If you read the guys paper you would realize that he was writing about people and methods taught in a formal education setting and not even community college but some university and conservatory settings.
The video is watches like a sophomore persuasive essay reads. It throws a lot of shit at the wall and knows somethings going to stick for most people. I don't think it's a bad video, it's a sophomoric thought provoking exercise of some guys music channel.
For over twenty years, music theory has tried to diversify with respect to race, yet the field today remains remarkably white, not only in terms of the people who practice music theory but also in the race of the composers and theorists whose work music theory privileges. In this paper, a critical-race examination of the field of music theory, I try to come to terms with why this is so.
There's enough here that the video doesn't really convey to lead to a lot of questions. When Mr. Ewell talks about "people who practice music theory" he's talking about a certain type of higher education instructor, he isn't talking about musicians or another large collection of music instructors who aren't a part of or allowed to join his guild. He isn't talking about the fact that Oscar Peterson took piano lessons from a guy who took piano lessons from Franz Liszt. He isn't examining if Duke Ellington, easily one of the ten great composers of his day, was a man confined by the chains of 18th century western harmonic theory.
He seems to suggest the popular music we like to listen to isn't a slave to western harmonic theory. It's a nice divorce which leaves a clean white playing field for a certain type of nearly dead White music to be excoriated and music theory to be tarred with original sin.
What do I know about music theory? Not a lot. I spent one year as a jazz studies major on saxophone at an inner city university that was rated as one of the better jazz studies schools in the nation. We studied music theory, mostly counter point, lots of Bach. I don't know what other music programs are like and I don't even know if the my school had a music program outside of the jazz program for education or ensemble playing. They did mention other music theory systems in brief but the focus was to produce musicians who might be able to make a living. You learned counter point to under stand harmonic structures and if you wanted to be able to feed yourself to write commercial music or write charts. I recall a brief mention that if you wanted to learn certain exotic non jazz centered theory a teacher could point you in a direction.
I'm sure the guy who taught theory was pretty slick at that shit from a jazz perspective. I wasn't around long enough to get to know him. I knew the two saxophone players that taught pretty well. The first guy could write out a 15 piece band chart in twenty minutes. His ability to write impromptu charts was astounding, he was a master of counterpoint in a jazz idiom. The other guy was George Saxophone Benson, he was an old bad ass and widely considered the best saxophone player in Detroit. He didn't take many students and his time was wasted on me. He was writing an analysis of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, the manuscript was inches thick. He tried to teach me a system of rhythmic theory that impressed me as being totally novel, shit I'd never seen, which he said wasn't widely known. He said if you came to grips with it all possible rhythm patters were easily understood. He was an old Black master of the his craft who was largely unimpressed with my grasp of 18th century western harmonic tradition because it meant that I was a lost cause and a poor vehicle to absorb the wit and wisdom of his own sophisticated craft. Was George Benson an uncle tom or was he a sophisticated intellect that absorbed parts of a framework established by generations of musicians with which he made his own unique creations?
Music theory was a tool at that school. You learned it to make a living and to make you more capable of creating art. While Blacks don't own jazz, it's largely an art created by the unique legacy of black culture and traditions.
I only mention these two guys because neither of them are part of Philip Ewell's guild. Both were masters of music theory in their specific musical discipline, both were most highly influenced in their art by black men were also music theory heavy weights in a music that was influenced by 18th century western harmonic traditions and by wide and diverse influences that ran parallel toward and away from 18th century western harmonic music.
The video braces itself against on a framework that is narrow discussion of guild politics, personnel and cannon with regards to race and slaps it up against music theory as a wide field. I think race and music theory is an interesting thing to think about and study but I think this video largely avoids it by doing a bait and switch that gets more awkward the more you look at what it leans on.
It's real hard to find videos of the two saxophonist I studied under because they had common names that were shared with more famous jazz musicians but I found one decent video of George Benson.
Trying to think about my feelings about this video and it's failure to come to terms with the incredibly sophisticated contributions to music theory made by POC in a non academic fashion, I became tempted to play game where I talked about fabulously talented black musicians that changed music and their backgrounds in 18th century western harmonic theory. I could play it for a while but how about an example.
Bernie Worrell was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, where his family moved when he was eight. A musical prodigy, he began formal piano lessons by age three and wrote a concerto at age eight. He went on to study at the Juilliard School and received a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1967. He then became a leg of the stool of Parliament/Funkadelic and did a lot of other shit that was a glorious celebration of Black music and played in the talking heads on the side. 18th century western harmonic music was a tool, not a prison for Worrell.
Is White 18th century German music embraced by racist assholes? I had no idea that it was but it makes sense and Ewell's essay convinces me that it and other boring music inspired by this very white branch of the musical tree is often a haven for white racist assholes.
Private instruction, community college classes, you tube videos and so much more are the elements of music theory instruction that are ignored in the video. Musician are not discussed at all unless they can be used to support the idea of music theory's racism. I'm sure there are endless interesting conversations to be had about race and music theory, I think this video hints at some of them while being a little slippery and not standing on ground firm enough to make any kind of real stand.
One of the most interesting comments on race and music made simply is Herbie Hancock's Water Melon Man.
Titled with a foul stereo type, it's a super tight sophisticated composition. The "Water Melon Man" is a powerful creator. The rhythms pulse with amazing syncopation (take that white 18th century composition, your rhythms are truly fucking boring). The instruments fit together but share little space harmonically or rhythmically. They stride forward together but don't cling to variations of theme or a shared beat, they are wildly diverse and funky. Amazing bits of improvisation are the cherry on top. Fuck your stereotype, see your Water Melon Man for what he is, a man of intellect, sophistication, discipline and talent.
bloo, this started as a comment to you and expanded, so there ya go.