Last week I attended the debate ‘How can universities promote academic freedom? Insights from the front line of the gender wars’, at University College London’s Institute of Education. This was a stimulating and thoughtful event, organised in conjunction with the publication of a booklet of the same name by philosopher Professor Judith Suissa and sociologist Professor Alice Sullivan (both from UCL) (free to download). Suissa and Sullivan gave short introductions then responses to the booklet came from Baroness Estelle Morris (former Labour Secretary of State for Education), Professor David Ruebain (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion at the University of Sussex), Professor Arif Ahmed (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge) (Akua Reindorf was unable to be present). With a debate focused upon the issues of biological sex against gender, it would be hard to deny that the panel was dominated by those believing that the former is not simply subsumed within the latter, though I gather various proponents of the primacy of gender and/or trans individuals (the lack of which was noted by Ruebain) were invited but declined to participate. The discussion centered around the evidence and arguments in the booklet for concerted attempts to silence, no-platform and ostracise ‘gender-critical’ scholars, a phenomenon also identified in a recent Times Higher Education Supplement article by early career scholar Laura Favaro (also available at this link), based upon interviews with 50 academics involved with gender studies. Favaro found many examples of a culture of fear, self-censorship, gatekeeping within journals and academic networks, and a total lack of frank and open discussion on what are undoubtedly contested areas. Various panellists and members of the packed audience at the event related similar experiences. What I have not seen is gender-critical feminists attempting to have their opponents censored, no-platformed, or hounded from their positions, though some have naturally responded very negatively to highly abusive comments towards the former, sometimes advocating sexual or other violence.
Morris argued that the disputes relating to sex and gender were about ideology versus evidence-based reasoning. Sullivan argued that some university Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) organisations can be and have been infiltrated by those from activist groups with extremist views. Ahmed, who paid tribute to Suissa and Sullivan, recognising the concerted hostility they will have faced, also noted other areas of intolerance, such as a tendency to brand anyone in a university who was or is a supporter of Brexit as a bigot. Despite being a 200% Remainer myself, I would be hard-pressed to disagree that this is the case, and can see how much of a problem it is. Ruebain was the one panellist giving a somewhat different view, arguing that we need to understand the contexts in which contested examples of academic freedom occur, and also suggesting that the issues here are so intensely personal and emotionally felt by many that it is hard to subject them to the usual processes of academic critique. This may be the case, but personal feelings do not seem to be a concern for those engaged in quite vicious and abusive hate campaigns against those associated with gender-critical views, often trying to force them out of their job, as occurred with philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock at the University of Sussex, after facing a huge mobbing campaign from by students and colleagues. Ruebain also compared current debates with the fervent disputes between second-wave feminists and disability activists in the 1980s over such issues as abortion rights. One questioner argued that the situation depended a lot on the institution at which one was based, noting that UCL’s record on defending academic freedom and staff was exemplary, but the situation was rather different at the Universities of Birmingham or Sussex. A somewhat more ambivalent account of the debate was published by Jim Dickinson for Wonkhe.
Academic freedom is in my view an utterly essential component of university life, a non-negotiable prerequisite of scholarly rigour and integrity. I nonetheless find it disappointing to find that there are more than a few academics, including some in senior positions, who have a rather dismissive view of the whole concept. In part I believe this is relates to one of the most troubling recent phenomena in academia, its infiltration by activists, uninterested in any scholarly knowledge other than that which bolsters their a priori positions, who attempt to recruit in their own image, limit curricula and teaching materials to those things which concur with their activist beliefs, and can act shockingly towards other scholars or students who dare to disagree (more to follow on fair engagement with students of multiple political perspectives in a subsequent blog post). Also at stake is the legacy of postmodernism, sometimes imagined now to be a dated movement of the 1980s and 1990s which no longer carries any sway, but some of the aspects of which, in particular extreme relativisation of concepts of ‘truth’ (often in opposition to straw man characterisations of positions supposedly insisting on 100% objectivity), and the somewhat later dissolution of scholarship into politics, continue to be major presences on the academic landscape.
Stock has written of her memories of pugilistic debate from faculty members (mostly men) with visiting speakers from when she was a Masters philosophy student, which seemed frightening at the time and designed to humiliate the speakers. But for all the problems with this (and it is certainly possible to conduct robust debate in a more civilised fashion), she believes that what came later was worse. Stock observed an exaggerated synthetic ‘niceness’ in debates, but combined with unctuous name-dropping, endless rules around debate, rather arcane rituals for raising hands and fingers, and often banal questions. This did not however remove the aggression, but simply directed it elsewhere. In the absence of proper open debate, many would revert to surreptitious means to undermine others, through mass denunciations on social media, many ad hominem attacks, complaints, hidden campaigns, and so on. As so often, those enforcing an agenda ostensibly about ‘kindness’ could be amongst the most vicious in trying to silence those who disagree with them on anything. One professor has even described debate per se as ‘an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.’
Suissa and Sullivan (whose excellent booklet I will not describe in detail here, as I would prefer that people read it themselves) find ample evidence of both students and academics attempting to suppress free speech and academic freedom, and make various key recommendations. These include the maintenance of the university as a pluralistic space which welcomes diverse views, avoiding official ideological viewpoints on behalf of institutions and the use of political lobby groups in shaping policy or providing training, and while recognising that activist networks have a place in academia, they must be independent of the university administration. They also advocate education of staff and students on academic freedom and the value of productive disagreement, including its legal and philosophical bases, the promotion of academic freedom alongside equality, including the appointment of a champion for academic freedom within the senior leadership team, further promotion of collegiality (sometimes a misused term taken to signify concurrence with a dominant ideology or promotion of a collective ‘brand’ – see below) and tackling harassment, providing security of tenure, signalling institutional support for academic freedom, and defence of the pursuit of truth. An article on the booklet, in particular the need for appointment of champions of academic freedom, can be read here.
What does ‘academic freedom’ mean? Many at the debate agreed that it was a different concept to ‘free speech’, though the two do overlap. In a paper I gave in ‘Musicology and Academic Freedom’ at the Music and the University Conference at City, University of London in July, I enlisted several definitions which I wanted to share here as well as some other arguments made in this paper. Whilst the concept can be dated back many centuries, it is generally accepted that the moder definition has its roots in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt and the founding of the Berlin Universität in 1810. Humboldt published an essay entitled ‘Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten zu Berlin’ (1809-10), which has been translated as ‘On the Spirit and the Organisational Framework of Intellectual Institutions in Berlin’, Minerva, vol. 8, no. 2 (April 1970), pp. 242-250. The following are amongst the most pertinent passages:
Since these institutions [universities] can only fulfil their purposes when each of them bears continuously in mind the pure idea of science and scholarship [these two terms are used to translate Wissenschaft], their dominant principles must be freedom and the absence of distraction (Einsamkeit).
At the higher level, the teacher does not exist for the sake of the student; both teacher and student have their justification in the common pursuit of knowledge. The teacher’s performance depends on the students’ presence and interest – without this science and scholarship could not grow. If the students who are to form his audience did not come before him of their own free will, he, in his quest for knowledge, would have to seek them out. The goals of science and scholarship are worked towards most effectively through the synthesis of the teacher’s and the students’ dispositions.
The state must always remain conscious of the fact that it never has and in principle never can, by its own action, bring about the fruitfulness of intellectual activity. It must indeed be aware that it can only have a prejudicial influence if it intervenes. The state must understand that intellectual work will go on infinitely better if it does not intrude.
Now as regards the organisational and material side of the relationship of the institution to the state, the only concerns of the latter must be profusion (in the sense of mental power and variety) of intellectual talents to be brought together in the institution. This can be achieved through care in the selection of persons and the assurance of freedom in their intellectual activities. This intellectual freedom can be threatened not only by the state, but also by the intellectual institutions themselves which tend to develop, at their birth, a certain outlook and which will therefore readily resist the emergence of another outlook. The state must seek to avert the harm which can possibly arise from this source.
The heart of the matter is the appointment of the persons who are to do the intellectual work.
The state must not deal with its universities as Gymnasia or as specialised technical schools; it must not use its academy as if it were a technical or scientific commission. It must in general – with certain exceptions among the universities which will be considered later – demand nothing from them simply for the satisfaction of its own needs. It should instead adhere to a deep conviction that if the universities attain their highest ends, they will also realise the state’s ends too, and these on a far higher plane. On this higher plane, more is comprehended and forces and mechanisms are brought into action which are quite different from those which the state can command.
The young person, on entry into university, should be released from the compulsion to enter either into a state of idleness or into practical life, and should be enabled to aspire to and elevate himself to the cultivation of science or scholarship which hitherto have only been pointed out to him from afar.
The way thereto is simple and sure. The aim of the schools must be the harmonious development of all the capacities of their pupils. Their powers must be focused on the smallest possible number of subject- matters but every aspect of these must be dealt with to as great an extent as possible. Knowledge should be so implanted in the mind of the pupil that understanding, knowledge and creativity excite it, not through any external features, but through their inner precision, harmony and beauty. [. . . ] A mind which has been trained in this way will spontaneously aspire to science and scholarship.
Humboldt’s writings should be read in the context of the traditional German division between universities on one hand and academies of the sciences and arts on the other. He definitely favoured the former, and suggested that the latter have only really flourished where there are few universities. Academies had less strict requirements for selection of staff, compared to the habilitation required in a German university. Humboldt also believed the state should take exclusive control of appointments, rather than faculties:
Although disagreements and disputes within a university are wholesome and necessary, conflicts which might arise between teachers because of their specialised intellectual interests might unwittingly affect their viewpoints.
This important point is at odds with common processes for selection in the UK today.
From Humboldt’s ideas came the twin concepts of Lehrfreiheit (freedom to teach) and Lernfreiheit (freedom to learn), as subsets of Wissenschaftsfreiheit or Akademische Freiheit. These concepts developed through the course of the nineteenth century.
Another hugely important intervention in the development of the concept came from philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, in his lectures delivered at Cambridge, MA in 1898 (collected in the 1992 Harvard University Press volume Reasoning and the Logic of Things: The Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898), in particular that entitled ‘The First Rule of Logic’, in which he compared the situation in American universities deeply unfavourably with their German counterparts in terms of free intellectual inquiry and in particular the link between this and teaching:
…inquiry of every type, fully carried out, has the vital power of self-correction and of growth. This is a property so deeply saturating its inmost nature that it may truly be said that there is but one thing needful for learning the truth, and that is a hearty and active desire to learn what is true. If you really want to learn the truth, you will, by however devious a path, be surely led into the way of truth, at last. No matter how erroneous your ideas of the method may be at first, you will be forced at length to correct them so long as your activity is moved by that sincere desire. Nay, no matter if you only half desire it, at first, that desire would at length conquer all others could experience continue long enough. But the more voraciously truth is desired at the outset, the shorter by centuries will the road to it be.
In order to demonstrate that this is so, it is necessary to note what is essentially involved in The Will to Learn. The first thing that the Will to Learn supposes is a dissatisfaction with one’s present state of opinion. There lies the secret of why it is that our American Universities are so miserably insignificant. What have they done for the advance of civilization? What is the great idea or where is [a] single great man who can truly be said to be the product of an American University? The English universities, rotting with sloth as they always have, have nevertheless in the past given birth to Locke and to Newton, and in our time to Cayley, Sylvester and Clifford. The German universities have been the light of the whole world. The medieval University of Bologna gave Europe its system of law. The University of Paris, and that despised Scholasticism took Abelard and made him into Descartes. The reason was that they were institutions of learning while ours are institutions for teaching. In order that a man’s whole heart may be in teaching he must be thoroughly imbued with the vital importance and absolute truth of what he has to teach; while in order that he may have any measure of success in learning he must be penetrated with a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of his present condition of knowledge. The two attitudes are almost irreconcilable.
A range of statements followed from the American Association of University Professors, of which the most important is the ‘1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure’, which was and is endorsed by a wide range of US institutions:
- Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
- Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject [my emphasis]. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
- College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
The idea of limitations on academic freedom with deference to religious or other related principles now seems archaic in the modern secular university, but is understandable in the context of its time. What exactly is entailed by the phrase ‘respect for the opinions of others’ is open to much interpretation (certainly it is hard to see how this is true of those who regularly brand their opponents fascists, communists, colonialists, white supremacists, and so on), but there can be proper arenas and frameworks for this, through scholarly forums and the like, in which any aspect of someone’s arguments can be rigorously debated so long as this does not trespass into the realms of personalised attacks on an ad hominem basis, invoking factors irrelevant to the work. Most arguments, within reason, should be allowed a fair hearing but so should challenges to such arguments. To separate individual from work is harder than ever, however, in a time of intense subjectivity in scholarship, in which some make their case essentially on the basis of who they are and the experiences they have had, rather than the cogency of their arguments, as identified in William Matthews recent article for the THES.
In the UK, the most significant definition of academic freedom in recent times came about in the 1988 Education Reform Act, specifically in the so-called ‘Hillhead amendment’, named after Lord [Roy] Jenkins of Hillhead, which appeared within Section 202. This concerned the appointment of a body of University Commissioners (following the abolition of tenure), who would have various tasks:
to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions;
Similar principles, presented in a more elaborate fashion, can be found in the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel:
III. 4: Institutions of higher education, and more particularly universities, are communities of scholars preserving, disseminating and expressing freely their opinions on traditional knowledge and culture, and pursuing new knowledge without constriction by prescribed doctrines. The pursuit of new knowledge and its application lie at the heart of the mandate of such institutions of higher education. In higher education institutions where original research is not required, higher-education teaching personnel should maintain and develop knowledge of their subject through scholarship and improved pedagogical skills.
VI. 26: Higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social and cultural rights applicable to all citizens. Therefore, all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In cases of gross violation of their rights, higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to appeal to the relevant national, regional or international bodies such as the agencies of the United Nations, and organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel should extend full support in such cases.
VI. 27: The maintaining of the above international standards should be upheld in the interest of higher education internationally and within the country. To do so, the principle of academic freedom should be scrupulously observed. Higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear of repression by the state or any other source. Higher-education teaching personnel can effectively do justice to this principle if the environment in which they operate is conducive, which requires a democratic atmosphere; hence the challenge for all of developing a democratic society.
VI. 28: Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use curricula and methods contrary to national and international human rights standards. Higher-education teaching personnel should play a significant role in determining the curriculum.
VI. 29: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to carry out research work without any interference, or any suppression, in accordance with their professional responsibility and subject to nationally and internationally recognized professional principles of intellectual rigour, scientific inquiry and research ethics. They should also have the right to publish and communicate the conclusions of the research of which they are authors or co-authors, as stated in paragraph 12 of this Recommendation.
VI. 30: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to undertake professional activities outside of their employment, particularly those that enhance their professional skills or allow for the application of knowledge to the problems of the community, provided such activities do not interfere with their primary commitments to their home institutions in accordance with institutional policies and regulations or national laws and practice where they exist.
The UK 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (which came in the wake of a wide range of changes to Higher Education from 2010 onwards and established the Office for Students, superseding the earlier Higher Education Funding Council for England and Office for Fair Access), contained relevant material on academic freedom in Section 2(8):
In this Part, “the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means—
(a) the freedom of English higher education providers within the law to conduct their day to day management in an effective and competent way,
(b) the freedom of English higher education providers—
(i) to determine the content of particular courses and the manner in which they are taught, supervised and assessed,
(ii) to determine the criteria for the selection, appointment and dismissal of academic staff and apply those criteria in particular cases, and
(iii) to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases, and
(c) the freedom within the law of academic staff at English higher education providers—
(i) to question and test received wisdom, and
(ii) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions,
without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the providers.
For wider reasons beyond the scope of this article (but which will appear in a piece to be published in the THES in the week beginning 3 October), I do question some aspects of complete autonomy of higher education providers, which I do not believe has ever been wholly meaningful in light of wider bodies dedicated to the maintenance of standards (until recently by the Quality Assurance Agency). Furthermore staff deserve wider protection in terms of selection, appointment and dismissal practices, through employment laws which exceed the priorities of individual providers. Nonetheless, sections (a) and (c) are sound bases for the conducting of academic work.
In 2020, The Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group produced a document entitled ‘Model Code of Conduct for the Protection of Academic Freedom and the Academic Community in the Context of the Internationalisation of the UK Higher Education Sector’. Whilst recognising the difficulties inherent in defining academic freedom satisfactorily, this group emphasise the following freedoms, drawing upon the 1988, 1997 and 2017 provisions:
- teach, discuss, assess, define the curriculum and study within their areas of academic expertise and/or inquiry;
- promote and engage in academic thinking, debate and inquiry;
- carry out research, and publish the results and make them known;
- freely express opinions about the academic institution or system in which they work or study;
- participate in professional or representative academic bodies;
- not be censored; and,
- fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression.
These should not supplant the earlier definitions, but can be combined with them to demonstrate the priorities, and this provides a good basis for formulating working definitions.
Finally, the 2021 Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill (based on the white paper ‘Higher Education: Free Speech and Academic Freedom‘) from the UK Department of Education, still going through Parliament, lists the following duties for Higher Education Providers (HEPs):
A1 Duty to take steps to secure freedom of speech
(1) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (2).
(2) That objective is securing freedom of speech within the law for—
(a) staff of the provider,
(b) members of the provider,
(c) students of the provider, and
(d) visiting speakers.
(3) The objective in subsection (2) includes securing that—
(a) the use of any premises of the provider is not denied to any individual or body on grounds specified in subsection (4), and
(b) the terms on which such premises are provided are not to any extent based on such grounds.
(4) The grounds referred to in subsection (3)(a) and (b) are—
(a) in relation to an individual, their ideas, beliefs or views;
(b) in relation to a body, its policy or objectives or the ideas, beliefs or views of any of its members.
(5) The objective in subsection (2), so far as relating to academic staff, includes securing their academic freedom.
(6) In this Part, “academic freedom”, in relation to academic staff at a registered higher education provider, means their freedom within the law—
(a) to question and test received wisdom, and
(b) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves at risk of being adversely affected in any of the ways described in subsection (7).
(7) Those ways are—
(a) loss of their jobs or privileges at the provider;
(b) the likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at the provider being reduced.
(8) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (9).
(9) That objective is securing that, where a person applies to become a member of academic staff of the provider, the person is not adversely affected in relation to the application because they have exercised their freedom within the law to do the things referred to in subsection (6)(a) and (b).
