Abstract

The problem faced by music historians of how (or whether) to impart reverence for music created through the institutions of imperialism, patriarchy, colonialism, and slavery is not a new one; nevertheless, as decolonizing initiatives take hold in higher education nationwide, it is increasingly pressing. My undergraduate course, “Remixing Western Music History” offers one solution to this problem. The word “remix” calls to mind the technological practice of altering, contorting or otherwise reconceiving a cultural artifact, appropriating and changing it to make something new. Remixes are spaces in which authorship is broadened, authority is questioned, power is redistributed, and the past is reinterpreted. If we can remix a song, why not a history? Functioning as historian-activists, students in my course rewrite western music history with pluralistic, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist voices. They compose a trope on Gregorian Chant that incorporates the perspectives of the “invisible peasantry”; write a feminist Vida for Comtessa de Dia that critiques Benedictine sexual politics; and draft a proposal to produce a queer opera that draws on Judith Butler’s work to solve the contemporary “castrato problem.” Remixes often claim to preserve the “aura of the original”; in this course, it is precisely the aura—of imperialism, patriarchy, colonialism, and slavery—that is being contested.


In 2020, when the New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein published a piece comparing textbooks for use in secondary schools in California and Texas, she found meaningful discrepancies, even when the textbooks had the same title, author, publisher, and date of publication.1 Dana Goldstein, “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories,” New York Times, January 12, 2020. For example, in discussing the Bill of Rights, a California textbook explains that rulings on the Second Amendment are nuanced, allowing for gun regulations: “This amendment seems to support the right of citizens to own firearms, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it does not prevent Congress from regulating the interstate sale of weapons.” In the same place, the Texas edition of the textbook contains only a blank white space. Goldstein found hundreds of analogous differences, some subtle, some patent, across eight textbooks commonly used in the two states.

Given the vast differences in gun control policy between the two states, the discrepancies between the approved textbooks are unsurprising.2California and Texas are often pitted against each in national debates around second amendment rights, gun violence, and gun regulations, as legislation in Texas reliably supports unqualified second amendment rights while in California, access to firearms is restricted and rigidly controlled. See Shawn Hubler, “California has the Toughest Gun Laws, and they Work,” New York Times, May 31, 2022. See also Amy Hubbard, “Essential California Week in Review: California versus Texas on the Issue of Gun Control,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2022. Nevertheless, what may come as a surprise is the lack of transparency in the textbooks’ presentation of these debates. Each of the textbooks surveyed by the New York Times presents history as being resolved intellectually, circumventing key debates in order to present an authoritative (and seemingly unequivocal) narrative. Rather than releasing a single textbook that engages with debates about the interpretation of the second amendment, these publishers offer individualized histories that nullify thorny historical issues and, in the process, naturalize tendentious political perspectives into apparent facts.

These same issues undergird the traditional western music history sequence. Authority, in this case, is inscribed in the music itself, not least through the concept of Werktreue.3James Parakilas, “Texts, Contexts, and Non-Texts in Music History Pedagogy,” in Vitalizing Music History Teaching, ed. James R. Briscoe (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2010), 45–58. Introduced into the lexicon of music criticism in the late eighteenth century, Werktreue prescribes fidelity to the imaginary, reified work, rather than to any given interpretation. Daniel Chua summarized this turn in the Zeitgeist of western music in his Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning:

Unlike Baroque notation, the score is no longer the site of performance, but locates music outside of time and action in an idealized realm where performance is no longer a prerequisite of a work’s existence. The score has become the spirit of the composer in the form of an absolute music, and is therefore more perfect than its performance, promising an imaginary music that the performer can only yearn to realise by being faithful to the notation.4Daniel K. L. Chua, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 186.

This process of demoting the dialogic, interpretive essence of music and elevating authoritative, text-based musical practices underwrites our concept of the musical canon and our project, as educators and historians, of transmitting this music, unadulterated and largely unquestioned, to future generations.   

Thus, we have a legacy of presenting an “authentic” canon within an authoritative history that both reflects and transmits insidious bias: the traditional western canon prioritizes the stories of aristocratic white European men while under-representing the music and musical lives of women; laypeople; Brown and Black people; illiterate, immigrant, and war ravaged (rather than victorious) communities; and other disenfranchised groups. Moreover, the authoritative history unfolds in a tight Hegelian spiral that, while telling a compelling story, denies the selectivity, incompleteness, and sometimes even arbitrariness of the works that coil around it.

