Censorship at the symphony
March 11, 2015 12:36 PM   Subscribe

The New York Youth Symphony has been accused of censorship after canceling a piece that quotes the Horst Wessel Song. The youth orchestra said on Tuesday it was canceling the premiere of Marsh u Nebuttya, a nine-minute work by Jonas Tarm, after the organization realized the piece contains a 45-second snippet of the “Horst Wessel” song, the Nazi anthem. Tarm is a third-year composition student at the New England Conservatory of Music; the piece is said to pay tribute to victims of totalitarianism and war by incorporating brief historical themes from the Soviet era and Nazi Germany. The New York Times also reports.
posted by holborne (167 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, more supporting freedom by crushing it. Well done, brain-dead sirs and madams.
posted by umberto at 12:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I found it distubing that The Merry Widow, one of my favorite light operas / musicals was one of Hitler's favorites. Shit.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:48 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The irony is debilitating.
posted by parki at 12:48 PM on March 11, 2015


This thread mentions the Nazis - - it must be deleted immeditely!
posted by fairmettle at 12:51 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


If somebody hands me a piece of music to perform in public and it's a Nazi hymn and they don't mention that, I might have a problem with that, and I might tell them to fuck off.

Same situation but it's 45 seconds of a Nazi hymn inside of a longer piece, I might do the same thing.
In a response, the New York Youth Symphony said it was caught off guard by Tarm's incorporation of the Nazi song, which it learned about only on Tuesday, days before the Carnegie performance. What's more, it said, Term refused to explain the context and meaning of the piece. “Had the composer revealed the sources of his piece and the context under which they were used," the orchestra's statement added, "the piece and the notes could have served as an important teaching moment for our students.”
Unless they're lying about that, I think their action was completely reasonable.
posted by edheil at 12:53 PM on March 11, 2015 [53 favorites]


You can't NEVER FORGET if you NEVER REMEMBER.
posted by resurrexit at 12:55 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


It seems like the board has, perhaps, missed the point of the piece but the argument regarding censorship is pretty silly and childish. Expression is both what you do and don't do. Nobody is erasing peoples' lives from history books here.

The most important argument to be made is that the board has missed the point and have made a stupid decision. The end.
posted by basicchannel at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe they should perform the piece anyway, see it bomb, and take the write-off on their taxes. That is, unless it's a roaring success. Then they're in for it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:59 PM on March 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


If somebody hands me a piece of music to perform in public and it's a Nazi hymn and they don't mention that, I might have a problem with that, and I might tell them to fuck off.

Same situation but it's 45 seconds of a Nazi hymn inside of a longer piece, I might do the same thing.


Especially considering his response even now:

Mr. Tarm said he was still reluctant to explain what the piece is about, saying the music should speak for itself.

“I strongly believe in Gustav Mahler’s quote — that if a composer could say what he wanted to say in words, he wouldn’t bother writing the music.”

But when pressed, he said, “It’s about conflict, it’s about totalitarianism, it’s about polarizing nationalism.”


Sorry, but that ain't how it works in the real world. If someone asks "why is this offensive thing in your work?" and you respond with "fuck off", don't be surprised if they decide that maybe they want to reconsider using your work.

So you'll pardon me if I don't rush to the barricades in defense of free speech here.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:00 PM on March 11, 2015 [43 favorites]


Tarn is quoted in the first link as saying “The old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall – you practice... Apparently you also have to self-censor. I’m disappointed that this work will no longer have the ability to speak for itself.”

A fellow composer (disclosure: a friend of mine) wrote a blog post about Tarn's assertion, and about the problems of facilitating an audience's understanding of a piece: "Concert Music and the Importance of Storytelling": "[I]n the case of Jonas Tarms (and many other composers with the same attitude), his intent included extra-musical themes – while the instrumental music of Bach and Haydn did not. By his own admission Tarms wasn’t writing a piece of “absolute music,” he was trying to say something about human cruelty in our history. So why not help us understand that? Don’t you want your audience to “get” what you’re trying to say[?]"
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:01 PM on March 11, 2015


I wonder if there will be a protest, with the protesters, in the name of freedom, singing:
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the storm division!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope
RobotVoodooPower: I was debating whether to mention "Haben Sie gehort das deutsche Band?" Thanks for pushing me over the edge.
posted by No Robots at 1:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


"[I]n the case of Jonas Tarms (and many other composers with the same attitude), his intent included extra-musical themes – while the instrumental music of Bach and Haydn did not. By his own admission Tarms wasn’t writing a piece of “absolute music,” he was trying to say something about human cruelty in our history. So why not help us understand that? Don’t you want your audience to “get” what you’re trying to say[?]"

Because he believes he shouldn't have to, and has said as much. Which is why I don't have much sympathy.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:10 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Tarm says that the first and only conversation he had about his work's content with the orchestra came March 2. And that at that point, NYYS made it clear to him that their decision to cancel his piece on their Carnegie Hall program was final."

NPR

I guess we don't know the specifics of how that conversation went down, but it seems like generally poor communication from the symphony director (understandably afraid of causing massive offense and/or losing her job) and a somewhat pretentious young composer.
posted by permiechickie at 1:11 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


If this was an adult orchestra, things might be different, but when it's a youth orchestra with some players who are only 12 or 13, it seems pretty obnoxious of the composer not to give any forewarning to the orchestra management that their great new commission contains a quote from a fairly infamous Nazi song.

I might have given him the benefit of the doubt except that he then likened his use of it to Tchaikovsky’s use of part of “La Marseillaise” in his “1812” Overture. La Marseillaise and the Horst Wessel Song? Nope, not the same at all.
posted by Azara at 1:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


The organization in question is named the New York Youth Symphony, not the The National Youth Symphony.
posted by soleiluna at 1:14 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I listened to a bit of the Horst Wessel Song on YouTube when I read the NYT article (last week?). It was utterly unfamiliar. I wonder if anyone would have noticed except that this was called out.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2015


La Marseillaise and the Horst Wessel Song? Nope, not the same at all.

They, uh, they actually kind of are. La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original "Reign of Terror." You can't really do a medley of tyranny's greatest hits without putting it in there.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:21 PM on March 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


Ugh. My grandmother is long dead, and she would have been over a hundred if she were alive, but the idea that she could have shown up at some music performance of mine or my siblings' and been confronted, unwarned, with the frigging Horst Wessel song (which I wouldn't have recognized, but she sure as hell would have)? It kind of makes me want to puke. I think that you give people some kind of warning before you invoke that sort of trauma.

I don't know. I don't have a problem with someone writing a composition that cites that piece of music. I don't have a problem with a youth symphony performing it. I do think that it has to be dealt with with some sensitivity, and it sounds like Mr. Tarm handled this really badly.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


The NYYS already performed the work, on February 22. Someone in the audience recognized the quotation and sent a letter to the orchestra complaining. This is per this NPR article.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:24 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Within the broad political context, I can see how the orchestra was blindsided. Though it's kind of disingenuous to claim that they were deprived of a "teaching moment" when what they're really doing is covering their asses.

What's really bogus is the demand for explication though. And then calling it a "refusal" when the composer doesn't come up with some pat narrative about what signifies what.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


La Marseillaise and the Horst Wessel Song? Nope, not the same at all.

They, uh, they actually kind of are. La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original "Reign of Terror." You can't really do a medley of tyranny's greatest hits without putting it in there.


Kinda makes that scene in Casablanca play a little differently, don't you think?
posted by briank at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mod note: Fixed name of symphony organization in post.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand the cries of censorship. Tarn is free to find somewhere else to play his piece. Freedom of expression goes both ways - Tarn is free to write whatever he likes, and the Youth Symphony is free to choose not to play it if they are unsatisfied with the composers odd choice to not contextualize his piece for a group of teens.

When I saw my local symphony play The Year 1812 a few years ago, the piece was pretty well contextualized in the program, including the many musical references, not just to La Marseillaise but to "O Lord, Save Thy People"
posted by muddgirl at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sys Rq: “They, uh, they actually kind of are. La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original ‘Reign of Terror.’ You can't really do a medley of tyranny's greatest hits without putting it in there.”

Er – isn't this just a tiny bit simplistic? It's a bit like saying that the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror were the same thing. Maybe if you step back ten yards and squint, sure, but not on the ground; it was a complicated conflict with complicated circumstances, and maybe this thread is not the place to say so, but – well, it would be very, very difficult to connect the fédérés who gave La Marseillaise its name and prominence on the one hand with the terroristic daily executions of Robespierre on the other.

Or maybe I'm seeing it wrong. I admit that I'm far from an expert on the period.
posted by koeselitz at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't see why they have to play this either. And I see plenty of good reasons why they chose to NOT play a piece that included Nazi music. For those who may not know, even this tune is banned in Germany and here is the English translation of its lyrics:

The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the storm division!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
For the last time, the call to arms is sounded!
For the fight, we all stand prepared!
Already Hitler's banners fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now!
Soon Hitler's banners will fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now.
The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.

posted by bearwife at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Don't those boys know any nice songs?
posted by spitbull at 1:40 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, and speaking of nice groups, here are few more that picked up the tune of the Horst Wessel song: the British Union of Fascists, the Spanish Falange fascists, the Vichy French fascists, and these days, the extreme right wing Greek Golden Dawn party. My favorite new lyrics for this tune are those of the Vichy French, who liked to sing:

We shall smite the Jews and the Marxists,
We shall avenge our brothers killed by them,
So that the National Socialist ideal
Should one day be proud and victorious

posted by bearwife at 1:44 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


And, yeah –

sio42: “To me this is the musical equivalent of showing a clip of Hitler in a movie about a totalitarian regime.”

I disagree. As someone who likes movies, and also likes music, and likes to singing, it seems dramatically different to me. Cutting a clip of Hitler into a film can be a passive act documenting a moment in history. Actually singing a song can feel a lot more active. And I'd be damned nervous about singing Nazi songs, particularly if the composer conveniently forgot to mention they were actually Nazi songs.

Yeah – if I were in this choir, I would have said no pretty emphatically.

And anyway – considering the composer's unwillingness to explain what was going on, it was more like showing a clip of Hitler in a movie about penguins, and refusing to point out that it was a clip of Hitler.
posted by koeselitz at 1:54 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original "Reign of Terror."

La Marsellaise has been adopted as the national French anthem, unlike Ça Ira or La Carmagnole. So no, not at all similar.
posted by sukeban at 1:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The New York Symphony is not capable of censorship.

Choosing to not perform a work is not an act of censorship, just as I have not "censored" Mein Kampf by not reading it.

This is stupid. They're worried people might be offended, and that worry overweighs their desire to perform the work. NBD.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:06 PM on March 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't really understand the cries of censorship. Tarn is free to find somewhere else to play his piece.

Arranging for a performance of a symphony is not exactly a trivial undertaking, and this particular piece was supposed to be performed at Carnegie Hall, not in some music school basement somewhere. The New York Youth Symphony is not the Philharmonic, but it appears to be an institution with a certain degree of cultural power. PEN, the Index on Censorship, and a number of other civil society groups concerned with free expression think this is significant enough that they've signed an open letter calling the decision "an act of censorship." I think the composer's refusal to engage with the symphony's concerns is ridiculous, but this isn't some guy on the Internet complaining about being SILENCED ALL HIS LIFE because his comment got deleted.
posted by twirlip at 2:07 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Honestly, this case just illustrates how badly abused the term "censorship" is these days. The composer put a snippet of a very problematic song in his work without explanation, then refused to explain when this came out, and then when the NYYS understandably decided to withdraw their support because of that lack of explanation, he cried "censorship!" and let slip the dogs of social reprisal.