(10) In order to achieve the objective in subsection (2), the governing body of a registered higher education provider must secure that, apart from in exceptional circumstances, use of its premises by any individual or body is not on terms that require the individual or body to bear some or all of the costs of security relating to their use of the premises.
(11) In this Part—
references to freedom of speech include the freedom to express ideas, beliefs and views without suffering adverse consequences;
“registered higher education provider” and “governing body”, in relation to such a provider, have the same meanings as in Part 1 of this Act
A3 Duty to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom
The governing body of a registered higher education provider must promote the importance of—
(a) freedom of speech within the law, and
(b) academic freedom for academic staff of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions,
in the provision of higher education.
The bill goes on to list responsibilities for students unions, governing bodies and the Office for Students in these respects and in particular the creation of a Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom to monitor that such commitments on the part of HEPs are upheld.
While the bill is certainly not without problems, and may undergo further amendment before becoming law, I do believe overall it is a step forward. Those on the left who are committed to free speech and academic freedom should be prepared to concede some value in a piece of legislation introduced by a Conservative government.
Risks to Academic Freedom
In my own field of music/musicology, various recent events have highlighted issues of academic freedom. One is the affair known as ‘Schenkergate’, relating to the publication of a special issue of The Journal of Schenkerian Studies in 2020 in reference to the article by Philip A. Ewell, ‘Music Theory and the White Racial Frame’, Music Theory, vol. 26, no. 2 (September 2020). The controversy related in particular to an article by Schenker scholar Dr Timothy Jackson, making arguments about the prevalence of anti-semitism amongst African-Americans, and also arguing that the lack of involvement of African-Americans in music theory had much to do with the low incidence of classical music in the common upbringing of members of this community. Jackson found himself removed from the editorship of the journal as a result. He contested this in court and a Judge determined that this may violate his First Amendment rights. Prior to this, Jackson responded with an article for Quillette (‘The Schenker Controversy’, 20 December 2021) arguing for many fallacies in Ewell’s argument and reasoning.
The second affair was the resignation from a chair in musicology at Royal Holloway in the summer of 2021 of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott (who I will refer to as ‘Paul’, as that is how all who know him address him), about which I blogged earlier. Paul published an article online about his reasons for leaving academia, which included the following:
Without direct experience of academics until I went (as the first of my family) to university, I naively imagined them to be how they were presented in novels and TV programmes: sometimes quite bumbling and unworldly, but always committed to the pursuit of truth, never trusting in a commonplace ‘fact’ without subjecting it to the most serious sceptical scrutiny. This did not turn out to be true.
[…] It is a place filled with generally quite well-meaning people, but on the whole not with brave people, not people who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.
[….] I would put the problem in this (Kantian) way: I wrongly supposed that universities would be critical places, but they are becoming increasingly dogmatic.
This was followed by an example of a statement on the need to ‘decolonise’ the classical musical canon (on which subject I published an article in The Critic in July of this year), which was an example of what Harper-Scott deemed dogmatic, with a suggested alternative which he felt was more in the spirit of critical scholarly inquiry.
I share many of Paul’s concerns, and am also concerned with the trajectory of events relating to Schenkergate. But these relate to what I perceive as a range of factors which serve to limit and condition academic freedom in academia. So I offer the following list of these, some of which would concern those on the left, some those on the right, but all of which I think should concern anyone for whom academic freedom, defined more or less in the ways above, is a defining aspect of a university.
External Pressures from Industries and Institutions
I wrote more extensively about this subject in earlier blog posts here and here, but wish to emphasise (in line with the arguments in the later blog post), that in no sense should this be taken to imply that I oppose external engagement. I am referring to the situation whereby academics enter into partnerships with external institutions and bodies, which may be commercial, state-supported or partially state-supported. These partnerships may relate to research, teaching or both. In particular, I have in mind the situation in which the external institutions provide some financial support for these activities. If there is no such thing as a free lunch, there may also be no such thing as a free teaching or research grant. For such institutions to ask that their finance or other support entail concentration on certain areas is fair and to be expected. But what if the results are not necessarily what the external body wishes to hear?
The point may be made most clearly through reference to wider examples. Suppose that some major manufacturing corporation sponsors some research into the effects of particular types of manufacturing upon the environment. Perhaps the researchers in question may find their work leads them to the inexorable conclusion that this specific corporation are responsible for a range of environmentally damaging actions in the course of their regular activities, contrary to their own promotional material which argues that they are an environmentally-friendly corporation, also drawing attention to the fact that they sponsor this research in order to bolster such a thing. If the researchers felt under pressure to artificially modify or not publish their findings, for fear of not upsetting the corporation, this would in my view severely compromise academic freedom and integrity.
There needs to be some commonly agreed set of principles which become a basic prerequisite for academics entering into some partnership with an external institution, whereby they are free to follow where their research leads them without fear of the institution blocking their access or terminating the partnership prematurely, and also so that future partnerships will not discriminate against those who may have written critically about the institution in the past.
The Complex Relationship between Research and External Practice
This relates to concerns explored in some depth in the conference on ‘Writing on Contemporary Artists’ at the University of Surrey in 2017, organised by Christopher Wiley and myself, and features both in the 2020 Palgrave Macmillan, volume we edited, Researching and Writing on Contemporary Art and Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities, while in a specifically musical context will feature in our forthcoming Routledge volume Writing about Contemporary Musicians: Promotion, Advocacy, Disinterest, Censure. This subject is also discussed at more length in the two earlier blog posts linked to in the previous section.
What happens when academics are dealing with living or recently living practitioners or their estates – writers, composers, artists, directors of institutions, critics, promoters, and so on? Or if they have strong external connections with some of these people beyond academia? How free can they feel to write and research these independently, at least considering perspectives on them and their work which may not necessarily coincide with their own self-presentation, that of their publishers, and so on?
Is the role of academics to be ‘advocates’ for these figures, or is it the case, as I believe, that a too-strong application of this principle (as opposed to simply researching things to which one is sympathetic, which is a different matter) can easily result in hagiographic treatment? How do academics maintain critical independence without the fear of being frozen out of some of these people’s circles, their materials, and so on (a situation I know various scholars have experienced)? I have certainly felt the pressure when writing about a range of living composers whose work I also play, and to some extent upon whom I rely upon for some good favour, writing new works for me, recommending me to festivals to play their work, and so on. I am still unsure about the feasibility of reconciling this with being a critical scholar.
One of the factors afflicting a fair amount of writing on new music, in my view, is a failure to consider this. As I have written about in the case of various such writings, a position of defensive advocacy, coupled to attempts to pathologise any who disagree with a 100% favourable view, leads to something more akin to promotional material than more sober scholarly work.
There are of course also plenty of practitioners themselves active within academic arts departments. Whilst some are engaged in the type of more dispassionate scholarship characteristic of the humanities – and I would like to count myself in that category – in other cases the work is of a different nature, framing practice in terms of research questions and context, with the use of verbal material essentially to articulate the ways in which it qualifies ‘as research’. Artistic practitioners frequently have external careers, working in an alternative economy in which critical thinking is by no means necessarily respected or admired. Sometimes simply saying the right thing to the right people, those in positions of power able to do favours, and not questioning all sorts of dominant ideologies operative in these circles, is a much better bet than asking more difficult questions. This can lead to a situation which I conceive as ‘two cultures’ of scholars and practitioners in terms of the attitude and approaches they take.
These issues do, for sure, also apply to those who, as I do, seek to write in non-academic arenas about the arts (or other disciplines), for various reasons, not least because of the differing role that value judgement might play therein. But I think it is possible to differentiate between academic and other writing and not confuse the two. It is less clear where the distinction lies with non-written forms of practice.
Top-down demands by institutions.
In any institutions with a degree of central control of teaching and research, individual academics may find themselves in conflict with the explicit demands or requirements of their department, school, or whole university. Some may try to specify the contents of curricula, or require academics to fashion teaching in general towards generalised criteria of employability. In other cases, support and internal funding for research may rely upon its falling within certain areas, which may be fair enough, but could also require the employment of certain methods which themselves might be more likely to produce certain types of results. These factors might affect the extent, for example, to which teaching can realistically focus on critical perspectives upon the industries or institutions for which students might be looking to work, to link to the first point.
Elsewhere, policies relating to diversity or ‘decolonisation’ might dictate choices or approaches to their teaching, at worst precluding critical treatment of certain types of subjects, and conversely requiring only negative or pejorative attitudes towards others. It is notable in my experience that some who are ferociously defensive of their independence in other contexts can also be supportive of top-down policies in these respects.
But I believe it is important to maintain independence right down to singular academics when it comes to precisely how they conduct their teaching and research. It is fair that departments need to require that certain things are taught as part of a programme, and that certain knowledge and skills are imparted, but the approach to so doing should be left to the individual academic as far as possible. In this respect I have a lot of sympathy with the 2021 Higher Education Bill.
This said, as I will argue in next week’s THES, I do believe that there is a requirement for provision of certain core subjects to a recognised level in all regionalities of the country (not least to facilitate ‘commuter students’, not wishing to incur huge amounts of debt through moving away from home to study), and in this article will advocate some type of tertiary ‘national curriculum’, a more rigorous form of the types of subject benchmarks previously provided by the QAA. Nonetheless, it should still be possible to maintain freedom of individual academics within a framework of encouraging pluralistic perspectives and debate.
Different academics, sometimes of very different or opposing views, work together in departments. A further concern in terms of academic freedom has to do with pressures to conform with prevailing orthodoxies within a department, not questioning these or colleagues who propagate them, so as to maintain a consistent ‘brand’ for a department which is competing with others for students.
Sometimes the term employed here to put pressures on individual academics is ‘collegiality’, understood as working within a set of parameters, not markedly questioning them in ways which are incompatible with a group view. But this is not consistent with what I think is a decent definition provided in the UNESCO 1997 document:
UNESCO 1997, VI. 32: The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility, the policy of participation of all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit of society at large.
All of this is entirely compatible with permitting academics to work without feeling pressure to conform or fashion their work in line with some ‘majority view’ in their department, and I think this is also essential.
Need to concentrate work in particular fields.
Securing academic jobs depends a good deal on one’s particular field and the job opportunities available. In the UK, fewer than 20% of students take traditional BMus or BA courses with a humanities approach which includes historical, analytical, critical and other types of musicology. The remainder take courses in musical theatre, music technology, popular music to a lesser extent, and certain types of musical performance, all of which are primarily vocationally oriented. As a result, the openings for historical musicologists (especially those working on early music), music analysts, and indeed ethnomusicologists working on the non-Western world are limited. Even those already holding university positions can come under pressure to shift in certain directions in light of changing provision, and some have encountered redundancies as a result. To link to a point made earlier, in some contexts a more critical view of the music industry, compared to some presentations of it as a model of diversity and inclusivity, may create problems for the individual academics if they are seeking work in institutions wedded to such a view.
Here I would look back to the Humboldt model and make what now seems a radical suggestion, which is that appointments should be administered centrally by the state rather than individual institutions, so as to ensure a fair distribution and representation of plural areas of teaching and research. Individual departments may recruit ‘in their own image’, and this can have the effect of shutting out openings for academics who once again do not fit with the dominant ‘brand’.
Here I have in mind the view put forward by William Cheng, in his 2016 book Just Vibrations, which has received positive endorsement from a range of leading musicologists (see for example here and here), though others have written very critically about this (see also here). Cheng is dismissive of academic freedom and even of ‘the belief that academics have a right to pursue their work free from political pressures and without fear of termination’. In place of this he advocates a musicology which he says ‘upholds interpersonal care as a core feature’. This is hardly compatible with Cheng’s own dismissive remarks about other musicologists and musicology, but is part of a certain view, usually linked to the term ‘social justice’, seemingly innocuous, but which in reality requires that researchers comply with an unyielding political agenda and fashion their work towards this. A recent position advertised at the University of Southampton Music Department which included ‘social justice’ in the job title. I do not see the difference between this and advertising a position in ‘Music and Support for Jeremy Corbyn’, ‘Musicology and Brexit Advocacy’, and so on – it appears entirely unreasonable and a constraint on academic freedom to specify a specific political outlook in a job description, and this should be investigated in terms of employment law. The view of Cheng and others reminds me strongly of the dictates in various undemocratic countries, in which academics and artists found themselves under strong pressure to propagate particular political ideologies, or find themselves facing censure, termination or worse. This should be utterly unacceptable to anyone concerned about academic freedom.
A new study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Nick Hillman, ‘“You can’t say that!” What students really think of free speech on campus’ (June 2022)) suggests that very significant numbers of UK students prioritise what they regard as demands for safety and protection from discrimination over free speech, wish to place issues such as sexism and racism outside of the boundaries of legitimate debate, would limit expression of views which offend certain religious groups, and so on.
We hear in many places about the vital role of students as ‘consumers’ who make the activities of universities possible, definitively placing teaching rather than research at the centre of their activities. The pressure on institutions to respond to demands from these ‘consumers’ can be intense, and it is by no means guaranteed that they will always act to protect the freedoms of academics in the face of student pressure.
Here I think we do need statutory measures implemented and enforced by the state, and also welcome some of the proposals in the 2021 act for this reason. For students to be able to hound out academics because they do not like some of what they have to say (as opposed to illegal activity or other things which transgress the inevitable constraints on free speech which need to be enforced by law) is to produce a culture more reminiscent of Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.
While formal disciplinary mechanisms precluding academic freedom in the Western world may not be that extensive, there are other pressures which can lead to self-censorship. These include increasingly precarious employment. In the UK there is no tenure system, and – as we are witnessing in other areas of the arts and humanities at present – academics can find themselves dispensable.
Some on the left often advocate for silencing of those they deem racist, transphobic, etc., but are highly defensive when others are accused of anti-semitism (or when those associated with genderist politics are accused of misogyny). Some on the right focus on anti-semitism (which ought to be an issue for those of all political persuasions) or advocacy of views they associate with terrorism, but are more defensive with respect to other things. I believe that only in very blatant and explicit cases should any of these be used as a justification for limiting academic freedom. Anti-Zionists and gender-critical feminists should not feel that their view is illegitimate in academia.
Critical subjects should remain a presence in all universities. All academics must be free to follow where their research and convictions take them, even if their conclusions are not what their institutions, external partners, or colleagues want to hear. To fashion one’s work according to the demands of any of these is another fundamental betrayal of academic freedom.
There was an interesting recent social media thread from Cambridge Professor of Music Marina Frolova-Walker, following reading of some unhappy Twitter exchanges between musicians and musicologists. I am not exactly sure which these were, but there had recently been a particularly angry set of responses to conductor Kenneth Woods after his suggestion that some young musicians were not getting the type of training and experience they need when the National Youth Orchestra spent half a programme on some contemporary works – which I have not personally heard – which he described as ‘tenth rate’ and not featuring much of consequence for the players to do. Some may not realise that any type of value judgement is rejected and even despised in some musicological quarters, and so many responses were to pile on Woods for daring to indulge in such a thing, which is after all ‘subjective’ (as if a lot of what musicologists say and write does not also fall into this category).
Anyhow, Frolova-Walker (who I am citing with permission) suggested wryly (and perhaps only half-seriously) that musical practitioners and music academics might to best to keep apart from each other, since they inhabit such different worlds, value systems, use different vocabularies, etc. This provoked considerable debate, some including myself reluctant to throw in the towel when it comes to fruitful interactions between practitioners and scholars. One of Frolova-Walker’s conclusions was ‘performing is about advocacy, musicology is about criticism’. From a position of high respect, I want to consider this dichotomy further. For the purposes of this post, I define ‘scholars’ as those who produce generally written outputs in the standard forms (article, book chapter, monograph) for academic publishers; ‘practitioners’ as those whose work is primarily in the form of practice – performance, composition, artistic installation, recording, video, etc.
This issue, which I have touched upon in earlier blog posts (see here, here, here and here) is naturally very close to my own heart, as I straddle the worlds of performance and scholarship. Sometimes I like to think this makes me able to bridge the two worlds, but equally often I can feel estranged from and sceptical about both. Frolova-Walker’s point about different vocabularies employed by practitioners and scholars is highly familiar; even such basic terms as ‘the canon’ or ‘Western art music’ are found much more frequently amongst scholars than practitioners, in my experience, whilst few scholars are happy with ideas of ‘musicality’ and the like.
I have recently published two articles in the Times Higher Education Supplement arguing for the need for universities to facilitate higher academic status and progression for a range of practitioners in the performing arts (see here and here), questioning in particular the use (in the UK) of the Research Excellence Framework as the primary measure of the value of their work. This short article is in a sense a rejoinder to those from a different perspective which realises the limits of the field of practitioners, after advocating for their academic integration.
The concepts of ‘advocacy’ and ‘criticism’ can of course have a variety of meanings or emphases. ‘Advocacy’ can mean a basically supportive though not uncritical view of some phenomenon (such as some artistic work), but can also mean either a rigid or even a defensive attitude towards such a thing, which brooks for no dissenting views, and thus can be dismissive of such views, or even try to pathologise those who hold them. ‘Criticism’ can imply something a primarily pejorative view of a phenomenon (in that sense, the direct opposite of advocacy), but here I believe it was intended more in the manner of ‘critique’, relating to a more dispassionate evaluation of a phenomenon (in the case of musicology, this could be an aesthetic critique, an ideology critique, or other type of commentary or analysis of musical phenomena undertaken with that degree of critical distance that is generally believed to be the best approach for a scholar).
Can or should musicologists be advocates? The former Regius Professor of Music at Cambridge, Nicholas Cook, thinks they should not. In a 2003 article (‘Writing on Music or Axes to Grind: road rage and musical community’, Music Education Research, vol. 5, no. 3 (November 2003), pp. 249-261), examines a range of types of advocacy found in musical writing – for individual composers and performers (especially in biographical writing), for rock musicians by demonstrating various qualities within their work, advocacy for new music, arguing for its merits in the face of marginalisation, for early music, and political advocacy for the writers’ informants in ethnomusicology. Cook is especially scathing on forms of advocacy for new music which positively valorise its alleged resistance to consumer culture (breaching Godwin’s Law in a hyperbolic passage in which he compares the view of one protagonist expressing such a position, Anne Boissière to a tradition of thought which ‘fed ultimately into the Nazi creed of “blood and soil”‘ (p. 257)). But in terms of advocacy based on value judgement, after surveying in particular the relationship between this and analysis at the hands of the likes of Heinrich Schenker, Carl Dahlhaus and Rudolph Réti, Cook delivers the following pronouncement, ending in a formulation reminiscent of Leopold Ranke’s view of the job of history:
It seems to me that the idea of the musical academy acting as some kind of quality control, with musicologists or theorists issuing admission tickets to a canonic hall of fame, is way past its sell-by date, and that the prerequisite for a more open-minded approach to musical culture than musicology has traditionally had is a more modest intellectual ambition: to register, to describe, to establish the facts as they are. (p. 259)
While taking Cook’s views seriously (though not his outrageous slur on Boissière), I disagree with this rejection of value judgement and advocacy in general, reject his caricature of ‘musicologists and theorists’, and find it hard to imagine such a view coming from a practising musician, who would have a different personal relationship with the music in question. (I also do not believe there is such a thing as ‘establishing the facts as they are’, somehow free from the interpretive lens of the academic who is doing that (though this is no sense to take a post-modern ‘anything goes’ attitude with respect to relatively objective factual data), but that is a different matter.)