To be sure, conscientious and creative scholars are working to present a more inclusive and multi-dimensional history. Prominent strategies, briefly outlined below, include diversifying the canon, prioritizing contemporary performance contexts, and simultaneously teaching the history and critiquing imperialism.

 

Diversifying the Canon

One prominent solution to the “problem” of the narrow western canon is to diversify it by incorporating non-western, non-male, non-aristocratic music. Like newer, “south-up world maps,” which reverse the conventional way maps are drawn, diversifying the canon can decenter the western patriarchy and thus begin the work of denaturalizing centuries of imperialism. Much of that work has begun. We may take for granted that women such as Hildegard of Bingen, Comtessa de Dia, Clara Schumann, and Ruth Crawford Seeger belong in our historical narratives, but their inclusion rests on the work of historians like James Briscoe, who, four decades ago, argued for integrating female composers into the music history curriculum.5James R Briscoe, “Integrating Music by Women into the Music History Sequence,” College Music Symposium 25 (1985): 21–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374231. Around the same time, David Klocko argued, somewhat less successfully, for the incorporation of American folk, popular, and nonwestern music into our traditional histories. David G Klocko, “Multicultural Music in the College Curriculum,” Music Educators Journal 75, no. 5 (1989): 38–41, https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990. More recently, Christopher Lynch critiqued the traditional geographical and political boundaries that define and delimit the repertory, claiming that they impede the cultivation of truly global citizens.6Christopher Lynch, “Introduction: Why Internationalization?” In Listening across Borders: Musicology in the Global Classroom, eds. James A. Davis and Christopher Lynch (New York: Routledge, 2022), 1–7. See also Philip Taylor, “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy,” Musica Docta: Rivista Digitale Di Pedagogia e Didattica Della Musicale 6 (2016): 87–92, https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2039-9715/6572. Going further, Sandra Yang encouraged music history instructors to examine and interrogate those borders (both geographical and ideological), which may reveal underexamined intersections between western and non-western musical cultures.7Sandra Yang, “Strengthening the ‘History’ in ‘Music History’: An Argument for Broadening the Cross-Disciplinary Base in Musicological Studies,” College Music Symposium, 49–50 (2009): 239–45, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41225249.These and other arguments focus on expanding the western canon and integrating heretofore underrepresented music and musicians into it.

This fervent call in the scholarship, however, is not always answered in the resources most readily available to instructors. Paul Luongo’s meticulous analysis of the eight editions of Norton’s History of Western Music (HWM) and its companion anthology, Norton Anthology of Western Music (NAWM), provides a case in point.8Paul Luongo, “Constructing a Canon: Studying Forty Years of the Norton Anthology of Western Music,Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1 (2022): 1–36, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/334/677 As the essay details, beginning with the third edition of the textbooks, the preface emphasizes representational diversity and geographical breadth, but the resources themselves evince only modest progress in these areas.9Ibid., 10–13. In his response, published in the same issue, the current editor of HWM and NAWM acknowledged that constraints associated with the peer-review process, budget issues, and copyright laws can make change vexingly slow.10J. Peter Burkholder, “Stewarding a Shared Resource: A Response to Paul Luongo,” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1 (2022): 41–43, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/381/681

 

Prioritizing Contemporary Performance Contexts

Another prominent approach to the traditional canon views it primarily through a contemporary performance lens that may put female, queer, Black and Brown, and other diverse faces and voices into the narrative. For example, in “Uncovering a Diverse Early Music,” Alice Clark discussed her use of a particular recording of the trope “Gaudeamus omnes” on the Christmas introit Puer natus est by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, which features female singers, despite that (indeed, because) women would have been prohibited from singing in the original performance context.11Alice Clark, “Uncovering a Diverse Early Music,” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 11, no. 1 (2021): 26–44, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/333/672.

Pulsing beneath the surface of familiar ensembles and recordings is a lively classical music culture featuring minoritized artists. The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, for example, was founded by Jeri Lynne Johnson, the first African American woman to win the prestigious Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship in 2005; the ensemble prioritizes cultural diversity and innovative community engagement in Philadelphia’s classical music scene. Portland State University’s Queer Opera initiative uses queer casting to share LGBTQ+ stories through the traditional genre of opera. The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra is a product of the Sphinx Organization, which is dedicated to increasing the ranks of Black and Latinx classical musicians. These and other identity conscious ensembles can be (and are increasingly) brought to bear on our histories to bring more diversity into the traditional canon.

