POST-DEI PLURALISM

Music Studies Version
Ed Sarath

Dec, 2023

I am happy to announce the launch of a Post-DEI Pluralism Leadership movement in music studies, with important ramifications for pluralism discourse across fields.

The basic tenets of PDPL, a subset of the International Consortium for Academic and Societal Transformation, are outlined below.

Central is moving beyond the superficial conversation and action that often dominates DEI discourse toward realization of the structural change that the racial justice/artistic justice crisis in music studies requires.

Of equal importance is a celebratory, evolutionary thrust to the PDPL initiative that is also notably lacking in prevailing DEI deliberations. Consistent with ICAST’s vision of a revolution in creativity and consciousness/spirituality, a reconceived music studies paradigm in which Black musical practices and aesthetic principles are foundational has the potential to catalyze arts-driven transformation that impacts education and society at large.[1]

Redefining notions of diversity, equity and inclusivity, PDPL—while fundamentally changing the activist narrative—does not reject conventional practice, but rather resituates and thus reinvigorates it within a creativity-based, integrative, contemporaneous and globally-mediated context. A framework emerges that enables engagement with the European canon and broader excursions, now grounded in significantly expanded artistic foundations, to take their next evolutionary strides.

Little in this expanded evolutionary direction will be possible, however, without heightened diagnostic penetration into the roots, and multi-tiered manifestations of, music studies racist pathology.

Indeed, there is no point in mincing words on this account: Evasion of this diagnostic requisite has not only rendered DEI inadequate to the task at hand but has arguably even fueled the racism that riddles music schools across the nation and world.

In short, music studies—and its activist movement—are long overdue for a wake-up call.

This document is for those who are ready to hear and heed this call, and in turn assume a leadership role in what may be among the most exciting educational/societal revolutions of our times.

INTRODUCTION

Concerns are steadily mounting that DEI discourse amounts to little more than a progressivist smokescreen against which token modifications of existing structures masquerade as the substantive, structural change required by the racial justice imperative.[2]

Important light is shed on these concerns when the activist lens shifts from the highly generalized ethnological orientation that prevails to epistemology.

Claims to welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds (ethnologies) into a community without foundational integration—as opposed to superficial appropriation—of their diverse ways of knowing, being and creative expression (epistemologies) are not only incomplete, but actually fuel the racism in question.[3]

Music studies, arguably among the most racist domains in the entire academy, may be a primary example.

Schools of music across the nation and world were quick to embrace the re-enlivened Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd murder in May 2020, with unprecedented proclamations of commitment to anti-racist, abolitionist and decolonizing pedagogy and programming.

As these same schools look forward to May 2024, when they will  graduate their first undergraduate classes following this extended wave of racial justice discourse (which now falls under the DEI heading), what do they have to show for themselves in terms of fundamentally new strides as opposed to token modifications of existing structures?[4]

The nine primary indicators of structural or paradigmatic change, including numerous subsets, outlined below strongly support the sobering assessment implicit in the above question.

Most music schools fall far short of most if not all of the structural change thresholds.

Inasmuch, moreover, as tokenism may be even more hegemonic than abject silence and inaction, music studies may be more riddled by racist pathology as it was prior to Floyd moment.

As commentary below elaborates, Black Lives Matter rhetoric in music studies without corresponding Black Music Matters emphasis is among the immediate warning signs of ethno-epistemic dysfunction.

The artistic/pedagogical/aesthetic ramifications of this for K-12 music teacher education, which may even amplify the problem, are particularly disquieting. When these and other indicators are considered in relationship with the totality, the pathology—and thus urgency for substantive change leadership—become even more evident.

The fact that some colleagues may push back on this assessment by citing trends among performance faculty and ensemble directors to diversify the repertory they play as indicative of significant pluralist inroads only underscores the extent of the crisis. While all strides are welcome, incremental efforts must be recognized as the tip of the iceberg—akin to a BIPOC sprinkling campaign—if pluralism is to move beyond embellishment of prevailing epistemic engagement, hence assimilation, to the genuine integration of diverse epistemologies that signifies pluralist embrace. [5]

An extraordinary opportunity awaits music studies units that are ready to step up and provide much-needed leadership in a field that, at once, has inherited a particularly intensified version of America’s racist pathology, yet is also—were this pathology to be healed—brimming with transformative potential for education and society at large.

While there is no denying the challenges inherent in this assessment, the time is ripe for individuals and institutions who are ready and willing to commit to the change imperative in question to step up and render the world’s music schools the catalyst for such.

WHY DEI MUST BE REPLACED: Nine Paradigmatic Change Indicators

Is it really necessary to replace DEI? Will this not negate the gains, however limited, that may have been made? Why not retain the DEI heading and simply expand, or continue to evolve, what transpires there within? After all, is not DEI a work in progress? 

