The long and short of it: we’re not trying hard enough to make it too diverse for them to like it.
Zack Ferriday trawled through the brackish, putrid swamp of a white nationalist message board, and found an unsurprising number of classical music fans. It’s pretty clear why they like it: all the composers we hold up as “great” are white men, and in a way, it provides a sonic safe space for people who believe the only people we should be celebrating ever are white men.
Most diversity initiatives happen on such a local and small scale that those ideas don’t reach the larger landscape of classical music. Then, of course, there’s the affirmative action fallacy: someone asks why there isn’t more music performed by non-white people, and the reply is that music isn’t chosen based on race or gender, it’s chosen based on how good it is and how it fits the ensemble—implying that a) the asker’s thinking is flawed because they seem to think music should be included just based on the composer’s race, and b) none of the music they listened to that wasn’t by white men was “good” enough to merit inclusion.
“It shouldn’t take the Chineke Orchestra to bring Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges to London, or its cellist and 2016 BBC Young Musician of the Year, 18-year-old Sheku Kanneh-Mason to donate money to his former school to ensure accessibility to classical music for all. We’re all too well aware of classical music’s checkered past when it comes to nationalism, so why is it that even now, 18 years into the 21st century, the likes of Karajan continue to be unambiguously celebrated as greats, as the “emperor of legato,” whatever that means, while racial bias is counteracted on a small-scale basis, somewhat distant from the money and opportunity of the classical music mainstream.” – “White Noise”
“Adorno had none of the faith that later pop culture theorists have had in the ability of consumers to subvert culture industry brainwashing and find liberating, creative use for Justin Timberlake or episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. That we mistake playing with the culture industry’s toys for a kind of real freedom shows only how impotent and short-sighted we’ve become. As far as Adorno is concerned, popular music is never about active engagement but always about relaxation, of lulling to sleep the individual’s critical awareness, of wallowing in passivity. (Is dancing a passive response to rhythmic music? Yes, in Adorno’s mind. It’s mimicking the martial movement of troops massed and marching past the dictator’s parade stand.)
Critics try to invent standards that will insulate themselves from the consequences of music commercialization, from the reality of exchange value, which levels off all other forms of value and slowly but surely introjects itself into the populace so that top-sales lists are popularly held to be synonymous with best lists. “If one seeks to find out who ‘likes’ a commercial piece, one cannot avoid the suspicion that liking and disliking are inappropriate to the situation, even if the person questioned clothes his reactions in those words.” I can pretend to subjective opinions based on criteria of my own devising, but my own ability to hear has already been too compromised to make these criteria anything but postures of resistance to the market, or collaboration with it—I can either condemn sell-outs (or laud bands for “authenticity”) or hype bands and build their PR image; that is what is left to the music reviewer. Adorno has this cutting comment for my delusion: As a pop-music critic, I am like “The couple out driving who spends their time identifying every passing car and being happy if they recognize the trademarks speeding by, the girl whose satisfaction consists solely in the fact that she and her boyfriend ‘look good,’ the jazz enthusiast who legitimizes himself by having knowledge about what is in any case inescapable.” As for the masses? “Where they react at all, it no longer makes any difference whether it is to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony or a bikini.”
— Rob Horning, PopMatters, “Adorno for pop critics”