It is hard to see why one would wish to spend a very considerable amount of time or energy on studying music if one did not care about it, or at least find it fascinating. The exceptions might be if one has a passion for history, sociology or another discipline distinct from music, so one studies the music to learn more about the wider history, the society from which it comes, and so on. I have spent some fair amount of time considering what I consider minor and now-forgotten works in various traditions, not in order to uncover ‘lost masterpieces’ (though it is of course a bonus if one finds something really striking in such research), but rather to gain a wider understanding of the context in which other music which I do value was developed, or to comprehend better developments in style, genre, and so on.
Nonetheless, there are basic principles developed in the humanities which I believe continue to be as essential as ever in musical scholarship: maintaining a key awareness of the range of data available and its limitations, not ignoring inconvenient findings if they might interfere with a priori theories or conclusions, familiarising oneself and engaging critically with existing secondary literature and recognising the relationship of one’s own work to what has already been achieved, understanding that the assumptions, tastes, priorities and values of other times and places may be quite different from one’s own, and most importantly here, maintaining a degree of healthy critical distance from one’s subject, so as to be able to assess and interpret it in a more balanced manner, while avoiding the types of highly subjective judgements which rely essentially on whim rather than more substantive and detailed appraisal. For music, I would add the avoidance of pronouncing on music without having heard it (or, where music has been published but either never-yet performed, or no recording exists, studying the score as the next-best thing). Furthermore, in general I believe it is better if scholars are at least guarded before making blatant political pronouncements which assume the reader share their own particular ideological convictions. If the arguments and interpretations are made in a rigorous and well-substantiated fashion, the reader is perfectly capable of drawing their own political conclusions.
I do enjoy immensely reading scholarly work on music (of all types and traditions) by those who clearly have a passion for it, including on occasions when I might not share the same aesthetic view as the writer, at least initially. I may hear some music which makes an impression, but not always be clear to myself why this is the case, and am always interested to know more of its workings in order to understand more about my own reaction. Amongst large bodies of work, such as Marenzio’s Madrigals, Haydn’s Symphonies, Schubert’s songs or Miles Davis’s albums, I am interested in reading those intimately familiar with such bodies of work and their arguments for why some parts of these oeuvres might be especially distinctive. I (and I am sure a great many others) am perfectly capable of still having my own view after such reading, and of course there has always been lively debate amongst different people about aesthetic matters; Cook’s view of such advocacy as a type of hegemony appears to assume that readers will inevitably have an opinion imposed on them, and presents them as essentially passive. By contrast, as I have argued in a review-article on his book Beyond the Score: Music as Performance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), I can find Cook’s stand-offish approach clinical and alienating, objectifying and removing the life from music by treating it like a laboratory specimen. It is more ‘open-minded’ to allow for advocacy, at least of certain types, than to attempt to have it banished from scholarly writing, as Cook seems to wish.
However, to give the range of Cook’s arguments the proper consideration they deserve, some of the more questionable types of advocacy within musicology he identifies do certainly exist. The line dividing some supposedly scholarly writing on popular music from that which might appear in a ‘fanzine’ is not always carefully drawn (not least because popular music scholars are not so often well-versed in the types of more detailed perspectives on aesthetics which can be found elsewhere, including in some popular music journalism or other non-academic writing). In and outside of ethnomusicology, ‘activist’ writing can be an unedifying spectacle, eschewing attempts at scholarly balance and critical distance in favour of bald assertion of political points, to an extent that I would question whether some such work really qualifies as scholarship. And, as I said earlier, there are forms of advocacy that rest either on the simple fact that such a view is commonplace, and has been over an extended period, or the assumption that there must be something wrong with anyone who disagrees (an approach which unfortunately permeates such composer monographs as that of Lois Fitch on Brian Ferneyhough, of Pirkko Moisala on Kaija Saariaho).
The works of Fitch and Moisala may be amongst the most egregious examples, but they epitomise a wider phenomenon within writing on new music, one of the areas mentioned by Cook (about which I have been writing much for publications recently, and on which I am preparing a longer blog post). A very large number of practitioners working in research positions in UK academic departments are involved with new music, including myself. In this context I have found the dichotomy between advocacy and criticism to be most acute.
While a few practitioners also produce written and other outputs (as I do, some of which have no direct or obvious link to my own practice), others are focused primarily or exclusively on their practice. More to the point, they frequently also operate in external non-academic arenas, sites dominated by different values, attitudes and behaviours than one might find in academia. Practitioners need to network with those with the power to grant them commissions, performances, exhibits, etc., have to advocate strongly for their own work and sometimes that of others, and often cannot risk expressing views or perspectives which might give grounds for any scepticism about their work, or which those with whom they network might not favour. I have certainly found this when attempting to engage some in the new music world with issues of the development of that world in the aftermath of fascism, or the more specific example of the patronage of new music by the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung, bearing in mind that the Siemens family fortune rests at least in part on their having run slave labour camps at Auschwitz, then spent 30 years trying to fight against compensation claims from survivors – not what those who have received or wish to receive a major grant from this organisation, or their acolytes, wish to hear. Often they are part of wider networks of practitioners whose collective reputation impacts upon their own individual one, and so need to be staunch advocates for these networks.
Amongst practitioners operating in more highly commercialised environments (compared to that of new music, which can at least occasionally entertain some more critical discourse within its ranks), in which total loyalty to an employer, an outfit, a brand, etc., can be utterly essential, and anything else might have one ostracised, these issues may be even more acute. Some of those working in academic departments who are also pursuing commercial work can be mystified when they encounter the type of critical discourse pursued by musicologists, uncomprehending of why one would engage in the type of thinking which may be at cross-purposes with what might help one gain work. Similarly, study of the music industries/business can take radically different forms depending upon whether one is seeking to understand their workings, operations, priorities in the manner of a scholar, or trying to look at (or teach others) how best to succeed in them. Nonetheless, there are important figures with commercial connections who can move between such discourses.
In many institutions and conferences, I have sat through a range of events billed as research presentations by composers, improvisers, sound artists, other performers, and so on, which amount essentially to a form of self-advocacy or even self-promotion, somewhat akin to ‘artists’ statements’. The practitioner will describe what they do, why they chose to embark on a particular project, how they set about this, often with some liberal number of references both to other admired artists to whose work this practitioner links their own, and to certain intellectual figures (Gilles Deleuze or Bruno Latour are often a safe bet, and increasingly a few writings by anthropologist Tim Ingold, though rarely his highly critical articles on ethnography or soundscape), as well as to key concepts from philosophy and other fields (not always presented in a manner which accords with their recognised and established meanings) as part of the process of situating one’s work within a research culture. This is distinct from autoethnography (which, for reasons too intricate to go into here, but which I have argued elsewhere, I do think is often quite deeply linked to the framing of practice-as-research), which is not simply autobiography, but at best entails a critical perspective on the self and the practice in which they are engaged. Occasionally one will encounter a bit of critical self-reflection in such research presentations, entertaining the possibility that it entailed failures as well as successes, but I have found this increasingly rare, as if the practitioners are loath to engage in something which might make themselves seem vulnerable.
Of course there is an important place for this type of self-advocacy, but the values and attitudes it embodies appear at cross-purposes with those of more disinterested humanities scholarship. For this reason, situating practice-research (for this type of presentation invariably relates to such a thing) within the humanities may be a category error.
It would also be unfair to associate this type of advocacy and lack of critique exclusively with practitioners. I have certainly encountered it frequently in some presentations on popular music (in the manner mentioned above), certain types of ethnography dominated by simple representation of the views of the informants, with little critical interpretation (to such an extent that some such work can appear hagiographic, as I have argued in a variety of cases – see my two essays on ethnography in this volume), or those soundscape studies which consist primarily of listing a range of sounds to be found in a particular location, whereby the simple fact of the sounds being variegated appears to suffice for interpretation.
Some of those can rub off on those working in academia who are not themselves practitioners, but write about contemporary work (this was a recurrent subject in the 2017 conference at the University of Surrey on ‘Writing on Contemporary Artists’, where it was fascinating to find how many scholars working on different artistic disciplines had experienced the same issues, conflicts of interests, and so on). Many will share faculties with practitioners, sometimes working in fields related to those about which they write. In my experience, such practitioners, especially those who believe their fields to be beleaguered or little recognised in a wider social context (as with many in new music, not least electroacoustic music), can respond very negatively and even in a hostile fashion that the sort of critical writing which might do something other than simply flatter the type of work they do. While this can only be conjecture/speculation, I do believe that this type of ‘peer pressure’ often has an impact on scholars, leading them to avoid more difficult critical questions, aesthetic or otherwise. But this compromises the depth and integrity of their research, and in my view has led to scholarly writing on new music remaining a very uneven field compared to those dealing with other areas, where will not interact almost on a daily basis with individuals deeply invested in such fields.
This is the type of major conflict which can result from the integration of practitioners in academia without some grounding in wider critical scholarly discourse and the values of the humanities. It can also be damaging for teaching, if one might otherwise not necessarily deem the work of a practitioner colleague itself sufficiently significant to be included in a survey of a field of work, or might wish to unpack some of the aesthetic and ideological assumptions behind their work or those of the circles with which they are involved. Here we do see advocacy and critique drastically at cross-purposes.
But I do not believe this has to be the case, so long as there is recognition the distinct qualities and types of expertise of scholars and practitioners, neither conflates these nor tries to establish a rigid hierarchy, and respects the independent perspectives and academic freedom of each. With teaching, this can be more complicated; here I would aver that on balance scholars might hold back from engaging in practical teaching, and practitioners from scholarly teaching, if they do not have considerable experience of their own in such fields. Teleological views of music history which just happen to feature the work of the composer teaching them as the telos, academic study of performance trends and cultures which are centered around the work of the performer teaching them, or abstract and dry directives on how music should be played on the basis of academic knowledge, by those who have little experience themselves of the process of performing music, are not often good practice in these respective areas.
Music-making can exist without musicology (indeed has done or continues to do so in various times and places), but musicology not engaged with music or music-making which still remains a living concern at least to some (which in no sense means any prioritisation of contemporary work), or has the potential to be so, will invite, not unreasonably, charges of ‘ivory-towerism’. Academics talking solely to each other is not always encouraging, nor an insistence that their own work is only valorised by those other academics (usually within the same sub-discipline, and often sharing a range of ideological assumptions) who by virtue of their very position can never really be more disinterested judges of the wider societal or other value of such work.
It is in my view essential that academic musicians are engaged with music and music-making existing outside of academia, without in the process sacrificing their scholarly independence. This is not about adopting advocacy wholesale, but recognising a world in which this does play a very major role, developing perspectives on this which are not blindly dismissive, but also demanding that practitioners equally recognise that academics may not share the assumptions appertaining to the particular (and sometimes small) cultural or social milieu inhabited by some practitioners.
Those pianists who play a lot of new music will recognise certain things experienced during the course of their careers. Some also apply to other instrumentalists/vocalists and other types of musicians. Here are some of them……
(Caution: this list should not be read by composers as a statement of intent never to do such things! 🙂 )
- What it is like to sit on your stool, having played something marked ‘verklingen lassen’, for what seems like an eternity, while there are still some vibrations going, and wanting to tell the piano ‘get on with it’.
- Playing something very quiet at one end of the piano, then having to move to the other end to play something equally quiet, and trying in vain not to shift your weight on the seat such as will cause the stool to creak very obviously.
- Middle pedals which like to pick and choose from the notes you have depressed, in terms of which ones they will sustain, but then like to pick some more up as you proceed.
- The hardest passages of a piece have to be left to the very end of a recording session, when you are completely knackered, because they might put the piano out of tune.
- Pencils which continuously gravitate to the top of the raised keyboard lid, dying to fall down inside the instrument.
- That sinking feeling when you get a score which includes lots of stopped harmonics inside the instrument.
- Accidentals before grace notes, for which the difference between a natural and a sharp can only be distinguished with the aid of a microscope.
- That terrible feeling of guilt when playing an atonal/serial piece and one wrong note produces an unwanted consonance.
- A3 scores placed in a carrier bag (because they are too big for other cases), sticking out of the top a bit, then you have to walk somewhere with the bag, and it’s raining.
- The composers on account of whose handwriting you want to pay yourself for a copy of Sibelius for them.
- Trying to lower the pedal very slowly and carefully for a rounded damping of the strings, then the result sounds more like they are being touched by razor blades.
- If the performance goes down well, all praise will be upon the composer. If not, likely the performer will be held responsible.
- Annoying people saying to you, ‘what does it matter if you play the right notes or not? Just make it up as you go along, no-one will know the difference.’ Then free improvisers dismissing what you do because you are not making it up as you go along.
- Playing a long passage for both hands in the bass from the right hand page of an A3 landscape score. (contributed by Karl Lutchmayer)
- Explaining why it is pointless to put down the middle pedal when you already have the right one depressed.
- Seeing pp and thinking ‘am I allowed to use the una corda for that, or does it have to be ppp at least?’
- Conservative owners of venues who are convinced that if you play music with many dissonant harmonies, it will do more damage to their instrument.
- That slightly smug expression on the face of a friend you see before a concert, or during the interval, as they hold a drink in their hand.
- That terror at the prospect of not having brought one of the scores with you.
- Keeping a very large repertoire on the go, always changing and expanding, while knowing some non-new-music ‘great players’ get the chance to play the same programme 50 times before they have to work on more.
- When another non-new-music ‘great player’ plays a short work of Stockhausen, Berio or Ligeti every once in a while, and receive immense praise for their commitment to the music of our time.
- Pretending to look for the composer in the audience to bring to the stage, when all you can see is a sea of indistinguishable faces and a bright light above them dazzling you.
- Exchanging stories with other new music pianists about just how late before the first performance you got that score.
- The other extreme, the composers who expect you to be able to play their piece to them six weeks or more before the concert.
- Performing a work using electronics, for which hours are used up during the rehearsal because something doesn’t work. When it does work, it produces a few faint ambient sounds at occasional places in the work.
- Pieces with electronics in which you play something and it is repeated and looped back at you, and you feel violated as a result.
- In order to do some things on the strings, having to place the music stand some way back under the piano lid, so that an A3 score will never stay up (it catches the lid), the page turner cannot reach it, there is little light shining on it (and the lights cannot be adjusted), and the score was too small anyhow, even on an A3 page, let alone for distance viewing.
- Practising stuff involving stopping, damping, plucking strings, then having one hour to practise that music for a performance on a piano with beams in wholly different places, and where the places you need to stop strings lie underneath other cross strings.
- The absolute total impossibility of playing inside the instrument, on a new piano, and being able to look at any other musician or a conductor at the same time.
- Composers telling you ‘It’s all done, I just need to write it down.’
- How pianists’ first gift is not singing, acting, playing percussion instruments, kazoos, etc.
- Getting to a page like this, playing the ppp note fff, then hating yourself for the rest of the piece. (contributed by Ben Smith)
- Just as it is easy to push a door which says PULL on it in large letters, it is easy to play a note marked ppp as fff.
- That yearning for a dynamic which lies somewhere between ppp/pppp and fff/ffff.
- When you have to play a piece for prepared piano and mallets on the strings and you end up using the mallets upside down to pick up the preparation from under the strings (during the performance, of course!) (contributed by Lorenda Ramou)
- There is no document you would guard more from prying eyes than the edit list on one of your recordings.
Last week Anna Bull published a response (‘Towards Cultural Democracy’, July 10, 2017) to the range of responses on this blog (‘Response to Stella Duffy on the arts, elitism, communities’, July 6, 2017) to an article in the Guardian by Stella Duffy (‘Excellence in the arts should not be defined by the metropolitan elite’, June 30, 2017). I and several other writers wanted to respond to Bull’s arguments, especially where they refer to specific points each of us have made. The replies are below.
It’s curious that Bull and others complain about my calling this ‘Stalinist’. What drove me to the Zhdanov/Stalin comparison was the populist anti-elitism, the idea that ‘the people’s art’ is good and ‘the elite’s art’ is bad. The means of achieving that are different; for the Soviet variant, the artist has a particular role in serving the people but remains a specialist. The idea that everybody is equally artistic and that even training is suspect seems more akin to the Cultural Revolution. What it is decidedly not is democratic.
Eva Moreda Rodriguez
I initially thought the main issue with Duffy’s article was its conceptual vagueness. I didn’t doubt for a second – and still don’t – that Duffy has good intentions and formidable energy, and that many people derive lots of enjoyment from taking part in the Fun Palaces initiative. My initial comment on the article was aimed at asking for clarification: what exactly is different about Fun Palaces (and similar initiatives), when most arts organizations in the country are doing outreach in one way or another? I felt this was not clearly articulated in Duffy’s original article, but it is crucial if she and Fun Palaces’ supporters want to present what they do as something innovative that can bring about change.
In her blog post, Anna Bull provides some clarification. Now, I understand that Bull is not talking on behalf of Stella Duffy and of Fun Palaces, so her answer does not exactly address what I was asking, but it is a very welcome contribution nevertheless.
I would like to reiterate that I regard many of the community-led approaches that Bull describes as admirable, and I am sure they are doing inestimable work in terms of giving access to the arts (both in product and process) to people who would not have got involved otherwise.
Still, I am slightly troubled by the either/or divide implied in Bull’s response: outreach initiatives from publicly funded arts organizations (bad) versus community-led initiatives (good). Although as I mentioned before, Bull does not represent Stella Duffy, Fun Palaces or the “everyday creativity” movement, incidentally, this either/or mentality was also present in Duffy’s original article, and it is even more obvious in two of her articles about Fun Palaces I have discovered since:
And yet, it seems to me the reality is more complex than that, and I wonder whether the “everyday creativity” community (broadly understood) acknowledges this systematically. Here’s a couple of examples and situations I can think of:
-*Some* of the individual events described on the Fun Palaces website sound very similar to *some* of the events organized by arts and education institutions (e.g. museums, universities, etc.). Would a random person off the street walking into one of these events without knowing anything about their genesis be able to tell the difference? Would they feel automatically empowered by the former and disempowered by the latter?