Sorry, but no. This is not censorship, this is a pretentious young composer thinking he didn't have to explain things to the people he was working with, and getting a valuable lesson in how wrong he was.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:11 PM on March 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


Having just listened to a clip of it on Youtube, I'd have to say that to me, the Horst Wessel song sounds like a fairly generic Bavarian oompa-oompa kind of marching band. The chances are that the only people who'll actually recognize a short quote from the music are people for whom it brings back very bad memories indeed.
posted by Azara at 2:15 PM on March 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Hurt can make you act without
Apology or regret
Over half a century
But still I can't forget
Ideology makes a mockery
Of a string quartet

All because they're playing Wagner at the opera
All because they're playing Wagner at the opera
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:19 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Arranging for a performance of a symphony is not exactly a trivial undertaking, and this particular piece was supposed to be performed at Carnegie Hall, not in some music school basement somewhere. The New York Youth Symphony is not the Philharmonic, but it appears to be an institution with a certain degree of cultural power. PEN, the Index on Censorship, and a number of other civil society groups concerned with free expression think this is significant enough that they've signed an open letter calling the decision "an act of censorship." I think the composer's refusal to engage with the symphony's concerns is ridiculous, but this isn't some guy on the Internet complaining about being SILENCED ALL HIS LIFE because his comment got deleted.

No, it's about a composer who wasn't up front about aspects of his work that were problematic, this lack of forthrightness blowing up in the face of his partners, his continued refusal to be forthright after, and the understandable choice of said partner to choose to disassociate with said composer.

The actions of the NCAC serve only to devalue the meaning of the term "censorship".
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, so I sing with our local symphony orchestra, which does a fair number of premieres and commissioned pieces, some of which I've performed on. In that venue as well as in others, I've interacted with a fair number of composers whose works I was premiering / interpreting. I've never once run into a composer who wouldn't talk your fricking ear off about their influences and reasons for making musical decisions, to the point where you almost have to back out of the room while faking getting an emergency text. This guy's actions are divergent enough from common practice that my first assumption would be that he had an agenda, and I would have serious reservations from that perspective performing it with other adults, never mind with a youth symphony. The whole idea gives me the creeping willies.

Even if he wants to be all reclusive and "let the art speak for itself," that's the kind of thing you can get away with when you're 65 and have a vast body of published work under your belt, not when you're 21 and have no real history yet.
posted by KathrynT at 2:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [23 favorites]


Yeah dude is a pretentious git and if he doesn't want to come off as a talented troll he should qualify a bit more
posted by aydeejones at 2:36 PM on March 11, 2015


And now everyone will want to hear Tarm's controversial work. But at least someone was thinking of the children !!!!!

He he. We used to call it the 'Louie Louie effect' before it became the "Streisand effect'.

Prepare for a plethoric tsunami of Nazi-sampling.
posted by Twang at 2:38 PM on March 11, 2015


Last night I half-watched Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology while tidying up. Included in the film is a critique of the band Rammstein's use of fascist and Nazi militaristic iconography. Yosef Brody at Truthout summarizes:
In his analysis of the German metal band Rammstein, which has elsewhere been critiqued for its seemingly dangerous use of fascistic elements in live performances, Žižek peels away the ideological filter in a different way. Watch them closely, he argues, and it should become clear that Rammstein, rather than promoting it, has actually found the key to undermining Nazism. By clearing fascist propaganda of all its content and presenting only the empty frame - the "gestures without precise ideological meaning" - Rammstein is able to denude fascism, emptying it of its power as a solution for social ills. By fighting Nazism like this in its "pre-ideological state," music fans can enjoy the meaningless collective gestures while the band critiques fascism from within.
Could Tarm's piece be a sort of corrolary? Does his decontextualization (by using the music and not the lyrics) of the Nazi anthem similarly denude it of its ideological implications while demonstrating the power of of its musical themes? Is Tarm critiquing the audience (or the performers) for presumably tapping their toes along with a beat that had previously inspired goose-stepping?

We won't know because Tarm is resolute that the work must speak for itself. People who would make this kind of statement might fall into one or more of the following categories: 1) Nazis, 2) Pretentious Assholes, 3) Trolls, 4) Amateurs. That he involved a youth orchestra in the stunt makes me think 3>2>4>1. I guess if he's a troll, he's a well-fed one.
posted by The White Hat at 2:52 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Even if he wants to be all reclusive and "let the art speak for itself," that's the kind of thing you can get away with when you're 65 and have a vast body of published work under your belt, not when you're 21 and have no real history yet.

Especially when you're invoking Mahler, who was personally and professionally hounded by anti-Semites his entire career.
posted by theodolite at 2:52 PM on March 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


This very much seems like an homage to the 1812 Overture (as mentioned above), although with more problematic music used to represent themes.

My area's local symphony performed the piece years ago with the local National Guard providing cannons loaded with blanks to act as percussion at an outdoor concert, and it was well-received enough that they've done it many times since. Notably, the main outdoor concert they've done this at is a Fourth of July celebration.

So, celebrating American independence by firing cannons to a tune written by a Russian composer, who used historically inaccurate national theme songs to narrate a Russian victory over French forces. The mind boggles.
posted by mikeh at 2:56 PM on March 11, 2015


Watch them closely, he argues, and it should become clear that Rammstein, rather than promoting it, has actually found the key to undermining Nazism. By clearing fascist propaganda of all its content and presenting only the empty frame - the "gestures without precise ideological meaning" - Rammstein is able to denude fascism, emptying it of its power as a solution for social ills.

Wait until Žižek discovers Laibach, who have been doing that since Tito ruled Yugoslavia.

(For people who don't understand German, the joke behind the video is that "Geburt einer Nation" is a straight translation of Queen's "One Vision")
posted by sukeban at 3:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Wait until Žižek discovers Laibach , who have been doing that since Tito ruled Yugoslavia.

He did, in 1996!
posted by The White Hat at 3:09 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


That's alright then :D
posted by sukeban at 3:10 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a statement from Jonas Tarn on March 4 with some explanation:

"This composition, titled “Marsh u Nebuttya” (Ukrainian for “March to Oblivion”), is devoted to the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism — in the past and today.

"To emphasize that point in musical form, I briefly incorporate historical themes from the Soviet era and from the World War II Germany. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR) national anthem lasts about 45 seconds and the German Horst Wessel Lied also lasts about 45 seconds in the nine-minute work. This piece was not meant to provoke but to evoke."


Unfortunately he seems to have learned (or at least expressed) the wrong (imo) lesson from this:

"The old joke about how do you get to Carnegie Hall – you practice. Apparently you also have to self-censor."
posted by mountmccabe at 3:10 PM on March 11, 2015


The chances are that the only people who'll actually recognize a short quote from the music are people for whom it brings back very bad memories indeed.

This is an excellent point. The people best poised to understand the full meaning of the piece (from what we know of Tarm's motivations) are also the most likely to be triggered (for lack of a better word - not trying to start a debate about trigger warnings) if taken by surprise, which sort of negates the whole point. This would seem to be an ideal situation for an introduction or statement preceding the piece about how it includes music of the time and place for evocative purposes.

Every artist is entitled to describe or not describe their work to whatever extent they desire, but if you choose to present your work and refuse to provide explanation or context or even a warning that it contains Nazi propaganda, you've got to take your lumps, imo.
posted by sallybrown at 3:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Twang: And now everyone will want to hear Tarm's controversial work.

Personally, I'm acquainting myself with the work of Molly Joyce. The NYYS is premiering a piece by her at their May 24th concert at Carnegie Hall.
posted by mountmccabe at 3:15 PM on March 11, 2015


They, uh, they actually kind of are. La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original "Reign of Terror."

Pfaagh.

Getting a few thousands aristocrats killed who had had their boot on the backs of the French people for hundrerds of years is nothing like the murder of 6 million Jews and Roma just for being, well, Jewish or Roma and it's offensive to even make that comparison.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:18 PM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Azara: The chances are that the only people who'll actually recognize a short quote from the music are people for whom it brings back very bad memories indeed.

That appears to be precisely what happened. The person who sent the complaint to the NYYS after the premiere of this piece signed it "A Nazi Survivor."
posted by mountmccabe at 3:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


PEN, the Index on Censorship, and a number of other civil society groups concerned with free expression think this is significant enough that they've signed an open letter calling the decision "an act of censorship."

Shows the skewed priorities of these fools.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:21 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Getting a few thousands aristocrats killed who had had their boot on the backs of the French people for hundrerds of years

That's a horrible oversimplification of a very, very complex conflict that involved much killing of French (and other) people of all political stripes and classes.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:26 PM on March 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


To sum it up, this is a callow young (20 years old) dude not thinking things through and not professional enough to inform his collaborators to any potential challenges, picked up by the usual professional defenders of the middle class privilege to insult and hurt everybody else in the name of art, again without thinking through the consequences of premiering a piece using the Horst-Wessel lied in such a Jewish city and made worse by the American tendency to think that everytime a white, middle class man can't get an audience it's a principled matter of free speach.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


I don't really understand the cries of censorship. Tarn is free to find somewhere else to play his piece. Freedom of expression goes both ways - Tarn is free to write whatever he likes, and the Youth Symphony is free to choose not to play it if they are unsatisfied with the composers odd choice to not contextualize his piece for a group of teens.

One reason why it's easy to find so many people who are against censorship is because it's rarely a problem to convince ourselves when we agree with the suppression of expression that it's not really censorship.

But the decision of the Youth Symphony to cancel the performance of the work was censorship. It wasn't based on the composer's choice not to contextualize it, which becomes clear if you imagine he'd explained that he included the snippet as a tribute to the Nazi regime. It wasn't an explanation they were looking for, but an explanation they approved of.

Imagine if Tarn had included 45 seconds of a work by Mendelssohn and he'd been asked to explain why he was using music composed by a Jew. Would anyone say that cancelling a performance of the work because he refused to provide an answer wasn't censorship, because he'd failed to properly contextualize the piece?

And had Tarn included the Horst Wessel Song in his work for that very reason, it would still be censorship if the Symphony refused to play a previously commissioned work because it was pro-Nazi. It would no doubt be a popular act of censorship, but it would be censorship nonetheless.
posted by layceepee at 3:32 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think another point is that the Tchaikovsky didn't sneak bars of La Marseilaise into The 1812 Overture. He deliberately included it to evoke a connection to the French, because essentially everyone listening to his work would associate that portion with France. The same cannot be said of Horst Wessel. I have no problem with NYYS not performing Mr. Tarm's work.
posted by haiku warrior at 3:36 PM on March 11, 2015


Imagine if Tarn had included 45 seconds of a work by Mendelssohn and he'd been asked to explain why he was using music composed by a Jew. Would anyone say that cancelling a performance of the work because he refused to provide an answer wasn't censorship, because he'd failed to properly contextualize the piece?

This falls pretty squarely into "imagine if this apple was an orange" territory.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:40 PM on March 11, 2015 [23 favorites]


The same can absolutely be said of his use of Horst Wessel. Mr. Tarn said as much in what I quoted above.

The program note said the piece, translated name being "March to Oblivion", was "Dedicated to the victims of hunger and fire." I am sure he expected the quoted melodies to be recognized; that's why he used them.
posted by mountmccabe at 3:41 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This falls pretty squarely into "imagine if this apple was an orange" territory.

That is correct, because if you are trying to determine whether something is censorship or not, it doesn't matter if you are comparing apples to oranges. The content of the work in question isn't relevant to whether its suppression was an act of censorship.
posted by layceepee at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2015


Not buying it, mountmccabe. Pretty much anyone can probably hum a bit of La Marseillaise or at least recognize it. The same is definitely not true of The Horst Wessel.
posted by haiku warrior at 3:49 PM on March 11, 2015


That is correct, because if you are trying to determine whether something is censorship or not, it doesn't matter if you are comparing apples to oranges. The content of the work in question isn't relevant to whether its suppression was an act of censorship.

In which case you have expanded the definition of censorship to a point where it becomes meaningless. The whole point of censorship is content control - to divorce the two ideas is to render the one a void.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:51 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I listened to a bit of the Horst Wessel Song on YouTube when I read the NYT article (last week?). It was utterly unfamiliar. I wonder if anyone would have noticed except that this was called out.

Maybe a bit of a generation gap? I imagine a lot of people who were young in the 90's know it as the title theme to Wolfenstein 3D.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:58 PM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


That is correct, because if you are trying to determine whether something is censorship or not, it doesn't matter if you are comparing apples to oranges.