 

Simultaneously Teaching Music and Critiquing Imperialism

Philip Taylor details his strategy for teaching western music history to nonwestern students in the essay, “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy.”12Taylor, “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy,” 87–92. In considering how his southern Indian students would relate to the concepts of western civilization and western art, he chose to teach the traditional musical works and practices as they were employed in a colonial context, thus simultaneously transmitting literacy of the canon and interrogating the hegemonic aspects of the tradition in the students’ own culture. I relate to this strategy because it is analogous to the way I approach a composer like Wagner. I’m sure many of us follow a similar trajectory at this point in the narrative: Tristan chord—Ring of Nibelung—Gesamtkunstwerk—Bayreuth Festspielhaus—On Judaism in Music. This, though it has been my practice for many years, has never sat well with me. I seem to be saying to my students, you must develop a deep and sophisticated understanding of this profound music in order to succeed in this class, and by the way you should also deplore Wagner as an antisemite and, subsequently, a noted instrument of Hitler’s evil.

In the current climate, it is increasingly hard to justify this music to our students, whether or not Wagner is taught alongside Buddhist throat singing; whether or not it is performed by/with/for non-German descended people; whether or not Wagner is acknowledged as a soundtrack to the Holocaust. In some sense, each of these solutions, orbiting around the still-sacralized music, teaches and transmits our own confusion about the western canon and what to do with it. It is surely for this reason that a growing number of schools no longer require western music history in their curricula.13See, for example, Elizabeth C. Keto’s discussion of Harvard University’s music curriculum overhaul in, “A Change of Key,” Harvard Crimson, February 23, 2016. I would argue, however, that the problem might not be Wagner, but rather, we, as educators, who are conditioned to approach the western musical canon through the lens of Werktreue. Setting aside the prescriptions of Werktreue and all of its attendant baggage opens up possibilities for a mode of engagement with this music and history that is both critical and compelling. In what follows, I discuss my irreverent approach to teaching the western musical canon, which I developed in a course called “Remixing Western Music History.”

 

Remixing Western Music History

The word “remix” invokes the technological practice of altering, contorting or otherwise reconceiving a cultural artifact, appropriating and changing it to make something new. Remixing was first popularized in New York in the 1970s, in part to meet the need for long-play or altered versions of songs to accompany dancing. For example, DJ Kool Herc’s so-called “merry-go-round technique” involved using multiple turntables to move seamlessly among instrumental breaks (or the same break repeated on two records), thus extending the rhythmically-driven, syncopated section of the music that most reliably inspires dancing.14Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Jr., Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 40–41. This practice of stitching together discrete sections of music evolved into sampling and later inspired mash-ups and other collage techniques associated with hip-hop and other contemporary popular genres. Beginning around the new millennium, the influence of remix extended beyond music; with implications for copyright and intellectual property, remix became a prominent concern of economics and law, as well as the digital humanities and, by analogy to music, other forms of cultural production such as film, studio art, and literature.15Deuardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough, “Introduction,” in the Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, eds. Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher and xtine burrough (New York: Routledge, 2015), 1. In these disparate fields, the philosophy and essence of remix remains consistent, emphasizing hybridity, dialogism, technology, and a breakdown of tidy binaries between high and low, professional and amateur, old and new.

The notion of disrupting received binaries points to another feature of remixes; they often contain a political charge. As recent scholarship argues, remixes (whether musical or otherwise) are inherently critical texts that subvert authorship, question authority, redistribute power, and reinterpret the past.16See, for example, Owen Gallagher, “Critical Remix as Ideology and critique: a Social Libertarian Alternative Worldview,” in Reclaiming the Critical Remix Video (New York: Routledge, 2017), 131-204; Virginia Kuhn, “Remix in the Age of Trump,” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 7, no. 2/3 (2017): 87-93, http://contemporaryrhetoric.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Kuhn7_2_3_5.pdf; and Jonathan McIntosh, “A History of Subversive Remix Video Before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made Between World War II and 2005,” Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, 9 (2012), https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0371. As for how remixes achieve these political aims, Brøvig-Hannsen and Sinnreich offer at least a partial answer. Examining remixes of videos containing Donald Trump, Brøvig-Hannsen and Sinnreich identify four specific tactics that remixes employ to communicate dissent:

  • Witnessing involves the use of cut and paste strategies to highlight a meaningful event that may otherwise go un- or underacknowledged.
  • Pwning (a term borrowed from video game culture) involves the use of technology to manipulate an individual’s speech and action, thereby rewriting dominant scripts and reallocating power through a form of controlled puppetry.
  • Incongruity is achieved by ironically juxtaposing material with an opposing valence or meaning, often inciting humor and thereby undermining the intended effect of the original clip.
  • Noisification involves manipulating content to amplify and/or diminish its volume and/or salience and, in the process, reconstrue its meaning and value.

