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White supremacy and music theory

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by lurk, Sep 12, 2020.

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  1. lurk


    Dec 2, 2009
    I generally find Neely's Brooklyn hipster posing annoying and he's not much of a bassist, but this, though long, is worth the time.
    Seanto and oren like this.
  2. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    There was a thread discussing this video last week which lasted a couple of days before being shut down. I don't have great hopes for this one...
    knight of ni and DirtDog like this.
  3. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I liked the vid and generally enjoy Adam's videos but this one left me a bit frustrated. First, I thought he really needed to organize his thoughts better for such a complicated subject. He makes many good points, but left many objections unaddressed and missed some obvious issues. Next, I thought it's a good time to bring these ideas up, but they aren't new. Criticizing Europe-centric education has been going on since at least the 1960s and I think you might be able to find a quote by Frederick Douglass in that vein. Last, for this to really be compelling, he needed to address the aspects of culture and racism separately because while they're intertwined, they're not synonymous.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I'm glad I will be dead before everything I know becomes wrong :whistle:
    Sub41, Big Shrek, dbsfgyd1 and 6 others like this.
  5. I mean the crux of this all is that western classical isn't racist, but that the theory that came after this music was made can be as it does try to portray this music as intellectually superior as you can describe it. Amiri Baraka described it best in my opinion in Blues People when he described Western Art Music as an artifact that exists outside of society while African music is inherently social and has special purpose in life. There's spectacular music that has come out of the western classical tradition that should be enjoyed and celebrated, but not at the expense of other musical cultures. And ultimately we should try to treat western classical music as just a musical culture that emerged in Europe in the Medieval era.Western music theory should just be taught/approached as a way to understand music from the western classical tradition. Yes there are some similarities you can find in other cultural music theories and there are some universal musical truths (the harmonic series, 4/4, pentatonic scales), but something like this cannot be understood solely through western music theory.

    And I think the thread about analyzing Goodbye Porkpie Hat gives a solid case study on where western music theory can fail. Jazz does have a deep connection to western harmony and you can understand certain compositions through this lens. But when you start encountering music by Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, Shorter, Sun Ra, Davis, etc, western music theory can sometimes fail you, or lead you to an insanely confusing analysis of the piece. Then you get early free players like Ornette, Albert Ayler, Bobby Bradford, etc, you start getting into a music that really can't be understood through western music theory and is much more an extension of the Blues. And then you get to players like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, and many more who have created their own systems, theories, etc about their music.
  6. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Sorry Brian, everything you know is already wrong. Completely. More than 100 years. It's a really, really big world out there. If it makes you feel any better, I'm in your camp but working hard to catch up. I'm really enjoying it. Try it, you might too!
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2020
  7. Reading these very interesting posts it’s sad this thread will probably close up any minute. Perhaps starting a thread like ‘predominance of historical western music’ would be more appropriate (less controversial).
    The fact is that not only this outdated music theory teaching is detrimental to other cultural types of music it is also detrimental to the evolution of western music itself. So I think that what’s described in Adam Neely’s video is there not only to “protect” classical western music from outside but also from “degenerate ideas” coming from inside. And given the time at which all this system was developed (19th early 20th century), I’d say “inside” was the most feared source of evolution. It would be interesting to read what the reviews were when Debussy wrote and played ragtime pieces...
  8. ctrlzjones


    Jul 11, 2013
    I have seen only 5 minutes of the video. I cannot stay in focus with it’s cut&paste-imitating-empirical-discourse style. It seems, like a lot of communication on social media, to be an invitation for taking sides via a blown up controversy based on googled information.

    It seems to neglet that there are people today writing good theory about Lady Gaga and Cecil Taylor, and they are building upon theory that has proven to explain stuff before, expanding knowledge just as it always has happened.

    Nobody forces you to learn improvisation via chord/scale theory they teach in Berklee et al. (and from which the dear youtuber seems to have suffered). And if you decide to do so it’s not the fault of Hugo Riemann or Hindemith. (Maybe it’s on Aebersold, but I don’t want to say this)
    oldNewbie and Nashrakh like this.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This. I find the clickbait title off putting and refuse to watch it. There are much better ways to frame this conversation than trolling for drama and clicks in this way. The fact that this way of presenting the topic was chosen belies it’s intent to inflame, IMO. Not playing.
  10. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Jeez. It is not wrong in any way. It is just incomplete. Why? Because, like most theories, it is attempting to describe something which is constantly evolving. It tries to do so through general principles and concepts that have maximum validity in as many contexts as possible. The same certainly can't be said for other schools which, as shown in Adam's video, can be far more prescriptive. Music theory lags practice out of necessity, not some embedded deficiency.