It also helps if one actually has a clue as to what censorship is.

Also, I'm sure he'll find plenty of people in various subreddits willing to play that snippet, all in the name of freedom.
posted by happyroach at 4:02 PM on March 11, 2015


Maybe a bit of a generation gap? I imagine a lot of people who were young in the 90's know it as the title theme to Wolfenstein 3D yt .

Hah. If I had heard it I would have immediately leaped to, "Hey...this reminds me of Nazis for some reason..." and had no idea why.

I'm on the this is just like the use of La Marseillaise in 1812 side of this but I also think it's something that should have been clearly explained ahead of time.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It wasn't an explanation they were looking for, but an explanation they approved of.

If Tarn had said, "I wanted to make a tribute piece for the great Nazi state," and the Symphony refused to play it, it would still not be censorship, because the Symphony musical director and the musicians themselves also have freedom of expression. Freedom of expression does not require other people to propagate opinions they disagree with, or find distasteful. What isn't censorship, under this definition?
posted by muddgirl at 4:05 PM on March 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


I went to a high school with a lot of Jewish students, and also affluent WASP-y students. Our orchestra conductor was brand new to our area and the state, Catholic, and I was neither Jewish nor Christian, but I wondered silently if he ever considered that playing a certain Wagner piece i(n which we were instructed to think of his natiionalism) might be offensive to Jewish students in the orchestra I was in. I don't think they might have been aware.

In this area I lived in, there had been these weird families who were vocal Holocaust deniers as well who sent letters to our junior high social studies teachers and claiming the holocaust never happened. It was insane.

I don't care for Wagner. When I didn't know anything about the composer, I think I thought it was beautiful. Then finding out, it just wasn't anymore. Happens all the time: you don't know what the singer is saying and you think it's great---you find out, you're disgusted, you want no part of it.
posted by discopolo at 4:09 PM on March 11, 2015


OK, censorship is not a private organization, which the youth symphony appears to be, declining to play a piece of music which inexplicably contains a reference they and their audience find offensive. (And if they declined to play Jewish music or African American music or Latina music, it would also not be censorship. It would be them making a discriminatory judgment about what they want to play.)

Censorship occurs when a government entity controls free expression based on its content.

Frankly, if I were the youth symphony's patron or audience attendee, I'd be telling them loud and clear I don't want to hear Nazi music. That's not censorship either. It's personal choice.

As long as no government tells this composer what he can write or seek to publish, I am utterly unsympathetic to his claims of censorship. That's not what this is.
posted by bearwife at 4:19 PM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


haiku warrior: Not buying it, mountmccabe. Pretty much anyone can probably hum a bit of La Marseillaise or at least recognize it. The same is definitely not true of The Horst Wessel.

I think if he had been trying to sneak it in he would not have had it go on for 45 seconds.

The audience for classical music includes a lot of people who will recognize and place five- or ten-second themes.


For the record, though, I also do not have a problem with the NYYS' decision to take the piece off their Carnegie Hall program, especially considering that Mr. Tarn did not say anything about the references until on or after March 2nd. The statement I quoted from him is from March 4th.
posted by mountmccabe at 4:24 PM on March 11, 2015


La Marseillaise and the Horst Wessel Song? Nope, not the same at all.

They, uh, they actually kind of are. La Marseillaise was the anthem of the original "Reign of Terror." You can't really do a medley of tyranny's greatest hits without putting it in there.

La Marseillaise became the French anthem after the Reign or Terror and was written on the occasion of the first coalition trying to quell the revolution in France. Not exactly the same as nazi propaganda glorifying street battles against communists in my book.
posted by ersatz at 4:36 PM on March 11, 2015


It's worth noting that the NYYS is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, along with individual tax-deductible donations. Calling them a purely private entity gets a little awkward.

But I sure am glad so many Mefites have better knowledge of what types of behaviour is censorship or censorship-like than one of the oldest and best-regarded anti-censorship organizations in the country and world!
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:37 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm also heavily subsidized by American tax-payers. It's still not censorship if I refuse to wear a shirt with a Confederate flag on it.
posted by muddgirl at 4:42 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


You're right, there is no difference between an individual and an organization.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:12 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, just as there is a difference between a governmental agency and a corporation that receives government funding.
posted by muddgirl at 5:26 PM on March 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


To a musician, his composition is the same as a writer's novel or a movie director's film - it's a story - the difference being that his entire production is only 9 minutes long. There have been hundreds of movies and books in which Nazis and fascism and all the associated horror are part of the story and no one bats an eye.

It would have been helpful if this young man would have explained his story and the point of including a Nazi marching song in the context of the story he's trying to tell right from the get-go, but, having a very committed musician and composer in the family, I can tell you that they're living in a different universe half the time, a universe where they just assume that non-musicians can "read" their music and understand the whole story with no difficulty. This composer is a student at a very prestigious university and composing music for a very important symphony - that means he's a brilliant musician and composer - and also means he inhabits that "other universe" nearly full-time. When he gets upset and refuses to cooperate with anyone questioning his composition, it's the artist you're seeing, aggravated because his powerful statement, meant to describe the evils of totalitarianism of all sorts, is being cast aside - judged as exactly the opposite of what he was trying to say.

Censorship is one of those big words that's just too big - it's thrown around by people on both sides of an issue but doesn't really define anything exactly in itself. It's a good word for triggering debate, though, and while people are arguing over whether disallowing this document or movie or art work or music is true censorship or just a sensible thing to do,

Winston puts on his spectacles and rewrites the music.

Censorship is sneaky - it comes in on tiptoe and snatches a piece of porn here, a piece of racist literature there, a story about a young Muslim girl out of a school library today, the truth out of a news story tomorrow.
posted by aryma at 5:31 PM on March 11, 2015


I found it distubing that The Merry Widow, one of my favorite light operas / musicals was one of Hitler's favorites. Shit.

Imagine how disturbed vegetarians might be.

Pretty much anyone can probably hum a bit of La Marseillaise or at least recognize it.

That's the bit at the start of that Beatles song.
posted by juiceCake at 5:34 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The chances are that the only people who'll actually recognize a short quote from the music are people for whom it brings back very bad memories indeed.

On having a listen to hear what kind of musical genius the Nazis had, I instantly recognized it as the Nazi music from The Blues Brothers, which I must have seen at an impressionable age.

If it's not a piece of “absolute music", perhaps it's more of a conceptual performance art piece only incidentally taking the form of music.

So if they wanted to go with that idea, and avoid accusations of censorship, and still not play the tune, one thing they could have done is to have the orchestra start to play badly at that point in the score, as if confused by new pages they hadn't seen before inserted into their sheet music. Then the lights go out except for one spotlight on a giant Nazi flag that unfurls from the ceiling. The sound of a gunshot is heard. As emergency lighting comes on, the conductor slumps to the floor as if he's been assassinated. A guy dressed as Adolf Hitler comes out to replace him, shouting furiously at the orchestra who are now fleeing stage left. The fire alarm comes on and the audience is evacuated, performance over.

That'd be a bold move for a youth orchestra, but hey, it's Carnegie Hall, they could do it. I'm not sure what they'd be accused of then, but at least it wouldn't be censorship.
posted by sfenders at 5:38 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not the case that the symphony simply chose not to play it, or even that they refused to play it. The symphony cancelled a scheduled performance because they thought the content of a particular musical work was offensive or objectionable. I think that makes it an act of censorship: the musicians denied the right to perform the piece and the audience was denied the right to hear it.

Some people do think some works are so offensive that they should be suppressed. I don't have a problem with arguing that on the merits in respect to any particular work. Free expression does exist in tension with other values. But whether the suppression is merited or not, it's still censorship.
posted by layceepee at 5:39 PM on March 11, 2015


So what, if the band refuses to play the Horst Wessel Lied, they're censors?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:41 PM on March 11, 2015


It's not the case that the symphony simply chose not to play it, or even that they refused to play it. The symphony cancelled a scheduled performance because they thought the content of a particular musical work was offensive or objectionable. I think that makes it an act of censorship: the musicians denied the right to perform the piece and the audience was denied the right to hear it.

There is no threat of state violence if another group chooses to perform it, and other audiences choose to go hear it. This may be shitty, immoral decision - likewise if they declined to perform a piece because of its composer's religion - but that doesn't make it censorship. It is not illegal to perform this or listen to it - no one will be fined or jailed for doing so.
posted by rtha at 6:04 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't weigh in on censorship, but as a fellow composer I do have opinions on dude bein' a dillweed. "Oh my brilliant masterpiece speaks for itself, so I won't talk about it or help educate the young people who will be exposed to it." fucccckk right off homeboy, we need kids to be FASCINATED about concert music and to truly understand how and why it's significant. Music doesn't need moral justification, but it does need analysis, and complicating that by being pretentious and mercurial doesn't help anyone. Music is like fine cuisine, in that it doesn't lose its magic if you are informed about its origins and influences. It only gets better, because you can follow along and understand the creator's mindset and appreciate what goes into it. ESPECIALLY if it involves historical commentary.
posted by jake at 6:09 PM on March 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


(Wow that post reads as way angrier than it was intended. I'm not like frothing over this, just annoyed to see yet another fellow music maker being all snowflake-y and not sharing his knowledge. It's a mindset I definitely understand, but really don't respect, especially considering I learned MY trade by studying what other composers were willing to openly share and celebrate)
posted by jake at 6:14 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no threat of state violence if another group chooses to perform it, and other audiences choose to go hear it. This may be shitty, immoral decision - likewise if they declined to perform a piece because of its composer's religion - but that doesn't make it censorship. It is not illegal to perform this or listen to it - no one will be fined or jailed for doing so.

That is an extreme criteria for a definition of censorship: the material suppressed cannot be available elsewhere, and providing or accessing the material is illegal; otherwise, it's not censorship.

Under that standard, a library removing Capital in the 21st Century from the shelves because of objections to the ideology expressed wouldn't be censorship either.

But that doesn't mean every time a library fails to purchase a book, that's an act of censorship. Some cases will be close to the line, and it may be difficult to determine.

But I think when an institution, public or private, reverses a previous decision to present a work because its content is deemed offensive, it's always a case of censorship. As far as I understand, that's what happened here.
posted by layceepee at 6:18 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that makes it an act of censorship: the musicians denied the right to perform the piece and the audience was denied the right to hear it.

Remember, any time a white male is denied the opportunity to say whatever he wants, wherever he wants, whenever he wants, that's censorship.

It's not like he could get a synthesizer or two and post it to YouTube. Nope- it's gotta be the orchistra or nothing.
posted by happyroach at 6:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, much like our discussions that, say, murderer has both a reasonable lay definition and a reasonable legal definition that are at odds (see, for example, every thread ever on Ferguson), there absolutely should be a word for "has all the hallmarks of censorship but by a private or semi-private institution. What word can we use for it? Self-censorship is a recognized concept that we don't want to drop, presumably. This can be corporate or institutional censorship. Let's not bog this down in legalese.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:23 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I think when an institution, public or private, reverses a previous decision to present a work because its content is deemed offensive, it's always a case of censorship. As far as I understand, that's what happened here.
I'm not sure that I understand why it would have been less censorship-y if they had understood at the outset what was going on with the piece and had decided not to accept it because they thought it was offensive or muddled or inappropriate for the orchestra and/or audience.

I think if they had understood the piece at the outset, and the composer had been willing to discuss his work, then they could have put some thought into how to present it to the kids in the orchestra and to the audience, and it could have been fine. I think they probably felt like they had relatively few options because they only realized that there was an issue very late in the day.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:25 PM on March 11, 2015


Refusing to be a provider of a particular sort of content- in this case, refusing to participate in the creation of that content- is not censorship. By the logic being thrown around in this thread, Steam refusing to sell a game is censorship.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:29 PM on March 11, 2015


The idea that censorship only exists if it is backed by decree from government officials with threat of violence is a very narrowly defined concept of censorship. It's a pretty strict libertarian definition in its view of goverment vs. private actors.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:41 PM on March 11, 2015


I'm not sure that I understand why it would have been less censorship-y if they had understood at the outset what was going on with the piece and had decided not to accept it because they thought it was offensive or muddled or inappropriate for the orchestra and/or audience.