These are some of the many elements that may contribute to a subversive and politically charged body of remixes.17Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Aram Sinnreich, “Do You Wanna Build a Wall? Remix Tactics in the Age of Trump,” Popular Music and Society 43, no. 5 (December 2020): 535–49, https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990. See also, J.M. Krieger, “The Politics of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’: Contextualizing the Roles of Mashups and New Media in Political Protest,” in The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, 374–86.

On the surface, these techniques may seem to have little relevance to the western canon; nevertheless, meaningful analogies can be found. Pwning provides an interesting context for considering Brahms’s instrumental quotation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” melody in his first symphony; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies may be seen to witness Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. And we mustn’t forget Duchamp’s LAHOQ, which employs incongruity in its irreverent remix of the Mona Lisa. Considering remix as parody with a purpose, I suggest that in remixing music of the western European canon, we can rewrite the most problematic aspects of this history with pluralistic, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist voices. Remixes, being dialogic and participatory, create opportunities to bring the past into the present and to grapple constructively with questions of who we were and are. Given these many potentialities of remix culture and its resonance with this generation of students, I developed Remixing Western Music History as a new course to satisfy a music history requirement at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

 

Course Structure and Place in the Curriculum

Remixing Western Music History is one of two required history courses for music majors at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the small Northeastern liberal arts college where I teach; the other is Introduction to Ethnomusicology. These two stand-alone courses have replaced the traditional three-semester western music history sequence, and they are taught alongside History of Rock N Roll, Genealogy of Hip Hop, Global Pop Music, and other elective courses that bypass the traditional western musical canon. During a recent largescale overhaul of our curriculum, we “adulterated” rather than discarded western music history, in part because performance opportunities on our campus draw on this musical tradition, and in part because we believe in its intellectual value, despite (and because) of its problems. It has an enrollment cap of twenty students, has no pre-requisites, and attracts a mix of music majors and non-majors (i.e., those taking the course as an elective).

The course engages with major topics in western music history in chronological order, though with many significant omissions.18The flexible structure provides opportunities for individual faculty to handpick topics of expertise, interest, or political salience in a given semester. My course topics unfold as follows: Introduction/ Remix as Politics, Gregorian Chant, Troubadour/Trobaritz, Josquin des Prez and the Renaissance Chanson, Historically Informed Performance Practices in the Baroque Period, Early Opera and the Castrato, Beethoven and Absolute Music, Lieder in Clara and Robert Schumann, Romantic Opera and Race, Serialism, Post-serialism, and Student Final Projects.

For each weekly topic, I lecture on the music and history with the starting point always in the present. For example, in introducing the Troubadour/Trouvere tradition, I begin with Joan Jett’s, “I hate myself for loving you.” We talk about the emotional valence of love and desire in this and other contemporary popular songs and grapple with the magnetism of a concept of love that is predicated on suffering and unfulfilled desire. In the unit on race in romantic opera, I begin with a primer on Blackface Minstrelsy and its legacy in contemporary trends such as social media “Blackphishing.” Beginning with more contemporary examples and contexts offers students an accessible pathway into this history and its music and promotes their investment in remixing it.

After studying the history, music, and contemporary analogies or ramifications of a topic, students work in groups to create a remix of an emblematic musical work from that historical period, using witnessing, pwning, incongruity, and noisification to comment on, disrupt, and/or problematize that history. Sometimes remixes are strictly musical, taking forms like mashups and rewrites; other times—so as to call on varied skills and aptitudes, they manifest in non-musical ways. In week two, for example, students remix the sexual politics of medieval culture, as captured by the concept of “courtly love,” by composing a new feminist Vida for Comtessa de Dia. In week five, they remix the castrato problem by writing a socially conscious casting call for Aida. But mostly their remixes manifest in sound.

