This Is Not a "Black History Month Piece"
It's a piece about how to come together as Americans, by embracing our common heritage, and rejecting what separates us. Also: there is music!
A QUICK PRE-POST NOTE: I wanted to inform all readers about the reaction to my most recent Substack piece, identifying several errors in the newsletter The Collision at The Dispatch, as well as errors on the Advisory Opinions podcast, regarding the Maine Secretary of State’s decision on Donald Trump and the Fourteenth Amendment. My piece generated a thorough and well-done correction at the Collision newsletter:
We covered both states’ decisions to deny Trump access to the ballot based on the 14th Amendment a couple of newsletters back. In doing so, I wrote:
Maine’s process was even more arbitrary, to the point of being nonexistent. We don’t know what standard the secretary of state used or what evidence she considered before declaring the former president ineligible. And Trump wasn’t allowed to defend himself before losing the right to run for office.
I was wrong. The Maine secretary of state followed Maine’s administrative procedures process, which relies on a “preponderance of the evidence” standard and an administrative hearing. The state gave Trump notice of the hearing and an opportunity to respond, and his team did respond. You can read her entire decision here.
Blogger and lawyer Patrick Frey, aka “Patterico,” pointed out the factual errors in my write-up, and we appreciate him for doing so.
But, as far as I can tell, no correction responsive to my piece has been issued on the Advisory Opinions podcast. (As I noted in my piece, a minor correction had already issued before my piece appeared—but that correction left uncorrected several errors discussed in my piece. I am happy to be corrected about this, but I think that is the only correction that has issued.) Many of the errors I identified in my piece were errors that had been made on the podcast—like telling listeners the Secretary of State’s level of process was “none,” strongly implying there had been no hearing and no witnesses, and describing the Secretary of State as a “random person” rather than the person given statutory responsibility by the state to carry out the process.
Listeners to the podcast deserve to be told accurate information about those matters. To my knowledge, they still have not been, a month after the podcast came out.
I am pleased by the correction that was made at The Collision. But I am dismayed by the absence of a correction at Advisory Opinions that fixes the errors I identified.
And, frankly, I’m surprised.
On to the post.
Above: a great American composer.
This post is coming out near the beginning of Black History Month . . . but that’s just a coincidence. I’ve been working on this post off and on for months, and it’s about a problem we face as Americans: the problem of race . . . and how to solve it, not by separating ourselves, but by coming together, as Americans.
It’s also a music-heavy post. I’m a music guy, and there will be a fair amount of discussion of music in this post. But ultimately, it’s about all of us being Americans together.
I’ll start by describing the problem before discussing the solution. The problem is well illustrated by an article published last year in Quillette by Heather MacDonald, about activist musical artists who have been busy producing cartoonishly radical-left interpretations of classic works by composers like Beethoven and Stravinsky. I thought I’d use MacDonald’s piece as a springboard for a discussion of what’s wrong with race relations in this country . . . and then discuss one way out of it: a path suggested by Albert Murray in his book The OmniAmericans, and adopted by Americans like Clarence Thomas, Coleman Hughes, and John McWhorter.
This one is mostly for the paying subscribers. I owe them one.
In her piece, MacDonald tells an amusing tale about a Black Lives Matter-centric interpretation of Beethoven’s Fidelio given at the Met. (Not the Metropolitan Opera, as it turns out, but . . . the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Here’s the setup:
In the Met’s Fidelio, a BLM activist (the updated husband from Beethoven’s Fidelio) had been writing a doctoral dissertation on the 13th Amendment, and investigating corrupt “fascists” in the criminal-justice system. In retaliation, racist cops shoot him, and a racist warden of a super-maximum prison throws him into solitary confinement. The activist’s wife, unable to persuade any lawyers to take up her husband’s case pro bono, goes undercover as a female correctional officer in her husband’s prison.
That’s a pretty common scenario and not over the top at all! After all, we all know racist cops typically respond to people who are investigating them by . . . shooting them. Totally normal, that! (Some people actually believe nonsense like this.)
How did the Met Museum version achieve such a radical retelling of the story? Not by rewriting the music, but by rewriting the text. Fidelio is a “Singspiel”—a form of opera common in Germany in the 18th Century that combines spoken dialogue with arias. Mozart wrote a few of these, including The Abduction from the Seraglio and, most famously, The Magic Flute. The Singspiel format allowed the Met Museum to preserve Beethoven’s music while rewriting the spoken dialogue to convert the opera into a painfully doctrinaire and ham-handed “antiracism” struggle session. MacDonald explains (my bold emphasis):
Heartbeat Opera did preserve one aspect of the original Fidelio: the arias and ensembles were, by and large, textually intact, if sometimes compressed or cut to shorten the running time. The sublime quartet Mir ist so wunderbar was reduced to a trio, due to the elimination of a character who would have complicated the lesbian subplot. The overture (Beethoven ultimately wrote four) and early arias were also cut, replaced by mechanical noise and a wordless enactment of a black male being gunned down.
The world of the Met Museum’s Fidelio is one where prisoners are imprisoned for the “mistake” of “being poor and black"—and heroically tell the black prison guards: “You are complicit in a corrupt system that oppresses our people. I see in you a field Negro.” If you’re starting to get the idea that this version sounds inane, you’re not wrong.
How to react to this?