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.