“…he has no European blood in his veins to make sense of our European repertoire…”

Los Angeles Gagaku Group

The quote in the title is from a comment made by a poster to a recent article in Slate about the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s current search for a new conductor now that maestro James Levine will be leaving.  The full quote is:

A few years ago the Boston Globe wrote an article about a whispering campaign against Ozawa, which basically said “Ozawa can’t be a good composer [sic]; being Japanese, he has nor [sic] European blood in his veins to make sense of our European repertoire.[“] Maybe they should find some black female rising star and watch them tie themselves into knots. Seriously, I would look to the future and choose Gustavo Dudamel. If some members of the orchestra “erect barriers” retire them – immediately [my emphasis].

which I find a bit baffling.  At the same time I can also understand the sentiment since at this blog I write quite a bit about various countries and their respective indigenous art musics.  It’s so difficult for folks to separate out ethnic ancestry and cultural institutions as opposed to ethnic ancestry and the musical history of the indigenous arts.  Japan, of course, has a centuries long art music tradition (e.g. Gagaku, NōgakuJōruri).

I think that it can be difficult for folks to understand what relevance that, say, Japanese Court Music like Gagaku (, literally “elegant music”) can have for society in general.  But in a sense, that is increasingly the position Western Classical Music has in relation to society especially as newer music written in the style isn’t actively being promoted within the mainstream institutions.

What relevance does bringing up other art musics’ situation in contemporary society for the Classical music situation here in the states?  Well, since many of the arguments for funding and supporting Classical music institutions hang on the idea of “preserving great art” and “enriching our lives” and what not – the same thing could be said of any art musics.  But what you won’t find, for various reasons, is advocates for Western Classical Music who make these kinds of arguments make the same kinds of arguments for other art music traditions.

In other words, all talk about preserving cultural institutions and great works of art above and beyond the “popular music crap that caters to the common denominator” is usually only voiced in service to propping up Western Classical Music [at the expense of denigrating popular music’s “relevance”].

In other words, it’s the “Classical vs. Pop” dichotomy all over again.  With the quoted sentiment above, I think it’s a bit clearer to see the parochialism implicit in the Classical side of things.  But that parochialism exists on the pop music side as well.  That, however, is a topic for a future blog post.


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  1. In this day and age, all art forms must band together in order to survive. I’m continually stunned when I find attitutdes such as the one you’ve outlined above. I suppose because I imagine the world ‘grows up’ with me. As I’ve come to learn more about market realities, I often mistakenly assume that everyone else already knew them or are also learning and growing. The truth is, some people never grow or learn. Success in the future is coming to grips with the fact that even today’s greatest pop stars are feeling the crunch on the arts, and extrapolating what that means for your little sliver of the industry. If your Dudamel or Christina Aguleira, you can probably still afford to be a ‘diva,’ but the parameters of your diva-ish behavior will be narrower than they were for the divas of 50 years ago.


  2. I think more and more folks are realizing this. Pop musicians as a whole aren’t doing particularly well either. I think it’s too easy to talk about the pop superstars and equivocating their respective success(es) with each and every pop musician in the whole field.

    I very much agree with the parameters of diva-ish behavior is significantly narrower now than, say 50 years ago–or even than, say 25 years ago!


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