virtue of racially homogenous societies; and his condemnation of multiculturalism as "the beginning of the end of the United States as we know it.”

In response, Prager published an article on August 1st in The National Review that declared: "they're trying to prevent me from conducting a symphony.” Prager presented the pushback against his role as guest conductor as an issue of free speech, of the "illiberal left" not being willing to allow him to conduct music because of his political views. The views in question, he argued, are not bigoted, racist, or hateful--terms which he claims have been "disemboweled" by the Left. Instead, Prager argues that they should be "tolerated" by a liberal society, just as his presence should be "tolerated" by an orchestra that had previously made attempts at supporting the LGBTQ community and attracting a racially diverse audience.

Prager's stance might be understood as a series of arguments that come close to "kettle logic": that he's not, in fact, hateful; even if the "Left" understands him as hateful, his position should be tolerated; and conducting a symphony is not even political speech, anyway. Yet Prager’s performance with the SMSO is of course political: it uses the “genius” of classical music as evidence towards his political ideology of “Western” supremacism. In addition, more practically speaking, his presence at this concert worked towards the creation of a new political group: people united by their supposedly “apolitical” support of "Western Art Music". In the National Review, a week before the concert, Prager wrote: "Like Haydn, I think music is one of those few things that can bring people together.”

So we must ask: who, exactly, was brought together by Prager and Lamell? On August 16th--four days after the violent eruption of racism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy in Charlottesville--the SMSO performed to a nearly sold-out audience. Who attended? According to Rick Schultz’s review in the LA Times, there was a smattering of applause when Lamell asked the audience who was there from Santa Monica; when he asked "'Are there any fans of Dennis Prager here?’ The audience roared." Prager had exhorted his readership to buy tickets and attend the concert; when Lamell asked the audience at the beginning of the concert, “‘How many are hearing a symphony orchestra for the first time?’, the applause indicated a significant number." Lamell and Prager's desired “new audience” for classical music had certainly arrived. For Prager, Haydn's music mirrors the kind of sociality he wants to see in the world: as he said from the stage, it "represents an ideal of the world 'where we could all sublimate our egos for something that is good.'"

That one should “sublimate one’s ego” is the general logic that allows Prager to denounce what he likes to call "political correctness" from minority groups: LGBTQ people who speak out against homophobia, people of color who speak out against systemic racism, and women who speak out against rape culture. For Prager, these examples of what he calls “identity politics” are only problematic when marginalized people engage in them; he vigorously defends “Western culture” as an unmarked, but implicitly white, “Judeo-Christian” culture. Equating Haydn’s music with this ideology portrays it as a kind of "pure,” non-political cultural activity--which seems to have been convincing not only for Prager's fans, but also for Lamell and most of the orchestra that was able to "tolerate" Prager. As Prager noted after the concert, he sold out all but two rows of seats; only seven of 70 orchestra members refused to play; and the SMSO's Board of Directors invited him to conduct the orchestra again. Prager praised the "tolerance" of the SMSO's board: "these people put the interests of their orchestra, of music, and of tolerance ahead of their political and social views.” Prager's intolerance of women, people of color, queer, and secular people was tolerated because it was not seen as relevant to the “apolitical” performance of the music at hand: Haydn's Symphony No. 51.

Haydn, of course, has had a long history with politics. In addition to the widespread use of his Kaiserhymne by political entities ranging from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to to Nazi Germany, Haydn's "pure" instrumental music has also fueled explicit ethno-nationalism. Where Prager claims “race-blindness” while retaining coded language that leaves the whiteness of “Judeo-Christian” or “Western” culture unmarked, others have been more explicit about how music figures into their racial politics. Writing between world wars, Viennese music theorist Heinrich Schenker sought to revitalize Haydn as a new patriarch in a nationalist, reparative narrative of German music. As Bryan Proksch has shown, "Papa Haydn" was routinely dismissed by German critics and scholars throughout the 19th century; compared to Beethoven, Edouard Hanslick called him a "Klopstock", while A.B. Marx described him as "childlike.”[1] Yet as Proksch writes, Schenker sought to "turn the restoration of Haydn's stature as a compositional genius into a crucial battle within his larger fight to reclaim Germany's cultural history in the wake of the First World War.”[2]

Where Prager praises Haydn’s “genius” as a result of hard work—avoiding a discussion of the political, social, and economic histories of his identity—Schenker is much more explicit: Haydn, an ethnic German, was part of an “aristocracy of genius” that was given to German men by God.[3] Though Prager would of course disavow a link between his characterization of Haydn and Schenker’s proto-fascist ideology, the connection remains: Schenker links musical genius to the German race, while Prager links musical genius to a monolithic “Western” culture that is implicitly patriarchal, heteronormative, and white. The very notion of the “genius” of Haydn, for Schenker, was contingent on Haydn’s identity: in 1921, Schenker began the first issue of his music periodical Die Tonwille with an opening editorial entitled Von der Sendung der deutschen Genies ["The Mission of German Genius"], which claims "a Kant or Goethe, a Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven could work and breathe only in Germany.”[4] Schenker’s ethno-nationalist fantasy envisions a future in which “Papa Haydn” would be finally recognized as an ethnic German patriarch: “adapting Goethe's words, I issue a call: The fathers are the True! On to the fathers, to Father Haydn!"[5]

On August 17th, a day after the concert and four days after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the board of the American Musicological Society issued a statement strongly condemning "neo-nazis, white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members, white nationalists, and fascists". In their statement, they assert that they "seek to foster a safe and supportive community for all of our members and guests at all times and in all places", and that they "support the equal rights of all persons to a life free of violence and hatred, including the rights of those from all races and ethnicities, gender and sexual orientations, religions, national origins, and abilities." As scholars, we must think seriously and carefully about what we mean when we talk about "classical music"--and how to remain vigilant against the promotion of "Western Art Music" in the name of "Western supremacy" built on hatred, fear, and bigotry.

Ted Gordon is a PhD Candidate in the History and Theory of Music at the University of Chicago. His research connects music, technology, desire, and politics. His dissertation project examines experimental musical communities in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and their relationship to larger trends in American technoscience.


[1] Bryan Proksch. "“Forward to Haydn!”: Schenker's Politics and the German Revival of Haydn." Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no. 2 (2011): 320
[2] Ibid.
[3] Suzannah Clark. "The Politics of the Urlinie in Schenker's Der Tonwille and Der freie Satz." Journal of the Royal Musical Association 132, no. 1 (2007): 143
[4] Heinrich Schenker. "Von der Sendung des deutschen Genies," [trans. Bent as "The Mission of German Genius"]. In Der Tonwille 1 (1921), 4.
[5] Heinrich Schenker. "Haydn: Sonate Es-Dur" [Trans. Snarrenberg as "Haydn's Sonata in E Major, Hoboken XVI:52” In Der Tonwille 3 (1922), 3–21. More info here: http://www.schenkerdocumentsonline.org/profiles/work/entity-001742.html

Friday, September 8, 2017

In the Aftermath of Charlottesville

By Bonnie Gordon

The "Unite the Right" Rally on UVa Campus.  Photo Courtesy of Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As the church service in Charlottesville ended on the night of August 11, cell phones vibrated. A local friend with whom I went to synagogue as a child texted: “Holy shit are you at the Lawn [UVa’s central grounds]? You have to get out of there, huge marches, torches as far as you can see, chanting ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ‘Fuck off commies this is our town now,’ and ‘Blood and Soil.’” She included pictures she’d gotten off of Facebook.

By now you have probably seen images of the torch march on the University of Virginia’s campus or of students guarding a statue of Thomas Jefferson. The march began in front of Old Cabell Hall, which houses the music department. Marchers stormed across the green space where music classes sometimes meet outside, where student groups perform, and where the summer camp of the one synagogue in town takes the kids, including mine, to play. My family’s car was parked on the other side of those screaming Nazis and by the time we figured out what to do the church was on lockdown. The Pastor said, “We’re going to need y’all to sit and prepare to duck and take cover.” My ten-year-old son held my hand tightly and said, “I knew it was a bad idea to go to church on Shabbat.”

We live in Charlottesville in part because of the Music Department at the University of Virginia. The department takes great pride in being home to a relatively new PhD program where students interested in non-traditional approaches to the study of sound can thrive and where our composers relish new medias and sonorities. Our programs are Critical and Comparative Studies of Music and Compositional and Computer Technologies. The undergraduate major is equally progressive, maybe even a model for departments thinking about diversifying their music major curriculum. Surreally, Richard Spencer, perhaps the most recognized music major in the country, is a 2001 graduate of the University of Virginia. And how did he use his majors in Music and English? He coined the term “alt-right” and served as an impresario for the sick operatic rally staged here in Charlottesville.

I want to dwell on Richard Spencer because he reminds me that a progressive curriculum alone does not defend against white supremacy. And his story signifies that white supremacists are staging a culture war that raises questions about transporting toxic, violent imaginings of western culture, especially opera, to the former slave-holding South. This Charlottesville event digs into the dissonances in an academic field that, in this country, was founded largely by central European and German refugees but which nonetheless often tacitly endorses the white supremacy that got us into what feels like the middle of a dystopian novel.

