A guest lecture on race and music theory with Philip Ewell in Stull Recital Hall. This is event is part of a series.
In Ewell's description of his presentation, he writes, "In certain languages, the words for 'history' and 'story' are the same, as in French (histoire) or Russian (история). There are, of course, differences. Whereas 'history' usually implies an accurate account of past events, a summary of what happened over a period of time, 'story' usually refers to events that may or may not accurately reflect on the past, embellished as necessary by the 'storyteller.' In this distinction, race is rarely mentioned. Anyone, irrespective of race, can write histories or tell stories, yet with remarkable consistency in the academic study of music in the U.S., our histories have been written by white persons, usually men, passing from generation to generation with little divergence from narratives of 'great works' of the 'western canon.' And when a nonwhite voice challenges the white narrative, efforts to stifle that voice are swift and severe, and all too often whiteness will accuse nonwhiteness of 'storytelling,' a common critique of critical race theory, for example. In short, white persons write histories while nonwhite persons tell stories. In this talk, I’ll expand on music’s histories and stories, and explain why the common American music curriculum is still quite segregated along racial lines, like much of the country writ large, often because of the distinction between history and story. I’ll then suggest that we don’t need to 'decolonize' the music curriculum—that’s too vague—but, rather, that we need to desegregate it and foreground race in our discussions so that all racial musics, and musical races, have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation."
Philip Ewell is a Professor of Music Theory at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where he serves as Director of Graduate Studies in the music department. His specialties include Russian music theory, Russian opera, modal theory, and race studies in music. His public scholarship has been featured in news outlets such as the BBC, Die Zeit, NPR, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and WQXR’s Aria Code. His monograph, On Music Theory, And Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone, will appear at the University of Michigan Press in Spring 2023. He is under contract at W.W. Norton to coauthor a new music theory textbook, The Engaged Musician: Theory and Analysis for the Twenty-First Century, that will be a modernized, reframed, and inclusive work based on recent developments in music theory pedagogy. Finally, he is the series editor for Oxford UP’s new book series “Theorizing African American Music.”