I think it would be less clearly censorship for the reason Pope Guilty has articulated: there are many games Steam has not decided to sell (including games they considered selling and decided against, and probably games that they never considered selling because there are too many games for Steam to judge them all) and similarly there are many pieces of music the symphony has not decided to play.

But it's often hard to determine the reasons why institutions fail to present certain works. That's why I said there are some cases that are close to the line; it's not easy to see whether they were censorship or not. But in a case where an institution decides to present a work, and then decides not to based on offensive content, I think a bright line has been crossed.

And the reason why I think this is more than legalese is because I think many people think they are opposed to censorship on principal, but they actually are not. When they see an act of censorship they approve of, they will insist it's not censorship. They will offer a definition to prove it's not censorship, but that definition would also exclude cases those same people would identify as censorship.

A principled support of free expression is likely to leave one uncomfortable at times. Saying, "Oh, but this isn't really censorship" helps people rationalize the discomfort, but at the price of weakening support for the principle.
posted by layceepee at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Corporate censorship" gets used all the time. I don't think it's a word that only refers to state acts. The main thing is that it's just a really loaded word.

I'm a slightly surprised by the amount of "fuck this guy" here. It seems like he's a little pretentious and going for what he thought would be mild shock value without really thinking through the big picture. Assuming he's not having people sing it - is he? - I would have underestimated the impact of 45 seconds out of 540 too and I'm Jewish. Be honest, is it because he looks like an asshole with that mustache?
posted by atoxyl at 6:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Would it be censorship if they were offended by the mustache?
posted by Brocktoon at 6:47 PM on March 11, 2015


he cried "censorship!" and let slip the dogs of social reprisal.

He did not say that, at least that I can find. He said that self censorship is a requirement for a successful musical composer. Which may or may not be the case, but the claim is not the same.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:52 PM on March 11, 2015


Man this kid is a 3rd-year college student. For what it's worth, I was an insufferably pretentious shitheel in my 20s. Early signs of talent + peer validation, at that age where you have it aaaaall figured out. This kind of stuff happens.

I'm going to get in touch with him (this being the internet, anyone can reach anyone) and offer what little insight I can. I'm not in the concert music world, but I have been played in concert by orchestras (this year, in fact) so maybe he'd be willing to talk/listen about Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland and other brilliant musical educators. Couldn't hurt to reach out and connect, instead of condemning someone on a message board.
posted by jake at 6:57 PM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Corporate censorship" gets used all the time. I don't think it's a word that only refers to state acts.

Numerous people in this thread have argued that this example is not censorship because it doesn't involve government (although it kind of does anyway, due to the funding of the orchestra). It's like how discrimination can exist in the private marketplace. Although from a strictly legal definition, this example is not a violation of law in the US, while many examples of private discrimination may be- not necessarily, however, e.g., private golf clubs disallowing women or non-white members.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:59 PM on March 11, 2015


I am revolted by the idea that a quote from the Horst Wessel song is some kind of grievous, disgusting act which ought to make my monocle pop out as I sputter "I demand an explanation!" Cancelling the performance is a dunderheaded move to give Nazis more power than they have. I'm Jewish and I think it is disgusting to overly Otherize or glamorize the Nazis, even if it's only in a negative way. Nazis do not exist outside of the human experience, normal conversation, etc. Hatred and genocide are not new. The average Nazi was just as human as you or I - that's one of the most chilling parts about their rise. They day you think you're a separate species from that is the day you choose to leave open a crooked little door, into which can sneak all kinds of the nastiest things.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:03 PM on March 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


BTW, I'm not trying to advance an absolutist free speech position. My highest principle in these matters is, "Don't hurt other people," compassion and empathy over ideology, but creative freedom matters too. I can see how Holocaust survivors would be hurt, in the classic PTSD sense of being triggered, by hearing music from the Third Reich come up unexpectedly in a performance. On the other hand, much creative work has the potential to trigger, even if it is meant as a statement against Nazis and totalitarianism, not as a way to further traumatize its direct victims. Better PR about the performance would have helped, maybe, or more clear statements by the composer. I'm not against being careful not to traumatize people deliberately, and the orchestra has a right to pick and choose what they perform. But it still may be censorship, even if they made a compassionate decision.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:21 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


My first impression was that it doesn't look anything like censorship, except possibly a kind of self-censorship depending on the real motivations for the decision. Not even that in the usual sense, unless they acted "out of fear of, or deference to, the sensibilities or preferences of others" (as wikipedia puts it) instead of their own preferences and sensibilities. Even if it was a breach of contract or a dunderheaded move.

But it does smell like censorship if some influence from outside the usual sphere of artistic deliberation imposes its will to suppress the work, and on checking who was actually responsible for the decision, it's said that it was the "president of the board and the executive director". I don't know much about how orchestras are run, but I am going to guess that they are not the people who usually make decisions about which specific pieces should be performed. They generally have a music director for that. If the decision came from top orchestral management who usually don't get involved in such things, then yeah, there's an argument to be had.
posted by sfenders at 8:01 PM on March 11, 2015


sfenders, it brought to mind for me the old kerfuffle about Piss Christ, and Mapplethorpe's work, hence my concerns about the NEA. If they're concerned about, say, not getting grants due to their use of Nazi music, then it's some form of indirect censorship (like technically it's self-censorship out of fear of indirect State censorship, but whatever).

Who knows, of course - I'm certainly willing to take them at their word that there wasn't any concerns around that going on - but those things certainly happen.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:29 PM on March 11, 2015


I think a few people in this thread are equating the violation of First Amendment rights, which only the US government can do, with censorship in general, which arguably anybody can do.

(Personally I'm not sure whether I consider the NYYS' decision to be censorship and I'm not sure whether I consider it to be wrong. But I think it's better to decide those things separately, and safer for one's longterm sense of right and wrong to ask whether the decision would be right even if it were a case of censorship.)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:35 PM on March 11, 2015


krinklyfig: "The idea that censorship only exists if it is backed by decree from government officials with threat of violence is a very narrowly defined concept of censorship. It's a pretty strict libertarian definition in its view of goverment vs. private actors."

That isn't a "narrow" definition of censorship - it's the only consistent one! As others have pointed out, if you define "censorship" as sometimes being private actors refusing to publish or perform a work, you are disavowing their freedom of speech entirely. When people say "Metafilter deleted my post - they censored me!" - then they're saying that Metafilter as an entity should not have the right to exercise their freedom of speech in deciding to publish what they want to publish.

You can't expand the definition of "censorship" beyond state actors, because otherwise freedom of speech stops having any meaning that is realistic.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 PM on March 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Apparently the Symphony's rights end where this composer's desires begin. Good to know!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:46 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


When people say "Metafilter deleted my post - they censored me!" - then they're saying that Metafilter as an entity should not have the right to exercise their freedom of speech in deciding to publish what they want to publish.

Saying "Metafilter censored me" is not the same thing as saying "Metafilter is not allowed to censor me." Noting that the Symphony has censored the performance of Tarm's work is not the same thing as claiming that the institution has acted either illegally or unethically.

It certainly is broadly the case that, in America, censorship by the government is illegal while censorship by private actors is not, but even that is not always true. The government can legally censor child pornography, classified material, and prisoner mail.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship use a definition of censorship that includes action by non-state entities. I think there are good reasons for doing that.
posted by layceepee at 4:53 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


If what they did is censorship but not illegal and not unethical, then...so what? What does it matter if they censored it if one's definition of private-actor censorship says that doing so is not illegal and it's not unethical?
posted by rtha at 5:53 AM on March 12, 2015


Deciding not to perform a piece--at any point--is categorically not censorship by any meaningful definition.

(Attempts at) preventing its being performed by anyone anywhere is censorship.

The decision not to contribute to the promulgation of something is not remotely the same as attempting to suppress it.

The lazy-hazy conflation of such basic concepts in this thread is disconcerting.
posted by perhapsolutely at 6:29 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


layceepee: “Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship use a definition of censorship that includes action by non-state entities. I think there are good reasons for doing that.”

And yet it seems clear that the ACLU at least would not define this as censorship. They include in their definition "private pressure groups." They do not include the actual musicians who are performing a piece. How can something be censorship when it amounts to performers refusing to perform something? Indeed, anything else would itself be censorship, because it would entail silencing the performers and removing their right to engage in speech in the way they choose.
posted by koeselitz at 7:03 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


They do not include the actual musicians who are performing a piece. How can something be censorship when it amounts to performers refusing to perform something?

I wasn't aware the musicians had refused to perform the piece. Can you point me to an account of that?

Also, per the definition you and perhapsolutely are providing, there is no such thing as self-censorship. Do you believe that to be the case?
posted by layceepee at 7:13 AM on March 12, 2015


In order to believe in "self-censorship," you have to believe that self-expression is a pure thing that exists outside of any external pressures or political contexts, and that therefore it can be cut off internally before it's even formulated. But I don't believe in the purity of self-expression. People choose to say and do all kinds of things, and it's impossible to theorize socially about the pressures and internal rationalizations that either encourage or prevent them from saying a certain thing. The unsurmountable difficulty of distinguishing between "self-censorship" and "discretion," for example. is enough to make "self-censorship" a uselessly vague and unhelpful term, in my mind.

layceepee: “I wasn't aware the musicians had refused to perform the piece. Can you point me to an account of that?”

Are you imagining that the "New York Youth Symphony" is someone other than the musicians that make it up and the organization that represents them? According to the most detailed account given here (in the NYT) it was the students who noticed the Horst Wessel song in the piece, and the students who complained. I have no doubt that if the musicians themselves deeply wished to perform the piece they could go ahead and do so. They apparently harbor no such wish.
posted by koeselitz at 7:24 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only thing I see in the NYT piece about the musicians reaction is He (Tarm) said that some students in the orchestra had recognized the Nazi theme, and asked him about it.

Am I missing some reference to complaints by musicians or a decision by musicians to cancel the performance?

When Tarm riffs on an old joke and says he's learned that, in addition to practicing music, you have to practice self-censorship to get to Carnegie Hall, do you think the point he's making is hopelessly vague?
posted by layceepee at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2015


The idea of getting into prolonged quibbling about the exact definition of "censorship" fills me with horror and dread, but I will say that a) the concept should really be divorced from the matter of "rights". I don't think Tarm's rights are being infringed upon, nor do I think the symphony's rights are in danger of being infringed upon -- but that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about. There's still room for a discussion about whether this was a good decision. Also, b) there's no need to settle on a definition of "censorship" (or most abstract concepts) that is machine readably clear. We're not in court. It's fine to argue about which words best describe a situation. Words aren't useless just because people can disagree about what they mean.

In any case, I don't think this issue is best approached in such rigid and binary terms -- illegal Y/N? unethical Y/N? censorship? Y/N -- that the definition of "censorship" or whatever should really matter. It's not a question of what word you use. It's a question of whether this is the way people, particularly people with some sort of investment in this world and these issues, would like symphonies to deal with controversial music. Like, I don't really think anything went wrong here and it sounds to me like Tarm probably just screwed his own self out of getting his music performed, but I still think it's good that the NYYS is getting a bit of pushback because it lets symphonies in general know that people care how they address these matters.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:54 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are you imagining that the "New York Youth Symphony" is someone other than the musicians that make it up and the organization that represents them?

If the NYYS is anything like any other orchestra I've performed with, then no, programming decisions are not made by anyone who appears on the stage. The conductor / artistic director has a substantial voice in the process, but they are not the final arbiter of anything -- they come to the Board and say "hey, look, I really want to do these fifty pieces at some point in the next five years" and the Board says "OK, we'll see what we can do" and then they truly do see what they can do within the constraints of availability and budget and marketing and whatever. But the musicians? The musicians show up and play the music they're given to play.
posted by KathrynT at 8:38 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Funny it's the Horst Wessel Lied. In Hymnen, Stockhausen, uses a tiny bit of it, and also has (amongst other found sounds) a recording of himself saying (in German), "There's bad blood with the Horst Wessel Lied. But I really didn't mean it that way."

