Whether it's a tweet gone wrong, or a full documentary exposing bad behavior, the idea of cancel culture has taken over popular culture these days, with some people surviving, and many more, professionally dying, or being "cancelled". In the past few weeks I've had several meetings with people from several organizations, and the idea of "cancel culture" has come up in each of them. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of cancel culture, look no further than social media. What people are tweeting and blogging is under more scrutiny than ever, which is fine in some instances, and it's coming at the cost of people's careers. There are some people who MOST CERTAINLY should be cancelled in my opinion, including R. Kelly. Others, though, tend to fall under the cancel culture radar for some reason. Many of them, live in the world of classical music.
Over the past few years we've seen the fall of a few conductors, including James Levine, but when I apply cancel culture to classical music I'm thinking more about composers. The first name people tend to bring up is Wagner, due to his problematic relationship with Nazi culture once upon a time, but there are so many others whose music we celebrate, with even cloudier histories.
Back in my days at WUOT, I interviewed Maestro Aram Demirjian on this topic (you can listen here, if you're interested). The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was set to perform Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana", and after doing lots of research in preparation for the interview, I came across a little of his problematic history. Is this a composer whose music we should save for the sake of art, despite his political leanings? We don't offer those sentiments to the paintings of Adolph Hitler, right?
Digging deeper into this discussion will bring you to others, like Claude Debussy. He didn't have any problematic social opinions as far as a know, but he WAS a womanizer! Not only did he repeatedly cheat on his wife, but he also led two women to attempted suicide. If Debussy were alive today, I imagine that the #MeToo movement would take care of him. Sacrebleu...
I'm not sure why I'm thinking about this right now - it's a little after midnight right now, and I'm at work, airing a beautiful piano concerto by Howard Shore (who I don't know to have "cancel culture" causing actions in his past). Maybe the release of the Michael Jackson documentary has me in this state of mind. It's not so easy to "cancel" someone you actually love, right? Is no one going to listen to "Thriller" this Halloween? I'm not trying to push anyone in one direction or the other, as much as I'm questioning why we don't apply our contemporary standards to the classical composers we listen to all the time. Who knows, I guess. Time will tell how we treat these men of ages past.
On a lighter note, "Trilloquy" is well on its way! The first two episodes are just about done, and I plan on posting previews right here on my website, sometime next week. Here's the logo we got branded earlier this week: