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A dose of dumb: Asians can't understand Western music, redux

Yo Yo Ma

In A dose of dumb: Asians can't understand Western music, I noted a clueless TV comment about whether Asian musicians are unable to fully comprehend "Western" music, plus TIME magazine's posing of the same question regarding none other than famed Boston Symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa (!). My mocking of the comments and my return question ("Why the hell would an 'Asian' have any less comprehension of 'Western' music than a 'Westerner'?") are on the money. But the post is still a weak one, as I was only able to paraphrase the dumb comments from memory. I'd much rather point you to sources which we can cringe at together.

And hey – here's one! From blogger Kidist Paulos Asrat, two posts ostensibly about art and music: Asians Playing Western Music and "Music is about bringing us all together- it should never be a vehicle for division." Get a load of these excerpts from the first post:

I realized that the performance of Handel's Messiah was to be performed by a "Korean-American" concert choir called Peniel Choir... As the concert progressed, I began to realize a certain "prettiness" in the performance, a lack of force, drive and even drama. I don't think this is simply a cultural phenomenon (as in misunderstanding the Messiah's content, message, meaning, etc...). I think it is a physio/cerebral problem. I've seen it happen in art and design, and even in science - a friend of mine was a Korean PhD student. At some level, I think Asians demonstrate some ability (i.e. memorization, or fast, scale-like exercises). But there seems to be an inability to create a synthesized beauty, which is what much of art (and order in Science) is about...

[Asians] are notably absent in the brass and percussion sections... these instruments (brass and percussion) might actually be too physically demanding for them...

So this is what multiculturalism is bringing us. I think it is a mixture of aggressive Asians pushing their way in everywhere, and a liberal white public that wants these multi-culti influences to dominate in its cities and institutions.

Holy bejesus. The second post tries to quell the resulting (surprise!) flood of unfriendly emails to the author:

I know what I'm writing sounds hypocritical since I'm deriding Asians despite my similar technical background, but at least I realize that these issues exist, and I'm not afraid to confront them. Perhaps that makes me a better critique [sic]...

I think Mary Lee [SC Philharmonic Concertmaster, who wrote to protest] and the other white admonishers are trying to say that given my own background, how do I have the grounds to say that Asian musicians are inferior?

No, you doofus. It's not your "background" that doesn't give you grounds. It's your failure to provide evidence that doesn't give you grounds to claim that "Asian musicians are inferior".

Believe it or not, the blogger then posits that as a non-white herself, the angry emails are just a case of whites telling a non-white that she's not allowed to make judgments on which non-whites are or aren't good at white music. I think. Frankly, it's too convoluted for me to follow. Or too wacky. Or both. (Either way, I think the technical term for the follow-up is "digging the hole deeper".)

I know, this is just an unknown blog by an unknown someone who is (as a glance at other weird posts reveals) a crazed anti-Asian racist. It's a personal blog post, not a TIME magazine article – and yet, it did catch the attention of an online heavyweight, the wonderful Pharyngula blog. Check out Her prospects for a future in art journalism may have just dimmed to see the above posts dismantled by an expert in the art of puncturing the pretentious (as well as by dozens of regular commenters with no mean skill in the same).

Ah, the Internet. It lets any numbskull post silly culturologist or ugly racist rants – and, wonderfully, lets the saner world shoot those to bits. We live in good times.


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