Posted inHistory

My Racist Kentucky Home

In July 1957, Frank Chelf, a Democratic congressman from Kentucky brought his harmonica to the Capitol. As members of the House Rules Committee (and a photographer from the Associated Press) looked on, Chelf played “My Old Kentucky Home,” a 19th-century ballad his state had adopted as its official song. “The sun shines bright in the […]

Posted inEssay


Musical activism reached its zenith in the wake of the political turbulence of the 1960s and ‘70s. From Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” the cold war era was a time when people, even faced with the prospect of global annihilation, still believed in the power […]

Posted inReport

Season In, Season Out

On September 30, 2002, two civil rights lawyers, Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. and Cyrus Mehri, released a report called “Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities.” By then, the problem of diversity in the sport had already been widely acknowledged. “A panel of ESPN experts were asked their opinion on the […]

Posted inReport

White Noise

Nobody should have to write again that classical music has a race problem. We find ourselves here time and again, overseers of an all-too slow change, making the repeated case for equality. But my recent discovery of white-supremacist and neo-Nazi forum Stormfront’s penchant for classical music got me thinking a little more about how to […]

Posted inInterview

Malleable Structures

The composer and performer Tyshawn Sorey was in Berlin recently as the very first Artist in Residence at the Berlin Festival’s JazzFest. At a concert on November 2, he played an array of highly differentiated sounds, combining subtly with his trio colleagues Christopher Tordini and Cory Smythe. For large chunks of the work, Sorey’s face […]

Posted inInterview

The Discovery Phase

The Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) is an independent research unit of Columbia College Chicago devoted to the documentation, research, preservation, and dissemination of information about the history of black music on a global scale. I recently spoke with Melanie Zeck, Research Fellow with the Center, over Skype. Zeck joined the CBMR in 2005, […]

Posted inInterview

Speaking Through The Moment

Saul Williams is a rapper, actor, musician, and slam poet who toys with the sounds of syllables, words, and terminologies. Classical composers, such as Thomas Kessler and Ted Hearne, have found themselves inspired by his texts. We spoke with him about resistance, colonialism, and why he only sits when he’s performing with a string quartet. […]

Posted inInterview


During this year’s Ojai Music Festival in Ojai, California (June 8-11), I met up with George Lewis, the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University, to discuss his opera “Afterword,” which received its West Coast premiere at the festival on June 9. The theme of this year’s Ojai Music Festival, directed by […]

Posted inReport

The Age-Old Problem of Aging

There’s a strange clip after a beautiful performance in “I Am The Violin,” the 2004 documentary about violin virtuoso Ida Haendel. On a simple string crossing in the first movement of the Brahms Concerto, Haendel’s bow bounces uncontrollably. She recovers within seconds, and the incident hardly registers in the scope of the performance. Yet the […]

Posted inOpinion

Tacet Acceptance

In 2012, I embarked on a study of the classical music profession in the UK and Germany. I was interested in learning what it is like to work as a musician, the ups and downs of the profession, and how musicians deal with the often precarious nature of their work. Another issue that I wanted […]