Classical Music, the Perpetual Foreigner Trope, and Colonialism

So a few days ago I started a thread on twitter about Classical Music and Colonialism. I’ve never done twitter thread before–never really considered using the social media platform as a way to convey more in-depth ideas. After having spent some time this past year following a few twitter users pretty faithfully and seeing how they’ve used threads I decided I wanted to try it out. The thread has gotten mostly positive responses and shares on various social media.

It was actually an immensely interesting process. Having to decide how you want to structure the individual tweets in the thread became a bit of a dilemma. Whether each tweet should be a relatively self-contained and coherent thought, or to break a thought over two or more tweets probably has as much to do with personal preference as it does skill in being able to do either effectively.

I opted for the former and, while I’m not so sure I was entirely successful with the result, it was as satisfying to see it go live as it is to see a blog post go live (my usual mode of presentation online).

One of the more annoying features of twitter (for me at least) is how scattered discussions can get. This is one of twitter’s strengths, as well as a weakness. I don’t really want to get into a discussion about that, but what is difficult is following responses to you tweet (or thread), especially if you can’t respond to them immediately (which is part of the point of twitter?). This is the case even more-so on mobile than on a computer.

Some interesting questions, most anticipated but some novel, came up (especially about the definition of “Classical Music”) and I’ll eventually come back to most of them here at Mae Mai to elaborate. Until then, if you haven’t read the thread, click on it above or you can read an unrolled version of it here.

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*Photo by Ivan Pechenyi of the National Academic Orchestra of Folk Instruments of Ukraine (NAOFI).

3 thoughts on “Classical Music, the Perpetual Foreigner Trope, and Colonialism

  1. Hey, another cellist (also sitarist and vocalist) also interested in revealing legacies of empire within the foundations of European classical music here. I would like to point you to my essay https://peteyelding.com/unpicking-the-musical-object-in-the-western-imagination/

    Apart from a couple of PhD applications that didnt get the funding, I have a slow output of written work because living london is horribly expensive and I can’t afford to take the time to put out coherently a response all the reading I have accrued and collated over the past few years since writing this to take it further. To remedy that I’m planning to begin a podcast series unpacking it all in a creative way. I’m in the UK, but was wondering if you might be interested in linking up?

    As an aside there is something about cellists – I feel like the cello has a very interesting position in the cultural imaginations of the global North: on the one hand the cello symbolically upholding the very essence of what Eurocentric aesthetics attempts to pride itself on. On the other, because of its broad textural and melodic properties, it can serve as a gateway to unraveling all the yarns that have been spun to obscure the real histories of flows of musical knowledge.

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    1. Great to *meet* you, Pete, and thanks for the link. I’ll be reading that when I’m home later tonight. I hear you about finding the time to respond and comment on things. This blog is about as close to any coherent thoughts I have on various musical subjects–and I’ve been terribly sporadic posting to it lately. Can’t wait to hear your podcasts–yes, let’s link up!

      For a while I writing a series I called the “Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello” which focused on how the cello, or cello-like instruments were used outside Western cultures. Sure, the violin may be more ubiquitous as a colonial addition to many genres of music around the world, but the function didn’t change much. The cello seems to have been adapted in far more unique ways.

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