The following nine indicators strongly support the assessment that DEI discourse is not only incomplete, but actually exacerbate racism. If, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, Silence=Violence, then DEI—where talk and tokenism have masqueraded as substantive action—must be recognized as a deceptive, yet intensified form of violence.[6]

  • The Structural Change Imperative

Proclamations of commitment to racial justice that are unaccompanied by anything more than token modifications of existing structures comprise are the defining features of empty rhetoric. This, as noted, only fuels hegemony by reifying notions of inherent superiority in dominant structures, which in music means continued centering of Eurocanonic engagement, as well as notions of inherent inferiority in nonEurocanonic engagement (infinite forms of which are dominant in the musical world around us). The longer the empty rhetoric continues—or worse, escalates in fervor—the more egregious the superiority/inferiority message, and thus racist impact, that is transmitted. Declarations of DEI 2.0 or related efforts to elevate anti-racist measures that are unaccompanied by structural change discourse and interventions only worsen the crisis.

Closely related is the phenomenon of mandated faculty anti-racism/DEI workshops that lack actual musical application. A common pattern is for these workshops to either be led by colleagues from outside of music or to evade analysis of the multi-tiered and pervasive nature of structural musical racism. The focus instead is on structural societal racism, under the assumption that by raising awareness about this pathology, colleagues will automatically translate principles to music.

 Nothing could be further from the truth, and as elaborated upon below, music studies racism is riddled with its own set of systemic pathologies that need to be identified and addressed.

 Anti-racism/DEI discourse that fails to cross this threshold essentially transmits the message, by default, that music studies racism is not structural in nature and thus does not require diligent activist attention and analysis.[7]

 The point is not that awareness of structural societal racism is not essential, but that the absence of a musical correlate perpetuates a false sense of progressivism and thus amplifies racist impact.

 The DEI=Violence assessment gains further strength when the activist lens opens up from the prevailing generalized ethnological focus to epistemology.[8]

  • The Epistemological Imperative

Claims to welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds (ethnologies) without wholesale embrace and foundational integration of their diverse ways of knowing, being, creative expression and spiritual wisdom (epistemologies) lie at the heart of empty rhetoric.

A primary example of this syndrome, which might be called “BIPOC sprinkling,”[9] involves efforts to program and study works of under-represented composers in typically Eurocanonic ensembles and coursework without integration of improvisatory and compositional processes in the curricula and culture of music studies.

It is not that these initial surface epistemic strides are unwelcome, but that they constitute the tip of the paradigmatic/structural change iceberg, which goes unrecognized amid DEI rhetoric.

An epistemic continuum may be helpful to analyzing and breaking free from the pattern.

Central is the move from interpretive identity to creative identity. BIPOC sprinkling typically occurs against the overarching orientation in music studies toward interpretive Eurocanonic performance and studies, now slightly modified.

The same modified interpretive identity remains intact even with Ethnomusicological survey courses, embellished music theory and aural skills coursework, and music teacher education methods (e.g. “world music” methods—see commentary below on linguistic racism) classes.

A critical threshold further along the epistemic continuum involves the transformation of music interpreter to music creator identity. Now improvising and composing, engagement with diverse musical sources, and the integrative features of creativity-based artistry are not auxiliary activities (which for many music majors are entirely absent), but facets of one’s musical self-identity.[10]

The improvisatory threshold is critical to this shift in that improvisation is the primary means by which musicians develop deep connections to their primary musical cultures as well as those newly encountered.

A central axiom thus comes into focus:

Music studies will never make more than a dent in its efforts to address systemic musical racism as long interpretive performance, or some embellished form thereof, remains the central identity in the field.[11]

The identity crisis will never be solved by merely adding improvisation to existing curricula. Nothing short of foundational curricular and cultural overhaul with improvisation as central, atop the foundations of which interpretation may be (re)integrated, will suffice.

Colleagues who erroneously infer in this analysis denigration of the European tradition only betray their lack of understanding of this great lineage and its place in the musical world around us. Indeed, the establishment of an improvisation-centered musical identity—which need not jettison, and could enhance interpretive engagement—represents both an epistemic reconnection with earlier eras of the European tradition and means for engagement therewith, now in a creativity-rich, integrative and contemporaneous form—to take its next evolutionary strides.

  • The Black Music Imperative

When the activist lens opens up from the highly generalized ethnological orientation and surface epistemological interventions that prevail to encompass the robust epistemic expansion needed, Black American Music comes into focus as particularly rich ethno-epistemic site that is pivotal—for both diagnostic and evolutionary reasons—to pluralism efforts. The fact that this point eludes DEI discourse underscores its racist inertia. This is particularly the case when it comes to jazz, which—within the Black music pantheon—is arguably among the most epistemologically diverse and integrative knowledge systems in the entire academy.

Here two epistemological pillars come into view—improvisation along the creativity line and meditation along the consciousness line.[12] These are far more than localized sites along a horizontal expanse, but rather epistemic landmarks that jut high above the landscape, with roots that extend deep into the bedrock of humanity’s diverse ways of knowing and being. Improvisation (predicated on an improvisation-based identity) underpins a rich matrix of musical modalities (creative, analytical, somatic, cognitive, spiritual).

Meditation similarly underpins a rich matrix of contemplative modalities (which include much of the musical spectrum). Working in tandem—and here jazz’s long legacy of artists/contemplatives is exemplary[13]—the two epistemic axes yield the rich epistemological circuitry through which creativity and consciousness may optimally flow and inform all dimensions of educational and personal growth.

A powerful template for arts-driven educational and societal transformation has long existed right at the doorstep of American culture but, due to the combination of racist bias and artistic and pedagogical confusion, has eluded recognition of such. Evasion of this fact may in itself be the most blatant indicator of DEI-driven racist violence.

  • The Curricular Overhaul (Core on Up) Imperative

The curriculum can be thought of as the DNA of an educational paradigm as well as an activist movement. The core curriculum in particular is where artistic, cultural, pedagogical and aesthetic assumptions—hence both nutrients and toxins—are transmitted to all parts of the system. Pluralism discourse that is absent explicit emphasis on curricular overhaul from the core level on up allows toxins—in the form of epistemic lapse, aversion to musical Blackness, BIPOC sprinkling amid further concerns—to flood the system and undermine whatever nutrients might be transmitted.

DEI discourse that stops short of emphatic centering of core curriculum reform perpetuates this pattern.

  • The K-12 Music Teacher Education Imperative

The longstanding pattern by which musicians are licensed to teach music in 21st century public schools in America with notably minimal engagement with 21st American music, particularly its African American foundations, may be among the most glaring racist transgressions in the history of the academy. Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception, as evidenced by a typical scenario: Out of the 130 credits or so that comprise music teacher education curricula in America, many programs require only a handful in American/African American music.  

  • The Diagnostic Imperative

The interplay between heightened diagnosis of racist pathology and expanded evolutionary visioning is key to fathoming the extent of systemic racism and, upon addressing its many manifestations, transforming pathology into gateways for growth. DEI is notably confined to the most superficial analysis of musical racism as well as limited evolutionary thinking, and thus celebration of the extraordinary benefits—beyond fulfilling politically correct criteria—to be reaped from robust (as opposed to tokenistic) pluralist commitment and action. The result, to be examined more closely below, in an unexamined deficit narrative that only adds to the racist impact.

The above points launched a kind of diagnostic analysis that has begun to penetrate into the deeper bedrock of systemic musical racism. Following is commentary that builds on this essential work.

Diagnostic analysis A (surface and substratal musical racism):

First involves the multi-tiered nature of systemic or structural musical racism. The activist Bryan Stevenson spoke to the 2019 University of Michigan graduating class and compared structural anti-racism work (unlike token DEI activity) to successful responses the COVID 19 pandemic. Just as biomedical experts not only combined detailed grasp of viruses in general, but the structure of this virus in particular, anti-racism expertise comprises detailed grasp not only of systemic racism in general, but its manifestations in specific fields.[14] Music studies, amid all its proclamations, has yet to see substantive inquiry into the multi-tiered nature of systemic musical racism.

Familiar areas include admissions, curricula, assessment (juries, recitals), hiring/promotions criteria, and music school assessment criteria (NASM); progress along all of which remains in its embryonic stages. A litany of less familiar, yet no less egregious manifestations, are yet more evasive—even from the standpoint of basic identification and understanding. Here an extended epistemological lens not only illuminates a wide array of examples, but—strongly underscoring the DEI futility thesis— those that may be categorized as forms of “racism within anti-racism discourse.” Elsewhere I have also identified these patterns (as well those related to previous points) as indicative of substratal racism, that which eludes attention but is as egregious in racist impact.[15]

An important overarching, and admittedly counter-intuitive example includes multicultural ideology and its offshoots. Best understood along a monocultural/multicultural/transcultural continuum, musical multiculturalism falls short in reducing musical reality to a curricular assembly line devoid of key ethno-epistemic landmarks. Marginalization of Black music and aesthetics is a primary causalty. Numerous other manifestations of include deAfricanization of Christopher Small’s widely cited notion of musicking, the “anti-aesthetic turn” (also called aesthetic praxial divide) that has gained traction in prominent Music Education philosophy circles, superficial approaches to culturally-responsive/sustainable pedagogy, the ‘world music pedagogy’ mirage, and even critical/anti-racism multiculturalism attempts that—while seeking to penetrate to the heart of multicultural dysfunction—fall short in their aims.

