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Classical Notes: June 21, 2006 Archive

Miss Minnesota

Posted at 12:31 PM on June 21, 2006 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)

If you’re worried that classical music: 1) is only for the 40+ crowd; 2) is neglected in the school system; 3) is in a state of unhealthy isolation from the larger culture, then you can take heart from Nicole Swanson, the newly-crowned Miss Minnesota.

Swanson, who was crowned earlier this week, has a degree in viola performance from the University of Minnesota, and played a classical viola piece in the talent section of the pageant. (Sorry, don't know the repertoire.) And as Miss Minnesota, she plans to work with students, teachers, and parents to promote the value of music in education.

On to the nationals!

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When is appropriation appropriate?

Posted at 1:09 PM on June 21, 2006 by Don Lee (38 Comments)

The other day I was arguing with my college-age daughter about "cultural misappropriation"--indiscriminate or exploitative adoption of elements of another culture's tradition. We disagreed about the best response to uninformed, but sincerely motivated curiosity, debating a question raised by an illustration in an essay she showed me: Is a Lebanese woman justified in feeling angry that an American buys a derbake (a Lebanese drum) only because he wants to take it home and tap on it a bit?

It's a complicated question. Much depends on the American's awareness (or lack thereof) that the derbake might be a potent cultural symbol. Knowing that, if he did, how should he behave?

I was reminded of the issue today when I came upon a comment by Daniel Barenboim, who has just conducted the Chicago Symphony for the last time as its music director:

In the hotel where I stay, they think that it is very culturally minded to play classical music in the elevator, or in the foyers of concert halls before the concert. And I have been on more than one occasion subjected to having to hear, because I cannot shut my ears, the Brahms violin concerto in the lift, having to conduct it in the evening. And I ask myself, why? This is not going to bring one more person into the concert hall. It is not only counter-productive, but I think--if we are allowed to speak of musical ethics--it is absolutely offensive.

Barenboim is alleging cultural misappropriation. I'm sure he's right that Brahms in the elevator won't send anyone to the concert hall…not directly anyway. But I wonder how his charge that the practice is "absolutely offensive" would fall on the ears of Daisuke Takeuchi. In a comment posted here one week ago, Mr. Takeuchi described himself as "a new fan" who, until recently, had "stayed away from classical music because I did not understand."

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