Black folk don’t listen to classical music?

Who’s the cellist? He’s really good! Black musicians matter! I would have liked to have heard and watched his entire performance for this interview along with his comments, front and centre! Instead, he was relegated to credits music and faded out, as predicted by the attitudes of several other commentators—pretty normal American attitudes toward this kind of music. I wonder if anyone else listened that far! We are trained by the record and radio industry to have a 3-minute attention span, and a 4-beat attention-span within that.

This is a statement and question that, perhaps not in these exact words, has been plaguing me as an anglo-american classical musician, trying to build a practice of accessibility to a wide range of people through performances at my public library.

I am a specialist in 16th, 17th, and 18th-century european music, whose economy of production took slavery and material plunder for granted. This bothers me!

I have digital access to printed and manuscript musical sources and a historically accurate copy of an instrument from that time and place. Meanwhile the artifacts (to say nothing of the know-how!) of African and most other musical cultures from that time at best are displayed silently in a european or american museum, and at worst were destroyed as part of deliberate cultural genocides and erasures (or appropriated and re-voiced in submission). This also bothers me!

And yet I am driven by the sound world in which my own gifts fit and flourish. THIS is what should be normal and available to everyone!

Here’s another european classical music stereotype—asians are really good at it. Where does this racist double standard of acceptance and encouragement in this field come from?

I had the inspiring privilege of enjoying the camaraderie and stunning musicianship of Toronto-born organist Kola Owolabi during both of our time in Montréal. Notice that the person assisting him at the organ in this complex performance also has to be entirely competent as a musician to follow the score with him, and in this case plays an indispensable role in performing some of the written notes of the piece.

David Hurd is another Black American organist and composer of international stature. This performance is posted as a demonstration of one of the finest church organs anywhere, but notice that Hurd is making up this coherent and glorious symphony as he goes along. Improvisation in the finest organ-playing tradition!

Most recently, I had the immense pleasure of working on a gig with operatic baritone Markel Reed.  Here’s a full performance, a piece that is fairly loaded and pertinent to this discussion.

Leontyne Price needs no introduction.  Also a loaded and pertinent performance.

It seems to me that we all need to recognise and take for granted that Black folks are just all sorts of regular folks with all sorts of interests, like everyone else.

Peace, Loren

(The following are existing comments that I responded to on YouTube)
I like classical music but, outside of a few songs like One Winged Angel and Transcendental Étude #10, it’s purely cerebral music. Great for focus, but for dedicated listening I tend towards rap, metal, or techno; genres that engage mind and body at once.
This to me is so sad. So many people lack a positive experience of MAKING classical music to recognise that to do it well and in health, a performer has to be kinesthetically and intellectually engaged.
Don’t get me wrong. I love rap, metal, and techno too, for the different ways they grab my mental-bodily engagement.
I mean, so what if we don’t? I hate that we act like it’s an achievement to like shit like classical music.
Agreed—that can itself be a subtle expression of racism and class prejudice. If it’s not your bag, totally! And I can understand if lots of black folks feel like, “Why would I do that anyway?”
However, if it IS your bag (whether or not you’re a child prodigy, perhaps especially if not) it should also not be a big deal, and you should have all the support in the world to pursue it, without facing things like what Chuck Berry endured—theft of royalties and intellectual property, and a throughly white-appropriated commercial artistic legacy (at least Angus Young credits the shuffle!). Black folks are not alone in this, but disparity of opportunity and predatory production practice is at least as pronounced in this field as any other.

re-posted from YouTube commentary

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