Working in sound demands that students possess certain practical competencies. I address this with multiple, intersecting strategies. First, I include a remark in the course description emphasizing that students will be working with sound, and technology-based and/or performance-based competencies are helpful, though not required. Inviting non-musicians into the course works at my small institution, but pre-requisites would obviate further strategies. Second, I survey the enrolled students’ musical abilities and experiences at the beginning of the semester. I note who among them has relevant knowledge and capabilities, musical instruments, facility improvising, etc. I then use this information throughout the semester when organizing students into groups. The course seems to self-select students that are either interested in learning how to sample and create technology-based music or are already competent musicians. In multiple iterations of the course, the majority of students enrolled make beats, play in bands, read music, and/or sing. Finally, I give students a primer on making simple mash-ups and sampled remixes in our music technology facility. We have a 16-station keyboard technology lab equipped with desktop computers and electric keyboards. In the absence of such a lab, students could bring in laptops and/or work in pairs, using Garage Band or one of the many free applications available for this work. I am not an expert in music technology, but providing students with a basic framework for technology-based music making has proven sufficient to get them started.19Alternatively, one could invite a guest lecturer—or even a student—to teach this aspect of the course or assign students to consult one of the many online resources in this area.

With tools now in their toolboxes, students are ready to engage with the history. In what follows, I provide sample lecture notes to exhibit my particular approach to this history and its music as well as how I set the stage for the remixes.

 

Sample Lecture: Remixing Medieval Chant

My remixing music history course imparts the key historical and musical features of medieval chant, including the Catholic church and the early Mass, St. Augustine, Plainchant, Pope Gregory and Gregorian Chant, and Tropes and Sequences, but with a contemporary and critical framework. Rather than basing my narrative on Grout, Taruskin, or other standard music history texts, I use Lauren Mancia, whose essay, “What Would Benedict Do,” begins not with the fall of the Roman Empire, but with the contemporary conservative Christian writer Rod Dreher.20 Lauren Mancia, “What Would Benedict Do?” in Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, eds. Andrew Albin, Mary C. Erler, Thomas O’Donnell, Nicholas L. Paul, and Nina Rower (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019), 116–26.

An editor, author, columnist, critic, and blogger, Dreher writes and speaks about religion, culture, politics, and film. He has been featured in NPR, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other national publications. He is perhaps best known for his 2017 New York Times Bestseller, The Benedict Option. In the book, Dreher argues that American society is drifting further and further away from traditional Christian values, particularly those regarding sex, marriage, and gender. Dreher holds to what he describes as biblical Christian teaching on sexuality and gender, including on the sinfulness of same-sex sexual relations and the naturalness of male–female difference. He is a critic of large-scale immigration to the US and Europe, has condemned critical race theory, and has defended the superiority of western civilization. In January 2018, Dreher attracted controversy for his defense of Donald Trump’s comments regarding “shithole countries” and for his suggestion that many would object to Section Eight Housing being built in their neighborhoods because “you don't want the destructive culture of the poor imported into your neighborhood.”21Rod Dreher, “Of Sh*tholes and Second Thoughts,” American Conservative, January 19, 2018.

Dreher’s solution, which he names “the Benedict Option,” is inspired by the sixth century monograph, The Rule of Benedict. Drawing on the Rule of Benedict, and his own comparison of the Middle Ages, with “wild, rapacious tribesmen rampaging through cities, neither knowing nor caring a thing about what they were annihilating” and his interpretation of radical left soft totalitarianism, with its own forms of barbarity and chaos, Dreher proposes that sympathetic readers withdraw from society that flouts these conservative Christian values, forming isolated intentional communities as did the sixth century monk, Benedict of Nursia.22Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 17.     

Benedict was indeed a sixth century Italian monk who founded twelve communities for monks in Lazio, Italy. He wrote the Rule in 516 as a guide for individual, autonomous communities of monks living under the authority of an abbot. Dreher’s image of the Medieval Catholic church in general and these monasteries in specific as islands of righteousness in a sea of barbarity comports with the traditional history of Gregorian Chant. Indeed, the Rule, which mentions music and encourages “wise singing” to support the word of God, aligns with the better-known writings of Saint Augustine:

So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.23Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 10.33: 239.