-Some arts institutions work very closely with individuals or groups from the community when delivering their outreach programmes, e.g. Scottish Opera with communities in the Highlands and Islands, so clearly some events are difficult to classify as either/or.
I was one of the contributors to Ian Pace’s collection of responses to Stella Duffy’s article in the Guardian. You mention me by name in your response to Ian here. You say two things about what I said. First, you attribute to me the concern that ‘cultural democracy’ (I’ll come back to this term shortly) will ‘produce an awful lot of bad art, and no good art’. Secondly, you attribute to me (as well as Björn Heile) ‘the assumption that democratising culture leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement’.
I’m afraid both of these attributions are wrong. I was not expressing the concern that ‘cultural democracy’ will produce a lot of bad art and no good art. I was not assuming that ‘democratising culture’ leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement.
Here is the whole of the response of mine which Ian Pace shared:
The argument for democracy in politics is not that it leads to things being done better, but that it’s part of the goal of politics that everyone should be a part of it. Similarly, there’s no reason to think democracy in art will lead to better art; and it’s not obviously a goal of art itself that everyone should be a part of it – even if that’s something we all might want for other (most obviously political) reasons. What this piece presents is a political goal presented as an artistic goal. The problem is that that then begins to look like a rather sinister politics, even, since it drills art, of all things, into conformity with politics.
Perhaps it will help to bring out the point of this if I explain where I’m coming from. I’m a philosopher, so my business is to question fundamental assumptions. This doesn’t inevitably mean casting doubt on those assumptions: it often means asking what their real justification is.
In this spirit, philosophers ask what justifies democracy in political systems. I think there is no plausible justification of democracy in political systems as the most effective method for bringing about some independently defined set of benefits: we don’t actually know how effective it is, and we don’t know that no other system would be more effective. The most plausible justification of democracy in politics is not, therefore, that it’s an effective means of bringing about some independently conceived end, but that everyone’s being part of government is part of the end which any political system must aim at. That was the point of the first sentence in my response.
Now let us ask: what would justify ‘democracy’ in art? (I’ll come back to the very idea in a moment.) Again, and for the same reasons, it’s not plausible that the justification, if there is one, is that it’s the most effective means of bringing about some artistic goal: we don’t know how effective it would be, and we don’t know that no other system would be more effective. But this time we don’t have the other kind of justification to fall back on. While it is plausibly part of the goal of politics to produce a system in which everyone is part of government, it is not plausibly the goal of art itself that everyone should be involved in it. It’s not that this would not be a good thing: we would all love everyone to be involved in art. But it’s not plausibly the business of art itself to produce that result.
That was the point of the second sentence, which your first attribution gets quite seriously wrong. I’m not saying anything at all about the likelihood of ‘cultural democracy’ producing bad art, or less good art, or anything: I’m simply talking about what the justification for ‘cultural democracy’ might be, and whether everyone’s being involved is plausibly a goal of art itself, rather than a political goal which we might all share.
My third sentence involved an interpretation of Stella Duffy’s piece. It seemed to me that it was presenting the involvement of everyone as a goal of art itself. Indeed, it seemed to be advocating a political policy – support of certain kinds of artistic project – which had at its core the idea that it is a goal of art itself that everyone should be involved in it. This seemed to me to be sinister, because it involves advocating a politics which favours a certain kind of art.
The objection here is not, as you seem to suggest, that ‘democratising culture’ leads to abandoning aesthetic judgement. On the contrary, the objection is that a certain kind of aesthetic judgement is incorporated into politics. The objection is that the policy is an attack on artistic freedom.
So much for what I meant. I’m disappointed that what I said was misunderstood first time round, but hope it is now clear.
In my response, I did not question the key terms ‘cultural democracy’ and ‘democratising culture’. But I do think these terms are questionable. It is quite unclear that the proposals of this movement involve anything which would ordinarily be called a democratic process. In fact, Stella Duffy’s piece seems to advocate populism, rather than democracy. And populism is entirely compatible with quite undemocratic systems (think of Julius Caesar and Napoleon, as well as some of the more sinister regimes of the 20th Century).
My own view is that the recommendations of the KCL report have nothing to do with democracy at all. (This is perhaps indicated by the fact that the term ‘cultural democracy’ seems to need constant repetition as a short-hand for ‘promoting cultural capabilities for everyone’.) The core idea is what in other terms might be called a ‘bottom-up’, as opposed to ‘top-down’, approach to including people in art.
On this approach in general I have nothing very interesting to say. In common with many others (I can’t speak for them, but I imagine this includes all of those whose responses Ian Pace collected), I would want as many people to be involved in the arts as possible. And like them (I’m sure), I want different genres and different traditions of art to be respected, and excellence valued and promoted wherever it is to be found. I don’t have the empirical expertise to comment on this, but it seems to me quite plausible that this will be achieved by pursuing a bottom-up approach – though this need not involve abandoning a top-down one.
But none of this requires adopting populism about art itself, or attempting to denigrate serious art on the grounds that it is ‘elitist’. This latter thing is what is pernicious and divisive, and this latter thing is what I (like others of those whose responses Ian Pace collected, I’m sure) was objecting to.
I do hope this important debate can be pursued further in ways which keep the different goals and issues separate and clear. Let’s do what we can to involve people, and to respect different genres and traditions and value excellence everywhere. But let’s not do it by attacking particular kinds of art for political reasons.
Anna Bull writes the following:
Several commentators make comparisons between a shift towards ‘everyday creativity’ and arts policies under fascist regimes. They draw on historical examples from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany relating to the problem of addressing elitism in the arts via democratisation, and include an accusation that this kind of policy shift would be ‘Stalinist’. While I think using historical examples to make a comparison can be helpful, it’s noticeable that these comments leap straight to fascism rather than considering any other, less extreme, examples, such as the Greater London Authority’s leftist cultural policy in the 1980s. This leap is the equivalent of suggesting that any form of economic redistribution leads to communism. By contrast, Stella Duffy gives the example of Fun Palaces, an organisation that has minimal central organisation and takes very different forms in local areas. Some Fun Palaces might draw on ‘elite’ forms of art such as literature while others might make space for more participatory forms. Rather than fascism, this is an example of extreme localism, its opposite.
The debate about Duffy’s article was provoked by one individual’s noting of what they felt were the Stalinist implications of Duffy’s arguments. Several of those involved in the ensuing debate, including myself, are scholars whose work deals in part with the situation of music under fascist, communist (and capitalist) societies. The passage in Duffy’s article which some found disturbing was the following:
Those of us working in culture talk a lot about the arts ecology, but in any ecology some parts must die for new ones to thrive. It might be time to let go of some of our outdated practices. Our commitment to “excellence and quality” as defined by mainstream, metropolitan-based thinking many decades ago, might need to shift to a new version of “excellence and quality”, one defined by a new generation of makers and creators – and this time from every part of society.
If we want cultural democracy, genuine culture for all, elitism must make way for creativity and community-led culture.
Attacks upon elitism and elites, not to mention excellence and quality, do have a long and very undistinguished history, whether in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, or for that matter amongst contemporary right-wing populist politicians. The Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has traced the central role of attacks on elites in his books Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), drawing upon a range of other political scholars who have arrived at similar conclusions. The resonances with the language of Andrei Zhdanov in the late years of Stalin’s Russia, but also similar rhetoric from right and left in China and Germany (and elsewhere), were quite obvious to me – I have read sentences like the last one as quotations from many dictators and demagogues. I remember clearly the time of Ken Livingstone’s control of the Greater London Council (about which I have also read a certain amount since it was abolished in 1986): certainly there was a move on his part to distribute cultural funding to a more diverse range of groups than hitherto, which was welcome, but I do not recall anything like such shocking comments. Most of the contributors to the original set of responses would support some redistribution and decentralisation of cultural funding (some, including myself, are explicit about this), but this is quite different to a full-on attack on elites in the name of ‘community’. This is why I do not find Bull’s parallel with an equation of economic redistribution with communism to be valid. If Duffy had written something like ‘If we want a larger demographic to be able to participate in the arts, then we must look at distributing funding more widely than amongst the traditional elites’, then it might have been. I would also add that the opposition she presents between fascism and localism is also highly questionable: many fascist parties and politicians have sought their base in relatively small local communities, and expressed disdain for city life, with all it entails in terms of greater plurality of peoples and cultures. Fascism, at least as theorised by some, entails a degree of low-level organisation, supporters on the ground in local communities, in distinction to the top-down model of other types of dictatorships and autocracies.
Bull goes on to write:
Pace comments that ‘one should be wary of viewing ‘community’ as necessarily a wholly benevolent or benign thing’; communities can create divisions and barriers as well as overcoming them. In this, Pace is correct, but he could have gone on to say that currently, the arts contribute to reinforcement of the ‘echo chamber’ of white middle-class opinion and worldview. By contrast, writers such as Bev Skeggs have shown how different cultures and ways of life exist in the UK that are not reflected or even necessarily acknowledged by those who make policy. Working class cultures can be very different to middle class culture, but the latter is much more visible, and is therefore taken to be the unspoken norm. Cultural policy is, therefore, already reinforcing existing historic divisions of class and race, for example by giving money to those forms of arts that organise themselves in the ways which are recognised by the state. In our report we discuss the example of BAME arts and cultural participation groups, which tend to operate on a local and short-term basis, for example coming together to organise an annual mela then disbanding till the next year. These, as well as ‘community-facing’ South Asian arts practices, as Jasjit Singh describes them, are not visible to funders such as Arts Council England. As a result, they don’t garner funding in the same way as groups that have the resources, knowledge, and interest in organising in ways that are recognised by the state. Cultural policy has to recognise that existing arrangements for how culture is organised prioritise certain groups and certain forms of art over others.
This paragraph uses various ideas and concepts in a very vague and ill-defined manner. What exactly is this ‘white middle-class opinion and worldview’, and how is it ‘reinforced’ by the arts at present? Is this equally true of the work of a new translation of Baudelaire, a cycle of ars subtilior motets, an exhibition of the paintings of Hokusai, a production by Théâtre du Soleil, or the performance art of Valie Export and Marina Abramović? Nor do I know what ‘working class cultures’ are, though I can think of many artists from working-class backgrounds. One example would be the composer Brian Ferneyhough.
None of the above examples would have played much of a role in the white lower middle class milieu in which I grew up.
A statement like ‘Working class cultures can be very different to middle class culture’ is bland and meaningless without some definition of what these cultures entail, in the sense of cultural production, which is what is relevant in this context. I am not really prepared to accept either such ‘cultures’ can be apperceived other than as wholly heterogeneous entities which might have a large degree of overlap. Where I would make a distinction is between some culture designed for a more educated reader/listener/spectator/etc., compared to that for which no such education is required. It is undoubtedly true in much of the world that access to education, and the quality of that education, varies immensely depending upon social class, regionality, and so on. But I see that as an issue of inequality of provision rather than a problem with education per se. The world would be a much lesser place without such ‘educated culture’, and as such the priority should be to make such education as widely available as possible.
Bull also writes:
Pace goes on to suggest that both the market and community-based art (by which I assume he means the everyday creativity we describe in the report) is ‘unlikely’ to produce ‘a critical art, which can deal with uncomfortable and unsettling phenomena, represent non-populist and minority perspectives, and look beyond the existing world (and existing societies) towards what might be, not just what has been.’ He is wrong to say that the market or everyday creativity cannot produce critical art; for example, Anahid Kassabian’s (2016) writing on African American women making their own web series shows these women expressing a critical consciousness (including new ways of using sound in film) through grassroots cultural production. This example shows how critique may be occurring in ways that are not recognised, or even known about, by white middle-class culture.
[Kassabian, A., 2016. “You mean I can make a tv show?”: Web series, assertive music, and African-American women producers, in: Hawkins, S. (Ed.), The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music and Gender. Ashgate]
My exact words were:
I believe it is vital that there can also be a critical art, which can deal with uncomfortable and unsettling phenomena, represent non-populist and minority perspectives, and look beyond the existing world (and existing societies) towards what might be, not just what has been. A space needs to be made for this in ways which are unlikely through the vagaries of the market, or for that matter through some types of community art projects.
Bull equates something’s being ‘unlikely’ to a claim that something ‘cannot’ happen; I made no such claim. But I have seen much less evidence of what I consider to be critical art having been produced under commercial or community-based conditions – at least in the sense that community is presented by Duffy. In some sense, any group of artists working together is a community; whether or not they inhabit a particular local community on a daily basis is immaterial.
But I had a look at Kassabian’s article, which I had not previously read. The passage to which I imagine Bull refers is the following:
With fewer resources to work with, especially in terms of funding, but very strong talent pools from which to draw, many of these artists [African American women] decided to use approaches that are much more assertive and attention-grabbing than mainstream film and television scoring practices. For example, in each of their debut episodes, Unwritten Rules and Black Actress turn to the musical sound of a record scratch, as is heard prevalently in rap tracks to mark an important shift in consciousness. […..]
The specific sound that caught my ear, as it were, in the first episodes of both Unwritten Rules and Black Actress was the record scratch. The scratch is an important, powerful sound – first, it went from being a dreaded sound, the sound of a mistake, to being a significant musical means of expression over the past 30-plus years, and in particular, because of its roots in hip-hop, it has specifically African American roots and associations. Second, despite its musicality, it retains the overlay of error or dread. And, finally, it is a sound that is almost never heard in audiovisual texts, except perhaps as a sound event inside the narrative world; indeed, it is very rare in uses such as these, where the characters do *not* hear the sound that the perceivers/audience do. The scratch is used (in both cases – see below as a unit of aural meaning, placed on a soundtrack as if it is dramatic scoring. without any other music to contextualise it; this is a radical aural moment.
The following is the episode of Unwritten Rules in question.
The rules for television sound have historically been quite realist, which is not to say that the original sounds are used in some semblance of the rules of Dogme 95 films, but rather that they aspire to “seeming” quite like real sounds, without abandoning their ability to draw attention towards or away from particular events or objects through sound choices. Instead, these sounds assert themselves quite vividly in the soundworld of the episodes. It is highly unlikely that anyone watching and listening to either of these episodes will fail to notice the scratches or the tinkle.
I was astonished to read this (not least the suggestion that non-diegetic sound is such a new thing in TV); I remember hearing record scratches used regularly in various media from some time in the 1980s, yet Kassabian is presenting it as some type of innovation. The most prominent and widely-disseminated use of this sound may be in the series Ally McBeal, which ran from 1997 to 2002. The use of sound in this series has received scholarly consideration as well, in Julie Brown’s article ‘Ally McBeal’s Postmodern Soundtrack’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 126 (2001), pp. 275-303. Already at the time of publication Brown noted that ‘This gag is now everywhere on TV’ (p. 286), so it was very far from being a significant innovation when Unwritten Rules was produced eleven years later. Other scholars have considered the scratch and its various cultural meanings; examples include Jason Middleton and Roger Beebe, ‘The racial politics of hybridity and ‘neo-eclecticism’ in contemporary popular music, Popular Music 21/2 (2000), pp. 159-172, or Kjetil Falkenberg Hansen, Marco Fabiani and Robert Bresin, ‘Analysis of the Acoustics and Playing Strategies of Turntable Scratching’, Acta Acustica united with Acustica 97/2 (March/April 2011), pp. 303-314, one of various writings on scratching with which Hansen has been involved (including a 2010 doctoral dissertation on ‘The acoustics and performance of DJ scratching’). Even the more traditionally-inclined scholar Joseph Auner relates conscious use of the scratch, as used by Portishead, to a wider history of ‘scratchy’ recordings in his ‘Making Old Machines Speak: Images of Technology in Recent Music’, ECHO 2/2 (Fall 2000).
It is not clear whether Kassabian is aware of these writings; certainly none of them appear in her bibliography. A failure to consider an extensive history of such a technique does undermine some of her claims.
For radical use of sound with moving images, I would suggest that the following examples go much much further:
Shirley Clarke, Bridges Go Round (1958)
Pramod Pati, Explorer (1968)
Peter Kubelka, Pause! (1977)
Zhang Peili, 30 x 30 (1988)
Carolee Schneemann, Infinity Kisses – The Movie (2008)
Emeka Ogboh, [dis]connect II (c. 2013)
To return to Bull’s point, certainly there have been some striking examples of radical cultural work produced at the behest of private capital or from some artistic communities. But the possibilities for producing a sustained body of work in this manner, especially where expenses become considerable, are frequently limited when other requirements of finance, not least in terms of labour costs, are involved. It is true that, for example, experimental film has flourished more in the developed world than, say, in the African continent (though there are some striking examples of such work). To therefore portray radical approaches to film making as a primarily ‘white’ conceit is very short-sighted; world cinema would be greatly enhanced if it were possible for a greater number of film makers in African countries to benefit from the types of institutional support, distribution, and so on which are more common elsewhere, allowing the freedom to take approaches to film which may not generate major commercial dividends.
The money has to come from somewhere, and all things told, I do believe that a system involving progressive taxation and redistribution on artistic projects, for all the issues of institutional control involved, provide a more flexible environment for innovation and critical work than are possible by leaving things to private capital. I realise that the latter option is not what Duffy is advocating, but rather than subsidy of this type should be concentrated upon community-based projects which are open to all rather than through more traditional channels branded ‘elitist’. As I have said, I am in agreement with the principle of a wider distribution of resources, including to a greater number of smaller or non-metropolitan projects. But it would never be possible to fund everything, and so some choices have to be made. I am deeply concerned by a situation in which any aesthetic criteria, no matter how difficult these may be to conceive fairly, are jettisoned simply in favour of the demographic of the participants.
In her last paragraph, Bull writes:
Arts Council England has made a progressive move with its ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ which requires the process of creating culture to involve a diverse range of people as well as expecting the audiences and performers to be diverse.
I am also surprised by the concept that performers do not ‘create’ culture.
