"Succumbing to specious charges of racism, America’s orchestras, opera companies, and conductors are abandoning the Western canon," writes Heather Mac Donald.
Classical music is under racial attack. Orchestras and opera companies are said to discriminate against black musicians and composers. The canonical repertoire—the product of a centuries-long tradition of musical expression—is allegedly a function of white supremacy.
Not one leader in the field has defended Western art music against these charges. Their silence is emblematic. Other supposed guardians of Western civilization, whether museum directors, humanities professors, or scientists, have gone AWOL in the face of similar claims, lest they themselves be denounced as racist.
The campaign against classical music is worth examining in some detail, for it reveals the logic that has been turned against nearly every aspect of Western culture over the last year. The crusade began within days of the death of George Floyd in late May 2020. Floyd died during an arrest in Minneapolis; cell-phone video captured Officer Derek Chauvin (since convicted of murder) keeping his knee on the prone Floyd’s neck and back for nearly eight minutes, while Floyd repeated “I can’t breathe.” Riots against police brutality broke out across the U.S.; institution after institution pledged to fight the structural racism that Floyd’s death supposedly represented.
The classical music profession deemed itself implicated in Floyd’s death. On June 1, 2020, the League of American Orchestras issued a statement confessing that, for decades, it had “tolerated and perpetuated systemic discrimination against Black people, discrimination mirrored in the practices of orchestras and throughout our country.” The League was “committed to dismantling” its “role in perpetuating the systems of inequity that continue to oppress Black people” and expected its member orchestras to respond in kind.