It’s no accident that Spencer used a college campus as the stage for the prologue to his Unite the Right rally. This past November, he made it clear that he would target college campuses and he has made good on his word. A March, 2017 report from the Anti-Defamation League identified 107 incidents of white supremacist activity on college campuses in the 2016-17 year. This targeting comes at precisely the moment that the Trump administration is doing its best to dismantle affirmative action and Title IX. 

A musical civic engagement event, held several years ago, on the same lawn where the "Unite the Right" rally occurred this past August.  Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Gordon.
Charlottesville was a major battle in this culture war. Despite what Spencer said and what the national news reported, this “Unite the Right” invasion was never about two statues of Confederate generals. Beneath the Confederate flags, Nazi symbols, and loud cries of white nationalism, music scholars of any period and place should find familiar the refrains, rhythms, and narrative arcs of our discipline. The power of linking apocalyptic narratives to racialized nationalism is not news to anyone who studies music or history. Spencer, of course, learned that linkage as both powerful and dangerous. But he knew exactly what he was deploying when he used the chant “Blood and Soil.” Although he might pretend that, in the South, this phrase could translate as “‘heritage and the land of the Confederacy,” it originated and rose in popularity just before the Nazis came to power and its racist xenophobia fueled many of their most heinous laws. When my high school friend texted me that Spencer’s torch-bearing marchers were chanting those words, they rang through my ears in German, “Blut und Boden.” I heard in them the nineteenth-century ideologies that bound German land to German blood, ideologies that I first learned about when studying Wagner in music class.

Moreover, anyone caught unaware by the attack on the lawn did not listen. It’s not just that by 3:00 pm on August 11 the interweb buzzed with the impending torch rally. Spencer’s musical and theatrical experience rendered the torchlight rally as predictable as a Rossini opera. In college, Richard Spencer created stage sets for Shakespeare on the Lawn. He took classes in the Music Department — one of the first music departments in the country to attempt to de-center the western canon. He went on to write a Master’s thesis on Wagner, Adorno, opera and anti-Semitism at the University of Chicago. Recall that in Trump Tower on election day last November, Spencer said if he couldn’t be Secretary of State he wanted to be Minister of Culture and “spend millions of dollars on Wagner.” Spencer’s words should speak volumes to those of us trained in contemporary cultural analysis. His words align with the cultural backdrop put into place by Hitler’s minions, who knew that musical overtures to fascism could fuel political overtures.

To put this in terms of a curricular challenge, it’s relatively easy to get college students to see the grotesque potential of some of the music they love, especially if it includes sounds mobilized by the likes of Stalin and Hitler. And most undergraduates who take music classes learn about sonic performances of nationalism; it’s a box or chapter in many textbooks. But it is so much more work and so much more important to make our students hear the ways that racialized nationalism played and plays out today in our own spaces — politically and musically. We need to make sure they can deconstruct current explicit and implicit fascist movements with the same critical eye that they turn on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. In other words, if we, and our students, can’t read the signs in the current climate and can’t respond to them, then I’m not sure we are doing our jobs.

Here at the University of Virginia, as with many other institutions, such self-examination grows twisted quickly. This is a campus built by the hands of the enslaved and founded by Jefferson, who among other things truly believed that blacks were subhuman and thus not fit for citizenship or personhood. UVa and the Music Department have deep ties to eugenics through the composer John Powell. Among other things, Powell founded the Virginia Anglo-Saxon club. In 1934, a UVa student of eugenics wrote, “In Germany Hitler has decreed that about 400,000 persons be sterilized. This is a great step in eliminating the racial deficient.” Eugenics as a key part of the Biology and Medical School curricula lasted at UVa into the 1950’s, and UVa scientists shared eugenics practices with the Nazis. Not surprisingly, almost none of those central European academics who came to the United States to flee Hitler’s racism chose to come to UVa. That’s a lacuna the natural sciences here may never recover from.
Memorial to Heather Heyer.  Photo Courtesy of Bonnie Gordon.

The Morning After
Music departments face a special challenge in the aftermath of these events. There is a collective fantasy that making music necessarily heals and unifies, but that’s simply not the case. Even setting aside examples of music-making that directly fuel fascism, collective sound isn’t the same as collective action. As the Reverend William Barber said to a packed church the week after August 12, “you can’t heal by singing ‘We Are the World.’” Healing and social progress don’t come until you understand the causes and structures of the problems. There has been a lot of “We shall overcome” at UVa in the aftermath of August 12. Too little, too late. “We shall overcome” says we shall overcome someday. For those central European refugees who came to America and helped to build the discipline of musicology, I’m quite certain that they thought 2017 was past “someday.” We have not put our songs into action. I’ve spent a good deal of time with the Kerman/Lowinsky debates, published in the 1960s, in which nationalism rose to the fore. Many in that generation fought against segregation. I’m glad most of them did not live to see young white men wielding torches and screaming Nazi slogans. 

