Is classical music colonialist? | Music | DW



Music students in Germany from abroad should be familiar with composers such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Stockhausen. However, knowing modern Nigerian composers like Joshua Uzoigwe and Fela Sowande or 16th century Indian court musician Tansen is not expected and their music is not taught in German music schools.

“For the entrance exams you must be familiar with the music of Western Europe; you cannot apply as a specialist in African drum rhythms,” said Julia Gerlach from the cultural institute Akademie der Künste in Berlin. at Deutsche Welle.

Oxford plans to change program

The University of Oxford has recognized the lack of diversity in its curriculum. Recently Great Britain The Sunday Telegraph wrote that the editors had seen proposals to change undergraduate courses at the elite university to include “more diverse” forms of music in its curriculum.

Professors and students had criticized that there were too many works by “white European composers” from the time of slavery, including music by Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. According to the Sunday Telegraph, some professors regard the Western grading system as a “colonialist system of oppression”.

Future programs will include a selection of non-Western music and popular music from around the world. The plans are due to be officially released this summer once approved by the university. According to the Classic FM radio station, the university has no plans to cut back on existing classical music lessons.

Musical influence begins at a young age

“In Germany we still do not deal enough with the subject of decolonization in music,” said Christian Höppner, general secretary of the German Music Council, adding that the focus on cultural diversity should be broadened. However, he was adamant: “There is no question of using past musical eras and saying this is a colonial legacy, so we have to reduce that.”

British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason holding up his award.

British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason won a German classical music grand prize in 2018

Classical music is neither colonialist nor racist, said British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. However, in a YouTube video on ITV Good Morning Britain, he criticized the lack of appreciation for music lessons in UK public schools. Blacks and other multi-ethnic students are often not even allowed to play a classical instrument. “Very few blacks have the opportunity to experiment [classical music]. “

Musical diversity

As the umbrella organization of musical life in Germany, the German Music Council represents the interests of around 14 million musicians. Its Secretary General Christian Höppner is committed to ensuring that refugee children from Syria, for example, have access to Western musical tradition and can practice the music of their homeland.

Christian Höppner wearing a red bow tie and smiling for the camera.

Christian Höppner wants people to be more curious about the music of other cultures.

“There is a tremendous wealth of knowledge that we lack; at the end of the day, it doesn’t match the socio-demographic makeup of our population,” Höppner said.

Getting music schools and institutions interested in the music of other cultures is not easy. For example, Höppner spent about 10 years trying to convince people to accept the Turkish baglama lute as a category in the “Jugend musiziert” (music competition for young people) competition, and then introduce it as an instrumental subject in colleges. and music schools.

Music from other cultures

Those who are particularly interested in music from other cultures have the opportunity to study ethnomusicology at some universities in Germany. There is also the specialized Pop Academy in Mannheim and almost all universities with a musical branch offer jazz and pop as a subject.

“Separating ethnomusicology and European music so strongly is a sort of colonial practice,” said Julia Gerlach, a music expert who has been studying diversity in contemporary music for years. A lot has changed over the years, she noted, but it’s still presented from the perspective of the European who looks at a musical tradition, transcribes their music and then stores it in archives.

This type of preservation might not even be practiced in the original culture itself at all, as it can rely on oral traditions instead. “Some people are also asking that the recordings no longer be kept in ethnomusicological collections as this is considered a form of theft.”

The Berlin Academy of the Arts with people in the square in front.

Berlin Academy of the Arts promotes international cultural exchanges

Exit from the “ niche ” area

At a symposium held in autumn 2020, the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts) in Berlin explored the decolonization of contemporary European music.

Why is classical music still seen today as more “cultured” than, for example, Indian art music? “It starts with the fact that the music of composers from India or South America is not considered contemporary music at all, but traditional music,” said Gerlach.

The second part of the colloquium that the Academy of Arts is organizing from May 6 to 9 will seek practical solutions. “Everything is participatory and we don’t know what’s going to happen. The agenda will be worked out collectively during the sessions to discuss listening habits,” said Gerlach.

In addition, international participants want to free themselves from their relegation “niche” to festivals and turn them into concert halls. Some progress has been made, said Gerlach: “The academy has now also touched on colonization and opened its archives to find out what musical works from the colonial era still exist there. There is already some thinking going on at several levels.”

This article has been translated from German.


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