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January 12, 2015


Erol Köymen

Some thoughts: should the task then be to "win back" places for those musics left out of the Western canon/music history sequence, such as the Vivaldi vocal mentioned mentioned, or is the abolition of this whole Western classical/art/serious complex the only tenable path? Also, given the limitations of writing history (there are not places for everyone), is there a way to do it which doesn't leave "losers"? Or is the question simply one of designing a fairer game?

Sara Haefeli

Erol,these are great questions. I discuss your point about the limitations of writing history in a later post, and this limitation is something that I think we need to keep in mind when confronting any kind of history.

I don't have an explicit agenda here beyond introducing students of music (and others interested in music history) to the idea that the pedagogical canon is a really limited construction. I think that awareness alone starts the process of "designing a fairer game" as you so eloquently put it.

How might you suggest a more level playing field?

Erol Koymen

I think that awakening awareness alone is what is needed now, as you propose. Beyond that, things seem a bit overwhelming. But Dr. Dell'Antonio's latest post in which he notes the implication of Middle Eastern roots in a recording of a Troubadour song just gave me an idea.(Note: I am not a scholar of medieval music and am not commenting on the historical validity of this implication). Perhaps an application of transnational historical methods to music history teaching would break the geographical and historical hegemony of Western art music without necessitating a turn to an overly broad world music-esque curriculum. One course might trace the Middle Eastern roots in Troubadour music. Another might examine the late 19th/20th century reverse flow of Western techniques to the Middle East. Yet another might examine the rise of transnational musical styles in Europe.

Seung won suh

Winning and loosing shapes ourunderstanding and taist of the music for general audiences. I believe there isn't a designated winners or losers however, in some sense, there is due to lack of wariness of normal audience.

Don Fader

Nation-centered musicology is an interesting problem that's in fact more complicated than described here. If you look at the history of French musicology, you see something very similar; only the influence of Austro-German musicology on American academe (partly through heritage, partly through WWII immigration) has been much stronger, unfortunately for us francophiles. Attitudes towards French "classical" music in the U.S. follow some of the same tendencies addressed above; we hear a lot about timbre and rhythm, but there's ever some much more to French music.

Sara Haefeli

Don, You make an excellent point here, and indeed I am writing from the point of view as an American situated in an American institution. I would really enjoy reading an extension of this post about further nationalisms in music history and canon creation. Would you consider sharing such a post?


I feel the idea of winner and losers in music scholarship is somewhat inevitable. As you pointed out, "Western Classical music" in Vienna emerged a winner in its glorious days, and rightly so because people valued this genre of music, and these temples they built were testament to the value they placed on the music. I would say it was a deserved win. As much as we fight for the music of the minority, and let their voices be heard, can we escape this winner-loser dichotomy? Because of our natural tendency to rank things in order of hierarchy, no matter how we re-order this hierarchy and let other voice be heard, someone has to be at the bottom: the loser. So as long as we continue to think in terms of winners and losers, someone is going to be neglected

Sara Haefeli

Interesting point, Deirdre. There are a number of music history pedagogues who are thinking about the construction of history in other ways. For example, instead of teaching a sequence of composers, styles, and masterpieces, some teach through the lens of issues, topics, and problems. Shifting the focus to big questions and inquiry does help to erase the boundaries between high art and low art, Western and non-Western, masterpiece and, for lack of a better term, "not masterpiece." I think this is a step away from the winner/loser dichotomy.

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