Music theory isn’t universal. It’s part of a broad cultural and sociological context. Speaking of „music theory“, when in fact, we’re just talking about european music from the 19th century, is just plain lazy. Still, music theorist Dr. Philip Ewell shook the Music Theory world in 2019 with his keynote speech on “Music Theory’s White Racial Frame.” He made the claim that what we call music theory is basically just the theory of european (german) music in the 19th century. The speech is a thoughtful cultural comment and a highly recommended read.
YouTuber Adam Neely put together a gripping statement featuring an indian music theorist, interviews with Dr. Ewell and a deconstruction of Heinrich Schenker who is considered a founding father of tonal music analysis.
FROM EWELL’S ORIGINAL SPEECH
„Western tonality, as one notable organizing musical force, will surely retain a seat at the table, but we must realize that the music theories of nonwestern cultures—from Asia, South America, or Africa, for instance—can and should be part of basic required music-theory curricula, from freshman music theory classes to doctoral history-of-theory seminars.“
EWELL IN AN INTERVIEW ON THE WAY FORWARD FOR MUSIC THEORY
„My suggestion for a new textbook would be a two-fold approach: begin the discussion of pitch, rhythm, meter, and scale with nonwhite approaches from, say, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East. Some of these approaches predate ancient Greece of course, and by introducing the basic concepts this way, one debunks the white-framed mythology that civilization, and whiteness, started with the Greeks.“
THERE ARE MORE THAN THE KNOWN HEROES
„The adulation of the master, the genius, the divinely gifted creator all too easily lapses into a cult of the white-male hero, to whom such traits are almost unthinkingly attached. . . . To reduce music history to a pageant of masters is, at bottom, lazy. We stick with the known in order to avoid the hard work of exploring the unknown.“
ON THE FACT THAT NOTATED MUSIC IS RECENT
Still, defenders of the Western classical tradition, already feeling beleaguered by changing public tastes, now face credentialed colleagues who can point out that notated concert music is a relatively recent, relatively local phenomenon compared to age-old oral (and often improvisational) traditions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. (https://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/23/arts/pop-view-eurocentrism-we-aren-t-the-world.html)
A CONFERENCE ON EUROCENTRISM IN JAZZ (2021)
Currently, the Darmstadt Forum is looking for papers on „Eurocentrism in jazz“ to be presented at its congress next year:
„Our discussions may start with the name “jazz”, we may look at historical examples of Eurocentric tendencies, and we may take into account the current discourse about the relevance of jazz in non-African American communities. We will talk about racism in jazz, reflect on how exclusion and different forms of othering are present in today’s jazz scene, and look at alternate readings of how the example of African American culture has changed and enriched the understanding of music all over the world (…). In all of this, we are interested in a leveled discussion about the subject, not in a demonization of the European perspective. (…)
„Are we at all aware of the appropriation process that happened during the global spread of jazz? (…) Might this be a question of respect vs freedom of the arts?“
Što mi e milo was the first piece I learned at school that wasn’t in a 4/4, 3/4 or 6/8 meter. Just a personal example of how long it took me to broaden my horizon beyond what was labelled as „classical music“, even though I had been taking music and music theory lessons for years.