Gazing at Musicians

There seems to be no common sense of what it means to promote oneself as a classical musician. Music universities largely fail to offer valuable advice on how graduates can generate meaningful outreach as entrepreneurs, and so they apparently cannot help but resort to the mechanisms they experience in the world of commercial music business. That means: Visual appearance is what counts and is given the greatest attention. Legions of performers of classical music pretend to make the world a better place through their music, but what they essentially do is trying to look good in their latest concert announcement, home video, or photo session.

Dear fellow musicians, what about using your social media coverage to support those many colleagues who struggle to make a living from freelance musicianship? Why would you strive for physical beauty, given that so many of the people in the business fail to get paid properly? I’d suggest you reach out to your followers in order to develop a consciousness of professional representation, and focus your efforts to achieve political awareness of the desolate state of musicianship itself. If you could imagine directing your attention to these elementary issues instead of your looks, people would even more happily support your career. Do not compete for superficial compliments but for professional recognition. Ditch your glamorous Instagram profile today, join and engage in a professional body instead, and become an ambassador of your occupation’s welfare. Your help is much appreciated.

Freshly out: Sonata elettrica

One of the most fortunate moves in my activity as a composer was to make my sheet music freely available on the internet. Numerous performances and recordings resulted from that decision, simply because performers or conductors looking for new repertoire are likely to browse IMSLP and other websites for a particular genre or combination of instruments. While I hesitate to encourage fellow composers to do the same since I realise there might be reasons not to upload one’s music for free, this is what works out fine for me. On that note, I invite you to have a look at my latest composition, Sonata elettrica for amplified guitar and piano, the typesetting of which I have just completed. It is a virtuoso showpiece in a somewhat uncommon instrumentation, calling for a classically-trained electric guitarist who takes joy in some adventurous duo musicking. Thanks go to Siamak Sattari who expertly helped me elaborate the guitar part.

wendelinbitzan_sonataelettrica

 

Behind the Curtain

According to a New York Times article, authored by Anthony Tommasini, blind auditions obstruct racial diversity in orchestras and are inapt to ensure discrimination-free hiring of professional musicians. While the principal argument of the piece is convincing (people of colour do not benefit from a system of meritocracy in which they are structurally impeded to participate), one may be at odds with the conclusion. I simply don’t unterstand how doing away with blind auditions is supposed to improve the situation—or is it just the misleading headline? Enhanced support for BIPoC applicants is certainly needed, and all the more in earlier stages of education in order to achieve equal opportunities in a competitive environment, but I don’t see the connection of these measures to the hiring procedure of orchestras. I’m curious if somebody can explain this to me.

Music Theory’s Colour Blindness

North American music theory currently faces a veritable scandal. At the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory, the African American scholar Philip Ewell presented a plenary talk on the white racial frame in music theory, elaborating on the structural and institutionalised discrimination of non-white people in academia, and examining how Schenkerian analysis is affected by Heinrich Schenker‘s racism and ideas of white supremacy. An extended written version of this piece recently appeared in Music Theory Online—but even before it was published, a group of male white scholars penned a series of reactions which they assembled in a new issue of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, repudiating Ewell’s criticism in a most unscholarly way, not giving him a chance to respond, and dispensing with their own peer-reviewing routines. I am severely shocked at some of these reactions (some of which are cited in this blogpost), at the harsh ad hominem attacks directed towards Ewell and, to some extent, the overtly anti-Black bias uttered by some distinguished proponents of the discipline. In their defense of established views and practices, and in the obvious goal of denigrating their opponent, the contributors involuntarily proved some of the points of racial framing previously addressed by Ewell. The whole affair is, in my humble opinion, an absolute disgrace.

The other question is what we—beyond expressing solidarity with Philip Ewell, which I wholeheartedly endorse—can do in Germany to raise awareness, expand the canon, and make music theory and musicology more ethnically diverse. I suggest we take some of the steps proposed in the MTO article: make ethnomusicology and non-western music theory compulsory subjects for undergraduates, invite persons of colour as keynote speakers, introduce awards for antiracist scholarship in music, and implement antiracist measures in judging panels and application committees. These would be some of the challenges posed to the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie and Gesellschaft für Musikforschung for the near future.

Teaching, Examining, and Diversity

A challenging summer term at Robert Schumann Hochschule Düsseldorf is over now. After an intense period of designing classes and tutorials, online teaching, and examining with an unexpectedly high workload, I’m glad to have some less busy times ahead of me. This is the written music theory test I devised and assigned to my second-year students, covering music by female and male composers from France and Germany in equal parts. It’s so easy to enhance the repertoire canon and create a bit of diversity at least in teaching, even though this will not change anything in the classical music business. Yet I assume it is the will that matters.