Musicologist Timothy Jackson at North Texas Attacked

Professor Timothy Jackson is under attack at North Texas University by students, faculty, dean, and the usual suspects. He is a musicologists and published a scholarly article attacking a stupid race-based theory of music history. National Review tells the story:

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Jackson published a critique of a plenary address given by the music theorist Philip Ewell to the Society for Music Theory. Ewell posited “a ‘white racial frame’ in music theory that is structural and institutionalized.” In particular, Ewell accused Schenker (1868–1935) of being racist, therefore suggesting that his work in music theory is tainted.

  UNT graduate students and faculty, as well as music professors across the country, are now demanding that Jackson be investigated, his journal shut down, and his position eliminated. A group of graduate students in UNT’s Division of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology issued a statement calling on the university to “hold accountable every person responsible for the direction of the publication” of the journal. “This should also extend to investigating past bigoted behaviors by faculty,” they wrote, “and, by taking this into account, the discipline and potential removal of faculty who used the [Journal of Schenkerian Studies] platform to promote racism. Specifically, the actions of Dr. Jackson — both past and present — are particularly racist and unacceptable.” A group of UNT faculty piled on, circulating a petition “endors[ing] the call for action” by the graduate students.

 In other words, these students and faculty are not only calling for Jackson’s head for expressing his views in his journal article, they want the university to launch a witch hunt to see what else they can dig up on him. And today, the dean of the UNT College of Music, John Richmond, announced that UNT is opening that investigation in the name of “reaffirm[ing] our dedication to combatting [sic] racism on campus and across all academic disciplines.”

From Twitter:

A statement from the executive board “condemns the anti-Black statements and personal ad hominem attacks on Philip Ewell” in the recent issue of Journal of Schenkerian Studies. This was sent this evening to the SMT-Announce listserv.

Ewell, who describes himself not as a scholar but as “an activist for racial, gender, and social justice in the field of music theory” started this when he said

Black advancement triggers white rage, and this rage knows no political party, nor does it limit itself to certain geographic regions. White persons in music theory are virtually all left-of-center in terms of politics, and it is easy for such persons to think that white rage is limited to those who are right-of-center.

Finally, and most important, Kendi says, “there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups” (18; my italics).

American music theory is based on the racist idea that whites are superior to POC, a sentiment stated explicitly by significant music theorists like François-Joseph Fétis and Heinrich Schenker in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the mid twentieth century, when explicit Jim Crow racism became untenable in the U.S., this music-theoretical racist idea was driven underground, yet it remained in full force in various ways, and remains so right up until today. This has created a slew of racist policies that advantage whiteness and disadvantage nonwhiteness in music theory. American music theory is also based on the sexist idea that males are superior to nonmales, which has created sexist policies. Music theory’s default stance is rooted in white-male assimilationism, another racist and sexist idea.

For these reasons over 90% of music theory’s fulltime employees are white, over 98% of the musical examples in our textbooks were written by whites, and 100% of the music theorists discussed in typical classrooms for core classes are white. The myth of race neutrality—the idea the race plays no significant role in the field—is a cornerstone of music theory’s white racial frame.

and in another post in the series

But Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is no more a masterwork than Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells. To state that Beethoven was any more than, say, above average as a composer is to state that you know all music written on planet earth 200 years ago when Beethoven was active as a composer, which no one does. Beethoven occupies the place he does because he has been propped up by whiteness and maleness for two hundred years, and we have been told by whiteness and maleness that his greatness has nothing to do with whiteness and maleness, in race-neutral and gender-neutral fashion.

In fact, the mapping of time itself is white racially framed in the Gregorian calendar, civil calendar to the world. Since they could observe, humans have mapped the linear and cyclic nature of time, in the stars, sun, moon, waters, and migrations of animals and insects. Steph Yin explains this mapping in “What Lunar New Year Reveals about the World’s Calendars.” The fact that the world has settled on the Gregorian, after Pope Gregory XIII, represents white racial framing writ large. Sure, it’s useful to have everyone on the same calendar, but no one can deny the racial element behind how the world now understands the linear and cyclic nature of time.

Beethoven was undoubtedly an above-average composer and he deserves our attention. But to say he was anything more is to dismiss 99.9% of the world’s music written 200+ years ago, which would be unscholarly, and academically irresponsible.