[Addendum: See my follow-up article to this, ‘The insidious class divide in music teaching’, The Conversation, 17 May 2017]
An article in The Guardian by Charlotte C. Gill (‘Music education is now only for the white and wealthy’, Monday 27 March 2017), has generated a good deal of attention amongst a wide range of international musicians, music educators, academics, and others. Below is the letter compiled for publication in The Guardian in response to Gill’s article, and a full list of over 700 signatories to date. The letter was compiled by Joan Arnau Pàmies, Kevin Korsyn, Franklin Cox, Barbara Eichner and myself, while Jim Aitchison, Marc Yeats, Camden Reeves and others have been extremely helpfully with its dissemination. It is published on the Guardian website here, and appeared in the print edition for Thursday 6 April 2017 (‘Risky romanticisation of musical illiteracy’, p. 32). Some replies are printed here.
Also recommended are the response to Gill’s article by Michelle James, and an earlier article on musical literacy by Peter Tregear. See also this excellent responses by Pamela Rose , this by Helen Sanderson, this by George Bevan, this by George A. Smith, this by Christian Morris, and this by Frances Wilson. Also the coverage on Slipped Disc, in Limelight magazine, and on Arts Professional, and an article from the Latin Mass Society (of which James MacMillan, a signatory below, is a patron), focusing in particular on Gill’s comparison of reading music to learning Latin. Another recent blog article considers the article in the context of changing expectations in UK secondary education, while composer and teacher Des Oliver has made an important podcast with Tigran Arakelyan about the article, and I have also made an extended podcast with Arakelyan, considering the article and wider issues of musical education, notation, literacy, privilege, and more.
For an utterly contrasting view to that of Gill, strongly advocating reading (and sight reading), composition, and musical history, being available to all schoolchildren by right, see this 1945 pamphlet by the Workers’ Music Association (hardly the voice of the wealthy), especially pages 5-6. Speaking personally, I think many of the recommendations in this pamphlet are as relevant now as they were 72 years ago. I have also blogged an inspiring defence of the teaching of Western classical music and literacy by Estelle R. Jorgensen, which I believe to be highly relevant to this debate.
I will happily add other names to the list: if you wish to be added, please post underneath with your name and how you would like to be described.
[Earlier addendum material on related subjects is included at the bottom of this post – this and the above constitute my own thoughts, not those of the signatories]
Charlotte C. Gill (‘Music education is now only for the white and wealthy’) argues that ‘to enable more children to learn [music], we must stop teaching in such an academic way.’ While rightly noting the increasing chasm between state and private education in terms of music provision, her conclusions about musical notation and theoretical skills amount to simple anti-intellectualism.
Gill dismisses the study of music ‘theory’ and argues patronisingly that musical notation is ‘a cryptic, tricky language (…) that can only be read by a small number of people’. This claim flies in the face of countless initiatives over two centuries making musical literacy available to those of many backgrounds. As with written language, musical notation enables effective and accurate communication, as well as critical access to huge amounts of knowledge. In many musical fields, those without it will be at a deep disadvantage and dependent upon others.
Gill’s comments about ‘limited repertoires of old, mostly classical music’ are unfounded and presented without evidence: composing, listening, singing, and playing are embedded in much musical education, which also widely encompasses jazz, popular, and non-Western traditions. Claiming that classical music comprises a limited repertory is inaccurate: composers have been adding to its repertory for centuries and continue to do so. We agree with Gill that aural and other skills are equally important as those in notation. However, through her romanticisation of illiteracy, Gill’s position could serve to make literate musical education even more exclusive through being marginalised in state schools yet further.
Alex Abercrombie, pianist and mathematician
Louise Ableman, freelance pianist and piano teacher
Richard Abram, editor
Juliet Abrahamson, erstwhile music teacher, and festival director
Peter Adriaansz, Composer, composition teacher, Royal Conservatory, The Hague
Jean-Louis Agobet, composer, professor of composition at Bordeaux Conservatory (France)
James Aikman, Composer in Residence, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra
Jim Aitchison, composer and graphic score artist
Helen Alexander, freelance musician
Helen Alipaz, Piano teacher and former music tutor at Ruskin Mill College, Nailsworth
Timothy Allan, singer, academic
Ralph Allwood, music teacher
Claire Alsop, Musician
Dr Pedro Alvarez, composer, Adjunct Lecturer, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts
Peter Amsel, author and composer (of notated music); former Musical Director of the Espace Musique Concert Society. Ottawa, Canada
Paul Andrews, Anglican priest with PhD in music, former music librarian and choral conductor
Samuel Andreyev, composer and teacher
Leonie Anderson, viola player and teacher
Tigran Arakelyan, youth orchestra conductor, Off the Podium podcast
Genevieve Arkle, PhD candidate in Music, University of Surrey
Newton Armstrong, Senior Lecturer in Composition, City, University of London
Christophe Astier, Clarinetist, Ensemble Orchestral de Toulouse, France
Jessica Aszodi, vocalist, doctoral candidate, Queensland Conservatorium of Music
Man Bun Au, Classical guitarist, Adjunct Lecturer, Hong Kong Baptist University
John Aulich, composer, freelance tutor in composition and theory, and recording artist.
Patrick Ayrton, conductor and harpsichordist, Professor at the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague
Emily Baines: State school educated performer, lecturer, musical director and DMus candidate (Guildhall School of Music & Drama)
Brendan Ball, trumpeter and educator
Joshua Ballance, Music student
Simon Ballard, Concert Pianist and Composer
Nicholas Bannan, Associate Professor of Music, University of Western Australia
Richard Bannan, singer, conductor and Head of Singing, King’s College School, Wimbledon
Stephen Barber, Retired music teacher
Alejandro Barceló, musicologist and music theorist
Daniel Barkley, composer and PhD candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast
Matthew Barley, cellist
Keith Barnard, composer
Lester Barnes, composer, producer, and former music teacher
Kristina Baron-Woods, Lecturer in Music Theatre, University of Western Ontario
Richard Barrett, composer, Institute of Sonology, The Hague
Bernardo Barros, composer, improviser, Ph.D. Candidate/Teaching Assistant at New York University
Pam Barrowman, clarinettist, singer, teacher
Stephen Barton, composer (Titanfall 1 & 2, Call of Duty)
Nicholas Bartulovic, freelance composer, student of Politics, Philosophy, and History, Ashland University
Jane Becktel B.Mus.(Hons) Dip. Ed., Choir director
Pierre-Michel Bédard, Organist, composer, teacher at Limoges Conservatory
Adam Bell, composer, doctoral student, Brunel University
Prof David J. Benson FRSE, author of Music: A Mathematical Offering (CUP 2006)
Margaret Bent CBE, FBA, Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College
Niels Berentsen, PhD (Royal Conservatoire of The Hague)
Peter van Bergen, director LOOS Foundation/Studio LOOS, The Hague
Rebecca Berkley, Lecturer in Music Education, University of Reading
Mark Berry, Senior Lecturer in Music, Royal Holloway, University of London
Dr Steven Berryman, Director of Music City of London School for Girls
Noel Bertram, Retired Head of Cumbria County Music Service
Dr Christopher Best, freelance composer, fiction writer and university lecturer
George Bevan, Director of Music, Monkton School
Dr. C.M. Biggs, performer; Director of Piano Studies, Cambrian College
Sue Bint, Music teacher, violinist
Sylvia Bisset, private piano teacher
James Black, MSt. in Musicology, University of Oxford
Deborah Blackmore BSc ACA scientist, chartered accountant and trustee of a children’s music education charity
Kate Blackstone, freelance musician, PhD researcher, University of Leeds
Darren Bloom, composer, Lead Tutor for Composition and Musicianship, Junior Trinity
Yvonne Bloor, Master of music, teacher and composer
Andrew Bottrill, pianist
Mark Bowden, freelance composer; Reader in Composition, Royal Holloway, University of London
Geraint Bowen, director of music at Hereford Cathedral
Andrew Bowie, jazz musician, Professor of Philosophy and German, Royal Holloway, University of London
Laura Bowler, composer, vocalist, Lecturer in Composition at Royal Northern College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Karen Boyce, pianist/accompanist and music teacher. New Zealand
Martyn Brabbins, ENO Music Director, RCM Visiting Professor, Huddersfield Choral Society music director
Susan Bradley, freelance tuba, ophicleide, serpent, cimbasso player
David Braid, composer
Heather Bradshaw, violinist in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Brewerton, Principal, Plymouth College of Art
Lewis Brito-Babapulle MA, MSt, FRCO. Head of Academic Music, Trinity School, Croydon
Per Broman, Professor of Music, Bowling Green State University
Anne Brown, primary school music teacher
Harvey Brown, secondary music teacher and musician
Janice Brown, piano teacher
Mariko Brown, teacher, pianist, and composer
Martha Watson Brown Oboist, Composer and teacher of Music Theory
Thomas Brown, composer
Robin Browning, conductor; Conducting Instructor, University of Southampton
Kevin Brunkhorst, Chair, Music Department, St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
John Bryan, performer and Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield
Jason Thorpe Buchanan, composer, PhD Candidate, Eastman School of Music; Artistic Director, the [Switch~ Ensemble]
Lisete Da Silva Bull, professional musician, teacher, educator
James Bunch, Lecturer in composition-theory, KM College of Music and Technology, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Sarah Burn, freelance music editor and typesetter; completing a PhD involving notation and critical editing
Steven Burnard Violist BBC Philharmonic , learnt to read music at state school aged 7
Martin Butler, composer, pianist, Professor, University of Sussex
Peter Byrom-Smith, composer
Thomas Caddick, Director of the Tobias Matthay Pianoforte School
Dr Edward Caine, Composer, pianist and researcher for Ex Cathedra
Sara Caine, singer & oboist, GP
Jacqui Cameron, Education Director, Opera North
William Cameron, musician
Rachel Campbell, Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Jay Capperauld, composer, saxophonist
Christian Carey, composer and Associate Professor of Music, Westminster Choir College
Gerry Carleston, B Mus, retired violinist and teacher
Stephen Carleston, organist & choir-trainer, music examiner and arranger
Tim Carleston, lay clerk, St George’s chapel, Windsor Castle
Gary Carpenter FRNCM, HonRAM, FRSA. Composer, composition professor Royal Academy of Music and Royal Northern College of Music, BASCA Director
Dr Paul Carr, composer
Philip Cashian, Head of Composition, Royal Academy of Music
Alan Cassar, composer and arranger
Peter Castine, composer, managing editor Computer Music Journal
Sam Cave, BA(Hons) PGdip (RCM), guitarist and composer, tutor in guitar at Brunel University
Roland Chadwick, Composer, Guitarist, Teacher
Oliver Chandler, Visiting Tutor in Historical Musicology, Royal Holloway, University of London
Alexandros Charkiolakis, musicologist, MIAM – Istanbul Technical University
James Chater, musicologist and composer
Eugenia Cheng, mathematician, educator and pianist
Anthony Cheung, composer, pianist, teacher (University of Chicago), co-artistic director of the Talea Ensemble
Pablo Santiago Chin, Adjunct Instructor, Music Theory and Composition, Saint Xavier University
Unsuk Chin, composer
Ray Chinn, violin teacher
Peter Cigleris, clarinetist, BMus (Hons), PGDip, Royal College of Music
Artur Cimirro, composer and pianist from Brazil
Keith W Clancy, artist/composer/computer musician, Melbourne, Australia
Colin Stuart Clarke, Classical music journalist
Raymond Clarke, pianist
Nicholas Clapton, singer and singing teacher
James Clarke, composer, Researcher, University of Leeds
Julian Clayton, conductor
Robert Coates FRCO(CHM), ARCM. Composer, organist and teacher, Harøy, Norway
Jacques Cohen, Conductor & Composer
Jonathan Cohen, former presenter, Music Time for BBC TV School’s programmes
Chris Collins, Head of Music, Bangor University
Rob Collis, singer and composer
Sarah Connolly, opera singer and teacher
Saskia Constantinou, Media Consultant and arts festival director
Dr. David Conway, music historian, Honorary Research Fellow, University College London
James Cook, University Teacher in Music, University of Sheffield
Rachel Cook BA MA, Pianist, orchestral musician and educator
Imogen Cooper, pianist
Brian Cope, composer, music educator and PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh
Roger Coull, violinist leader of the Coull Quartet, and conductor
Tom Coult. Composer, Visiting Fellow in Creative Arts, Trinity College Cambridge
Emma Coulthard, flautist, author and head of Cardiff County and the Vale of Glamorgan Music Sevuce
Franklin Cox, Associate Professor of Theory, Cello, and Composition, Wright State University
Mairi Coyle. Participation & Outreach Manager, National Children’s Orchestras of GB
Stephen Coyle, composer and PhD candidate at Queen’s University, Belfast
Ruth Crouch, Assistant Leader at Scottish Chamber Orchestra & violin teacher at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland & St. Mary’s Music School
Francis Cummings, violinist and Director of Music at Sistema Scotland, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Simon Cummings, composer, writer, researcher, PhD candidate, Birmingham Conservatoire
Fiona Cunningham, CEO, Sistema England
Harriet Cunningham, music critic, writer and doctoral student at UTS, Australia
David Curran, freelance music educator, PhD Candidate, Royal Holloway, University of London
Caroline Curwen, PhD student Psychology of Music, Sheffield University
Dr. Mat Dalgleish, Senior Lecturer in Music Technology and Course Leader for MSc Audio Technology, University of Wolverhampton
Giovanni D’Aquila, composer, composition teacher
John Daszak, opera/concert singer
Steven Daverson, composer, Lecturer in Composition and Sonic Arts, Brunel University London
Colin Davey, Education Programmes Manager, Royal School of Church Music, teacher and conductor
Julian Davis, amateur pianist, Professor of Medicine, University of Manchester
Gavin Davies, freelance violinist
Edward Davies, Head of Music, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School, Bristol
Jill Davies MusB, classical music artist manager and concert promoter, passionate amateur musician
Tansy Davies, composer
Rebecca Dawson, General Manager, Music at Oxford
Rebecca Day, Visiting Lecturer, Royal Holloway, University of London; Tutor in Music Theory and Analysis, University of Oxford
Caroline D’Cruz, B.Mus, ARCM, LRAM pianist and choral conductor
Nathan James Dearden, Performance Manager and Visiting Tutor in Music Composition, Royal Holloway University of London
Cornelis de Bondt. Composer, teacher Royal Conservatoire, Den Haag, NL
Lonnie Decker, Musician and Educator
João Pedro Delgado, viola, PhD researcher, Universidade de Évora, ESART-IPCB
Caroline Delume, Guitarist, teacher
Simon Desbruslais, trumpet soloist and Director of Performance, University of Hull
Dr. Luis Dias, founder and project director of Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org), a music charity working to bring music education to India’s disadvantaged children
Josephine Dickinson, former music teacher, composer, and poet
Joan Dillon, Director of The Academy of Sacred Music/Voice Teacher
Alison Dite, pianist and teacher from Cardiff
Sarah Dodds, piano teacher, Associate Lecturer in music, The Open University
Emily Doolittle, composer, Athenaeum Research Fellow, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Sean Dowgray, percussionist, D.M.A: UC San Diego
John Duggan, composer, singer, teacher
Andrew Eales, pianist, writer and teacher
Leslie East, Chair, The Association of British Choral Directors; former CEO, ABRSM
Christiana Eastwood, Head of Music at The Granville School, Sevenoaks
Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice Chancellor, University of Birmingham
Jason Eckardt, Professor, City University of New York
Dr Paul Max Edlin, composer, Director of Music Queen Mary University of London, Artistic Director Deal Festival of Music and the Arts
Katheryne Perri Edwards, music educator for 37 years
Malcolm V. Edwards, Professor Emeritus of Music, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Barbara Eichner, Senior Lecturer in Music, Oxford Brookes University
Aaron Einbond, composer, Lecturer in Music, City, University of London
Dr Graham Elliott; Executive Director American Youth Philharmonic Orchestras; Washington DC, USA
Lynne Ellis, Chief Executive Officer, Berkshire Maestros and lead of the Berkshire Music Hub
Daniel Elphick, Teaching Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London
Mark Elvin, Bass Guitarist, Double Bassist, Tubist, Composer/Arranger/Transcriber, Educator, Conductor
Nick Ereaut, jazz musician, singer-songwriter, music teacher
Nancy Evans, Director of Learning and Participation, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Tecwyn Evans, conductor
Nick Evans-Pughe, Performer and school instrumental teacher’ (PGDip in instrumental teaching in which l researched the learning by children of (western classical) notation.)
