On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone (Music and Social Justice) (Paperback)

On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone (Music and Social Justice) By Philip Ewell Cover Image

On Music Theory, and Making Music More Welcoming for Everyone (Music and Social Justice) (Paperback)

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Since its inception in the mid-twentieth century, American music theory has been framed and taught almost exclusively by white men. As a result, whiteness and maleness are woven into the fabric of the field, and BIPOC music theorists face enormous hurdles due to their racial identities. In On Music Theory, Philip Ewell brings together autobiography, music theory and history, and theory and history of race in the United States to offer a black perspective on the state of music theory and to confront the field’s white supremacist roots. Over the course of the book, Ewell undertakes a textbook analysis to unpack the mythologies of whiteness and western-ness with respect to music theory, and gives, for the first time, his perspective on the controversy surrounding the publication of volume 12 of the Journal of Schenkerian Studies. He speaks directly about the antiblackness of music theory and the antisemitism of classical music writ large and concludes by offering suggestions about how we move forward. Taking an explicitly antiracist approach to music theory, with this book Ewell begins to create a space in which those who have been marginalized in music theory can thrive.
Philip Ewell is Professor of Music Theory at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Product Details ISBN: 9780472055029
ISBN-10: 047205502X
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication Date: April 24th, 2023
Pages: 332
Language: English
Series: Music and Social Justice
"This book may represent the cusp of a racial reckoning for music theory in the US. [E]veryone—students and
faculty—involved in music theory should read it. . . Essential."
— Choice, B. J. Murray, Miami University

“Phil Ewell kicked the hornet’s nest in 2019 in a conference paper on the white racial frame of standard music theory. He was not the first to question tonality’s hierarchical principles whereby the dissonant other must be subsumed or eliminated for the sake of harmony: Schoenberg, George Russell, Christopher Small, and feminist theorists have raised similar critiques. But three years of panels, denunciations, and lawsuits have not settled the controversy over Ewell’s presumed transgression. In On Music Theory, he mounts a detailed defense of his arguments, as well as an account of the repercussions that followed in the wake of his talk. A crucial book for those involved in the ongoing debates over covert biases in academic disciplines.”


— Susan McClary, Case Western Reserve University, Author of The Passions of Peter Sellars: Staging the Music

On Music Theory leaves no doubt about the discipline’s deeply ingrained antiblackness. In doing so, Ewell successfully demonstrates that the problems facing music theory are systemic and not simply the fault of a few bad actors. The book provides a framework and vocabulary that will enable future scholars to identify and challenge racism in the field and demonstrates a new approach to music theory that draws on interdisciplinary scholarship about race.”


— Loren Kajikawa, George Washington University, Author of Sounding Race in Rap Songs

"It is an essential component of a longer anti-racism reading list for anyone engaging in academic music disciplines today."
— Robin Attas, University of Manitoba