Society dedicated to ‘preserving’ Western classical music sparks accusations of racism
17 January 2022, 12:56 | Updated: 17 January 2022, 13:06
A newly formed music society has come under fire on Twitter for its ‘racist’ and ‘exclusionary’ mission statement.
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Twitter has been awash with debate after a composer shared an email he had received, from the so-called ‘Society for the Preservation of Western Music’ (SPWM).
On Sunday night, composer Spencer Arias tweeted a screenshot of an email he received from the new music society, which claims to be dedicated to ‘preserving’ certain elements of the genre.
The email starts off with a simple call-out to academics to write for a new journal run by the SPWM organisation. However, the subsequent mission statement at the bottom of the email has sparked outrage among classical musicians across the social media platform.
“Founded in 2021, Society for the Preservation of Western Music (SPWM) seeks to actively promote canonical masterworks of the Western Classical tradition from antiquity to the present day,” reads the screenshotted message.
It continues, “Begun as a consortium between a dozen composition and theory faculty across the United States and Canada in response to the virulent spread of identity-based concert programming, SPWM currently boasts a roster of over 100 members, staunch advocates for the foundations of our traditionally Western artistic practices.”
two phrases are the key to reading this:— Brian Sengdala (@CheersBVS) January 17, 2022
- "virulent spread" (in reference to BIPOC composers)
- "In solidarity" 🙄 after all of that https://t.co/yIaqsfr1Wp
Twitter has reacted mostly negatively to the email, with the majority of the almost 200 retweets questioning the undertones of the message, such as ‘virulent spread’ – a term used to describe how viruses replicate – when referring to concert-programming based on “identity”.
The mass email from this society has reportedly been sent to a majority of “queer, and BIPOC composers”, causing some to believe the message takes on the form of harassment, and an attack on underrepresented composers.
🚨 ‘Virulent.’ 🚨— Ben Liberatore (@terratologist) January 17, 2022
Seems most of the musicians & musicologists who got this are BIPOC, queer, and/or women, which makes this particular variation on the unhinged ‘death of the West’ whinge not just desperate in its meanness and fragility, but targeted harassment, too. https://t.co/l45UIwSl3s
Some have since suggested, perhaps in hope, that this could just be a ‘troll’ (online joke designed to cause a reaction) email, thought up by one individual.
I posted this before I came to the conclusion that I think it might be a one man job designed to troll and cause this type of reaction— Spencer Arias (@SpencerArias) January 17, 2022
However, due to the division which this debate causes in the industry, many have said the email is all too believable. Some have even suggested that the society – real or fake – is in fact a reflection of the programmatic bias classical institutions can also be found guilty of.
The *entire classical music industry* is already a Society for the Preservation of Western Music! And we have to ask: what exactly is the difference between the agenda of that incoherent, racist "society" and what classical institutions implicitly support *every day*?— Judd Greenstein (@juddgreenstein) January 17, 2022
One uniting factor that many engaged in this conversation have discovered, is that when searching online for this supposed society, the majority of results show groups which promote the preservation of country and western music.
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The only good thing about this is that when you google this "organization", all the results are for groups that promote and preserve western music, as in, country and western. That is a mission I can get behind. https://t.co/k5YIk6bc3i— Ethan Hein (@ethanhein) January 17, 2022
A final retaliation to this email comes in the form of a purchase of the domain name spwesternmusic.com, which now redirects to the website - www.andwewereheard.org; a platform for underrepresented composers to have their works heard.