Mark Everist, Professor of Music, President of the Royal Musical Association (signing in a personal capacity)
Judith Exley. Flute teacher and composer. Wellington, New Zealand
Pauline Fairclough, University of Bristol
Daniel Fardon, PhD student in Composition and Teaching Associate at University of Birmingham
Miguel Farías. Composer, PHD(c) in Latin American Studies, associated Professor universidad academia de humanismo Cristiano , Chile
Tony Faulkner, Independent classical recording producer and engineer
Greta Fenney, therapist
Adam Fergler, composer, arranger, and conductor
Laetitia Federici, freelance pianist and peripatetic piano teacher
Anneke Feenstra, mother of a musician
Cal Fell BA Hons LRAM Freelance musician State Educated
Professor Brian Ferneyhough, Stanford University
Coia Ibàñez Ferrater, Director of Xilofon Elementary School of Music
Jeremy Filsell, Professor of Organ, Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore USA
Janet Fischer, Soprano, Teacher, Managing Director Fulham Opera
Jonathan Fischer, TV Composer, Songwriter
Chris Fisher-Lochhead, composer and violist
Dr Kevin Flanagan, Senior Lecturer in Music, Anglia Ruskin University
Dr Alexandra Fol, composer; conductor and organist at Missione Maria Ausiliatrice, Montréal, Canada
Miriam Forbes, Director of Music, Witham Hall School
Peter Foster. Music Teacher
Christopher Fox, composer, Professor of Music, Brunel University, editor of TEMPO
Cheryl Frances-Hoad, composer
Luke Fraser MMus, composer and Piano Teacher for Arts First
Brigid Frazer, Kodaly based Early Years Music Specialist
Judith Fromyhr, Senior Lecturer in Music, Australian Catholic University
Tor Frømyhr, Coordinator of Strings Australian National University
Hugh Fullarton, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Wangaratta
Alvaro Gallegos, music scholar, journalist and record producer
Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, flautists
Tom Gamble, MMus Guitarist
Brian Garbet, composer, PhD candidate, University of Calgary, Canada
Ash Gardner, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, music educator, New York, NY
James Gardner, composer, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Eloise Garland, Musician, Teacher, and Deaf Awareness Campaigner
Tim Garrard, Director of Music, Westminster School
Mark Gasser, pianist
Ben Gaunt, Senior Lecturer Leeds College of Music, Tutor Open College of the Arts
Andrew Georg, repetiteur, State Opera of South Australia, organist
Patricia Giannattasio, Professor of Music, Bergen College in New Jersey; PhD candidate at The Graduate Center
Sean K. Gilde, ‘cellist with Astaria String Quartet, Head of Strings Dragon School Oxford
Don Gillthorpe, Director of Music and Performing Arts, Ripley St. Thomas CE Academy
Hannah Gill, pianist, organist, choral conductor and music teacher
Karen Giudici (Turner) ex professional freelance clarinettist, current primary and secondary music teacher
Rob Godman, Composer, Reader in Music at the University of Hertfordshire
Nigel Goldberg, Artistic Director, Youth Music Centre
Miles Golding BMus, LTCL, LRSM, free-lance violinist, teacher of violin, viola, music theory
Richard Gonski, Conductor Torbay Symphony Orchestra
Howard Goodall CBE, Composer, Broadcaster, Music Historian
Liz Goodwin, teacher, founder/director Flutewise
Sumanth Gopinath, Associate Professor of Music Theory, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities
Adam Gorb, Head of School of Composition, Royal Northern College of Music
Stephen Goss, Professor, University of Surrey
Mark Gotham, Affiliated Lecturer, University of Cambridge
Dr. Barbara Graham, Retired Professor, Ball State University and amateur violist
Dr Michael Graham, postgraduate researcher, Royal Holloway; tutor, Rhondda Cynon Taff music service
Penny Grant, Singing Teacher and Soprano
Simon Gravett dip.TCL, Head of Music the Elmgreen School
Coady Green, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Robert Green, pianist, accompanist, jazz musician
Gavin Greenaway, composer, conductor, pianist
Helen Grime, composer, Senior Lecturer of composition at Royal Holloway University of London
Nicole Grimes, Assistant Professor of Musicology, University of California, Irvine
Jennifer Guppy, British national, resident in France. Class music teacher, at a Primary school and private piano and flute teacher
Christine Gwynn, conductor, pianist, coach, music workshop leader
Kerry L Hagan, Composer, Lecturer, University of Limerick
Stefan Hagen, Dilettant
Iain Hallam, singer and musical director of a cappella choruses
Marc-André Hamelin, pianist
Benedict Hames, viola player, Symphonie Orchester des bayerischen Rundfunk
Ross Hamilton, Peripatetic Percussion Teacher, Cornwall Music Service Trust
Helen Hampton, Director, Popchoir
Radka Hanakova, pianist
J. P. E. Harper-Scott, Professor of Music History and Theory, Royal Holloway University of London
Patrick Harrex, composer and Musical Director of Brighton & Hove Arts Orchestra
Dr. John Mark Harris, music educator and pianist
Sadie Harrison, secondary school peripatetic teacher of piano and music theory; composer and lecturer
Tom Harrold, composer, Honorary Associate Artist of the Royal Northern College of Music
Edward-Rhys Harry, conductor, composer
Béla Hartmann, pianist
Andrea Hartenfeller, organist, singer, teacher, Hesse/Germany
Per Hartmann, music publisher, Edition HH Ltd
David Harvey, D.Phil music, composer, guitarist, technologist, ex-CTO Sibelius, Tido
Waka Hasegawa, pianist, piano duettist and piano teacher
Katie Hassell, Senior Spacecraft Engineer, pianist and cellist
Arngeir Hauksson, Guitarist, Lutenist and music teacher
Jeremy Hawker B.mus, M.Teach, L.mus, professional guitarist and instrumental tutor at Townsville Grammar School
Steve Hawker, Inclusion Manager, Cornwall Music Service Trust
Sam Hayden, composer and academic, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Morgan Hayes, Professor of Composition, Royal Academy of Music
Benjamin Hebbert, Director, Benjamin Hebbert Violins Limited
Piers Hellawell, composer and Professor of Composition, Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland
Andrew Henderson, singer, keyboard player, secondary school Director of Music, primary school governor, committee member, MMA – Music Teaching Professionals
Áine Heneghan, Assistant Professor of Music Theory, University of Michigan
James Heron, violinist and violist
Ken Hesketh, composer, Lecturer, Royal College of Music
Helen Heslop, piano student, concert promoter
Anne-Marie Hetherington, Music Director and Head of Creative Arts in a successful secondary school, singing teacher, conductor
Gavin Higgins, composer
Rolf Hind, pianist, composer and teacher (Guildhall School of Music and Trinity Laban)
Maggie Hinder, GRSM ARCM ARCO, freelance music teacher and chorister
Alistair Hinton, composer, curator, The Sorabji Archive
James Hockey, musician, teacher, conductor
Jason Hodgson BMus (composer, disabled, and now studying MMus)
Ros Hoffler ABRSM examiner
Alison Holford, cellist and lover of sight-reading
Klaas ten Holt, composer, writer, composition teacher at Prins Claus Conservatorium, Groningen, the Netherlands
Michael Hooper, Lecturer in Music, University of New South Wales, Australia
Julian Horton, Professor of Music, Durham University
Tim Horton, pianist
Janet Hoskyns, Professor Emerita, Birmingham City University
Stephen Hough, pianist
Yvonne Howard, Opera/ Concert Singer & Professor of Singing
Dr Jocelyn Howell
George Huber, singer and mathematician
Dr David Russell Hulme, Director of Music and Reader, Aberystwyth University, musicologist and conductor
Alexander Hunter, composer and performer, Australian National University
Derek Hurst, Associate Professor of Composition, Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory
David Hutchings, conductor
Anne Margaret Hyland, Lecturer in Music Analysis and Admissions tutor at the University of Manchester
Miika Hyytiäinen, composer, doctoral student, University of the Arts Helsinki
Michael Ibsen, Classical Guitarist Mmus, British Columbia Conservatory of Music
Grahame Gordon Innes, composer
Professor John Irving, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London
Steven Isserlis, cellist
Dr Jenny Jackson, composer & private piano teacher
Stephen Jackson, conductor, choral director, composer and arranger
Julian Jacobson, musician
Alison James, Head of Music, Kelvin Hall School, professional musician, performance moderator
Lara James, tutor of saxophone, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Senior Associate teacher, Bristol University
Willem Jansen, performer and teacher, The Netherlands
Joel Jarventausta, composer and conductor, masters student at the Royal College of Music
Kate Johnson, Promotion & Communications Director, Music Sales Limited
Stephen Johnson, writer, broadcaster & composer
Fergus Johnston, Composer
Allan Herbie Jones, composer, musician, teacher.
David Jones, Head of Accompaniment, Royal Northern College of Music; Deputy Head, Junior RNCM
Gordon Jones, singer, former member of The Hilliard Ensemble
Jeremy Peyton Jones, composer, Reader in music, Goldsmiths University of London
Julia Jones Teacher of Music, City of London School
Georgina Jordan, pianist and teacher
Susanna Jordan, tutti 1st violin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Frauke Jurgensen, musician, Lecturer, University of Aberdeen
Jari Kallio, music journalist
Matthew Kaner, Professor of Composition Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Rob Keeley, composer and pianist, King’s College
Susan Keeling, music graduate, arts administrator, amateur musician, parent
N W Kenyon, retired teacher
Dorothy Ker, Composer, Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield
Dr Steve Kershaw, jazz musician, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education
Isla Keys MA (Hons) ATCL PGCE, music teacher, singing & piano teacher, committee member MMA-Music Teaching Professionals
Christopher Kimbell, Visiting Tutor in Historical Musicology, Royal Holloway, University of London; peripatetic teacher in music theory
Owen Kilfeather, composer and writer
Andrew King, Professor of English Literature – and avid reader of music
George King, Head and Senior Lecturer (retired), Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology, University of South Africa
Helen Kingstone, Postdoctoral Researcher in History, Leeds Trinity University (and pianist and choral singer)
Professor Andrew Kirkman, Peyton and Barber Professor of Music, University of Birmingham
Patricia Kleinman, Musicóloga
Grahame Klippel, Guitarist, Kingston University
Ruth Knell, violinist, English National Ballet. Learnt to read music initially at the age of 6/7 in recorder lessons at an infant school on a council estate in the 60s
Annabel Knight, head of recorder, Birmingham Conservatoire
Kathryn Knight, CEO Tido Music and a director/founder of Sing Up
Matthew Lee Knowles, composer + piano teacher
Allan Kolsky, Orchestra Musician, Syracuse, NY
Kevin Korsyn, Professor of Music Theory, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Toni J. Krein, President of the Association of Swiss Professional Orchestras
Uday Krishnakumar, Composer
Prof. Dennis Kuhn, Head of the percussion and timpani dept, University of Music and Performing Arts Mannheim, Germany
Henny Kupferstein, piano teacher
Yannis Kyriakides, Composer, teacher Royal Conservatory, The Hague
Dr David Lancaster, Director of Music at York St John University
Vanessa Lann, composer, teacher
Jerry Lanning, conductor and arranger
Thomas Larcher, musician
David Lawrence, conductor
Andrew C Leach, organist, choirman in four cathedral occasional choirs
Elizabeth Eva Leach, Professor of Music, University of Oxford
Yekaterina Lebedeva, concert pianist, professor of piano Trinity Laban Conservatoire, visiting lecturer City, University of London
Norman Lebrecht, writer and broadcaster
Kelvin Lee, PhD Candidate in Musicology at Durham University, Conductor
Christian Leitmeir, Magdalen College, University of Oxford
Erik Levi, Visiting Professor in Music, Royal Holloway University of London
Sally Lewis, pianist and teacher
Rebecca Leyton-Smith, Cellist and Cello Teacher at Uppingham School
Mu-Xuan Lin, Composer, and Lecturer at California State University Long Beach
PerMagnus Lindborg, composer, Assistant Professor, School of Art, Design, and Media, Singapore
Dr Alexander Lingas, Reader in Music, City, University of London; Fellow, European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford; Music Director, Cappella Romana
Tomasz Lis, concert pianist, teacher
Maureen Lister, Euphonium player
Rodney Lister, faculty department of composition and theory, Boston University School of Music, faculty The New England Conservatory Preparatory School
Lore Lixenberg, Experimental voice artist, Mezzo, Composer
Daniel Lloyd, Musician and author of No Notes piano music (tablature) designed to help beginners make a start with learning how to read and to play piano music.
Rick Longden, Lecturer in Music, Musician etc
Dave Longman, drummer, percussionist, teacher and author of “Skins Drum Performance Method”
Nick Loveland, COO, Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall
Sonia Lovett, television director of opera and classical music concerts
Shay Loya, Lecturer in Music, City, University of London
Neil Luck, composer, performer, music educator
Karl Lutchmayer, Senior Lecturer, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Frances M Lynch, singer, director, composer, teacher
Graham Lynch, composer
Tracey Mair, freelance piano and vocal tutor
Joshua Banks Mailman, Instructor of Music Theory, University of Alabama
Charles MacDougall, founding member of VOCES8, currently Choral Specialist for The Voices Foundation
Nigel McBride, Composer, BMus (Hons), MSt. in Composition (Oxon.), DPhil in Music (Oxon.)
Rachel McCarthy, doctoral candidate and visiting tutor, Royal Holloway, University of London
Paul McCreesh, conductor, founder and artistic director, Gabrieli
Maggie McCoy, Choral Arts administrator and choral musician
Elizabeth Macdonald, violist and arts administratorGeraldine McElearney, GSM,singing and piano teacher
Simon McEnery, singer, musical director (Salisbury Chamber Chorus), Associate Lecturer at the University of Chichester
Neil McGowan, Production Staff, Stanislavsky-Muzykalny Opera/Ballet Theatre, Moscow
Andrew McGregor, Broadcaster, BBC Radio 3
Jennifer Mackerras, recorder player; Alexander Technique tutor at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
John McLeod, composer
Sir James MacMillan, composer, conductor
Peter McMullin, Printed Music Specialist, Blackwell’s Music Shop
Stuart McRae, Composer, Lecturer, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Jason Matthew Malli, composer, sound designer, performer, producer, educator, arts advocate
Martin Malmgren, pianist
Kevin Malone, Reader in Composition, University of Manchester
Julien Malaussena Composer
Jane Manning, singer
Marshall Marcus, CEO European Union Youth Orchestra, President Sistema Europe
Daniel Margolin QC, lawyer, amateur musician and parent
Kypros Markou, Professor of Music, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI (graduate from Royal College of Music, London and New England Conservatory, Boston)
Katherine Marriott, mezzo-soprano
Daniela Mars, Flutist
Les Marsden, Founding Music Director/Conductor: The Mariposa (CA) Symphony Orchestra, Composer, Lecturer, University of California and Instrumental Musician
Andy Marshall, Senior Lay Clerk, Bristol Cathedral
Chris Marshall, Head of Professional Development, Birmingham Conservatoire
Barnaby Martin, composer
Domingos de Mascarenhas (DPhil) musicologist
Sandy Matheson, Nordoff Robbins music therapist
Alison Mathews MMus BMus(hons)RCM ARCM, composer, private teacher, pianist
Colin Matthews, composer
David Matthews, composer
James Mayhew, artist and narrator
Gijs van der Meijden (The Netherlands). Microbiologist by profession, not a musician in any practical sense, but a deep lover thereof
Cecília Melo, Magistrate
Virgílio Melo, composer
Miguel Mera, head of Music, City, University of London
Chris Mercer, composer, Lecturer, Northwestern University
Nathan Mercieca, Teaching Associate, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University
Jonathan Midgley, lay clerk, Ely Cathedral
Max Midroit, pianist
Chloe Millar, violinist, freelance musician and teacher
Richard Miller, Composer, Arranger/Orchestrator, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Christopher Brooks Composition Prizewinner, Director of Music, St Michael’s Church, Camden
Sasha Valeri Millwood, MA (Cantab.) MMus (GSMD), musician, musicologist, & doctoral researcher, University of Glasgow
David Milsom, Head of Performance, University of Huddersfield
Ruth Milsom, freelance teacher of piano and music theory, and accompanist
William Alberto Penafiel Miranda, Composer/Pianist at Queens College (Aaron Copland School of Music
Madeleine Mitchell, state-school educated violinist, professor, Royal College of Music
Cara Ellen Modisett, pianist, Episcopal music director and essayist
Kerry A. Moffit, Master Sergeant (Retired), United States Air Force Bands and Music Career Field, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Orchestra Musician (lead and jazz trumpet), Grammy winner, and professional musician for 40+ years.
Alison Moncrieff-Kelly, cellist, music educator, and examiner
Josephine Montgomery, violinist, early years string teacher
Ivan Moody, composer, CESEM – Universidade Nova, Lisbon
Adrian Moore, composer, Reader in Music, University of Sheffield
Gillian Moore, Director of Music, South Bank Centre
Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Lecturer in Music, University of Glasgow
Dittany Morgan, former Sub principal Viola BBC symphony and teacher of Violin/ Viola
Huw Morgan, freelance choral director and organist
Kate Morgan, Director of Music, Harrogate Ladies’ College
Katie Morgan, flautist, music writer, and flute and music theory teacher
Michael Morse, composer, educator
Tim Motion, Photographer and musician
Catherine Motuz, trombonist
Thomas Mowrey, former producer for Deutsche Grammophon and Decca
Theresa Muir, Ph.D. Musicology, conductor and singer
John Mulroy chorister at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Gordon Munro, Director of Music, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Tommy Murtagh, cellist and educator
Rachel Musgrove, director, daytime choirs for retirees
Rachel Neiger, Pianist and teacher
Lisa Nelsen, Flute player, artist for Yamaha International, Tutor for Junior Guildhall School and former Specialist Flute Tutor at Wells Cathedral School, UK
Thi Nguyen , GSMD, IoE (MA in Music Education), violinist and teacher
Mike Nichols, Bassist. ACM lecturer, ABRSM consultant. Regularly work in orchestras and non reading bands
George Nicholson, composer, Professor in Composition, University of Sheffield
Marten Noorduin, Postdoctoral research assistant, University of Oxford
Kirk Noreen, Founder/Director, Ensemble Sospeso, New York, Composer
Mariko North, pianist
Dr Patrick Nunn, Lecturer in composition, Royal Academy of Music, London
Chi-chi Nwanoku MBE, double bassist, Founder, Artistic Director Chineke!
