Obscure Musicology Journal Sparks Battles Over Race and Free Speech

Of interest:

A periodical devoted to the study of a long-dead European music theorist is an unlikely suspect to spark an explosive battle over race and free speech.

But the tiny Journal of Schenkerian Studies, with a paid circulation of about 30 copies an issue per year, has ignited a fiery reckoning over race and the limits of academic free speech, along with whiffs of a generational struggle. The battle threatens to consume the career of Timothy Jackson, a 62-year-old music theory professor at the University of North Texas, and led to calls to dissolve the journal.

It also prompted Professor Jackson to file an unusual lawsuitcharging the university with violating his First Amendment rights — while accusing his critics of defamation.

This tale began in the autumn of 2019 when Philip Ewell, a Black music theory professor at Hunter College, addressed the Society for Music Theory in Columbus, Ohio. He described music theory as dominated by white males and beset by racism. He held up the theorist Heinrich Schenker, who died in Austria in 1935, as an exemplar of that flawed world, a “virulent racist” who wrote of “primitive” and “inferior” races — views, he argued, that suffused his theories of music.

“I’ve only scratched the surface in showing out how Schenker’s racism permeates his music theories,” Professor Ewell said, accusing generations of Schenker scholars of trying to “whitewash” the theorist in an act of “colorblind racism.”

The society’s members — its professoriate is 94 percent white — responded with a standing ovation. Many younger faculty members and graduate students embraced his call to dismantle “white mythologies” and study non-European music forms. The tone was of repentance.

“We humbly acknowledge that we have much work to do to dismantle the whiteness and systemic racism that deeply shape our discipline,” the society’s executive board later stated.

At the University of North Texas, however, Professor Jackson, a white musicologist, watched a video of that speech and felt a swell of anger. His fellow scholars stood accused, some by name, of constructing a white “witness protection program” and shrugging off Schenker’s racism. That struck him as unfair and inaccurate, as some had explored Schenker’s oft-hateful views on race and ethnicity.

A tenured music theory professor, Professor Jackson was the grandson of Jewish émigrés and had lost many relatives in the Holocaust. He had a singular passion: He searched out lost works by Jewish composers hounded and killed by the Nazis.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Obscure Musicology Journal Sparks Battles Over Race and Free Speech

  1. Nicholas Stix says:

    “A scholar’s address about racism and music theory was met with a vituperative, personal response by a small journal.”

    “Professor Jackson then took an incendiary turn.”

    Michael Powell, the editor who wrote the teaser at the top, and “Professor” Philip Ewell, are all clearly racist scum.

    If Powell’s “thing” is to be believed, it was not Timothy Jackson, who “took an incendiary turn,” but Philip Ewell who, if he was honestly depicted by Powell, is no scholar at all. Ewell is then nothing but a genocidal racist, who has lived off of affirmative action hand-outs from Whites, and whose “scholarship” consists solely of black Nazi ad hominem attacks on gentile and Jewish Whites.

    Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when black Nazi pseudo-scholars like Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin talked (and in Martin’s case, wrote) the same way, they would be routinely condemned. Today, instead, black Nazi “scholars” enjoy support far and wide.

    Powell always uses bland, non-judgmental language, when speaking of Ewell’s racist, sexist rants, but then switches to judgmental language regarding Jackson.

    While I usually agree with FIRE, this is one time I must part company with them. Philip Ewell’s supporters have defamed, maligned, and sought to destroy the life of Timothy Jackson, and must be stopped.

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