There is no question that Gregorian chant is a sonic testament to this cultural/political attempt to discipline the body and the mind. To exemplify this for students, I invite them to walk around the room while I play two consecutive musical examples: first, I play the Introit from the 10th century anonymous Christmas mass (though any excerpt of Gregorian chant would suffice) and then I play an R&B song by D’Angelo, which—with a medium tempo, strong backbeat, and ornamented melody—is strongly rooted in the body. D’Angelo is of course a strawman, but it serves its purpose; the students can readily perceive the ways that Gregorian chant bypasses the body.

Indeed, the entire tradition of Christian music for over 1000 years was unaccompanied singing, since instrumental music (with the exception of organ music) was considered sophistic. The music is always texted, so as to prioritize the word of God. There is no discernible rhythm in early Medieval chant music that would cue the listener to experience and celebrate life in the body. There is limited sense of individuality in the music, with the exception of intoned passages by the priest. The clarity of the text is paramount, and wherever clarity may be compromised the text setting is syllabic. Antiphonal, choral, and melismatic passages, particularly when performed in grand cathedrals, are used strategically to inspire awe. The entire canon of Gregorian chant seems to reinforce the untrustworthiness of the body, and Dreher’s thesis that medieval Christian culture can provide a model of purity seems well supported. However, this narrow perspective on the music and history belies the diversity of voices and experiences in Medieval Christian life.

As Mancia explains, Dreher presents the Middle Ages through the metaphor of the ark, through which God spares Noah, his family, and animals from an all-encompassing flood, when in fact it is better understood as a tabernacle—a portable meeting place with open sides, where congregants directed their worship.24Mancia, “What Would Benedict Do?” 119. This notion of “open sides” is a nice metaphor for an integrated relationship between sacred and lay cultures in the Middle Ages, one, furthermore, that extends to Gregorian Chant. Perhaps Gregorian Chant did promote a spiritual self that was suspicious of pleasure and life in the body. However, Gregorian chant, like other aspects of medieval spiritual and intellectual life, invited dialogue, in this case in the form of tropes. The rich history of glossing and troping exhibits that Medieval culture was more inclusive and interrogative than its reconstruction sometimes suggests. The history of music in the Christian Middle Ages can be meaningfully recast as the history of a productive tension between tradition, service, humility, and faith, on the one hand, and skepticism, reason, and learning, on the other.

Bringing all of this back to the present, I invite my students to remix Gregorian Chant by troping on the topic of religion and the body. Their answers are attempts to integrate life in the body—emblematic in rhythm—with the spiritual self. In one striking remix, students pasted the line “Music make you lose control” from the well-known Missy Elliot song, “Lose Control,” into the beginning of a 9th century antiphon, which was itself adapted to support a strong techno beat. The result was funny, surprising, evocative, and indicative of the students’ comprehension of the various threads pulled together in the lecture. This adulterated version of Gregorian Chant may indeed undermine the prescriptions of Werktreue, but it reflects students’ meaningful engagement with music that may otherwise seem tedious or irrelevant to some of them.

Scholarship on teaching and learning has long emphasized the importance of higher order thinking. Whether consulting Bloom’s seminal Taxonomy of Educational Objectives or Fink’s more recent Taxonomy of Significant Learning,25Benjamin S. Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain (New York: David McKay, 1956); D.L. Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013). it is clear that learning is enhanced when students are invited to investigate, analyze, evaluate, and create, based on the content being learned. From this perspective, the “problem” of the western musical canon can be reframed as an opportunity to interweave “lower order” literacy of the discipline with critical, higher order thinking and problem solving. Furthermore, it invites students to engage with genuine, rather than routine (or reproductive), problems of the discipline, as we, ourselves, grapple with the traditional western canon and what to do with it.  

In their course evaluations, students repeatedly confirm their renewed engagement with this history, as it is rooted in the present. We situate Ancient Greek philosophy in the misogynistic conservatism of the Red Pill Community; we identify the dysfunctional legacy of courtly love not only in Joan Jett’s “I hate myself for loving you,” but in countless rom-coms and popular novels; we discover in the history of the castrato unique opportunities to interrogate received narratives about gender and sexuality; we find the Wagnerian trope of the malevolent artist in Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, and Ryan Adams (to name only a few); and Babbitt’s infamous “Who Cares if You Listen” has launched productive conversations about the fuzzy line between art and entertainment. Remixing this history’s music permits us to go beyond analogy—we enter the story and bring it into the present. Are our remixes irreverent? Most certainly. But I argue that if the remixes may be irreverent, our students will not be.

 

Works Cited

Augustine of Hippo. c. 354–430. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. 