Richard Nye, BA (Hons) FLCM PGCE, teacher and composer
Michael Nyman, composer
Lady Anita O’Brien, Violinist/ Music Teacher
Dolors Olivé Vernet, music teacher, Headmaster, Teresa Miquel i Pàmies Elementary School
Des Oliver, composer
Philip Olleson, Emeritus Professor of Historical Musicology, University of Nottingham, and Immediate Past President, The Royal Musical Association
Nicholas Olsen, composer
Clare Orrell, primary school headteacher and music graduate
Jill Osborn BMus, private piano teacher
Richard Osmond, Director of Music, Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School
Ursula O’Sullivan, music teacher and musician, CSN College of Further Education, Cork, Ireland
Rebecca Oswald, composer, pianist, former faculty at the University of Oregon School of Music
Luke Ottevanger, Director of Music, composer
Martijn Padding, head of composition department, Royal Conservatory, Den Haag
Ian Pace, pianist, Lecturer, Head of Performance, City, University of London
Professor Carrie Paechter, Head of .Educational Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
Christopher Painter, composer, brass bandsman, lecturer, music publisher, trumpet player. Barry, South Wales
Joan Arnau Pàmies, composer, Aural Skills Instructor, Northwestern University
Dr Tom Pankhurst, Music Teacher and Author
Tom Parkinson, composer and sound designer, Royal Holloway, University of London
Ben Pateman, Flautist and retired music producer
Anthony Payne, composer
Jenny Pearson, freelance cellist, teacher at Severn Arts Worcester
Michael Pearson, professional violinist
Jane Peckham BMus, MA, School Governor, Double Bassist
Tim Pells, Head of Guitar and Lecturer, Colchester Institute and Centre for Young Musicians
Chris Pelly, Concerts Series Administrator, University of Leeds
Damian Penfold, conductor and primary school governor
Ian Penwarden-Allen, choral conductor and teacher of music
Selah Perez-Villar, pianist and music educator
Lola Perrin, piano teacher, composer
Dr. Jeffrey Peterson, Associate Professor of Vocal Coaching/ Opera Conductor
Baylor University, Waco, TX
Theodore R Peterson, Composer
Joe Pettitt BMus(hons), bassist, bandleader and teacher of jazz bass and electric guitar at Westminster School and Trinity School, Croydon
Stephen Pettitt, writer and critic
James Philips, Classical Guitarist and self taught music reader
John Pickard, composer and Head of Music, University of Bristol
David Pickett, Former Prof., Indiana University School of Music, conductor, musicologist, tonmeister
Oliver Pickup, composer
David Pickvance, film and TV composer, composer-in-residence to the BBC
Jenni Pinnock, composer and instrumental tutor
David Pinto, performer with the Jaye Consort and musicologist, contributing editor to two volumes of Musica Britannica
John Pitts, composer and music teacher
Stephen Plaice, librettist, Writer in Residence Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Tamasine Plowman MA
Lara Poe, composer and pianist, graduate student at RCM
Irini Urania Politi, artist, teacher, amateur musician
Rosie Pollock, BMus MA (learned notation aged 6/7)
Benjamin Pope, Conductor working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Orchestras
Francis Pott, Professor of Composition & Head of Research, London College of Music, University of West London
Caroline Potter, Reader in Music, Kingston University
Eleri Angharad Pound, freelance harpist and composer, amateur choir singer
Jonathan Powell, pianist
Mark Powell, Conducting Scholar / ALP Faculty, Eastman School of Music
Steph Power, composer, critic, writer on music
Gillian Poznansky, flute player and examiner
Scott Price, Director of Music, The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Dr Nicholas Stefano Prozzillo
Toby Purser, conductor
Peter Puskás, promoter and artist manager
Irene Quirmbach, violin instructor at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, IL (USA), active freelance violinist
Giovanni Radivo, concertmaster, Orchestre national de Lyon (France)
Caroline Rae, Reader in Music and pianist, Cardiff University
Lorenda Ramou, pianist, musicologist
Sanna Raninen, Research Associate, University of Sheffield
Torsten Rasch, composer
Nadia Ratsimandresy, ondist and Professor of onde Martenot and ondéa, Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Boulogne-Billancourt
Manvinder Rattan, CEO and Head of Conductor Training, Sing for Pleasure
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor, principal conductor, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor-elect, London Symphony Orchestra
Robert Rawson, Reader in Music, School of Music and Performing Arts, Canterbury Christ Church University
Steven Reale, Associate Professor of Music Theory, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH
Carla Rees, Music Programme Leader, Open College of the Arts
Camden Reeves, Professor and Head of Music, University of Manchester
John Reid, pianist and teacher
Chris Rice, Director, Altarus Records
Sally Richardson, Artist Manager; owner of Tashmina Artists
Christiaan Richter, composer
Dr Tim Ridley, Director of Music, Glenalmond Gollege
Judith Robinson, Creative Project Leader for Education, Sound and Music
Heather Roche, clarinettist, co-editor of TEMPO
Dr Marc Rochester, lecturer in music history and criticism, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore
Paul Rodmell, Head of Music, University of Birmingham
Carlos Rodriguez, pianist, conductor and MBA from ChileJames Roe, President & Executive Director, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, New York City
Martin Roscoe, pianist, Professor, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Pamela Rose, ABRSM Theory Examiner, Music Educator
Daniele Rosina, Director of Orchestral Studies University of Birmingham, Conducting Tutor, Birmingham Conservatoire
Luke Roskams, retired violinist
Tish Roskams, B.Mus retired music teacher
Toby Roundell, composer and educationist
Rebecca Rowe, composer and music educator
Cyrilla Rowsell, Kodály specialist, teacher at GSMD and for the British Kodály Academy, co-author of Jolly Music
Edward Rushton, composer and pianist
Julian Rushton, Emeritus Professor of Music, University of Leeds
Isabelle Ryder, private piano teacher
Leo Samama, composer, musicologist, educator and author (The Netherlands)
Abel Sanchez-Aguilera, pianist and biochemist, Madrid
Helen Sanderson, Winston Churchill Fellowship in guitar education, Artistic Director of National Youth Guitar Ensemble, CEO of Guitar Circus, guitar professor at RWCMD
Anthony Sandle, opera singer
James Savage-Hanford, freelance singer and Visiting Tutor in Theory & Analysis at Royal Holloway, University of London
Melinda Sawers, Director of Music, Wadhurst, Melbourne Grammar School (Australia)
Paul Scanling, Music Director, Marietta Symphony Orchestra
Brian Schembri, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Malta Philharmonic Orchestra
Jonathan Schranz, Choral Conductor, London
Thomas Schmidt, Professor of Music, University of Manchester
William James Schmidt, pianist & composer, MMusPerf (University of Melbourne), MA (MUK Vienna)
Christian Schruff, Journalist – Musikvermittler, Berlin
Annelies Scott ARAM, cello and music theory teacher
Fred Scott, founder, Soundpractice Music
Matthew Scott, Professor of Composition, University of Southampton; Head Of Music, National Theatre (retired)
Peter J D Scott, Teaching Fellow, University of Bristol
Robert Secret ARAM, conductor & viola player
Florian Scheding, University of Bristol
Jeffrey Siegfried, saxophonist, doctoral candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Linda Shaver-Gleason, PhD Musicology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Susan Sheppard, teacher of cello at RNCM and Trinity Laban and teacher of Latin
Daniel Sherer, professor of architecture, Columbia University and lifelong pianist and music lover
Rachel Shirley, Music teacher; PhD researcher in Music Education, Lancaster University
Andre Shlimon, musician and teacher
Robert Sholl, University of West London and The Royal Academy of Music
Martin Shorthose, Cantor and Choir Director, Antiochian Orthodox Church in the UK. Ex Layclerk at Coventry and Liverpool Cathedrals
Alexander Sigman, composer, researcher and educator
Angela Elizabeth Slater, Composer
Jeremy Silver, conductor, pianist, vocal coach
Nigel Simeone, music teacher, English Martyrs’ Catholic School
Mark Simpson, BBC Philharmonic Composer in Association and former BBC Young Musician of the year 2006
Wendy Skeen, BMus(Hons), Guildhall School of Music & Drama; Freelance pianist and piano teacher
M I Skinner, M.St. (Mus)(Oxon), PG Dip MTPP, ALCM, Dip ABCD. Musician, teacher, conductor, and musicologist
Shirley Smart, jazz cellist, musicianship and improvisation teacher, City, University of London, and Royal College of Music Junior Department
Ben Smith, pianist and composer, postgraduate student, Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Charles J. Smith, Slee Chair of Music Theory, University at Buffalo
David J. Smith, Professor of Music, University of Aberdeen
George Smith, composer and freelance piano/voice teacher, University of Southampton graduate
Harriet Smith, music journalist
Steve Smith, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist
Tim Smith, Director of Music, St. Mary Harrow on the Hill/Arts Faculty Leader, Heathland School
John Snijders, pianist and Associate Professor of Music Performance, Durham University
Ernest So, concert pianist
Peter A. Soave, Concert Accordionist, Founder Peter Soave Music Academy, in Sauris Italy
Stephen Soderberg, Senior Specialist for Contemporary Music (retired), Music Division, Library of Congress
Zoë South, (state-educated) professional opera singer, singing teacher
Clare Southworth, Professor of Flute RAM
Shauna Spargo, amateur violinist, soprano in the local church choir (learned to read music at 6 when I had free violin lessons at a state primary school)
Jeroen Speak, freelance composer and teacher
Simon Speare, Head of Composition and Contemporary Music, Royal College of Music Junior Department
Mic Spencer, Associate Professor of Music, University of Leeds
Jane Spencer-Davis. Accountant specialising in musicians and violist
Mary Stagg, Primary Music specialist
Sarah Steinhardt, piano teacher, Greenwich Academy, CT USA
James Michael Stergiopoulos, retired electronics engineer
Adam Stern, conductor (Seattle Philharmonic, Sammamish Symphony), Seattle WA, USA
Clare Stevens, music journalist
Susanne Stanzeleit, violinist, tutor, Birmingham Conservatoire
Peter Stoller, songwriter, music writer, popular music archivist and historian at Leiber/Stoller Productions
Danny Stone, brass teacher, former classroom teacher (state sector U.K.)
Denise Stout, Choral Director
George Strickland, freelance oboist, postgrad at Royal Northern College of Music
Ashley Sutherland, music librarian, freelance clarinettist
Owain Sutton, private instrumental teacher
Professor Bill Sweeney, composer
Aleks Szram, Academic Lecturer and Piano Professorial Staff, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Caitriona Talbot BA Mod, freelance music tutor, Sefton
Diego Jiménez Tamame, composer
Gábor Tarján, composer, percussionist, Musical Director Het Filiaal
Christopher Tarrant, Lecturer in Music, Anglia Ruskin University
Mark Tatlow, conductor, educator, researcher Department of Culture & Aesthetics, University of Stockholm
Michelle Taylor-Cohen, Violinist, educator & arranger
Alun Thomas, professional violinist /Alexander Technique Coordinator Trinty Laban
Marisa Thornton-Wood, professor of piano, Royal Academy of Music
Paul Timms, music teacher, pianist, violinist & conductor
Phillip Tolley, Choral Music Advocate, British Choirs on the Net
Mikel Toms, conductor
Daniel Tong, pianist. Founder, Wye Valley Chamber Music. Head of Piano in Chamber Music, Birmingham Conservatoire
Julian Tovey, singer and lecturer, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Simon Toyne, Executive Director of Music, David Ross Education Trust
Peter Tregear, Professor, Royal Holloway, University of London
John Traill, Director of Music, St. Anne’s College, Oxford University; Director, Oxford Conducting Institute
Natalie Tsaldarikis, pianist, teacher, PhD student, City, University of London
Kathleen Tynan, Head of Vocal Studies and Opera, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin
Fredrik Ullén, pianist, professor of cognitive neuroscience
Luk Vaes, pianist, reseacher, teacher
Maura Valenti BM, The Juilliard School; MM, Yale School of Music; current MPhil student in musicology, University of Oxford
John Van der Slice, composer
Dr Edward Venn, Associate Professor of Music, University of Leeds
Massimiliano Viel, Composer and Professor at Conservatory of Milan, Italy
Simon Vincent, composer, performer, and former Visiting Lecturer at City University London, University of Bayreuth, University of Potsdam and University of Applied Sciences Potsdam
Matthew Vine, volunteer music teacher (Kampala, Uganda)
Andrea Vogle, Percussion Tutor RNCM, JRNCM, Chetham’s School of Music
Zerlina Vulliamy, prospective university music student and DfE Music Scholar RCMJD
Alison Wahl, soprano, singer-songwriter, and music teacher
Charlie Wakely, Physics teacher and amateur musician
Helen Wallace, Kings Place Music Foundation, Soundsense Music
Neil Wallace, Programme Director, Doelen Concert Hall, Rotterdam
Richard Wallace, violist Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, viola tutor Bangor University
David Warburton MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Select Committee on Music Education
John Warburton BMus Hons Tonmeister, Associate Lecturer, University of Surrey Department of Music and Media
Dr Michael Ward, concert pianist, conductor and composer
Philippa Ward, pianist, teacher, Wellington, New Zealand
Jenny Warren, maths teacher and classical soprano who learned to sight read at state school
Celia Waterhouse, Piano Teacher, Music Educator, Lead Editor for British Kodaly Academy Songbook
Ashley Wass, pianist
Huw Watkins, composer and pianist
Hannah Watson, secondary school music teacher, violinist
Rachel Watson, cellist, cello teacher with experience of secondary school teaching
Trevor Watt, former music student, now lawyer
Dr Richard Wattenbarger, musicologist, Adjunct Instructor, Music Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sarah Watts, Associate in Music Performance at Sheffield University, bass clarinet tutor RNCM, Clarinet tutor at Nottingham University
David Way, violinist/violist/teacher
Philip Wayne, Headmaster, Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, also Musician
James Webb, Director of Music, Hull Collegiate School
Gillian Webster , Opera Singer and teacher
James Weeks, composer, Associate Head of Composition, Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Marcus Weeks, composer and jazz and reggae trombonist
Richard Whalley, Senior Lecturer in Composition, University of Manchester
Mike Wheeler, music writer and adult education tutor, WEA
Simon Whiteley, BMus, Lay Clerk at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and founder member of The Queen’s Six, a cappella ensemble
Adam Whittaker, Post-doctoral researcher (Music and Music Education), Birmingham City University
Dr Anthony Whittaker, composer, piano teacher and examiner
Sally Whitwell, composer, pianist. BMus(Hons) ANU, Australia
Joanna Wicherek, pianist and teacher
Judith Wiemers, PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast
Charles Wiffen, Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts, Bath Spa University
Louise Wiggins, PhD student, University of Bristol; harpist; and peripatetic music teacher
Emma Wild, Freelance Violist
Christopher Wiley, National Teaching Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Surrey
John Willan, former EMI producer and Managing Director London Philharmonic
Ceri Williams, music teacher
David Carlston Williams, Organist and Music Teacher
Victoria Williams AmusTCL BA music theory teacher
James Williamson. Composer, PhD candidate at the University of York
Chesterton K. Whiteman, adjunct professor of composition, Oral Roberts University
Dr Alexandra Wilson, Reader in Music, Oxford Brookes University
Andrew Wilson, Freelance musician, and Head Teacher, Teesside High School
Jay Wilkinson, flute and theory teacher
Katherine Williams, Lecturer in Music and Head of Performance, Plymouth University
Frances Wilson LTCL (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist); pianist, writer, and teacher
Jayne Lee Wilson, Music Lover & Reviewer, FoR3 Forum
Natalie Windsor, BaHons PgCert (Birmingham Conservatoire), Mezzo soprano, jazz singer and music teacher
Lorraine Womack-Banning, pianist, piano teacher, adjudicator
Jaye Wood, BA Hons, freelance classical piano and voice teacher
Toby Wood, Music recording engineer and producer
Liz Woodhouse, piano teacher
Ronald Woodley, Professor of Music, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham City University
Catherine Woodman. Head of Keyboard Studies at Redmaids High School and examiner
Kenneth Woods, Artistic Director, English Symphony Orchestra
Christopher Woolmer, Organist, teacher, Director of Music, Oakwood School, Purley
David Wordsworth, conductor and agent
Dr Emily Worthington, freelance clarinettist/Lecturer, University of Huddersfield
Andrew Wright, School of Education, University of Buckingham
Elspeth Wyllie, Pianist, Teacher, member of the ISM
Catherine Wyn-Rogers, opera singer and teacher
Anna Wyse, B.Eng. M.Sc.(Eng), AIEMA
Joshua D. Xerri, Sub-Organist (St Alphege, Solihull), singer, composer
Amit Yahav, pianist, doctoral student, Royal College of Music
Paul Yarish, pianist, Registered Piano Technician, organ student
Marc Yeats, composer and visual artist
Nina C. Young, Assistant Professor of Music Composition & Multimedia Performance, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Toby Young, composer, Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford
Jay Alan Yim, composer, Associate Professor of Music, Northwestern University
Alistair Zaldua, composer and conductor, visiting lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christ Church University
Mirjam Zegers, music consultant, teacher, amateur pianist
Nicolas Zekulin, Chief Executive & Artistic Director, National Youth Orchestras of Scotland
Patrick Zuk, Associate Professor in Music, Durham University
Julio Zúñiga, composer, graduate student, Harvard University
Rasmus Zwicki, composer
[ADDENDUM: Since first placing this letter online, I have been alerted to two relevant phenomena: the Department of Music at Harvard University have now removed a requirement to study theory, or Western art music history, from their core curriculum . Worse, Texan musicologist Kendra Leonard has created a ‘Privilege Walk’ for musicians, a way of publicly shaming those who, for example, were taught music theory (no. 12), care about notated music (no. 19), can read more than one clef (no. 36), or had advanced instruction in a foreign language (no. 39). It is not clear from Leonard’s biography if she teaches regularly at an institution, but certainly such ‘privilege walks’ exist elsewhere in the US; I will blog more about this on another occasion. In case anyone is unclear, as stated above this addendum does not form part of the letter to which signatories put their name and represents a personal view.]
I was considering what I thought should be essential listening from the repertoire of post-1945 new music, to which anyone doing a music degree course which has a Western art music focus should be exposed during the course of their study. I want to be uncompromising and avoid easy populist, ‘democratic’, patronising choices (but look to major, difficult works for which exposure and explication at a university level might really make a difference. So here are six suggestions – I am looking for some others (I have lots of ideas, naturally, but am interested in those of others) that might make this up to ten suggestions. Please do post below. I am aware that there all the below choices are men, so would welcome various views on which works of women composers might also be included, according to the criteria I lay out.
Pierre Boulez, Pli selon pli (1957-62, rev. 1989-90)
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte (1958-60)
Luigi Nono, La fabbrica illuminata (1964)
Morton Feldman, Violin and Orchestra (1979) (only an excerpt is included above)
Brian Ferneyhough, Second String Quartet (1980)
Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto (1987-88, rev. 1989-91).
Last night I went to a concert at Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, at the School of Music for the University of Leeds. The programme included postgraduate student Allanah Halay‘s Energy Cannot Be Created II, as well as world premieres of Scott McLaughlin’s an infinity of traces, without an inventory and Wieland Hoban’s Wyrdlines, Michael Finnissy’s 1984 Câtana, inspired by Romanian folk music. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear four very fine pieces in strong performances given by student musicians; the concert can be viewed complete online here. for now I want however to write about the conductor and director of the ensemble – and also extremely fine composer – Michael (known to all as Mic) Spencer, whose work at that university, making the department into the finest of its type for new music, has been to my mind insufficiently recognised. On another occasion I would like to write about Mic’s compositions, but here I want to describe the seminal work he has done at Leeds.
I first met Mic in 2005 (at the premiere of Richard Barrett’s orchestral work NO) and soon afterwards became keenly aware of his activities at Leeds, after going to give a talk there the following year, performing on three occasions at the university, playing his piano piece The Eemis Stone and more widely getting to know the important community of people intensely dedicated to new music which would never have come about without Mic and his efforts.
Whilst many in academia spend as little time as possible on students, concentrating instead primarily on whatever will gain maximum prestige and the quickest advancement to the top jobs, Mic is the very opposite, and one of the most selfless figures I know. I know of few others so utterly devoted to helping to make available and accessible to his students, in full knowledge that the most complex or challenging new music is absolutely graspable by all who are open-minded and receive the type of guidance and encouragement that Mic can uniquely give. And I have seen for myself just how much time he devotes to students, how he wouldn’t hesitate to help them have access to any number of recordings, scores, or texts by many in the French and German intellectual and philosophical traditions to which he is so strongly attached.
