Thought-Crime’ hits the Academy of Music

 

Thought-Crime’ hits the Academy of Music

Author: 

Gavin Ashenden

Trigger warning; this article will contain a good deal of racist material. It may offend you.

But only if you no longer think for yourself.

I’ve been listening to some gypsy violin music on YouTube. I found a wonderful Hungarian Romani, or Gypsy violinist called Josef Szalai.

I have a very soft spot for Hungarian music, and for gypsy violin playing. The combination of the two is breathtakingly wonderful. He was playing a famous piece, a Hungarian dance, called a Czardas. The Czardas, which even if you don’t know the word, you will recognise immediately, starts out very slowly, and becomes ecstatically and irresistibly faster. Lots of composers wrote for it, including Liszt, Brahms and Strauss; but perhaps the most captivating was Vittorio Monti.

So why gypsy violin music? Why now?

Because last week, a bassoon player called Dr Francesca Carpos was sacked from the Royal Academy of Music.  Even now, as I think through the facts, I am still reeling at the extent at which sheer, narrow-minded, ignorant, emotionally puerile, cultural and social stupidity (which might just be excused among fundamentalist teenage political activists,) has polluted and captured the adult world.

And the ‘grow-ups’ should know better. But they have become scared and terrified of being denounced themselves.

Francesca Carpos was preparing a document to help music students survive and flourish as professionals. So she described (she didn’t invent, she didn’t advocate, she just described) life as a professional musician.

She also gave some sound pieces of advice.

“Look young, up-together and cool in rehearsals, and smart in concerts; this is a superficial and ageist world.”

But what destroyed her professionally was the moment when she explained the way some musicians treated other musicians.

During my own time playing in mainly amateur orchestras, it was a standing joke that some players described other instrumentalists in different ways. It was a kind of tribal teasing. Brass players were seen as being the loudest and booziest. String players were thought of as being slightly more neurotic, than wind players. Oboists were assumed to be depressives;who but a depressive could spend a life dedicated to crafting the saddest sound in the orchestra?

Dr Carpos put it more graphically, like this:

“Gypos (short for gypsies) = violinists specifically” while also explaining that string players are known as “pond life” who are expected to drink in “tea rooms” while the brass section is more likely found in the pub.”

Why are violinists called ‘gypos’ in some musical circles? Partly because when violinists show off their expertise and technique, they often choose to use gypsy music, Hungarian or otherwise, because it is so fantastically flamboyant. Actually, it’s really a compliment. All musicians know how wonderfully virtuosic the gypsy tradition is.

Like it, love it, laugh at it or disdain it, that’s what the sub-culture of working musicians is. Dr Carpos didn’t endorse it or criticise it, she just described it.

But that was too much for the brainwashed generation of kids who have recently arrived at the Music Colleges.

There was an outpouring of hysterical rage in response. One leaked criticism by a music student claimed

“Dr Carpos’s letter was “absolutely unacceptable”; adding that it encouraged “a toxic… environment in which musicians are complicit in the harassment of and discrimination against colleagues”.

This student went on to insist the use of the word ‘gypo’ was racist and that “stereotyping musicians based on what instrument they play is alienating performers who feel they do not fit the mould.”

Of course you never actually know when repeating some of this toxic stuff, how mentally well balanced the critics are themselves. But leaving that aside, because we will never know, the really terrifying aspect of all this is what the ‘grown-ups’ did next.

In announcing Dr Carpos’s sacking last Friday, the Academy’s principal Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and the union president  Rachael O’Brien said in a statement: “You may be aware that a new member of staff circulated an unauthorised document and follow-up email to all students earlier this week.

“It contained one individual’s observations on professional practice which do not represent the views of the Royal Academy of Music.

“The contents of these communications were unacceptable and the member of staff has been dismissed from post with immediate effect.”

Of course Dr Carpos’ reflections do not represent her employers’ views. Why should they? How could they?

What is terrifying here is that the boundary between describing and approving something has been unilaterally removed. That means that if you describe something that other people do which someone else misunderstands as being racist, you have become racist in the eyes of ….well anyone…maybe everhyone.

We have moved, we are slipping inexorably deeper into ‘thought crime’, against which there is no defence, no appeal and for which facts are totally useless. It can touch anyone anywhere. Even a bassoon player at the Royal Academy of Music.

Be afraid, be very afraid. No one’s job is safe under these conditions. No one’s public reputation can survive this kind of accusation.

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