Everyone is quoting James Baldwin these days, but it’s worth doing again here because he isolates the variable that spells the difference between a healing song and a fascist chorus: “Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty... the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mark of cruelty.” To cultivate our students’ and citizens’ capacities for human decency, we need to remain vigilant about both the potential and limits of music-making and of critical reading. It is crucial to continue making creative work and to keep thinking and writing, though the regimes of violence and terror are crashing through the gates. But it’s not enough. And the faux-harmonizing language of diversity won’t be enough either. The only choice is to fight back. As Music scholars and practitioners the language and history of our discipline is a massive weapon in this culture war, but we really have to stay awake for it to work. We should know firsthand the good and the bad work music can do, we should be able to hear between the lines, and we should know about the pitfalls of nationalism.

I want to close with the two songs that comprise the soundtrack of my August 11 memory and that offer singing as a weapon in the current cultural war. As cell phones exploded with news of the alt-right torch parade, the Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou — who had trained locals in non-violent direct action in preparation for the August 12 rally — led the entire congregation singing and stomping “This Little Light of Mine.” It made the building shake. “We have some company,” he called to us, as we were singing. “Let’s show them love conquers hate.” In that moment, the song became a weapon and training: it fueled the courage that would become our armor in the hard phase ahead. Non-violent protest and staring down the face of evil are not peaceful or easy. There’s a powerful myth out there about the 60’s and it comes with a common time, consonant and diatonic musical backdrop. King warned against moderates who worked to avert tension. If you went to Reverend Sekou’s training you got trained in having your ass kicked sonically and physically just by sitting or standing there as a witness to hate.

The other song I remember so clearly from that Friday night church service was sung by the two rabbis from the synagogue which the next morning was surrounded by rifle-wielding right-wingers and was not protected by police, state troopers, or national guard. They led the congregation in “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” which translates as “the world is built through love,” although the translation that’s used as a refrain in the song is more of a proclamation, a call to action: “We will build this world with love.” The song’s folksy sound feels familiar to Jews and non-Jews alike. Our rabbis have beautiful voices, every Jewish kid who goes to religious school in this town knows it, and anyone can catch the tune. The interfaith crowd rocked it. It’s melodious, but not sweet. 

“Olam Chesed Yibaneh” has been embraced by the activist group IfNotNow, a Jewish anti-racist group that opposes the Israeli occupation. The song’s words come from David—the same David who slew the evil giant Goliath in the age-old story. Earlier that night at the church, the nationally renowned political organizer and spiritual leader Reverend Traci Blackmon had told the congregation that the small, young David did not just kill the enormous Goliath—who she equated to the poison of white supremacy—with a small pebble from his slingshot. He didn’t stop with the pebble. After David killed Goliath, he cut off his head and held it up for all to see. Now is the time, she reminded us, “Let’s show them love conquers hate.” She said, with a sound that crashed through the microphone, that, it was time to take off the head of the white supremacy giant. David’s refrain sung to the chorus of Olam Chesed Yibaneh became a conviction and fierce weapon. 

The response to hate cannot be just performing smooth, perfectly-in-tune versions of folk tunes and it can’t be just saying we stand against white Supremacy. We will have to admit that we can graduate not only the Richard Spencers, but his followers. Those of us with tenure have a special obligation to be brave in our efforts. It might mean some really uncomfortable conversations, and it might mean saying things that go against chairs, deans, provosts, and presidents; making them sit with dissonance. When real live white supremacists come to your school, implicit bias training, inclusive syllabi, and safe space statements don’t do any good without a willingness to use the musical and musicological toolkit to hear the current situation and speak or sing out against it. This is a good time to remind everyone not only of the white supremacist traditions that undergird all of our disciplines and schools, but of the tradition of progressive faculty and student activism.

Bonnie Gordon’s primary interests center on the experiences of sound in Early Modern music making and the affective potential of the human voice. Her first book, Monteverdi’s Unruly Women (Cambridge University Press, 2004), frames the composer’s madrigals and music dramas written between 1600 and 1640 as windows into contemporary notions of sound, body, voice, and sense. She uses vocal music written for sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Italian singers to illuminate our understanding of the music, science, and culture of that period. She co-edited an interdisciplinary and cross cultural volume of essays about courtesans entitled The Courtesan’s Arts, (Oxford University Press, 2006).