Augustine of Hippo. 1961. Confessions, Book X. Translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Benedict, Saint, Abbot of Monte Cassino. 2011. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Vol. 6. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Bloom, Benjamin S. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive  Domain. New York: David McKay.

Briscoe, James R. 1985. “Integrating Music by Women into the Music History Sequence.”  College Music Symposium 25: 21–27. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374231.

Brøvig-Hanssen, Ragnhild, and Sinnreich, Aram. 2020. “Do You Wanna Build a Wall? Remix Tactics in the Age of Trump.” Popular Music and Society 43, no. 3: 535–49. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990.

Burkholder, J. Peter. 2022. “Stewarding a Shared Resource: A Response to Paul Luongo.” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1: 41–43. https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/381/681.

Charry, Eric. 2000. “Music and Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa.” In The History of Islam in Africa, edited by Nehwmia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels, 545–73. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Chua, Daniel K. L. 1999. Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning, New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, Alice. 2021. “Uncovering a Diverse Early Music.” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 11, no. 1: 21–44. https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/333/672.

Dreher, Rod. 2018. “Of Sh*tholes and Second Thoughts.” The American Conservative, Washington, D.C., January 18, 2018.

_____. 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel.

Ewoodzie, Jr., Joseph C. 2017. Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Fink, D.L. 2013. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gallagher, Owen. 2017. “Critical Remix as Ideology and Critique: A Social Libertarian Alternative Worldview.” In Reclaiming the Critical Remix Video, 131–204. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Goldstein, Dana. 2020. “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.” New York Times, New York City, Jan. 12, 2020.

Hubbard, Amy. 2022. “Essential California Week in Review: California Versus Texas on the Issue of Gun Control.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, May 28, 2022.

Hubler, Shawn. 2022. “California has the Toughest Gun Laws, and they Work.” New York Times, New York City, May 31, 2022.

Keto, Elizabeth C. 2016. “A Change of Key.” Harvard Crimson, New Haven, Feb. 23, 2016. 

Klocko, David G. 1989. “Multicultural Music in the College Curriculum.” Music Educators Journal 75, no. 5: 38–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990.

Krieger, Janet Meryl. 2015. “The Politics of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’: Contextualizing the Roles of Mashups and New Media in Political Protest.” In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, edited by Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher and xtine burrough, 374–86. New York: Routledge.

Kuhn, Virginia. 2017. “Remix in the Age of Trump.” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 7, no. 2/3: 87–93. http://contemporaryrhetoric.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Kuhn7_2_3_5.pdf.

Luongo, Paul. 2022. “Constructing a Canon: Studying Forty Years of the Norton Anthology of Western Music.Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1: 1–36. https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/334/677.

Lynch, Christopher. 2022. “Introduction: Why Internationalization?” In Listening across Borders: Musicology in the Global Classroom, Modern Musicology and the College Classroom. New York: Routledge.  

Mancia, Laura. 2019. “What Would Benedict Do?” In Whose Middle Ages: Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, edited by Andrew Andrew Albin, Mary C. Erler, Thomas O'Donnell, Nicholas L. Paul, and Nina Rowe, 116–27. New York City, NY: Fordham University Press.

McIntosh, Jonathan. 2012. “A History of Subversive Remix Video Before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made Between World War II and 2005.” Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, 9. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0371.

Navas, Deuardo, Gallagher, Owen, and burrough, xtine. 2015. “Introduction.” In The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, edited by Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher and xtine burrough, 1–12, New York: Routledge.

Parakilas, James. 2010. “Texts, Contexts, and Non-Texts in Music History Pedagogy.” In Vitalizing Music History Teaching, 45–58. Monographs and Bibliographies in American Music. Hillsdale: Pendragon Press.  

Taylor, Philip. 2016. “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy,” Musica Docta: Rivista Digitale Di Pedagogia e Didattica Della Musicale, 6, no. 1: 87–92, https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2039-9715/6572.

Yang, Sandra. 2009. “Strengthening the ‘History’ in ‘Music History’: An Argument for Broadening the Cross-Disciplinary Base in Musicological Studies.” College Music Symposium 49/50: 239–45. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41225249.

 

[1] Dana Goldstein, “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories,” New York Times, January 12, 2020.

