Author Topic: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation  (Read 186 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Ron

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2,567
  • Karma: 185
  • Finale Beta Tester
    • The Music of Ronald J Brown
November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« on: November 01, 2017, 04:40:02 AM »
Cultural appropriation is taking elements form another culture and incorporating them into your own work in an inappropriate way. According to Wikipedia, this: "refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture."

This troubles me because I taught high school near a First Nations reserve (Kitigan Zibi) for 7 years--and about 1/3 of my students were Algonquian. I worked closely with the chief's wife who taught the Algonquian language in our school, and also with the counsellor who later became chief himself. I camped with him for a week in a remote northern area and learned a lot about his culture and ways of looking at the world and the way it worked. I am still Face Book friends with some of my former students. Two young women from that reserve went missing several years ago, joining the ranks of the thousands of First Nations women in Canada who have been murdered or simply disappeared. I didn't know them, as I had left the area before they were born, but I knew members of their families. And, then there's my sense of social outrage for any group anywhere that is abused and marginalized by the dominant culture.

This is all part of me--and all of me creeps into my music. Three years ago I wrote a piece called Kanwike (Remembering)
as a cri du coeur regarding Canada's murdered women. Earlier I had written other works centred on Canada's mistreatment of its first peoples. Right now I am taking an online course from the University of Alberta on Canada's indigenous peoples (which is a real eye-opening. Some of this stuff should be taught in elementary schools instead of cute stories about "Indians.")

But, through it all I keep asking myself am I guilty of cultural appropriation when I use an aboriginal musical instrument or pick up a story best told by someone else.

What are your thoughts on this topic?
« Last Edit: November 01, 2017, 08:58:52 AM by Ron »
Ron
Administrator Compose Forums

Rules are for people who have no understanding of music, so they invent something to mask their ignorance.

tbmartin

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 537
  • Karma: 50
    • TerenceMartinSaxArranger
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2017, 07:37:43 AM »
Wow. This is certainly a much more serious topic than typical. Well worth discussing, and with the personalities on this forum, I'm sure we can all stay civil. (A welcome change from social media!)

Composers have borrowed from other cultures for centuries. It's a rich and important way for music to grow and change over time.  If all borrowing is labeled "Cultural appropriation" then suddenly the Turkish March in the 4th movement Beethoven's Ninth will become "politically incorrect." Ragtime won't be available to anyone other than African Americans (never mind that Joseph Lamb, one of the "big 3" was white!)

I think the intent is key. If the borrowing is intended to expand and build on ideas from elsewhere and the material is used with respect, then I think it should be allowed and even encouraged. If it's used frivolously and in a mocking way, then the intent is off base and should be frowned upon.

In your instance, Ron, your experience with the First Nations people gives you the right, and maybe even the responsibility, to tell stories through your music. In essence, you are in the position to spread the word about some of these terrible events so that the lessons of history prevent future occurrences. Is that story "best told by someone else"? Maybe, but it's better that the story be told by you if the alternative is that it isn't told at all! (or if your version will be far more noticed, and thus draw attention to those who can tell it even better.)

If elements from the Algonquain creep into your music that isn't attempting to "tell their story", well then so be it. Those 7 years are part of your experience. Are we all supposed to wall-off all experiences in our lives that don't come from cultures that match our personal heritage? Just think how boring music would be if we had to do that! Not to mention all the introspection and self-doubt that would be required to identify those elements so that they can be avoided.
Terence Martin

Tools: Finale 2003 on Windows XP
Day job: Actuary
Composing/Arranging output: mostly sax quartets
http://bit.ly/TerenceMartinSaxArranger
Goal: Improve quantity and quality of concert band compositions.
Play: Saxophones (all, but tenor primary), Bass Clarinet, Piano (poorly)

Ron

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2,567
  • Karma: 185
  • Finale Beta Tester
    • The Music of Ronald J Brown
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2017, 08:50:36 AM »

Thanks for your reply, Terence.


An old family friend, John Nihmey (he died 4 years ago), wrote a moving account of the death of a First Nations woman in Ottawa. Her death was a direct result of racism and indifference on the part of officials who encountered her after she had been struck by a car. You can read about the book here: https://quillandquire.com/review/fireworks-and-folly-how-we-killed-minnie-sutherland/ . So, there are many stories that we whites can tell about the injustices committed against our First Nations brethren. And, we are learning (or should be) all the time.

Of course you are correct in your observation that some assimilation of music from other cultures has made its way into the canon of Western music and we all do borrow items from other cultures all the time. But suppose I were to write an opera that involved some First nations characters and one of them performed a dance considered sacred--would that be sacrilegious or cultural appropriation even if it were a necessary part of the story? These are the sorts of questions I am struggling with.
Ron
Administrator Compose Forums

Rules are for people who have no understanding of music, so they invent something to mask their ignorance.

Patrick O'Keefe

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
  • Karma: 14
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2017, 10:31:52 AM »
I suspect that much is in the eye/ear of the beholder and that there is little we can do about it.  What one person hears as honoring and giving reverence another may hear stereotyping and mockery - cultural (mis)appropriation.   Given your experience and feelings it is entirely appropriate and honorable for you to include First Nation material in your music.  It would be an artificial restriction for you to exclude it.  But you can't control how others will react to that inclusion.

A couple reflections on Martin's comments:
If all borrowing is labeled "Cultural appropriation" then suddenly the Turkish March in the 4th movement Beethoven's Ninth will become "politically incorrect."
I think there is no reason that the classical and romantic composers should not have used the (entirely Western European) musical style they called "Turkish" but calling it "Turkish" really was cultural misappropriation (or perhaps just ridiculously inaccurate).  There was, perhaps, a slight feeling of the Turkish military band in the style but not much.

The music that did absorb Turkish influence was the "folk music" of the Balkan countries that were under Turkish rule for around 3 centuries.   The people of those countries certainly had no desire to honor the rulers that tried to suppress the local culture, but the (unsuppressable) local culture couldn't help but be influenced.

I think Brahms and Liszt were also a bit guilty of "cultural appropriation" in labeling some of their music "Hungarian".  I don't think they did anything particularly denigrating or condescending; the music just doesn't contain anything Hungarian.  On the other hand, some of Kodaly's music is definitely Hungarian.  (In Bartok the Hungarian influence has been so assimilated that it has become Bartokian.)
 
Ragtime won't be available to anyone other than African Americans (never mind that Joseph Lamb, one of the "big 3" was white!)
Likewise pentatonic scales, etc.

And how should we react to Louis Moreau Gottschalk?  He built many compositions around the music of Caribbean and North American slaves.   He supported the Union during the Civil War, but mostly he was a showman and performer; he used anything that furthered his reputation.  Is Bamboula - based on Louisiana Creole melodies - cultural misapporpriation, merely using local influences, or an attempt to give voice to an oppressed people?  I seriously doubt the latter but I also don't feel any misappropriation.  I personally think he just appropriated local influences that he heard and valued. 


tbmartin

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 537
  • Karma: 50
    • TerenceMartinSaxArranger
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2017, 01:31:38 PM »
But suppose I were to write an opera that involved some First nations characters and one of them performed a dance considered sacred--would that be sacrilegious or cultural appropriation even if it were a necessary part of the story? These are the sorts of questions I am struggling with.

In that specific instance, I can think of a few options:
1) Obtain permission/guidance/etc from knowledgeable and connected people (Not knowing the appropriate terms, I'll use an analogy: If it were a Catholic rite, check with a priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, etc.)
2) Change it enough so that it no longer sacred, but those who could tell the difference would know you're hinting at the actual dance.
3) Creatively stage it so the actual dance happens off stage, behind a scrim, via shadows projected, etc.

There are likely other ideas that might help strike a middle ground that keeps much of the content while reducing the risk of being accused of cultural appropriation. In the end, you have to be comfortable with that balance, and somehow communicate your intent (program notes, etc, knowing also that those notes might be ignored.) And if you're still misunderstood, you just state that your intent was not to offend, and move on.
Terence Martin

Tools: Finale 2003 on Windows XP
Day job: Actuary
Composing/Arranging output: mostly sax quartets
http://bit.ly/TerenceMartinSaxArranger
Goal: Improve quantity and quality of concert band compositions.
Play: Saxophones (all, but tenor primary), Bass Clarinet, Piano (poorly)

Jerry Engelbach

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 60
  • Karma: 4
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2017, 03:08:09 PM »
  In the United States I can't imagine much that hasn't been culturally appropriated, sometimes with the approval and collaboration of the respective minority, and sometimes without.
 
Black music has been appropriated by white musicians since the git-go. Stephen Foster drew his inspiration from Negro spirituals. Minstrel shows consisted of white actors and musicians in blackface, singing black music or new music derived from it.
 
The music first described as "jass" was a black-Creole invention. Yet the first jazz recording was by the all-white Dixieland Jazz band. The music from "race records" aimed at all black audiences was sometimes adopted by white musicians.
 
Big bands led by whites enjoyed wider popularity than their predecessor black-led big bands, especially in the South. Ironically, sometimes those white bands purchased their arrangements from black bandleaders, or, as with Fletcher Henderson and Bennie Goodman, directly employed them as arrangers.
 
Paul Whiteman, with his cleaned-up versions of so-called jazz for white audiences, was outrageously dubbed "the King of Jazz" — despite the black musicians who at the same time were busy creating the original kind of music Whiteman bowdlerized, and who never experienced a fraction of his fame and financial success.
 
However, once jazz had been popularized by the 1920s, both black and white musicians continued its development, if more or less separately, until the advent of bebop in the 1940s, although there were some earlier exceptions, such as the mixed orchestras of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.
 
To jump ahead, in the 1950s Elvis Presley, although not the first white singer to adopt black-originated songs and a black-sounding voice, with his popularity among white teenagers single-handedly appropriated rock-'n'-roll. Around the mid-1960s, saxophonist Archie Shepp declared that white musicians had no business playing jazz and that he would no longer perform with them (he later relented). And later still, hip-hop (for those who consider it music) was also adopted by white groups, amid a great deal of resentment by many black hip-hoppers.
 
If this sounds more like a history lesson for the cheap seats than an opinion, it's because the issue of cultural appropriation is so varied — sometimes gross, sometimes nuanced, sometimes inconsequential. It's impossible to have a blanket opinion that covers every situation, as conditions and attitudes change with time. I think that it's necessary to listen to what members of the minority whose culture is the target feel about it when it's happening.
 
I recall that when as a child I joined the Boy Scouts, we were treated to an elaborate ceremony featuring Native American dances and music. I asked at the time, "Are those real Indians?" Alas, I learned later that they weren't, and now I feel that it was absolutely wrong in that situation for non-Native Americans to be donning war paint and costumes, some of which may have had sacred meaning, in order to pretend to impressionable children that they were the people they were parodying.
Finale 25
GIFF
iMac

whitebark

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 147
  • Karma: 11
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2017, 05:02:48 PM »
Recent Seattle opera productions have faced issues with cultural appropriation:

http://crosscut.com/2017/07/seattle-opera-madame-butterfly-art-or-cultural-appropriation/

Will anyone be able to do a production of  "The Mikado" ever again?

-Jay


Ron

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2,567
  • Karma: 185
  • Finale Beta Tester
    • The Music of Ronald J Brown
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2017, 05:26:47 PM »
The trouble with "Madame Butterfly" is that, though it is centred on a universal story of love and abandonment and could really be set in any locale at any time, includes within it stereotypes and if singers are white and wearing "yellow-face" that makes it worse. "The Mikado," mentioned in the story, is almost viscous in its depiction of Japanese. I know G&S is supposed to be parody and good-natured fun, but in today's world where we are becoming aware of the destructiveness of racism and stereotyping, it is becoming very uncomfortable to participate in such productions.

A similar problem occurs with the character of Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice." If I were to teach the play (I did teach Shakespeare in my life as a highschool teacher), I would stress, forcefully, that the character is how Elizabethians saw Jews, but that it is racist and a dangerous portrayal. Hopefully, that would lead to a discussion of racism more generally, challenging the students to examine their own biases and assumptions. We can't hide from the errors of the past and we should recognize them and challenge them. There has to be a way to present operas, plays, and operettas that contain offensive elements without those elements exacerbating grievances and hurting more innocent victims.
Ron
Administrator Compose Forums

Rules are for people who have no understanding of music, so they invent something to mask their ignorance.

Patrick O'Keefe

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 165
  • Karma: 14
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2017, 05:45:59 PM »
... "The Mikado," mentioned in the story, is almost viscous in its depiction of Japanese. I know G&S is supposed to be parody and good-natured fun, but in today's world where we are becoming aware of the destructiveness of racism and stereotyping, it is becoming very uncomfortable to participate in such productions.
"The Mikado" is a difficult case.  It is a parody of the then current British stereotype of the Japanese.  I'm sure G&S saw the stereotype as absurd rather than offensive and had no thought of how Japanese would react to it.  Nonetheless, it is a parody of a British stereotype, not of the Japanese.  Without the stereotype the work is meaningless.   

Michel.R.E

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4,437
  • Karma: 219
  • B.FA (composition) M.Mus (composition)
    • Les Éditions du Dos Blanc
Re: November 2017: Cultural Appropriation
« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2017, 02:55:50 PM »
I'm always troubled by the term "cultural appropriation".
Artists have always sought far and wide for inspiration for their new works. For example, the Impressionists were strongly influenced by Asian art displayed at the World Fair in Paris.
So, it that cultural appropriation?

What about if we look at it the other way? Does a Japanese composer using Western art music as the basis for his work count as cultural appropriation?

What troubles me about the concept, and many of the "discussions" (let's face it, there aren't that many actual discussions on the topic, there are mostly arguments and accusations) is that the term "cultural appropriation" seems to be lobbed at one cultural group in particular, and not at others.

I'm happy for all the world to share and use elements of each others' cultures. I'm a "one world" kind of person.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"