Monday, January 29, 2018

It's a black and white world


Thanks go to those who publicly empathised with yesterdays post about the denouement of black conductor Rudolph Dunbar's career. But the generally muted response to that disturbing tale of discrimination in classical music prompts me to propose an alternative scenario. Let's imagine for a moment that the story was about a woman whose meteoric career trajectory in the post World War II decades took her to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and to reach the dizzy height of becoming the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic. But the story then tells how in the 1980s that woman conductor found the invitations to conduct leading orchestras had mysteriously dried up, and she died a forgotten figure at the end of the decade. Now let's also suppose plausible sources allege that her career was derailed by the machinations of a misogynist at a senior level in the BBC. Now I wager if that alternative scenario had provided my story, Twitter would have gone into meltdown.

That Ebony magazine cover story of 'My black and white world' by Philippa Schuyler is relevant in several ways. Philippa was a hugely talented pianist and composer who suffered discrimination and died a mysterious death in 1967. She was the offspring of a black activist journalist and a white Texan heiress, which explains the the black and white reference in the Ebony headline. But that headline takes on an alternative meaning in our digital age. Digital technology is binary, and speaks the language of 0 or 1, yes or no, and black or white. Digital technology simplifies and discriminates. So single issue narratives dominate, and if a cause fits that narrative all well and good. But if a cause falls outside that narrative, you may as well forget about it. So Rudolph Dunbar remains a forgotten cause.

John McLauglin Williams' priceless and selfless exploration of Philippa Schuyler's piano music can be read via this link and heard via the YouTube recording below. Philippa's story is told in my post Philippa Schuyler - genius or genetic experiment? and staying on this post's theme of women musicians, the true story of the Berlin Philharmonic's first woman conductor - in 1930 it will surprise many to learn - can be read via this link.




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1 comment:

Pliable said...

Today's news provides a disturbing example of today's black or white binary culture. Timothy Walker, chief executive and artistic director of the London Philharmonic in a Telegraph article provides a view on Brexit that varies from the narrative established as politically correct by the classical music industry - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/28/brexit-could-opportunity-orchestras-escape-eu-red-tape-re-engage/

In binary debate there can be no shades of grey, and no view is valid other than that deemed as politically correct by the wisdom of the social media crowd. So journalist Jessica Duchen, who enjoys considerable patronage within classical music, has tweeted a link to the Telegraph article headlined by this comment - her caps not mine - WHAT A HEAP OF CODSWALLOP.

https://twitter.com/jessicaduchen/status/957971292921237506