Posts Tagged ‘Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’

Students of Colour Object to Oxford Music Curriculum Because of Slavery

March 29, 2021

The Telegraph ran a story yesterday claiming that they’d received documents showing that Oxford University was considering changing their classical music course. This was because, following Black Lives Matter protests, students of colour at the university had complained that they were left very distressed by the course on European music from Machaut to Beethoven, because this was the period when the transatlantic slave trade was developing. They also made the same complaint about western music notation.

Now this comes from the Torygraph, part of Britain’s exemplary right-wing press, who are known for their rigorous commitment to journalistic truth and integrity, ho, ho. So you wonder if it true, or is the product of some Tory hack’s fevered imagination, like many of the stories about the Labour party produced by Guido Fawkes. Is this all made up to discredit Black Lives Matter?

Thinking about the issue, it seems very much to me that the problem isn’t the curriculum’s links to colonialism, but an attitude of entitlement and the cultural prejudices of the rich and monumentally uninformed.

Let’s deal with their objection that western musical notation developed during the time of the Black slave trade. As the Torygraph pointed out, it didn’t. It developed before the transatlantic slave trade from the church’s Gregorian Chant. This is absolutely true. The origin of the western musical tradition is in the music written for church services. This soon expanded to take in secular subjects, such as the courtly lyrics of the troubadours, the celebration of kings and princes, drinking, war, and just about every aspect of life. As a genre, the emergence of western classical music has nothing to do with the slave trade. Machaut, the French composer mentioned as the beginning of that part of the Oxford music course, lived in the 12th century, three centuries or so before the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th. The modern system of musical notation was also developed in that century by Guido d’Arezzo. The scale, Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Te Do, comes from the initial syllables of a line in the Latin Mass. And whoever thinks that Beethoven is connected to the slave trade is clean out of their tiny mind. Beethoven, I think, was a German liberal with a profound sympathy for the ideals of the French Revolution. His Eroica was originally dedicated to Napoleon, until the Corsican bandit invaded Austria. His Ode to Joy looks forward to a world where nations live together in peace and fraternity. Furthermore, it’s also been suggested that he may have had Black ancestry. Either way, I doubt very much that he had any sympathy for slavery or any other form of human servitude whatsoever.

The complaint about that part of the music course is just so wrong, that I do wonder about the motives of the people making these complaints. Assuming they exist, and that the complaints are genuine. Because the complaints are so wrong, and so ignorant, that either the complaint is some kind of mickey-take, or else the people making them are simply monumentally stupid and lazy. For example, what kind of individual, who seriously wants to learn music, objects to learning the notation? Yes, people can and do play by ear, and many non-western musical traditions don’t have a system of notation. But if you seriously want to play music, and certainly if you’re studying it an advanced level, then understanding its notation is very much a basic requirement. This includes not only classical music, but also Jazz, rock and pop. Much of this is composed through improvisation and jam sessions by the musicians themselves, and its form of reproduction is primarily through records rather than print. But nevertheless, they’re also published as sheet music. I’ve got several books of pop, rock and Jazz music on my shelves. They’re published as sheet music as people not only want to listen to some of these great pieces, but also play them for themselves.

So basic is an understanding of written music as well as the development of western music from the Middle Ages onwards, that I really do wonder if the people behind these complaints actually want to study music, or do so to the extent that they have to do some serious work that might stretch them. It doesn’t look like they do to me. I also wonder why, if they consider western music so intimately linked to colonialism and slavery that it causes them distress, that, if they’re foreign, they wanted to come to Europe to study it.

It’s therefore occurred to me that, if the complaints are real, the people doing the complaining may not actually want to study the subject. They just want the cachet of studying at Oxford. Years ago I read a history of Japan, which warned about giving in to the insularism and xenophobia of many Japanese. The Japanese highly value an education at Oxbridge and/ or the British public schools (God help them!) but they don’t like mixing with non-Japanese. Thus one or the other of Oxford or Cambridge was building a separate college to accommodate Japanese students so they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of mixing with people of other nationalities. Perhaps something similar is the case here? Do they want the prestige that goes with an Oxford education, but have their own racist prejudices about European culture and music?

If this is the case, then it’s a scandal. It’s a scandal because education at one of Britain’s leading universities is being dumbed down for these morons. It’s a scandal because it cheapens the real problems of Britain’s Black community, which were behind many of the Black Lives Matter protests. For example, there’s a programme on the Beeb this evening investigating the reasons Black British mothers are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Whites. It’s a scandal because there are doubtless plenty of kids of all colours in the UK, who would just love to study music at Oxford and have a genuine love of classic music. There’s a campaign at the moment to get more Black and Asians into orchestras. It’s been found that people from these ethnicities are seriously underrepresented. Hence there’s an orchestra, Chinikwe!, purely for non-Whites, in order to produce more Black and Asian orchestral musicians. This has also followed attempts to recover the works of Black classical composers. Back in the 1990s one of the French labels issued a CD of harpsichord pieces written by Black composers. Earlier this year, Radio 3 also played the music of Black classical composers. The best known Black British classical composer, I’m sure, is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who lived from 1875 to 1912. His father came from Sierra Leone while his mother was British. He was the composer of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on Longfellow’s poem, which is still performed by choral societies up and down the country. And yes, it’s written in western musical notation. But these attempts to encourage the performance of classical, orchestral music by Black and Asian performers, and to restore and include Black and Asian classical composers in the western musical tradition, has also been effectively spurned by what seems to be rich, entitled, lazy brats.