[2] California and Texas are often pitted against each in national debates around second amendment rights, gun violence, and gun regulations, as legislation in Texas reliably supports unqualified second amendment rights while in California, access to firearms is restricted and rigidly controlled. See Shawn Hubler, “California has the Toughest Gun Laws, and they Work,” New York Times, May 31, 2022. See also Amy Hubbard, “Essential California Week in Review: California versus Texas on the Issue of Gun Control,” Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2022.

[3] James Parakilas, “Texts, Contexts, and Non-Texts in Music History Pedagogy,” in Vitalizing Music History Teaching, ed. James R. Briscoe (Hillsdale: Pendragon Press, 2010), 45–58.

[4] Daniel K. L. Chua, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 186.

[5] James R Briscoe, “Integrating Music by Women into the Music History Sequence,” College Music Symposium 25 (1985): 21–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374231. Around the same time, David Klocko argued, somewhat less successfully, for the incorporation of American folk, popular, and nonwestern music into our traditional histories. David G Klocko, “Multicultural Music in the College Curriculum,” Music Educators Journal 75, no. 5 (1989): 38–41, https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990.

[6] Christopher Lynch, “Introduction: Why Internationalization?” In Listening across Borders: Musicology in the Global Classroom, eds. James A. Davis and Christopher Lynch (New York: Routledge, 2022), 1–7. See also Philip Taylor, “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy,” Musica Docta: Rivista Digitale Di Pedagogia e Didattica Della Musicale 6 (2016): 87–92, https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2039-9715/6572.

[7] Sandra Yang, “Strengthening the ‘History’ in ‘Music History’: An Argument for Broadening the Cross-Disciplinary Base in Musicological Studies,” College Music Symposium, 49–50 (2009): 239–45, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41225249.

[8] Paul Luongo, “Constructing a Canon: Studying Forty Years of the Norton Anthology of Western Music,Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1 (2022): 1–36, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/334/677

[9] Ibid., 10–13.

[10] J. Peter Burkholder, “Stewarding a Shared Resource: A Response to Paul Luongo,” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 12, no. 1 (2022): 41–43, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/381/681.

[11] Alice Clark, “Uncovering a Diverse Early Music,” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 11, no. 1 (2021): 26–44, https://www.ams-net.org/ojs/index.php/jmhp/article/view/333/672.

[12] Taylor, “Navigating the Global Turn in Western Music History Pedagogy,” 87–92.

[13] See, for example, Elizabeth C. Keto’s discussion of Harvard University’s music curriculum overhaul in, “A Change of Key,” Harvard Crimson, February 23, 2016.

[14] Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Jr., Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 40–41.

[15] Deuardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough, “Introduction,” in the Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, eds. Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher and xtine burrough (New York: Routledge, 2015), 1.

[16] See, for example, Owen Gallagher, “Critical Remix as Ideology and critique: a Social Libertarian Alternative Worldview,” in Reclaiming the Critical Remix Video (New York: Routledge, 2017), 131-204; Virginia Kuhn, “Remix in the Age of Trump,” Journal of Contemporary Rhetoric 7, no. 2/3 (2017): 87-93, http://contemporaryrhetoric.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Kuhn7_2_3_5.pdf; and Jonathan McIntosh, “A History of Subversive Remix Video Before YouTube: Thirty Political Video Mashups Made Between World War II and 2005,” Journal of Transformative Works and Cultures, 9 (2012), https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0371.

[17] Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen and Aram Sinnreich, “Do You Wanna Build a Wall? Remix Tactics in the Age of Trump,” Popular Music and Society 43, no. 5 (December 2020): 535–49, https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2019.1650990. See also, J.M. Krieger, “The Politics of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’: Contextualizing the Roles of Mashups and New Media in Political Protest,” in The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, 374–86.

[18] The flexible structure provides opportunities for individual faculty to handpick topics of expertise, interest, or political salience in a given semester.

[19] Alternatively, one could invite a guest lecturer—or even a student—to teach this aspect of the course or assign students to consult one of the many online resources in this area.

[20] Lauren Mancia, “What Would Benedict Do?” in Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, eds. Andrew Albin, Mary C. Erler, Thomas O’Donnell, Nicholas L. Paul, and Nina Rower (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019), 116–26.

[21] Rod Dreher, “Of Sh*tholes and Second Thoughts,” American Conservative, January 19, 2018.

[22] Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 17.

[23] Augustine, Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), 10.33: 239.

[24] Mancia, “What Would Benedict Do?” 119.

[25] Benjamin S. Bloom, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain (New York: David McKay, 1956); D.L. Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013).
920 Last modified on June 4, 2023