I talk about teachers in response to a couple of things I've heard and come across the past couple days. At a recent AYS rehearsal one of the oboists and I joked around a bit about how black people are beginning to make their way into more of the front of musical ensembles, as opposed to just in the back (percussion, low brass, etc.). The conversation came up when he asked me if I knew another local bassoonists, who is black. The more I thought about it the more I wondered if the thought that black people are rare in orchestras is taught, or just seen. Clearly there aren't as many of us (yes, I'm black if you haven't noticed) in the classical music scene as let say, basketball, and I hope it's on that fact alone that the conversation we had would be a little funny, as opposed to it being taught that classical music isn't a realm with black people in it. We're (black people) only sprinkled around in orchestras around the world right now, but it seems that many things started that way. I'm sure there are people who can remember a time when blacks were only sprinkled in basketball, football, or even Top 40 radio. I'm not saying that we're taking over (calm down, everyone), but I think it's interesting to think about.
On the drive home from that rehearsal there was an interview on KUSC, a classical music station here, about the upcoming performance of the Barber Violin Concerto. The DJs kept making jokes about the story behind the piece, and kept talking about how they didn't want to get into trouble, so they just wouldn't go there. I assumed there was some sex story (specifically a gay scandal) behind the work, but after some (very light) research I've read that the person it was written for said the third movement was too hard. Barber had the piece premiered by someone else, despite the opinion of the other violinist. Maybe that was petty, but maybe it wasn't. Who taught us the egos we have musically? Does that come from a teacher, or general upbringing? My former teacher (who is, by the way, a black classical musician), says that musicians have to have a little bit of an ego, and I don't think I can disagree with that. I would never, however, be upset if someone else could play something that I considered too difficult - it happens on a daily basis actually :-)
My overall point is that we should, in general, be willing to consider the idea of something that in our minds is strange, different, or even wrong, to be ok. As rapper Vanilla Ice said, "Stop. Collaborate and listen" (which I'm using a. to be more pan-cultural, b. show an example of a white rapper to parallel the idea of black classical musicians, and c. because I saw it on a stop sign in a Beverly Hills neighborhood), and that's precisely what we need to do with all of our preconceived ideas about everything.
You may or may not have noticed that I do not use the term "African-American", and if you're interested I can discuss that with you some other time. Also, I don't know if Barber was gay or not, but I'm for sure not trying to imply that he was. Finally, I can't genuinely say that I don't think Vanilla Ice is kinda cool...