The fault therefore seems not to lie with the Oxford music course or with Black Lives Matter, but with an admissions policy that favours the wealthy, even when they are racist and xenophobic, over those from poorer backgrounds, who are genuinely dedicated and talented. If, on the other hand, the people making those complaints seriously believe them, then the response should be to educate them to dispel their prejudices, not accommodate them.

Without America, Israel Would Be A Liberia for Jews

May 26, 2018

Israel is very strongly supported financially by America. I don’t know the precise figures, but annually tens, if not hundreds of millions of US dollars goes in aid to it. And the Iron Dome anti-missile shield was actually given to the Israelis by Obama’s regime. But the Israel lobby in America, AIPAC and the other organisations, continually press for more money and continued financial support. And I have heard of incidents where the suggestion that aid money to Israel must be scaled down is greeted within Israel by angry protests and cries of ‘anti-Semitism!’

But Israel isn’t the first colonial state founded as a refuge for persecuted minorities in the West. The first modern such states were Liberia and Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was established in the late 18th century by British abolitionists as a homeland from freed slaves. Like Israel, there was also a utopian element in the scheme. Sierra Leone was to be self-governing, and non-feudal, based on contemporary liberal English historians’ conception of Anglo-Saxon English society and government before the Norman Conquest. Many of the Black colonists sent there were literate, and they were joined by a number of poor Whites, who also wanted to set up a new home in the Continent.

In fact, the colony was troubled almost from the outset. It was beset with agricultural problems, disease and sickness were rife, and there was conflict with the indigenous peoples, from whom the Abolitionists had purchased or leased the land. It eventually passed under the control of a colonial company and thence became a British colonial possession. Due to friction with the colonial authorities, the Black colonists rebelled. This was quashed with the arrival of a number of Maroon – free Black – soldiers from Jamaica.

After the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, Sierra Leone became the centre of one of the naval courts in West Africa, that judged whether or not captured ships were slavers. The enslaved people in these vessels were also settled there, after they were given their freedom. It also became a major centre of Creole – Western Black – learning and culture. Much of what we know about the culture and languages of West Africa comes from Sierra Leonean travellers and missionaries. It was through working in Sierra Leone that two non-conformist missionaries presented evidence to British parliamentary committees that Black African children were not just as intelligent as White European kids, but at certain stages seemed to be more advanced. This is obviously very controversial, but it is true that Black babies tend to be more alert earlier than Whites. There is also a connection to the world of British classical music. The father of the 19th century British composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (not to be confused with the poet of almost the same name) came from Sierra Leone. Coleridge-Taylor was the composer, amongst other things, of a Clarinet Quintet, and a cantata based on Longfellow’s Hiawatha. This is still performed today by British choral societies.

America also founded a similar colony for its freed slaves in the same part of West Africa. This was Liberia. The American abolitionists, who founded the colony, were proud of the achievements of the Black colonists, their political involvement and the colonies’ economic development. They praised, for example, the growth of craft and artisan industries and the colonists’ manufactures, and predicted it would be a major centre of civilisation in Africa.

Sadly, this has not been the case, either in Sierra Leon or Liberia. Both remain impoverished developing nations, dominated by kleptocratic elites. Sierra Leone was rent by a devastating civil war in the 1990s over control of its vast diamond reserves. In Liberia, the descendants of the Western Black Colonists dominate and oppress the indigenous peoples. When one of the Afro-American presidents deigned to make a tour of the indigenous peoples and their lands in the 1960s, this was hailed as a major democratic move.

Western settlers dominating the indigenous people, in a country founded so that the settlers could be free from persecution in the West – that also sounds very much like Israel.

Critics of Zionism have pointed out that many of the gentile supporters of Zionism were anti-Semites with their own reasons for supporting a Jewish homeland. Quite simply, many of them simply wanted to clear Jews out of Britain, and dump them somewhere else in the world. Jewish Zionism was also predated by Christian Zionism, which wanted to re-establish the ancient kingdom of Israel in preparation for the End Times predicted in the Book of Revelation.

And one of the reasons for the foundation of Sierra Leone and Liberia was the belief that Whites and Blacks would never mix in Europe and America. There would always be prejudice against Blacks. And many of the supporters of the scheme, at least for Sierra Leone, also wanted a place to put British Blacks and clear them out of England.

Israel is a prosperous country, and is now supporting itself through its arms trade. But recently it has been hit with a massive corruption scandal surrounding Binyamin Netanyahu. It therefore seems to me that, for all the promotion of Israel and its undoubted achievements in the West, if it wasn’t so heavily supported by America and the Europeans, it would decline very swiftly to the same level as Sierra Leone and Liberia: dominated by kleptocrats and brutal, corrupt dictators, which oppressing the indigenous peoples. Which the Israelis are doing already to the Palestinians.