UMass prof: We don’t say White male composers’ full names because of ‘inequity’

A University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor argued that the music world does not use the full names of Beethoven, Mozart, and others in a sign of “inequity.”

He stated that the music world should “fullname” all composers to create equality between White male composers and minority composers.

Christopher White, a professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, stated that the music world should “fullname” all composers to smooth inequities between White men and female, non-White artists.

In an op-ed for Slate, White noted that musicians refer to the last names of composers like Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach — all of whom are Western Europeans — while they use the full names of women and “composers of color” like Alma Mahler, Florence Price, and Henry Burleigh.

“It’s time we paid attention to the inequity inherent in how we talk about composers, and it’s time for the divided naming convention to change,” wrote White.

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Noting that American classical music is “reckoning with its racist and sexist history,” White referred to the accelerated pace of revisionism in the music field — including working groups and online resources at universities — as justification for “fullnaming.”

“These canonized demigods became so ensconced in elite musical society’s collective consciousness that only one word was needed to evoke their awesome specter,” wrote White, who also said that referring to composers by their only one name “created a hierarchical system that, whether or not you find it useful, can now only be seen as outdated and harmful.”

He sees fullnaming as “a small act in the face of centuries of harm and injustice,” yet he believes that “by adopting a stance of referential egalitarianism, fullnaming at least does no more harm.”

White’s comments come in the wake of universities revising their music theory curricula to fight the influence of alleged systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.

For instance, students at Texas Tech asked the school’s dance and theatre department to overhaul its curriculum, opposing a “white heteronormative patriarchal canon” with “intersectional feminism.”

[RELATED: Texas Tech students to university: Overhaul curriculum, add ‘intersectional feminism’]

Likewise, students at the University of North Texas asked the university to dissolve an academic journal run by two professors after it published an article stating that music theory is not white supremacist in nature. 

The university agreed to investigate the journal.

[RELATED: UNT faculty targeted for saying music theory isn’t white supremacist]

Campus Reform reached out to White for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft