Skip to content Skip to navigation


Sounds, Stereotypes, and Structures that Silence

My heart sank as I watched the children seated around the Kammermusiksaal covering and uncovering their mouths with a palm while making a sound. It was the first children’s concert of 2018 at the Philharmonie in Berlin. Kids often imitate what they see, whether it’s a conductor’s arm movements or, in this case, the woodwind section of our orchestra making the so-called “Indian whoop” that the composer had stuck into the Finale of his newly commissioned Alphorn Concerto. I imagined the children returning to their playgrounds, unaware of the racism embedded in their play, now legitimized by a performance in a cultural space sanctioned by adults.

Game of Trades (1698)

I accidentally ended up at the British Museum last weekend. Once I had entered the building, I made a beeline for the printmaking exhibition, not because I have a particular affinity for prints, but rather because I assumed it would be less mobbed than the other galleries. This gem happened to be in a display case of 17th Century board games.

Call the Gender Police!

Classical music is often described as “pure, abstract, and apolitical.” We are taught that any “distractions” should be eliminated because they detract from the absolute, abstract beauty of the form. These distractions can be anything from unscripted noises like coughs or whispers, to movements deemed excessive on the part of performers or audience members, to multimedia or theatrical effects, to the clothing we all wear. The following are a few examples from history that demonstrate how what is considered to be a distraction in one era is normalized in another. This directly contradicts any claims that classical music can be separated from its social context. Not only this, but any claims that it can be only serve to stifle self-reflection and perpetuate inequality both on and off the stage.

Fundraiser for the Mid-Hudson Refugee Welcome Fund

The morning’s half-foot of snow had just barely turned to slush, but somehow more than 50 people made it to the Friends Meeting House in Poughkeepsie, NY last week in a display of care, generosity, and solidarity with the refugee families who will be moving into our community. I came up with the idea of doing a fundraising recital several months ago, but it would not have been possible without the many people who jumped in to enthusiastically show their support. It really does take a village…

MC Mozart Blends Stand-Up Comedy with Classical Music

“Arschloch!” Not exactly a word you would expect to hear shouted out at an event dedicated to classical music, but MC Mozart’s Classical Smackdown was no normal recital. The event, which took place on October 5 at a bar in Shoreditch (the Williamsburg of London, in terms of hipsterness), featured two violinists from the Royal Academy of Music battling it out for audience affection and eternal glory, or at least a bottle of champagne. The playing was at a high level and the audience was an engaged group of 20- to 40-somethings. But the highlight of the evening’s event was by far MC Mozart herself – with a wig and a precariously handled glass of wine, her witty one-liners ran the gamut from raunchy to political, and were often both at once. To break the ice, she invited the audience to shout out a favorite curse word. Hers? I’ll let you guess.

Where Have All the Fluiers Gone?

The common fluier is a Romanian end-blown flute with a recorder-like fipple for sound production. "Fluier" itself translates to "flute" and I have seen the term used to refer to anything from common fluier to Romanian caval to Western concert flute to nai. The one that I have (pictured) comes from what was historically the most common subset of Romanian fipple flutes, those with six holes; however, both the number of holes and the key of the instrument has varied from place to place.

Outside of the Practice Room

Two recent events that are relevant to the instersection of classical music and politics:
1. Palmyra, Syria (May 5 and 6) - A pair of concerts were held at the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater. Comments from Putin and others about this event indicate a fairly transparent attempt to contrast "savagery" with "civilization."
2. Hamburg, Germany (May 9) - Maurizio Pollini performed a piano recital as part of the Hamburg International Music Festival. Upon hearing a recording of a refugee describing his definition of "freedom" before the music started, the audience grew restless and began to boo.

Nai and its Niche

Nai is an instrument with a bit of an identity crisis. The multitudinous contradictions it embodies in its search for a musical niche are what make it both such a fascinating subject of study and a somewhat frustrating one. So what exactly is this panpipe? Is it Romanian or foreign? Traditional or classical? High art or folk practice? Trying to answer these questions requires that one wade through tangled histories of peoples, governments, and economies. It also reveals the constructedness of these categories and the grey areas such distinctions fail to acknowledge. I will start in this post by sharing some of what I know about the instrument.

Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and Neo-Nazis in Bulgaria

I started counting the swastikas sometime in December. Most days I would see at least one, but usually there were more. There were two between my apartment and my favorite bakery, and four on the way to my dance class. More than five visible through the bus window on the ride between Sofia and Plovdiv. Eleven in the first two hours of the drive north through the mountain pass toward Veliko Tarnovo. There are other neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and ultra-nationalist symbols, too. At an international folk festival I encountered a man wearing a Nazi jacket with impunity, police presence be damned. In February, I began to take the long way home to avoid the swastika that was freshly painted on my own building. The paint was red like the blood of history.

Kukeri, Part II: Pernik

​Two rows of masked figures brandishing bell-belts and torches marched down Pernik’s pedestrian boulevard as tourists and journalists leapt away from the flames. It was a Friday in late January, unseasonably warm but still chilly and damp with fog. The torchbearers passed a collection of food booths, many with a smattering of tables and chairs outside, which sold snacks and meals like döner, pochivki (fried donuts), crepes, sausages, and cotton candy. They did not stop at a small stage that materialized on their left, but instead continued to weave through the narrow aisle left between sellers of tchotchkes – miniature masked kukeri figurines, Bulgarian flags, cheap imitation musical instruments, balloons, knives with ornate wooden handles, candles, pink stuffed dogs that bark and walk, you name it. The final destination was a large stage set up in front of the municipal building, where the opening ceremony for the 25th International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva” took place.


Subscribe to RSS - blog