I’m a composer, and I was recently informed by some self-assured young academics that being influenced by the European classics made me guilty of “white supremacy” and musical “colonization”! Who knew? All these years I thought I was lovingly sharing something beautiful with others.
Half a century ago, as a mere lad, I must confess that I involuntarily began to hear music playing in my head – not the Beatles, not Beethoven – those were already playing outside of my head – but original music that never before existed. It tortured me until, finally, I thought I might be able to get it out of my head by learning to write it down.
By then, I was playing the snare drum in the school band but could not read pitched notes. So, I began piano lessons, until, at length, I became the world’s worst pianist. But that was sufficient to relieve myself of the torture and write down the music in my head. I was free! But then more music, new and different music, came to plague me, and so I wrote it down, too.
To make a long story short, people began to tell me that they liked this music. Well, that was pretty gratifying, not just to be selfishly ridding myself of some strange malady but to be giving something enjoyable to the world. Perhaps someday I might even leave this world a more beautiful place than I found it. And so I went on to study music composition formally for years and even to earn a doctoral degree in it.
Now, decades later, as a professor of music composition emeritus, my condition has grown worse — I keep hearing and writing down even more music. And, without wanting to sound immodest, I think I’m finally getting it right. It does sound beautiful. My monthly report from Spotify tells me that people of many cultures in over eighty countries on six continents are streaming it and enjoying it in repeated hearings.
However, a few months ago, my delusion of having benevolent intentions was spoiled. I was informed by some self-assured young academics and their earnest student disciples (who surely know better than the rest of us) that being influenced by the European classics made me guilty of “white supremacy” and musical “colonization”! Who knew? All these years I thought I was lovingly sharing something beautiful with others. How distressing! What’s more, I have always been known as one of those gentle souls who would never even swat a fly, much less wish to feel supreme over any other person, much less over any other race or culture! If anything, I’ve always been the guy who struggles with feelings of inferiority.
Indeed, my first instinct was to find some way to apologize to those musical victims whom I was told I had somehow hurt with my compositions. But then I thought to myself, “Wait! I never forced or colonized those people in eighty countries to download my music. They were not hurt by it but liked it! I never advertised my music to them or even knew they were hearing it until Spotify told me. Surely those listeners on six continents would think I was crazy, if I apologized to them.”
A Tale of Greed and Blind Ambition
“Well, fine!”, said I to myself, plucking up my gumption. “If I am going to be accused of colonizing the world and subjecting it to myself by means of music, why should I limit myself to only six continents?” So, I went to my computer and found the e-mail addresses of a handful of scientific research teams working in high-tech outposts in Antarctica, the last musically unconquered continent, and sent off e-mails to them, asking them to see whether any people on their teams would agree to stream my music onto their laptops and make me the true musical king of the entire world! If they want colonies, by golly, I’ll show them colonies!”
Of course, I suspected that these e-mail inquiries would sound bizarre to scientists on the South Pole, and it would be a real longshot to get any reply at all. However, to my amazement, I did get a few replies. And yes, they did think it was bizarre. The first reply said “I’m sorry, it is just not in our mission to fulfill your request.” And then a second reply said, “Due to the global pandemic, it is not possible for us to comply with your request.” I wasn’t sure how the pandemic strictures at the South Pole applied to someone playing music alone through a laptop, but alright. And there were other replies with similar excuses. I finally exclaimed in defeat, “So, I guess there’s an end to my megalomaniacal aspirations for world domination. Rats!”
And that’s the story of how I failed to colonize the entire world, even though I had succeeded in subjugating six of the seven continents without firing a single shot. Now the smug academics are all snickering at me and poised to receive their tenure awards, while I am only growing closer to death’s doorstep, poised instead to be canceled and consigned to the ash heap of history. They can jolly well dance on my grave, if they want, but I know that my reign over the world, had it succeeded, would surely have been wondrous.
I might even have convinced them that music itself is just sounds in the air and is incapable of having either victims or colonizers. It can simply be shared with love by everyone who enjoys it and freely ignored by those who don’t wish to. It can be shared for the enrichment of all, like pizza and sushi and kimchi and hamburgers. It can bring diverse people together in peaceful and mutually respectful enjoyment of many genres, including mine. As the great Japanese conductor, Seiji Ozawa said, “The pure joy one experiences listening to good music transcends questions of genre.”
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.