(Stockhausen was 17 when the war ended and spent some time as a 16-year-old picking up bodies with an ambulance so he was very anti-war and anti-Nazi.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:49 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Regarding the composer "not explaining himself" - it seems to me that the composer claims that he was presented with a non-negotiable cancellation of the piece, and then asked to explain himself, and refused. Still a dumb idea, and one which damaged his bargaining potential, but I can easily see him losing his temper.

(I also didn't see where the performers refused to play the piece? Did I miss something?)

Oh, and I strongly recommend the above Stockhausen masterpiece, Hymnen, to anyone who likes music at all. It's not an easy listen in parts, but there are many stunning moments... the fracturing of the German National Anthem has to still be the great moment in "sampling" even though this was being done with miles of tape and razor blades at the time, but there are probably 20 other sections of equal emotional impact...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:58 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find it odd that there's this insistence in the thread that it would all have been o.k. if only he'd been willing to explain his meaning to the New York Youth Symphony. Clearly the "death of the author" was announced all too prematurely. Apparently the work is an evil piece of Nazi sympathizing if the author says nothing, but a morally unimpeachable reflection upon the horrors of totalitarianism so long as the composer says as much.

This seems, to me, absurdly simplistic. The NYYS should simply have made up their own minds what they thought the significance of the piece was and included whatever explanatory/contextualizing note they thought necessary in their program. Clearly it's not "censorship" for them to choose not to play it, but it is hysterical over-reaction.
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2015


I find it odd that there's this insistence in the thread that it would all have been o.k. if only he'd been willing to explain his meaning to the New York Youth Symphony.

What do you find odd about that? If you hire a decorator and he chooses wallpaper that has a subtle pattern of swastikas in it, you wouldn't say "hey, can't help but notice that there's some Nazi propaganda here, mind talking about what's up with that?" and feel really differently about the wallpaper if he says "well actually it's bla bla bla" vs if he says "no, actually, I believe the design has to speak for itself" ?

I don't blame the NYYS one ounce for deciding that this isn't the PR battle they want to fight, given that an actual survivor of Nazi atrocities complained and that the performance is being given by teenagers. Maybe there's a great nuanced discussion to be had about evoking the horrors of totalitarianism in a way that's triggering to those who lived through it, but that doesn't mean that it's a discussion that this organization is obliged to have if that's not what they signed up for.
posted by KathrynT at 9:21 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find it odd that there's this insistence in the thread that it would all have been o.k. if only he'd been willing to explain his meaning to the New York Youth Symphony. Clearly the "death of the author" was announced all too prematurely. Apparently the work is an evil piece of Nazi sympathizing if the author says nothing, but a morally unimpeachable reflection upon the horrors of totalitarianism so long as the composer says as much.

The symphony asked for an explanation because the anthem was presented with no discernable context. Whether the symphony would have found an explanation to be artistically compelling or not is another matter. Probably not, because he pretty much just plops it in, but the reason the symphony asks is to presume good faith in case there was something they missed in their own interpretation.

Context matters here. Had the anthem been presented as a commentary on war, it would have likely been more acceptable. Similarly, had the piece been intended as a political commentary, it is up to the symphony to decide whether it aligns with their purview and values as a public institution. If the composer had received a reason, their next step would have indeed been to assess if a) the reason given is a reasonable reading of the piece or not, and b) if the message of the piece, in light of the interpretation suggested, is appropriate for their venue.
posted by Conspire at 9:26 AM on March 12, 2015


What do you find odd about that? If you hire a decorator and he chooses wallpaper that has a subtle pattern of swastikas in it, you wouldn't say "hey, can't help but notice that there's some Nazi propaganda here, mind talking about what's up with that?" and feel really differently about the wallpaper if he says "well actually it's bla bla bla" vs if he says "no, actually, I believe the design has to speak for itself" ?

If I hired a decorator and he proposed wallpaper with swastikas in it I would decide for myself whether or not I wanted to live with that wallpaper and the inevitable "actually swastikas are a very ancient symbol that long predates the Nazis" conversations it would have to prompt--plus the fact that my Jewish friends would be likely to be made very uncomfortable by it regardless.

The decorator's own, personal, justifications/motivations for suggesting that wallpaper would have precisely zero weight in my deliberations. What am I supposed to do if a friend objects to the wallpaper? Say "oh, the decorator said it was cool!" How is that supposed to help, exactly? If I think the wallpaper can be justified, then it's up to me to justify it. If I don't, then it's up to me to decline it. Similarly, the NYYS should have explained their understanding of the work to their audience or simply said that they were unwilling to perform it regardless of what the composer did or didn't say.
posted by yoink at 9:30 AM on March 12, 2015


Similarly, the NYYS should have explained their understanding of the work to their audience or simply said that they were unwilling to perform it regardless of what the composer did or didn't say.

But to improve their understanding and thus make a better informed decision, they asked for clarification from the composer. Much like if I was in your Extreme Makeover: Brownshirt Edition scenario, I would ask the interior decorator for his rationale in order to better inform my own decision.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:37 AM on March 12, 2015


Had the anthem been presented as a commentary on war

Its title is "March to Oblivion" and it quotes from both Nazi and Soviet Communist music. That it's a commentary on war and totalitarianism seems pretty obvious.

The claim that if the composer had simply said "hey guys, I'm a good guy, I hate Nazis and my music does too!" that would have suddenly made the music "safe" to perform is philosophically risible. Suppose, for a moment, that the guy is an eeeeeeeevil Nazi sympathizer who is hoping that simply by incorporating a few seconds from the Horst Wessel song he will somehow bring about a revival of Nazism. Now what you're saying is "we will happily go along with his cunning plan so long as he's not stupid enough to actually admit that that's his plan and is clever enough to come up with any kind of halfway plausible sounding rationale for the piece."

So "Nazi-sympathizing composers who are willing to lie about their sympathies are cool"?

If the NYYS wants to say "sorry, we just think this quotation of the Horst Wessel song is too likely to upset our audience"--then, fine--say that and be done with it. But don't pretend that somehow the composer forced their hand by being unwilling to provide them with some butt-covering verbiage.
posted by yoink at 9:44 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe there's a great nuanced discussion to be had about evoking the horrors of totalitarianism in a way that's triggering to those who lived through it, but that doesn't mean that it's a discussion that this organization is obliged to have if that's not what they signed up for.

There's this really nasty trait as of late to deny groups and institutional entities the right to determine what stances they will take, justifying it as a defense of individual freedom. Look at what is happening at OU - people are decrying the school's expulsion of the two SAE members as an infringement of their right to free speech, while ignoring that their actions have had (and will continue to have for the short term) negative repercussions for the university.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:45 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


But to improve their understanding and thus make a better informed decision, they asked for clarification from the composer. Much like if I was in your Extreme Makeover: Brownshirt Edition scenario, I would ask the interior decorator for his rationale in order to better inform my own decision.

Sure. But I wouldn't make my decision depend upon the decorator's willingness or unwillingness to provide that explanation. It would certainly have been politic of the composer to provide something like the language he provided to the NYT reporter (and it seems currently unclear whether the NYYS actually asked for clarification from him or simply told him they weren't going to perform the piece). But, in the end, the NYYS needs to ask itself "what, ultimately, do we think the effect of this piece is?" and make it's own decision on that basis. Getting the composer/author to say "I'm not a Nazi, honest!" should not be an automatic "get-out-of-jail-free" card for an organization presenting a work that clearly aims to exult the Third Reich. And by the same token, the fact that the composer refuses to explain the work should not excuse the orchestra's management from their obligation to come to their own, informed opinion about the work's meaning.
posted by yoink at 9:51 AM on March 12, 2015


If the NYYS wants to say "sorry, we just think this quotation of the Horst Wessel song is too likely to upset our audience"--then, fine--say that and be done with it. But don't pretend that somehow the composer forced their hand by being unwilling to provide them with some butt-covering verbiage.

Or maybe they wanted further clarification to make that decision in an informed manner. And yes, in that case the composer's refusal to explain does ultimately force their hand, as they wind up having to make the call with the information they have.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2015


I've been to a lot of symphonies, and "context" generally isn't, "Hey, Wagner is a good guy so we'll ignore his anti-semitism," so I would expect quite a bit more context from Tarm than "Hey, I'm a good guy." I'd expect something like, "This piece was written as I pondered the terrible actions of humanity. It starts with phrasing ABC particular phrasing before moving into a section that evokes the horrors of WWII, before offering a sense of uplifting hope and courage... etc. etc. etc." Exactly like I see in any symphony program.

...and even then, maybe the music director still decides that this isn't the appropriate piece for a teen symphony.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on March 12, 2015


Or maybe they wanted further clarification to make that decision in an informed manner.

"Informed" about what? What is the question that the composer is supposed to clear up for us here? There seem to be two possibilities:

1/ Is the work he has written inherently evil--i.e., does playing this work encourage people to become Nazis? (Or some lesser version of that: encourage them to think better of Nazis etc.)

2/ Is Tarn himself an evil person: i.e., did he write this work because he himself is a Nazi sympathizer.

The first question seems to me to be one that Tarn is in no way especially qualified to answer. It is a question about the effect the work has on listeners. The orchestra management has all the expertise it needs to answer that question for themselves. If they feel they need expert advice, they can call on any number of musicologists to ask for their opinions.

The second question seems pointless. If he's evil, then why presume he's going to answer truthfully? No one but a complete moron would be incapable of intuiting and providing the kind of justificatory language the NYYS wants to hear, after all. So the only point in seeking clarification on the second question is on the unbelievably slim chance that Tarn is both an evil Nazi and a compulsively honest person who, when pressed, will say "yes, I'm a Nazi, and that's why I wrote this!"

Again, I think Tarn would have been wise to have acted in the capacity of consultant musicologist when approached and given them some interpretive language they could have slipped into the program--but I think they were wrong to take his refusal to do so as in itself sufficient reason to drop the piece. An author/composer is not the sole arbiter of the meaning of the works s/he produces--they are often notoriously poor interpreters of their own work. The NYYS have put themselves in the absurd position of saying "we're refusing to play this piece of music on moral grounds, but we'd have been happy to play exactly the same piece of music so long as the composer had been willing to say certain things about how he, personally, interprets it."
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been to a lot of symphonies, and "context" generally isn't, "Hey, Wagner is a good guy so we'll ignore his anti-semitism," so I would expect quite a bit more context from Tarm than "Hey, I'm a good guy."

Oh for goodness sake. I would have thought it was pretty obvious that I wasn't suggesting that "hey guys, I'm a good guy, I hate Nazis and my music does too!" was literally, word-for-word all Tarn had to say. But if we're going to be forced to spell everything out: I mean, of course, providing some utterly predictable program-language to the effect that he's quoting these pieces of music to evoke specific historic tragedies which he roundly condemns etc. etc. etc.

But the point of such a performance (which, again, any averagely intelligent Nazi sympathizer would be entirely capable of trotting out) would be to say "hey guys, I'm not a Nazi, so you don't need to worry about listening to this piece of music!"
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2015


I think the idea of getting into prolonged quibbling about the exact definition of "censorship" is actually enlightening, because I think it illustrates a dynamic I see in play here.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it: Tarm won the First Music competition sponsored by the New York Symphony and was awarded a commission for a work to be publicly performed by the group. When the Symphony discovered the work quoted 45 seconds of a Nazi hymn, the executive director and the board cancelled the scheduled performance of the work.

Here are two hypotheticals, neither one of which matches exactly what happened:

a state-sponsored musical group cancels the scheduled performance of a work because of offensive political content;

a symphony considers a composition for performance and decides based on aesthetic considerations not to schedule it.

I know which case I think is more like the actual events. But there are people who are opposed to censorship generally but sympathetic to the Symphony’s decision to cancel Tarm’s work.
They convince themselves that Tarm’s case is actually more like the second hypothetical.

