Music is a universal language of humankind, as perspicaciously illustrated in a segment of the film ‘Mission’ where benevolent Jesuit missionary Gabriel plays the oboe on the top of the stiff cliff surrounded by the heathen natives. The beautiful Gabriel’s melody enters the souls of the natives, stays there in wonder, enough to disarm all hostility toward Gabriel and open their hearts. The language of music intoxicates the heart and satisfies reason and nothing more.
But that is not what it is like in this world we live in. Music is perceived as an ideological, political tool for suppressing and propagating specific ideas by persecuting the proponent of a theory that irks the majority populace, as posited in scholar John McWhorter’s article “Is music theory really #SoWhite?” The article’s gist is that two music professors at Hunter College are in a row because of their different opinions about renowned Austrian music theorist named Heinrich Schenker criticized for his openly racist views on just about everything. Schenker is long dead, but his genius in musical theory still retains magnificence among academics worldwide, including those whom Schenker might not have regarded as kindly and respectfully. One of the proponents is professor Timothy Jackson, who highly esteems Shenker’s musical theories irrespective of his personal belief and ideas.
The nemesis comes in the name of professor Phillip Ewell. He is also a cellist and half-black, attacking his peer Jackson to defend Schenker’s racist views that are an essential part of his music theories, so to speak, campaign for Jackson’s dismissal from the college the count of racism. That is not the end of Ewell’s fury against Shenker and his admirer. The arrow also shots Ludwig Von Beethoven’s bust, whom Erwell thinks doesn’t deserve the genius composer’s high appellation because the panegyrics from white supremacists ornaments his abilities.
Reading the article with the images of the dead Shenker and the two professors at tirades, so to speak, in my mind’s vision, I feel like watching an inquisition tribunal or communist party’s kangaroo court where the innocent not committed crimes regardless of his/her personal faults or weakness is savagely summoned and tried without attorney testifying the truth. The truth, said Edgar Allen Poe, is the satisfaction of reason, the fulfillment of judgment. I understand Erwell’s fury erupted in the BLM movement’s wake, which brings the suppressed matters into the light. But the accusation of Jackson as a racist that hurled him to the center of controversial debates at the expense of his livelihood because Jackson spoke for Shenker’s work as values attributable to the benefits of arts doesn’t seem to hold water. You can have a heart burning with passion with a head kept in the cold with reason.