The music of Helmut Lachenmann, Brian Ferneyhough, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Gérard Grisey, Emmanuel Nunes, Mathias Spahlinger, James Dillon, Beat Furrer, Richard Barrett, Chaya Czernowin and many others have become like Mozart and Beethoven to composers, performers and scholars at Leeds all because of Mic. In other contexts, academics dismiss all work in this type of European modernist tradition out of hand (sometimes in an underhand manner, using language of identity politics which makes others reluctant to challenge such a view), or simply preach it in a didactic way. Everything I have heard suggests a quite different approach from Mic: teaching as an enthusiast, with a passion for this music, but in such a way as allows students to find their own way in.
But equally important is what Mic has achieved with the ensemble LSTwo, which he ran and conducted over an extended period, for a period jointly with composer and conductor Adam Fergler. They have been able to perform well works almost unimaginable for a student new music ensemble in a UK university department, including Lachenmann’s “…zwei Gefühle…”, Musik mit Leonardo, Harrison Birtwistle’s Trageodia, Grisey’s Vortex Temporum, Nunes’s Improvisation I, Furrer’s Gaspra, Dillon’s Zone (…de azul), James Clarke’s Delmenhorst, and much else. In November there will be a major feature, the most significant of its type to date in the UK, of the music in Hespos, which I for one would not want to miss.
Amongst those who have passed through Leeds and either already gone onto great things or in the process of so doing are Lauren Redhead (who I remember Mic describing to me, when she was an undergraduate, as someone with an unnatural obsession with Spahlinger), Roddy Hawkins, Eleri Angharad Pound, Adam Fergler, Vicky Burrett, Caroline Lucas, Marcello Messina and many others. Not that these are simple acolytes or devotees; many have strong differences and have taken quite different paths in terms of their own music or ideas. I certainly wouldn’t agree with Mic on lots of things musical, aesthetic or otherwise – I cannot remotely share his taste for the likes of Kaikhosru Shapurij Sorabji or writer Aleister Crowley, for example – but there is no such topic about which I would not be intensely interested in his thoughts. But I do not believe it would be too exaggerated to talk about a Leeds School of New Music, for which Mic is undoubtedly the central figure.
But when reading this I’m sure Mic will end up acting self-effacing and maybe a bit embarrassed, so I’m going to end up in his own language and tell the fucker to get a move on with writing his piano piece for me!
But do all raise your glasses (an activity with which he is intimately familiar) to Mic.
In a recent scathing article on contemporary academia (‘The Slow Death of the University’, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 3rd, 2015), Terry Eagleton mentioned one university bureaucrat who actively tried to discourage academics from keeping too many books, lest they build ‘private libraries’. Heaven knows what this individual would think of my own shelves heaving with books, though I have encountered adverse comments from some disinclined to do any sort of research requiring more than a small range of standard texts.
As a passionate bibliophile, for whom when young buying books was the ultimate indulgence, I tend to be discouraged by academics in the arts and humanities who do not love or buy many books, though accept that some texts may be better kept in electronic form. But more important, for academics in the field of music, is to ask whether they love to listen to music, and as such go to concerts, listen to recordings and so on (do they have recordings or sound files in their office, has the CD player ever been turned on in years)?
Unfortunately I have encountered too many academics – not a majority, but still too many – who have very little interest in listening to music, at least in a manner which requires any sustained attention. Some even have a sneering and superior attitude to anyone who really cares about music at all, and exhibits any enthusiasm for it. I have even had the misfortune to be faced by the argument that playing music in lectures is a waste of time. I find those people of this persuasion, and much of their work, life-denying, bleak and depressing, and this tendency is fundamentally in opposition with every reason I wished to be a scholar myself, and all the values I wish to encourage in students.
There are various disciplines which, at worst, serve in large measure to enable the scholar to ‘dominate’ the object of their study. These enable the scholar to stand in a position of superior judgement to other people or the fruits of their endeavours, dissecting them in a judgmental fashion, frequently of a dismissive variety. Amongst the disciplines I would characterise as prone to this are psychoanalysis, some varieties of anthropology and ethnography, and indeed some types of ideology critique and other forms of cultural ‘interrogation’ (including some undertaken from the position of gender studies, post-colonial studies, orientalism and so on). Ultimately, many serve to flatter the scholar, and thus inflate their scholarly capital within the field of academia, but what is their wider value?
I fear that this is equally the case with musicologists not interested in engaging with, listening to, and opening up their own ears and minds to music, treating it instead at most as something to be consumed and then even excreted, or basically ignored in an aural sense. I am reminded of the character Tom Townsend in Whit Stillman’s 1990 film Metropolitan, who opines that ‘You don’t have to read a book to have an opinion’ and as such prefers to read literary criticism rather than novels. There is no humility in this attitude, no real interest in reading or listening to others, just a desire to gain power by having the type of opinion which would impress.
Similarly, it is too often possible to write musicology entirely on the basis of others’ views of music, without ever listening carefully to it oneself. Some of this can brush off on students; I have certainly read and marked far too many essays of this type. Many appear to stem from a fundamental self-consciousness about arriving at one’s own conclusions (and being judged upon those).preferring instead the safety of the already-tried and tested; in reality just another form of essential plagiarism even when sources are attributed. In a recently published review-article of mine (‘Ferneyhough Hero: Scholarship as Promotion’, Music and Letters, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 99-112), I felt the need to comment that most of the book could have been written without any aural experience of the music (pp. 101-102), and this is far from being the only text by a music academic about which I could say this.
The very last thing for which I would argue (indeed, have argued strongly against here and here) is a type of musicology which adopts a thoroughly servile relationship towards practice, and essentially fulfils a promotional function for practitioners. Nor for various of the species of ‘practice-as-research’ which do not succeed as a genuine interplay between theory and practice (the best realisation of such work) but simply serve as a diary or other form of unreflexive documentation of practical activity. It is imperative that musicologists maintain some degree of critical distance from the object of their study, and that the integrity of their judgement is not compromised by other professional considerations (a difficult issue for practitioner-scholars, in which category I count myself; too many fail to consider these issues). I have also seen too many events featuring guest composers in academic environments which amount essentially to love-ins, whose whole atmosphere preclude consideration of any response other than adoration.
But on the other hand, if one does not in some sense enjoy music, and want to listen to it, then why spend a good part of a lifetime studying it? If the urge is to dominate, in the manner I described above, then I think this is rather sad and even a little pathetic; this type of work (which I link to the field of ‘cultural studies’) rarely has much impact outside of academia other than to legitimise broad dismissal of vast swathes of work without listening. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in a good deal of writing on modernist music; it is far easier to be told that this music is little more than a repository for white male elite privilege, and thus can be safely ignored, than have to spend any time grappling with it oneself. This combination of populist dumbing-down and cynical appropriation of identity politics characterises the worst and most destructive of all academic writing; if the majority of the humanities were to become like this, I would find it hard to mourn their demise.
Happily, there is plenty of musicology which is not of this nature, and carried out by scholars with a real love or fascination for music. Not all music is of course of equal value, and some music is worth studying even when it is not of the highest order. A fair amount of repertoire has fallen into neglect for good reason and would be unlikely to stand up well to repeated exposure today, but it can be worth studying to gain a deeper knowledge of and insight into styles, genres and practices of its time and place. Some music which served particular social functions is of interest so as to understand more about those functions and the types of ceremony they entailed, not least in the case of dictatorial regimes. I have personally even considered (only briefly, so far) why some music might appeal to those of paedophile tendencies, and whether there might be recurrent stylistic features which might even make possible the codification of such a sub-category.
I do genuinely believe that some of the now-forgotten music of the Third Reich or Soviet Union, composed by musical ideologues keen to serve the regime, should occasionally be heard in concert, however contentious this might be. Not least for the sake of us scholars who would like the chance to actually hear it live and gain a deeper sense of the effect it might have had in its original context, but also to force more serious consideration of whether such music demands an engagement beyond reduction to social and aesthetic-ideological history. In many cases of relatively prominent composers active and/or successful in the Third Reich (e.g. Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, Carl Orff, Werner Egk, Wolfgang Fortner, Winfried Zillig and others), I can usually identify some musical elements which resonated with wider aspects of the ritualised culture (though not necessarily less compelling as a result – opening oneself to why they (or, say, the films of Leni Riefenstahl) might have been compelling is an essential part of understanding the elemental power of sacralised aspects of that society), but in no cases could I account for everything significant about the music in this manner. And there is no reason to assume this could never be the case for more minor composers as well. I would certainly not dismiss considerations of how ideologies of ethnicity, gender and more might be codified into musical language (I teach students to consider such things, for example in the context of nineteenth-century exoticism), especially in operatic and programmatic work, but cannot see why one would spend much time on these if the music was not nonetheless still worth hearing.
To dissolve musical engagement into a footnote to social or cultural history, sociology, anthropology or whatever is really to give up on musicology as a profession deserving of its own identity. At a time when, in the UK at least, funding opportunities are enhanced by the extent to which one can spin one’s work as being ‘interdisciplinary’, it is not difficult to see the temptation to bracket out the specifically musical content, especially when few scholars in other disciplines are prepared or competent to gain the technical and analytical skills to engage themselves in depth with music.
Musicology remains an important and stimulating profession, but should be pursued by those interested in using their ears, and with a real love or fascination for music. Others would find their time more profitably spent in other fields.
Addendum: A further thought which occurred to me when reflecting upon scholarship as ‘domination’, and thinking about the fundamental ambiguity of sounding music. This is not a mystification or other attempt to render music beyond meaning, simply to point out the extent to which it exceeds attempts to contain it within particular boxes. To me this is a strength rather than a weakness of music (and something of the same can be said of various visual arts, poetry and other media), but it frustrates the attempts of those who aim for total domination. For this reason, those possessed by the will-to-dominate frequently need to bracket out sounding content.
Musicological Observations 1: Björn Heile, Lauren Redhead and myself on the relationship between scholarship and new musicPosted: September 18, 2014
I am continually fascinated by the possibilities available to musical scholarship and by interactions between plural musicological methods, but equally disappointed by how few such possibilities are regularly taken up. I hope to blog at more length in the future on some of the dangers inherent within various musicological sub-disciplines – the so-called ‘new musicology’, ‘soft’ ethnomusicology, and some aspects of popular and film music studies in which the music becomes the least important area of study – but on this occasion I just want to offer a few quotations relating to the relationship of scholarship on new music to the practical operation of that field, hopefully as a starting point for discussion here and elsewhere.
The first is by Björn Heile, Reader in Music at the University of Glasgow and best-known for his work on the music of Mauricio Kagel. This is the opening of a key-note lecture (reproduced with permission) entitled ‘‘Un pezzo … di una grandissima serietà e con una grandissima emozione … e con elementi totalmente bruti’: aesthetic and socio-political considerations and the failure of their integration in Mauricio Kagel’s work post-1968’, given at the conference ‘Faire “de la musique absolue avec la scène”: Mauricio Kagel’, University of Nice, 24-25 April 2014 (held on 25 April).
Scholarship on new music typically suffers from its lack of critical perspective. PhD theses are written, articles and books published and whole careers made on the basis of work that does little more than trace the stated intentions of the composer in question in their work. The process could be described as bargain basement hermeneutics: study the composer’s so-called influences, his or her own pronouncements and look at the work with these things in mind – something will no doubt be found. As a result, the scholar becomes the composer’s spokesperson, dutifully explaining how the master would want their work to be understood – which, evidently, is the only way of correctly interpreting it. There are many reasons for the predominance of this approach. New music scholars are often dependent on the goodwill of their subjects: one critical remark and you may find yourself frozen out from access to the person, their work and other materials, and from speaking and writing engagements – there are a number of (in)famous examples. Furthermore, the new music business is a tight network in which composers, musicians, institutions, broadcasters, publishers, record companies, journalists and scholars cooperate in often murky ways. There is a fine line between scholarship and PR, and some so-called journals are more akin to trade magazines. Finally, the tried-and-tested method delivers results with ease: it’s relatively simple to fill any space needed with material that will appear informative and well-founded; no-one is likely to complain. It would be unfair to pick out individual examples for what is a widespread problem. That said, Charles Wilson has analysed the literature on Ligeti with respect to what he calls Ligeti’s ‘rhetoric of autonomy’, by means of which the composer sought to overstate his artistic independence, as a way of positioning himself in the compositional marketplace. As Wilson (2004, 6) argues, ‘composers’ self-representations often serve a function that is as much performative as constative. They are “position takings”, to use Bourdieu’s expression, and their assimilation by scholars as straightforward claims to truth often bespeaks a fundamental category mistake.’ He quotes numerous cases in which Ligeti’s exegetes dutifully adopted the composer’s own terms, criteria and outlook, so that their commentaries are little more than summaries of the composer’s own pronouncements. Ligeti’s is hardly a special case: Messiaen’s Catholicism, Nono’s Marxism, Cage’s Zen-Buddhism, Cardew’s Maoism, Lachenmann’s ‘refusal of habit’ – time and again one finds scholars piously repeating or paraphrasing lofty assertions, instead of subjecting them to rigorous critical scrutiny. And – you probably saw this coming – I am not at all sure whether the literature on Kagel represents an exception to the rule. Nor is it my intention to accuse you while exonerating myself. Although I have long been aware of the problem and have sought to avoid it, I am not sure that I have always succeeded. I have to confess that while I was writing The Music of Mauricio Kagel the thought that Kagel would read the book crossed my mind more than once, and I had already found out how touchy he could be. I’d like to say that I remained steadfast, but I could be deluding myself.
Back in 2011, composer and musicologist Lauren Redhead, Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, published an article on her blog following a symposium at the Institute of Musical Research on the music of Brian Ferneyhough, at which the composer was present. This presents a situation self-evidently not an issue for historical musicologists dealing with dead musicians. Whilst unable to hear the academic papers, Redhead made the following important observation (which, having seen some of the papers and other work by the participants, I believe is backed up by the results):
The Ferneyhough day was the latest in a line of academic events which I notice are celebrating authors who are still alive. My initial problem with these events is that it seems healthy debate, critique, and innovative perspectives are hardly likely to be encouraged when the composer or thinker is involved, acting as an authority and essentially vetting the speakers before they are let loose on the audience.
As one who wears two hats, both as performer and musicologist, it is rare for these issues to be far from my own mind. My own earlier writing on the music of Michael Finnissy, as collected in the volume Uncommon Ground, I now consider hagiographic and of little other than documentary value; hopefully in my more recent monograph on Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound a greater degree of critical distance has been established, but (as Heile found with Kagel) it is hard to escape the inevitable thoughts of what the subject themselves will make of it, especially in the context of a starkly hierarchical new music world in which composers’ decrees and intentions are frequently assigned an ontological priority. Recently, I have been undertaking my own comparative examination of scholarly and other writing on the music of Ferneyhough (to be published on the Search online music magazine; also a review-article on a new Ferneyhough monograph will appear in Music and Letters), and have found hagiography, unreflected employment of both intentional and poietic fallacies, and simple hero worship to be rife, in the manner diagnosed by Redhead above. I blogged about this subject a little over a year ago, arriving at what I believe were similar conclusions to Heile, and wanted to offer a few quotes from this here alongside the others:
When considering historical composers, there are many obvious ways in which listeners may also approach the music in question in ways very different from those of the composers (or others from the time). One does not have to be a strict Lutheran to appreciate Bach, nor necessarily accept some of the theological motivations proffered for some of the musical decisions. An atheist would believe these were a delusion or at least a fiction, and might consider them as the expression of some wider human issues. A similar situation can apply to the tropes of heroism which inform some of Beethoven’s mid-period work (and a good deal of subsequent reception), or more ominously the anti-semitic views expressed by Wagner in his 1850 article ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik’; much work has been done considering the question of the extent to which these views, and other common anti-semitic views of the time, might have informed some of the characterisations in his music-dramas, and been understood as such by audiences of the time. If one concludes that this might indeed have been the case, this does not require automatic rejection of the work, but can facilitate an engagement with the music-dramas not simply as art works existing outside of time and place, but ones which reflect a particular set of ideologies of the time, held by the composer, which a reasonable person would today reject without necessarily rejecting all cultural work which sprang up in a context where they were indeed acceptable. Similar positions are possible with respect to representations of women, of characters from outside of the Western world, in musical works involving theatre or text; on a deeper level it is also possible to consider the ways in which abstract instrumental music might itself have grown out of texted/stage work and inherited some of the oppositions between musical materials (especially as had become codified to represent masculine and feminine characters) which were intrinsic to the latter. In all of these cases, the approach of the writer or listener amounts to something different from simply reiterating the composer’s intentions and wishes, or at least applying a different set of valorising standards to them. When applied with sufficient care for proper and balanced investigation of factual evidence (with proper referencing), rigour and transparency of argument, and elegance of presentation, not to mention some commitment to producing an argument which does more than simply reiterate that of numerous previous writers, this constitutes one variety of critical musicology. Not all or even most such work need arrive at negative conclusions, and some might affirm existing perceptions, but it does so as a result of serious consideration of alternative possibilities, rather than simply declaring them off-limits from the outset. [….] But the situation is more contested in the field of contemporary classical music. This is itself a field in which many practitioners feel themselves to be marginalised, with very little music of an atonal nature having won any degree of widespread public acceptance (even to the extent of that of composers such as Stravinsky, Britten or Shostakovich). Yet there are musicological critiques of some of this body of work emerging from people other than conservative classical music listeners. A body of work by various scholars associated with the ‘new musicology’ has contested the claims for primacy of various avant-garde music, drawing attention to what is argued to be its elitism, individualism (maintaining a nineteenth-century focus upon the ‘great composer’), abstraction and consequent social disengagement, white male middle-class bias, and artificial institutionalisation (including institutionalisation in higher education) despite its being a small minority interest. This latter point is extremely charged considering that some such musicologists inhabit university departments which they will share with some of the practitioners said to benefit from such institutional privilege.
I would welcome any comments and reflections on the thoughts by the three authors here. Is this situation inevitable? Are there any things which can be done to combat it (for example, lesser tolerance within scholarly communities towards hagiographic or deferential so-called scholarship)? Is this situation likely to be exacerbated by a scholarly environment, like that in the UK, which lends primacy to that work which has an ‘impact’ outside of an academic environment, and does achieving such impact require playing along with the politics of (and fragile egos within) a professional new music world in which critical scholarly perspective is far from being a top priority? Is the only route to one’s work gaining a wider audience and impact by serving a system of institutionalised prestige, or might impact be achievable in other environments as well? How can those involved in both scholarship and practitioners reconcile their two worlds, if indeed they can?