And they begin to offer evidence, like limits on the definitions of censorship ("it’s not censorship the the suppressed material is available somewhere else") that they would be unlikely to support if they didn’t agree that the piece was offensive.

And they begin to read into accounts of the cancellation facts that were not actually reported ("the New York Times reported that the musicians themselves were the ones who actually objected to the performance").

I don’t think they are arguing in bad faith, but I think their arguments are influenced by the cognitive dissonance they would experience if they believed themselves to be supportive of censorship.
posted by layceepee at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


But if we're going to be forced to spell everything out: I mean, of course, providing some utterly predictable program-language to the effect that he's quoting these pieces of music to evoke specific historic tragedies which he roundly condemns etc. etc. etc.

You act like this program language isn't absolutely 100% typical to provide. Every performance I've ever given at the Symphony has an in-depth essay about the piece in the program; when the piece is a premiere, that essay is either written by the composer or else includes an artist's statement. So either 1) Tarm refused to supply such a statement at all, in drastic contrast to expected norms, or else 2) Tarm happily wrote an essay on the piece, but left out a discussion of his choice to include these particular totalitarian themes. I find 1 highly unlikely and 2 highly suspicious -- I mean, someone delivers you 500-800 words about their 9 minute piece and conveniently fails to mention that ~10% of it is a Nazi theme? I'd be pissed.
posted by KathrynT at 10:40 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or, you know, maybe we're just a little bit tired of people trotting out the "censorship" flag to defend their bad decisions. Because it's something that happens more and more.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:41 AM on March 12, 2015


mean, someone delivers you 500-800 words about their 9 minute piece and conveniently fails to mention that ~10% of it is a Nazi theme? I'd be pissed.

Not only would I be pissed, I would not want to work with that individual anymore, in part due to the lack of professionalism, and in part for having to clean up after them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2015


Ugh, he DID supply a program note for the premiere, and it was just an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." That is pretentious gittery in its extreme AT BEST.
posted by KathrynT at 10:57 AM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


A few points- I've been following this a lot.

1. The 9 minute piece include two 45 minute quotes, which is a lot.
2. The piece was performed already- the Carnegie Hall performance was canceled but the orchestra had already premiered the work. Fetishizing Carnegie Hall by saying "but it wasn't performed at Carnegie Hall...." seems rather silly.
3. Tarm has taken out paid ads (Facebook sponsored posts that I've seen, not sure if he's advertised elsewhere) to publicize his plight. This has struck many people in the composition/orchestra world the wrong way.
4. I was in a conversation with many composers about this (I'm not a composer). They were mostly older and many are quite successful. All agreed that he was acting like a petulant child in refusing to expand the program note, or work cooperatively with the commissioning organization. At this early stage in his career he will now be perceived and attention-seeking, which will likely not help him get future commissions. There are numerous other composers who would be happy to work more collaboratively with their commissioners.
posted by cushie at 11:12 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cushie, that's interesting. His own statement on his website conflicts with the report that he refused "to expand the program note, or work cooperatively with the commissioning organization. "

Tarm wrote:
The NYYS administration has said the decision to cancel “Marsh u Nebuttya” was made only after they discussed their concerns with me. This is incorrect. I asked to discuss this further after the Monday, March 2, call informing me of the cancelation – including by speaking to the president of the NYYS board. But I was told by the executive director that the decision to cancel had already been made and was final.

I never refused to answer any question about whether there was a “musical quote” in the piece. I was approached by a musician during a January rehearsal who said “there are musicians in the orchestra that heard there are Nazi themes;” I did not hesitate to confirm with this musician that, yes, it is the Horst Wessel Lied. From that day until the Monday, March 2, call informing me of the cancellation, no additional concerns were expressed to me and no requests for me to provide additional explanations were made.


Do you think this is just spin from Tarm that doesn't accurately reflect his actual behavior?
posted by layceepee at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have seen a good number of world/regional premieres of pieces; at most of them the composer wrote about their piece for the program notes and/or introduced the piece on stage. I would find it very strange for there to be much of anything on a new piece beyond that; it's a very different situation from a piece that has been out and available for some time.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:36 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Limits are implicit in 'the definition of censorship' by virtue of its being a definition. Definitionally. That the definition of 'censorship' won't accommodate every discretionary decision made by an individual or small collective to abstain from disseminating a given work is something we must all come to grips with. Whether one likes the work or not is irrelevant.

I think we can all agree that pointing out that your opponents surely aren't arguing in bad faith isn't paraliptic. One may in any case rest easy knowing that once it's established that what's being supported is in fact censorship, the cognitive dissonance will be its own punishment. So it's just a matter of making the case that once a work has been created, it is the obligation of everyone to reproduce it uncritically, otherwise censorship, because reasons.
posted by perhapsolutely at 11:43 AM on March 12, 2015


perhapsolutely, will you humor me by answering the question of whether you think the facts in the Tarm/Symphony case are closer to the first hypothetical (state suppression of a work) or the second (institution declines perform a work based on perceived lack of artistic merit)?

And do you agree with koeselitz that self-censorship doesn't exist in any meaningful way, or are there instances of it that would qualify under the criteria you set up to identify censorship (i.e., any decision not to perform categorically fails as an instance of censorship).

I was amused by your reference to paralipsis, although, full disclosure, I had to look up what it meant before I got the joke.
posted by layceepee at 11:54 AM on March 12, 2015


perhapsolutely, will you humor me by answering the question of whether you think the facts in the Tarm/Symphony case are closer to the first hypothetical (state suppression of a work) or the second (institution declines perform a work based on perceived lack of artistic merit)?

Actually, it falls under a third scenario: pretentious git thinks his shit doesn't stink, his actions cause organization he is working with an avoidable headache, organization decides to sever relationship because of said headache, git screams relevant flavor of "help help I'm being persecuted" in order to avoid fallout of his conduct. It happens repeatedly (again, see OU for another recent example of this), and yet people keep on falling for it.

But here's the thing - it only works in the short run. This particular git in question may force the NYYS' hand this time. But he's going into a world of small size and long memories, and as was pointed out, he's going to find a lot of doors closed to him on account of "not worth the asprin".
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:14 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


NoxAeternum, I would say that the University of Oklahoma decision to expel the students who allegedly led the racist chanting illustrated the limits of free expression at the school, because in a case where offensive speech interfered with the school's mission to provide a safe learning environment for students regardless of race, the school chose to value the latter over absolute support for free speech.

Would you feel compelled to argue that the school hadn't limited freedom of expression because the expelled students were free to seek admission to another college? Or would you say this demonstrates that fact that sometimes progressive values are in conflict, and decisions must reflect a balancing act between competing interests?
posted by layceepee at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2015


Would you feel compelled to argue that the school hadn't limited freedom of expression because the expelled students were free to seek admission to another college? Or would you say this demonstrates that fact that sometimes progressive values are in conflict, and decisions must reflect a balancing act between competing interests?

Nope. It illustrates the same thing we see time and time again - that people cannot comprehend that there is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom from the responsibility of one's speech. As I stated earlier, OU has suffered damage from the conduct of these individuals - they've had people pull out of scheduled performances, a top football recruit has decommitted over this matter, and they are going to face a few years of an uphill battle with diversity in their upcoming classes. Yet when the school makes the completely understandable decision to break ties with these students, people start screaming that this is an infringement of free speech.

This is why I find your argument especially pernicious. You are arguing that if someone causes damage to another party, in the name of "free speech" we have to tie their hands in response.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have seen a good number of world/regional premieres of pieces; at most of them the composer wrote about their piece for the program notes and/or introduced the piece on stage. I would find it very strange for there to be much of anything on a new piece beyond that; it's a very different situation from a piece that has been out and available for some time.

I see plenty of new music, too, and this isn't my experience at all. Where composers do provide program notes they frequently talk about the circumstances of the piece's composition, but explicitly eschew overt interpretation of the work. The claim that interpretation is up to the listener is very frequent. Elaborate programmatic statements ("in the first movement we hear the death of late industrial capitalism, with the insistent oboe and coke-bottle motif representing the death of chinese workers at Apple's factories") have been pretty much out of favor since the late C19th.

NoxAeternum, do you have any evidence, at all, to help us choose which version of the story (the composer's or the orchestra's) is true? If his claim that the orchestra never asked him to provide any account of his understanding of the piece is true (and so far as I can tell we have no way of deciding that question) then none of your criticism of the composer stands. I don't see why you're so deeply invested in the narrative in which he's a cocky little shit who refuses to answer the orchestra's questions.

Given that he seems happy to provide the NYT with an account of his intentions in the piece, it does not, in fact, seem to be the case that he rigorously refuses to enter into such discourse.
posted by yoink at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2015


NoxAeternum, I didn't make the argument that because expelling students for making racist chants was a limitation on free speech that the university should be precluded from taking such action. What was it in my message that suggested to you I was making that argument?
posted by layceepee at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do you think this is just spin from Tarm that doesn't accurately reflect his actual behavior?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: you have to look at what he doesn't say as much as what he does. He talks about being happy to discuss matters when they are brought up, but not once does he mention any attempt at proactive management of the potential issues that could arise. He didn't bring up these sections until asked, he chose to create a content-free artist's note where on that detailed the content could have defused matters. He states that not once was he asked about his work, but he also never once went to the symphony leadership and explained what he was intending with his piece. Communication is a two way street.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:23 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


From what I can gather, and in line with my own thinking, is that those arguing that this action was censorious are not necessarily saying "and therefore it should be overturned." Censorship does not automatically equal bad, but is a category of decision-making by entities. I think it's fair to say that we should look hard at all instances of censorship, but of course some of them will be neither illegal nor unethical.

I am generally anti-censorship. I am also anti-"allowing teachers to disseminate holocaust denials", so I support government censorship of such actions.

I am more anti-revenge porn and anti-child porn than I am anti-censorship. So, I'm ok with web hosts banning that from their sites. Now if, say, imgur bans it, it's a minor form of censorship - there's lots of other hosting sites, etc etc. If imgur, twitter, google, yahoo, bing, tumblr, and reddit all ban hosting or linking to it, that's a stronger form of censorship, because the image can't be disseminated in the normal conversational channels. I'm fine with that, too. If ICANN bans companies from hosting such images as a condition of their licence, which essentially means "it may never be posted to the internet", I think we'd all agree that's censorship. I am still ok with it.

Censorship is a complicated topic from a legal/political ethics perspective. I don't know why some people insist on claiming that it's simple.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


If his claim that the orchestra never asked him to provide any account of his understanding of the piece is true (and so far as I can tell we have no way of deciding that question) then none of your criticism of the composer stands.

If I find something potentially risky in my analysis on the things I work on, I don't just wait until management asks - I provide a proactive assessment of the issue so that decisions can be made. "You didn't ask" is a bullshit defense, especially considering that he knowingly chose that piece specifically because of what it stood for.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2015


KathrynT: “But the musicians? The musicians show up and play the music they're given to play.”

The article says the board declined to have this piece played after fielding complaints, and after some of the performers recognized the provenance of the tune. We may imagine that these complaints came from janitors or parents. This is actually possible. But it is clear from the material at hand that the performers did not just show up and perform the music; they were apparently actively aware of what they were being asked to perform, and talked about it to other people, to the point that the board, who would otherwise be aloof from this process, felt the need to look into it and talk to the composer about it.

layceepee: “When Tarm riffs on an old joke and says he's learned that, in addition to practicing music, you have to practice self-censorship to get to Carnegie Hall, do you think the point he's making is hopelessly vague?”

I think he's being hopelessly inflammatory, as people who use the term "self-censorship" often are. He also said that the decision not to perform his piece "feels almost like murder to me." Considering the context of this debate, that is an interesting choice of words, and I can't help but see it as a bit overwrought.

