A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Will van de Crommert for my TRILLOQUY podcast. He's a composer of commercial music (music for film, TV, advertisements, etc.), and he has a really interesting perspective on classical music that I encourage you to check out in the latest opus of TRILLOQUY. One of the topics he brought up was the idea of the canon, and how people can impact it both positively and negatively. Here's a clip from the episode, where he touches on this topic:
I'll be honest with you - I actually hadn't spent too much time thinking about the "canon" directly, but this conversation has DEFINITELY been one of the foundations of my work.
First and foremost, I think I should define "canon". Here's what Dictionary.com says:
Maybe you can already see where I'm going with this. When we accept the idea of a musical "canon", we're doing a few things that I draw issue with. Accepting the existence of a "canon" in something as broad, wide-ranging, and complex as classical music is accepting the practices that manufactured it. The maintenance of that "canon" is led by people who don't have a problem with the problematic practices that created it. For the sake of speaking more specifically, I'll offer an example:
When people talk about classical music by Black composers these days, William Grant Still is the first name to pop up most times, right? I heard his name in passing for the first time as a senior in college. I didn't actually get to perform an of his symphonic music until about 3 or 4 years ago. Why is this? Because his music isn't as good? Because it's not important to the "canon"? Or is it because the people who wrote the Music History textbooks that I learned from didn't care about black people and black music? The same could be said for Florence Price, Nathaniel Dett, Francis Johnson, Margaret Bonds, and countless others. This issue also outlines the fact that only western-music is considered to be a part of the "canon" - something that another TRILLOQUY guest addressed with me as well. Why should music like this be othered?
Focusing on the "canon" is something that's come up at my job. As our Music Director continues to work and strive for programming excellence through the exploration of music by diverse composers, classical music LISTENERS (and most orchestras) continue to rely on what is familiar, or again, what's in the "canon". How can I justifiably stand behind practices that reinforce a musical focus that wasn't codified with someone like me in mind? How could I possibly accept the "canon"?
I'm happy to say that my organization is interested in this topic, and members of management have thoughtfully engaged this conversation with me in every way they can. It's not an overnight fix, though. The "canon" has been reinforced across generations, and it'll take at least half that long to disrupt it. I don't have anywhere else to be, so I'm down for the long, drawn-out battle.
In what ways are you disrupting the "canon" in your professional life?