    But classical theory certainly didn't stop evolving in the 18th century. In fact it has done a pretty good job at keeping up, especially if we cut through the classical/jazz distinction and just view them as branches of the same field of study.

    As for it being racist, well that's just total BS, and, IMHO, Adam is way out of order here. His gets close to inferring that not only is the system racist, but also those who were taught it, use it and know it are, by extension, racist. It doesn't get more objectionable than that. What a fool. Sure, it isn't presented in the context of Indian, Japanese or South American music. But that does not make it, or the students/users of it, any more racist that the lack of reference to Tallis, Bach, Mozart or Schoenberg makes those other systems racist. That is to say, it doesn't.

    Just IMHO, so YMMV, I guess...
    Big Shrek, Kijuer, JRA and 13 others like this.
  11. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"...

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Very well said. :thumbsup:
    Keith Rawlings and SteveCS like this.
  12. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"...

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I had exactly the same response.
    Chris Fitzgerald and Lesfunk like this.
  13. unbrokenchain

    unbrokenchain Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2011
    Black Mountain, NC
    Agree about the video format and title, but I did watch it and found some of the information new and interesting. That said, the premise seems to be sort of a ‘baby with the bath water’ kind of thing, and the critique could be applied to nearly every academic field. For example, I’m a student of chemistry and was a little appalled to learn that the process for creating our modern nitrogen fertilizers used in agriculture was simply a byproduct of research into explosives. But while there are strong reasons not to use this type of chemical fertilizer, the origin story is not a reason unto itself. Chemistry as a field is ever-evolving, imperfect as it lacks language to describe certain phenomena, and is far, far from the only lens through which to understand the nature of the universe. That said, it’s a robust system that is interesting and incredibly useful. Just my $.02
    kinnon64 likes this.
  14. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2005
    san antonio, texas
    music theory's got to know its limitations.
  15. True, but at least science at least doesn't live in the past. Chemistry made good use of quantum theory when it came out. Jazz in classical music theory, not so much...
    Kijuer and unbrokenchain like this.
  16. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I did watch the entire video and recommended it to a few friends. I think it is worth debating in places, but I found it pretty compelling overall.

    A better parallel would be to World History. History is owned by the writers of the history books and rarely, if ever, holds itself to any type of balanced or inclusive standard of perspective or even fact.

    Had this YouTuber had an editor who made him cut it down to 30 minutes, it might have been better, but hey, he made something and put it out I the world and I have not recently, so I cut him a little slack and appreciate what I think I learned from this.
    notabene, RyanKinBK, oren and 8 others like this.
  17. BarfanyShart


    Sep 19, 2019
    DC Metro
    I like the video and Neely in general, but I think reading Philip Ewall's paper - from which all of the video's salient points are taken - is worthwhile if you want the up-to-date, hard, academic work on this subject. Again, the video is good for introducing the topic to people and expanding interest in a less colonial system of music education, but the paper is where it's really at.
    MTO 26.2: Ewell, Music Theory and the White Racial Frame
    ILIA, Dabndug, Hachimitsu and 3 others like this.
  18. Don Kasper

    Don Kasper Supporting Member

    I found the YT presentation interesting and the topic fascinating.
    It reminded me of this encounter I had at Eastman in the late 70's - Dr. Robert Bailey, then of the Music History Dept., gave a presentation on his specialty - Wagner/Mahler/wutevs, and mentioned this chord - a major triad with an added 6th. He went on to say that this chord is also found in American popular music (he meant "jazz), beginning in the early/mid 20th century. (FYI - See "In The Mood", for ex.)
    He stated, and this is a direct quote - "...of course here it is functioning on a much higher level....". Whaaatttt?! I was shocked, and did not have the Ballz at the time to raise my hand ask him to clarify, or substantiate, this statement. (I wish that I had.)
    It has stuck with me all these years.
    Of course he had the right to personally believe this, but I felt it was a personal opinion of his that should not have been included in a Music History lecture. It revealed more about him than about the topic at hand. IMFO.
    Who knew Music History could trigger PTSD?
    Thanks for "listening".
  19. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"...

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I feel genuinely sorry for the current generation of students who have to deal with an academic environment in which the kinds of views espoused in that paper are being pushed.
    Sub41 and Lee Moses like this.
  20. It's not too bad honestly. I'm a better musician today because during my time in undergrad I was able to study and Play music from Ghana, the Balkans, Iran, and India, alongside the standard western music theory training. This sentiment is felt quite mutually amongst my friends and other peers.
    RyanKinBK, oren, BarfanyShart and 5 others like this.

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