Look, there might be contexts in which "self-censorship" might have some legitimate meaning; but those contexts completely negate the necessity for such a term. The term itself, on its face, makes very little sense. If a person is practicing "self-censorship," then they themselves are guilty of the moral wrong, and should be punished. Which is nonsensical. When people use the term in any rational way, they seem to be implying that individuals are induced through external circumstances to hold back from expressive speech. But if they are actively or even passively being prevented from speaking in a certain way – through coercion, or through the mere threat of coercion – then they are not "self-censoring." They are being censored. Calling this "self-censorship" is obfuscatory. It is nothing but plain censorship.

However, in this case, as I said, Mr Tarm seems to be speaking in a hyperbolic way, as I said. In this case, he refused to practice discretion. It is entirely possible that he could have had his piece performed if he had only been up-front and straightforward with the organization putting on the performance, and perhaps been willing to work with them on ways to make clear what was going on. Freedom of speech doesn't mean absolute freedom of collaborative speech; you can't coerce the owners of a venue, or the musicians, or the singers, to perform a piece because otherwise you feel your freedom would be constrained. But Mr Tarm lacked discretion, and the willingness to discuss his work with the people putting it on. That led to a lot of concern, probably understandable.

I don't count it as censorship when a band refuses to perform a particular song. I don't even count it as censorship when, for instance, various record presses refuse to press copies of a Sex Pistols album, or when venues cancel NWA concerts because they decide they dislike the music they make. Collaborative art can't entail any coercion on the part of partners in its creation, and as such, in order to avoid limiting the free expression of all partners, they need to be allowed to refuse to go on if they wish.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


From what I can gather, and in line with my own thinking, is that those arguing that this action was censorious are not necessarily saying "and therefore it should be overturned." Censorship does not automatically equal bad, but is a category of decision-making by entities. I think it's fair to say that we should look hard at all instances of censorship, but of course some of them will be neither illegal nor unethical.

The problem is that to expand the definition of censorship to include situations where the issue is not just the speech but the risk and fallout serves, as koeselitz explains well, only to give precedence to one individual's speech over another's. Tarn makes the argument that he was never asked about the content of his work, but at the same time, it's clear that he knew that he was planning on adding inflammatory elements to his work and yet chose to not disclose this to the people he was working with, and under whose banner the work would be performed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:50 PM on March 12, 2015


koeselitz: The article says the board declined to have this piece played after fielding complaints, and after some of the performers recognized the provenance of the tune. We may imagine that these complaints came from janitors or parents. This is actually possible. But it is clear from the material at hand that the performers did not just show up and perform the music; they were apparently actively aware of what they were being asked to perform, and talked about it to other people, to the point that the board, who would otherwise be aloof from this process, felt the need to look into it and talk to the composer about it.

That is not what happened.

Musicians performed the piece in December. In January one musician asked Jonas Tarn about the use of themes from the Horst Wessel Lied; he confirmed it. Those musicians either did not pass this information up to management or management did not care.

Nothing else happened until after the premiere on February 22. Someone in the audience recognized the themes from the Horst Wessel Lied and sent a letter of complaint, signing it "A Nazi Survivor."

That is when the NYYS decided to drop the piece from their March 8 performance at Carnegie Hall. It is unclear what, if anything, Jonas Tarn could have done at that point to appease them. It is also unclear what he would have done in different circumstances, though he has made some statements on his use of the themes and their meaning.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:58 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Again, "you didn't ask" isn't an acceptable defense.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:02 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


koeselitz: However, in this case, as I said, Mr Tarm seems to be speaking in a hyperbolic way, as I said. In this case, he refused to practice discretion. It is entirely possible that he could have had his piece performed if he had only been up-front and straightforward with the organization putting on the performance, and perhaps been willing to work with them on ways to make clear what was going on. Freedom of speech doesn't mean absolute freedom of collaborative speech; you can't coerce the owners of a venue, or the musicians, or the singers, to perform a piece because otherwise you feel your freedom would be constrained. But Mr Tarm lacked discretion, and the willingness to discuss his work with the people putting it on. That led to a lot of concern, probably understandable.

This is well said.

Personally I find both Mr. Tarn and the NYYS have dealt with this poorly. I have some sympathy for the NYYS but their 'you have to think of our children because we aren't going to' is a little unreasonable. If either Mr. Tarn had been more proactive or NYYS management had had more of an idea what the orchestra was performing there would have been far more time for everyone to deal with this, which may have resulted in a more reasonable outcome for all involved.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:08 PM on March 12, 2015


Sure. But I wouldn't make my decision depend upon the decorator's willingness or unwillingness to provide that explanation.

Explanations, particulary when the composer is alive, are pretty common in symphony performances. I read these write-ups with interest every time I go to the symphony. Hector Berlioz actually distributed a written program guide to his Symphony Fantastique, and that approach is not uncommon among modern composers either.

Explanations like this are less routine for pictoral art, but sometimes I would expect it. If an artist submits a picture with dominant images of swastikas and Hitler, I can't imagine why a private art gallery or museum couldn't ask why the artist chose that imagery. If the obvious inference that the piece is pro-Nazi propaganda is accurate, I also can't see any reason they couldn't decline to hang it.
posted by bearwife at 2:11 PM on March 12, 2015


"Someone in the audience recognized the themes from the Horst Wessel Lied and sent a letter of complaint, signing it "A Nazi Survivor.""

Is this not an Appeal to Emotion? It would be nice if we could think about this stuff rationally instead of losing our minds every time the words "Hitler" or "Nazis" are mentioned.

This thread is impossible to Godwin, huh?
posted by MattMangels at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2015


yoink: I see plenty of new music, too, and this isn't my experience at all. Where composers do provide program notes they frequently talk about the circumstances of the piece's composition, but explicitly eschew overt interpretation of the work. The claim that interpretation is up to the listener is very frequent. Elaborate programmatic statements ("in the first movement we hear the death of late industrial capitalism, with the insistent oboe and coke-bottle motif representing the death of chinese workers at Apple's factories") have been pretty much out of favor since the late C19th.

I do not disagree with this and do not think it counters what I was saying. I was not suggested anyone gave much if any of that kind of detail. That is not what we're talking about here. We're talking about a long, obvious reference.

This quote from his statement on the matter from March 4 would more than suffice.

This composition, titled “Marsh u Nebuttya” (Ukrainian for “March to Oblivion”), is devoted to the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism — in the past and today.

To emphasize that point in musical form, I briefly incorporate historical themes from the Soviet era and from the World War II Germany. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR) national anthem lasts about 45 seconds and the German Horst Wessel Lied also lasts about 45 seconds in the nine-minute work.


This seems to me to be reasonably close to what I am used to and not at all like the comic example you made up.


And, to be clear, I can see how Mr. Tarm providing this statement on March 2 would not have smoothed things over for the NYYS.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:27 PM on March 12, 2015


Again, "you didn't ask" isn't an acceptable defense

He didn't run out on stage and perform the piece impromptu. The orchestra had to rehearse it multiple times--they even performed it once before anyone thought to complain. No doubt Tarn himself imagined his musical references were plainly legible--the Horst Wessel song is hardly obscure, after all. The notion that it is up to the composer to imagine all possible future objections to his work and provide preformed defensive interpretations of the work is bizarre. The idea that a 21 year old composer should be pilloried for failing to think of doing that is simply unreal.
posted by yoink at 2:38 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Something I learned just before my last comment: the composer's last name is TARM, not TARN. Thus far it appears as if TARM is winning out over TARN but only 41 to 25).
posted by mountmccabe at 2:44 PM on March 12, 2015


Again, "you didn't ask" isn't an acceptable defense

I'll add that this is also some spectacular goalpost moving. To begin with the complaint is that he's so arrogant that he refuses to respond when asked--so sweetly and reasonably--for an explanation of what he's up to in quoting the Horst Wessel song. Then when we discover that he may never, in fact, have been asked, suddenly his crime is failing to anticipate the question and answer it before it was even asked.

By the way, I can only assume that the towering fury so many of you seem to feel over this stems from a feeling that Tarm must, in fact, be a crypto-fascist (unless it's just his mustache setting you off). But you might stop and think whether a Ukrainian crypto-fascist who is signaling his beliefs by quoting from the Horst Wessel song would be likely to also include a quotation from Ukraine's Soviet anthem.
posted by yoink at 2:46 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll add that this is also some spectacular goalpost moving. To begin with the complaint is that he's so arrogant that he refuses to respond when asked--so sweetly and reasonably--for an explanation of what he's up to in quoting the Horst Wessel song. Then when we discover that he may never, in fact, have been asked, suddenly his crime is failing to anticipate the question and answer it before it was even asked.

Because the position of "hey, perhaps if you're going to use a lengthy snippet of a song that is heavily associated with one of the most murderous regimes to ever walk the Earth, giving the people who are going to be performing it under their banner a heads up and a bit of background wouldn't be the worst idea ever" is neither unreasonable nor is it all that hard to anticipate.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:55 PM on March 12, 2015


Explanations, particulary when the composer is alive, are pretty common in symphony performances. I read these write-ups with interest every time I go to the symphony. Hector Berlioz actually distributed a written program guide to his Symphony Fantastique, and that approach is not uncommon among modern composers either.

Berlioz-style programmatic statements are incredibly rare in the contemporary music world. And, sure, there are contemporary composers who routinely provide thoughtful statements about the origin and structure of their work. There are also others who never say a word. It is simply false to suggest that there is some universal norm which Tarm violated by failing to automatically provide such documentation with his piece. Had such a norm existed, and a 21 year old composer had failed to abide by it, it would have been the orchestra's responsibility at the outset to explain to the tyro composer that he was failing in an expected part of his professional responsibilities. It seems clear, however, that nobody involved in this thought a composer's statement was needed until after they received a complaint from the audience.

People in this thread are inventing a "norm" that simply doesn't exist.
posted by yoink at 2:59 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tarm-not-Tarn is Estonian-not-Ukrainain, by the way. But the point remains the same. If you're going to assume that quoting=supporting the radically different pieces that Tarm quotes present you with a real problem.
posted by yoink at 3:03 PM on March 12, 2015


By the way, I can only assume that the towering fury so many of you seem to feel over this stems from a feeling that Tarm must, in fact, be a crypto-fascist (unless it's just his mustache setting you off). But you might stop and think whether a Ukrainian crypto-fascist who is signaling his beliefs by quoting from the Horst Wessel song would be likely to also include a quotation from Ukraine's Soviet anthem.

You assume incorrectly. I doubt very strongly that Tarm, who is Estonian, is any great lover of either the Nazis or the Soviets. I think he's 21 and both entirely brilliant and more than a bit of a git in that way that brilliant young men so frequently are, and that he coyly dropped some pretty serious references to totalitarian awfulness into a piece that was commissioned by a freaking YOUTH ORCHESTRA and then avoided every opportunity to say "so, heads up, this involves some pretty daring aesthetic choices," and then threw a fit when his actions had some extremely predictable consequences.
posted by KathrynT at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


The towering fury so many of you seem to feel over this

It is simply false to suggest that there is some universal norm which Tarm violated

Yoink, what is with the hyperbole? I don't think there is any example of this thread of someone in a towering fury with Tarm. Lack of sympathy for his complaints of censorship is hardly the same thing. Nor did I suggest some "universal norm." I said, as you acknowledge, that explanations by modern composers are "pretty common in symphony performances."

What are you so steamed about? Why can't this orchestra decline to play this music after they get an understandable complaint about it? And why can't this young man provide the explanation he initially declined to give without whining about being censored?
posted by bearwife at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't think there is any example of ths thread of someone in a towering fury

I invite you to read NoxAeternum's comments.

Why can't this orchestra decline to play this music

I said at the outset that they have every right to choose not to play it. What I think is illegitimate is pretending that this decision is somehow the fault of the 21 year old composer. If Tarm's account is true, they behaved particularly badly by lying about the process (claiming that they only cancelled the work because he refused to explain t, when in fact the decision was irrevocable from the first). But even if that is not the case, claiming that the composer failed in some essential obligation which they never bothered to mention to him until the controversy broke is shitty. Again, this is a 21 year old kid. They're hanging him out to dry and painting him as some sort of crypto-fascist when they could have handled the whole thing with infinitely more tact.