So Ewell is a crank who disapproves of the Gregorian calendar (and very likely the Julian too– another Italian made that one!) too obsessed with race to grant that Beethoven was a great composer. Norman Lebrecht at the Slipped Disc blog describes the response to criticism of Ewell:

Ewell’s supporters rallied with this letter of support to the SMT: … The journal’s violation of academic standards of peer review, its singling out of Prof. Ewell while denying him a chance to respond, and the language of many of its essays constitute anti-Black racism. These actions provide further evidence of the structural force of white supremacy in our discipline. While this episode is the most recent, and perhaps the most illustrative, the treatment Prof. Ewell received from the Journal of Schenkerian Studies is only the latest instance of systemic racism that marginalized Society members have faced for many years.

We applaud the recent statement of the Executive Board of the Society for Music Theory. To aid the Executive Board in their aim to “determine further actions,” we the undersigned advocate for the following:

1. A public statement from the President, authorized by the Executive Board and in accordance with the Policy on Public Statements, that SMT acknowledges the following three points: (a) that American music theory is historically rooted in white supremacy, the racist idea that whites are superior to nonwhites, (b) that these white supremacist roots have resulted in racist policies that have benefitted whites and whiteness while disadvantaging nonwhites and nonwhiteness, and (c) that these racist policies have resulted in injustices suffered by BIPOC at all stages of their careers. Further, we call upon the President, with the authorization of the Executive Board, to apologize to all BIPOC who have suffered such injustices, without equivocation.

He lists the signatories. Twenty are from Indiana University. I haven’t heard of any of them (which doesn’t mean much), but they don’t give titles, so they might all be undergraduates for all we know. I checked with my dear Frau Doktor, though, and she recognizes Halina Goldberg, Eric Isaacson, Roman Ivanovitch, and Marianne Kielian-Gilbert. They all seem to be white and, from their names, most likely even Jewish, and so according to their ideology they must be racist and privileged, but they will no doubt resign soon to make room for greater diversity on our music faculty. The list of signatories has lots of people from Yale, Princeton, Chicago, and Harvard punching down on the professor from North Texas University; it’s quite amazing what elite privilege will do to make people go after professors from flyover country.

Jackson is being attacked for saying things like

Schenker’s many earlier anti-French, anti-British, anti-American, and anti-Black vituperations— before, during, and after World War I—must be interpreted in the context of that war and its aftermath, in which these nations were all perceived enemies of Germany and Austria, and of German scientific racism. Furthermore, it must be recognized that racist and genocidal thinking was common among German intellectuals from the late twentieth century forward.

German scientific racism—with genocidal implications—had become ubiquitous in German culture by the beginning of the twentieth century, and one would be hard pressed to find educated Germans at that time who remained uninfluenced. Therefore, we should not be at all surprised that some of Schenker’s earlier statements decrying racial mixture reflect this mindset…

To be sure, the Great War provides the essential framework within which one must interpret Schenker’s earlier anti-French, anti-British, anti-American, and also anti-Black comments in his diary and letters. Indeed, readers of Schenker’s diary cannot ignore the extent and breadth of its author’s virulent, visceral hatred of the French, a white race…”

On the contrary, demagogues from the extreme right and left, Black Nationalist-and also White Nationalist-and also in academe, continue to legitimize scapegoating ‘the Jews’ for every conceivable ill. In this sense, Ewell’s denunciation of Schenker and Schenkerians may be seen as part and parcel of the much broader current of Black anti-Semitism.

The great tradition of classical music includes Black, Jewish, and female composers, and remains, as Schenker ultimately recognized, an ‘elitism of the hearing of the spirit, not of race.

Ewell argues, probably correctly, that Schenker would have objected [to moving his racist views to appendices rather than including them in the main text of Free Composition]. However, it is indeed possible—even desirable—to separate the technical musical-analytical aspects of Schenker’s theory from most of his philosophical, political, and aesthetic claims…

Somebody posted the full journal issue here. I hope the journal has the good sense to leave it up; this has made the journal far more famous than it would have ever been otherwise.

Steve Sailer blogged on September 19 New Yorker: White People Must Start to Realize That Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Debussy, and Strauss Were All White.