And, yeah, he's wrong to cry "censorship"--but, again, he's 21 year's old. The grown-ups in the management of the orchestra should have handled this in a way that let him save face, regardless of whether they chose to continue performing the piece of not. Mostly I think they felt embarrassed that they hadn't caught the musical allusion and turned that embarrasment into a feeling of pique that Tarm hadn't forestalled that situation.
posted by yoink at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think he's 21 and both entirely brilliant and more than a bit of a git in that way that brilliant young men so frequently are, and that he coyly dropped some pretty serious references to totalitarian awfulness into a piece that was commissioned by a freaking YOUTH ORCHESTRA and then avoided every opportunity to say "so, heads up, this involves some pretty daring aesthetic choices," and then threw a fit when his actions had some extremely predictable consequences.

This pretty much sums up things for me, and it annoys me that this age old routine still works. You would think that people would get wise to it.

That said, there is one thing that does bother me a lot:

The orchestra’s decision was criticized by the National Coalition Against Censorship.

“Some audience members may have painful memories associated with the official music of oppressive regimes, but that should not mean that any work that references this music must be silenced,” Svetlana Mintcheva, the coalition’s director of programs, said in a statement. “Attempts to sanitize contemporary art do not protect young people or survivors of oppressive regimes; they can only succeed in suppressing the voice and violating the vision of creative artists, as well as in impoverishing public conversation about important, though disturbing, issues.“


This blithe dismissal of the feelings of those who were victimized in the name of defending some sort of abstract ideal of free speech absolutism is too often used as a defense of some really vile things (a great example being our most recent Reddit thread), and it bothers me that groups like the NCAC seem to have a hard time realizing that.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Look, there might be contexts in which "self-censorship" might have some legitimate meaning; but those contexts completely negate the necessity for such a term. The term itself, on its face, makes very little sense. If a person is practicing "self-censorship," then they themselves are guilty of the moral wrong, and should be punished.

I think "self-censorship" quite often is used pejoratively. Members of the Washington press core who temper their stories to preserve access to important politicians and staffers are engaging in self-censorship.

Tarm's use of it seems to be in the same vein. He's learned, he says, that if you want to play Carnegie Hall (achieve popular success) you need to self-censor (avoid including elements in your work that audiences might find offensive).

As Lemurrhea suggests of censorship in general, that may not always be a bad thing. It can save an artist from self-indulgence, which may be as much a threat to creating worthwhile works as over-commercialization.

But that doesn't make the concept of self-censorship uselessly vague or internally contradictory.

People cannot comprehend that there is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom from the responsibility of one's speech.

Or perhaps people recognize that the supposed difference is often specious. Suppose the OU decision had gone the other way, and the administration refused to take action against the chanting frat boys. A faculty member posts on her blog a passionate dissent against the university's inaction, is fired for making the post, and claims the dismissal violates her right to free speech.

Would you feel the need to remind her that her freedom of speech hasn't been limited, as the university hasn't shut down her blog? They merely taught her the difference between free speech and the freedom from responsibility of one's speech.

You don't justify the unversity's expulsion of the chanting students by claiming there was no infringement on free speech; you justify it by demonstrating the infringement was merited by the harm resulting from the speech.
posted by layceepee at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


This point by John Montanari, the former music director of WFCR Radio in Western Massachusetts, seems salient:

But in my view, when a composer accepts the privilege, and the fee, of a commission for a new work, the composer should be obliged to let the commissioning organization know if it contains potentially controversial elements. This is especially true of instrumental works, which obviously lack an explanatory text.

Let me state this clearly, to thwart accusations to the contrary: I do not believe an organization should tell a composer how to compose. Other than agreeing on such parameters as length and instrumentation, the composer should be left alone. If the presenting organization doesn’t like the work it receives, it probably chose the wrong composer in the first place. Too bad.

But really, now — have we reached the point of artistic inviolability that a 21-year old composer can quote a Nazi anthem in his piece and have no responsibility whatsoever to give the commissioners a heads-up on it? And is it really such a horrible violation of artistic principles for the commissioners to ask what the Nazi anthem was doing there, and why they hadn’t been informed? For Tarm to act all aggrieved that the orchestra would dare ask him to explain himself is really too much.

There are two sides to any commissioning project. And both sides, it strikes me, have rights that deserve to be upheld. Those rights don’t have to be in conflict if each side can respect the needs of the other. What struck me in the present case is that Jonas Tarm, in particular, failed to show such respect. Yes, the orchestra perhaps overreacted. But in all honesty, I’m not sure I wouldn’t also have dropped the piece until the composer was more forthcoming about his intent.

Every once in a while during my radio career, I’d play a piece or song, unaware that it contained the some potentially offensive phrase. That doesn’t always mean I shouldn’t have played the song, or that I never did again. But when it happened the first time, I was frankly embarrassed and a little angry that I hadn’t known what I was doing ahead of time. And I made damned sure to flag the song and give it a brief explanation before I played it again. It wouldn’t mean that no one would take offense. But I had protected myself and my station in the case of a serious complaint. I think the New York Youth Symphony should have been afforded the same protection.

posted by NoxAeternum at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


NoxAeternum: This blithe dismissal of the feelings of those who were victimized in the name of defending some sort of abstract ideal of free speech absolutism is too often used as a defense of some really vile things (a great example being our most recent Reddit thread), and it bothers me that groups like the NCAC seem to have a hard time realizing that.

I don't see that NCAC comment as a blithe dismissal. There's space between everything is permitted and wholesale bans. There is room for a careful approach to troubling subjects to allow both some reasonable level of free expression but also respect the feelings of those who don't wish to be caught off guard by material they find troubling.

MeFi threads are allowed to link to NSFW and all kinds of other content that some may be triggered by; the feelings of those people who would be troubled by these are at least somewhat taken into account by post-writers including an NSFW tag or trigger warnings (or mods editing them in later such as in that MeFi Reddit thread).

This is one reason a longer program note might have been part of a solution here. (And both NYYS management and Tarm having had more time to consider options either because Tarm said something proactively or because NYYS management had paid more attention to the work they were premiering).
posted by mountmccabe at 3:52 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


What I think is illegitimate is pretending that this decision is somehow the fault of the 21 year old composer.

The decision to make up one sixth of the composition with totalitarian anthems is definitely his "fault," although I'd prefer to use the term "responsibility." It's not like he wrote the piece on spec; it was commissioned by the youth symphony, an organization in which the players range from 14 to 21. As a composer and an artist, he has a responsibility to tailor the work for his audience. That doesn't mean that he has to write insipid pap just because the players are minors; it means that you don't write anything requiring an exceptional bravura or technical skill, you don't write anything requiring particularly unusual instruments, and you don't drop in random references to Nazis without talking it over with your patron first.

It's not like this is a known theme in his work; I've listened to a bunch of his stuff today on Soundcloud and YouTube to get a sense of who he is as a composer. (He's a genius, btw. Really tremendous.) Nothing else like this appears in his catalog. The piece was dedicated "to the victims of hunger and fire," not "to the victims of war and oppression." I'm pretty sure he thought he was being edgy and cool and mysterious, but providing Eliot excerpts as his only program notes would be eyerollingly pretentious under any circumstances, and in this particular case, slides firmly into "quit being a deliberate asshole" territory.

I've reached out to a handful of acquaintances of mine who are contemporary classical composers to see what they think. Certainly all the musicians I know are more or less on the "Oh, you everlasting doofus" side of the equation.
posted by KathrynT at 4:17 PM on March 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


yoink: “Tarm-not-Tarn is Estonian-not-Ukrainain, by the way. But the point remains the same. If you're going to assume that quoting=supporting the radically different pieces that Tarm quotes present you with a real problem.”

I said this above: quoting is totally different from singing. Tarm only had to quote. If I had to sing, I'd feel pretty damned weird about it. Sorry, but it's true. In other words, I don't think he supports Nazis. But the fact that he doesn't support Nazis doesn't mean I have to be comfortable singing or staging the Horst Wessel song.

In fact, I don't think anyone in this thread has even come close to suggesting that Mr Tarm is anything even remotely close to a supporter of Nazism. Have they?
posted by koeselitz at 4:49 PM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


This blithe dismissal of the feelings of those who were victimized in the name of defending some sort of abstract ideal of free speech absolutism is too often used as a defense of some really vile things (a great example being our most recent Reddit thread), and it bothers me that groups like the NCAC seem to have a hard time realizing that.

So many of the Big Names in the freedom of speach industry are basically completely clueless about intersectionality, rather whitebread and therefore tend to reason from a position of privilege not unlike that of a 20 year old white dude who has just learned some heavy truths about Totalitarianism, man, which for him is all ancient history so it doesn't even enter into his mind that for some of his audience, it isn't.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:11 AM on March 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


Or maybe he just feels a perfectly natural sense of disappointment at having his Carnegie debut snatched away, and like many people in this thread, has an unclear sense of what exactly constitutes (self)censorship. Attributing a misunderstanding of how free speech works to his race seems like a stretch. And kind of a gross one at that.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:09 PM on March 13, 2015


By the way, I can only assume that the towering fury so many of you seem to feel over this stems from a feeling that Tarm must, in fact, be a crypto-fascist

The only towering fury I have is for the never-ending practice of people putting on their Debate Team hat and defending arrogant dumbshittery like this by pretending everything happens in a vacuum, because anyone, anywhere, being told what to do makes them antsy.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:24 PM on March 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


But you can't deny the Debate Team Hat is a perfect match for the Browbeating Apron, the Strawmanning Chemise, the Righteous Indignation Clogs, and the Hyperbole Utility Kilt.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:39 PM on March 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the people calling it censorship want to highlight that ideology-based choices about publishing/performing content are problematic, especially when they are coming from organizations that receive any form of public support.

And I don't entirely disagree with this. It's worthwhile to scrutinize. But the circumstances under which this position is taken undermine the argument.

The idea that you can somehow neatly separate ideology concerns from artistic or financial concerns is delusional. What happens is that that some ideology maps so neatly on to our cultural landscape that it appears to disappear into pure money or aesthetics. So if a casting director calls for an attractive skinny white person for a part that could be equally or more compellingly played by, say, an attractive skinny person from the marginalized ethnic background actually being depicted, you don't get these cries of censorship, presumably because the director thinking that white will sell more tickets/merchandising feels like a financial decision.

In fact, it's the people who do object who are likely to be 'accused' of letting their ideology into someone's art.

But the fact (to the extent it may be a fact) that white sells is a result of our political and cultural situation, not pure art or money. It's ideological. The decision to prioritise making money/not upsetting the privileged over expanding representation and roles for marginalized communities, over even considering a broader range of actors, is pure ideology.

So, yes, the symphony management deciding to prioritise the feelings of holocaust survivors and the educational experience of its members is an ideological one. It's not wrong to scrutinize it. But the decision not to would also be ideological. It would be to prioritise the feelings of the composer, of representatives of more mainstream groups who either wouldn't be jarred by the music or who wouldn't even recognise it (which would kind of seem to defeat the composer's alleged point), and certain conventions of the symphony commissioning process.

The fact that they take some public money doesn't imply to me that they are somehow required to go with the less visible ideology. If anything, it means that they are more free, and possibly more morally if not legally required, to break free from the market-driven concerns about appealing to the privileged and the mainstream (which are really ideological concerns absorbed invisibly into our culture) over concern about the effect of their decisions on marginalized groups and youth education. They are and should be more free to NOT simply reflect and reify the mainstream ideology(ies).

I actually think part of this censorship backlash is about the perception/stereotype of Jews (which is many people's first association with both the holocaust and New York city) as rich and powerful. So the idea that this composer is being persecuted by a more powerful entity feels compelling to people and makes the term censorship feel more apt. Whereas the idea that fat girls don't play Juliet in public school/grant supported theatre just doesn't have the same buttons to push. And again, it's about the invisible power of incredibly problematic ideologies that are cooked into our culture, continuing to protect and propagate themselves.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:27 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


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