Further eluding attention are somatic racism, involving embodied, culturally mediated psycho-physical patterning that preclude engagement across traditions, and an array of manifestations of linguistic racism.  The latter goes far beyond overtly denigrating statements (which are still heard in the field) to include instances of what literary theorists have called “exnomination”—where exclusionary tendencies are inherent in how classes, disciplines, degree programs and departments are labelled. Headings, for example, such as Music Theory, Music History, Musicology, Performance and Composition—as well as common qualifiers such as Art Music and Western Art Music—at face value appear ethno-epistemologically neutral, meaning that they could readily center a range of cultures and practices, yet in reality overwhelmingly privilege Eurocanonic focus. The effect is even more insidious than overt declarations of Euro-superiority/nonEuroinferiority via the message: Such privileging/denigration is so self-evident it need not even be named.[16] 

DEI diagnostic inquiry scarcely scratches the surface and thus perpetuates systemic musical racism.

Diagnostic analysis B (two epistemic meta-crises):

An instructive further step in heightened diagnostic analysis involves situating multicultural and other seemingly progressive ideologies within the context of two epistemological meta-crises that are important to ICAST’s transformative vision.

Already broached is the disappearance of improvisation in the Eurocanonic tradition.

In essence, the moment improvisation began to fade from common practice would encode a core split between creation and performance in music studies culture from which a long chain of further epistemic and ethno-epistemic dysfunction and splintering would ensue. The discipline of Music Theory, initially enriched by direct connections with improvisation and composition, would take on a life of its own as it gravitated toward structural analysis of repertory and related syntactic concerns. The advent of Musicology continued in this dissociative direction, followed by divisions between constituent Historical and Ethnomusicological streams. The birth of Ethnomusicology, particularly through its periodic interactions with Music Education (e.g. Mus Ed partial embrace of Mantle Hood’s bimusicality thesis), would have particularly serious repercussions for change discourse against this creativity-deficient backdrop. Again, with improvisation as the key means by which musicians forge deep cultural connection, the absence of this epistemological identity marker would not only make tokenism but systemic racism inevitable.

Here the analysis returns to the multicultural ideology that, as noted above, would take hold. Against a backdrop of disciplinary compartmentalization, hence epistemic dysfunction, it would be almost inevitable that an ethnological parallel—cultural/genre compartmentalization—would follow. Real-world musical navigators transcend (yet also reconceive) of the overarching, cultural/genre (and disciplinary) boundaries that dominate academic awareness, recognizing these delineations as language-bound, academic constructions. Superficial appropriation, even if at times masquerading as substantive engagement (including when students, moving beyond distanced fascination with the exotic, actually become enamored of a newly encountered tradition), is thus the norm.

DEI is a direct manifestation of this ethno-epistemic dysfunction.

The disappearance of improvisation, in turn, may be understood as the music studies manifestation of a second epistemic meta-crisis. This entails the disappearance of meditation and contemplative engagement that was previously central in the Western intellectual tradition. The ancient Greco-Roman philosophical schools to which the academy has long paid homage for their systems of logic, reason and critical analysis were grounded in transpersonal modalities that took awareness deep beneath the surface waves of ordinary mental activity. Refinement and evolution of thought requires transcendence of thought, just as refinement and evolution of musical skill and understanding requires not only interpretation and study of repertory (West or East) but foundational integration of the processes by which repertory comes into being.[17]

Music studies is thus constrained by not one epistemic crisis but two, the second of which has been inherited from education at large.

Diagnostic analysis C: Deficiency narrative

Finally, within the diagnostic dimension is the need to identify and address a particularly disquieting byproduct of epistemically-limited, diagnostically shallow pluralism discourse. This involves the propagation of deficiency thinking. The deficiency narrative manifests itself in two fallacies. The first entails the view that the prevailing paradigm is not fundamentally, or structurally flawed, it is simply deficient and thus requires only surface modifications. Just as an otherwise healthy individual may benefit from modest dietary modifications, a generally healthy music studies paradigm may benefit, the thinking goes, from surface curricular and related modifications.

But the reality cannot be stated more clearly:

A music studies paradigm that has severed itself from the creative foundations of human art making, and—as has happened in the US, continues to marginalize the music of its own culture—cannot even remotely be considered healthy!

A second fallacy definitive of the deficiency narrative inevitably follows. If a music studies framework rooted in creativity-bereft Eurocanonic engagement is deemed viable, one might reasonably infer that nonEurocanonic traditions must therefore have little if anything to offer beyond ornamental trinkets. NonEurocanonic lineages are thus presumed deficient.

Yet again, the reality could not be more dramatically the opposite, with Black music and its unmatched epistemic scope as a primary example.

If the notion of arts-driven transformation, and particularly an arts-driven creativity/consciousness revolution, carries even a modicum of credence, identification of Black music and aesthetics as a key landmark, and the racialized obstacles—fueled by DEI—thereto, is an essential step.

When one situates the music studies change imperative within the context of the societal change imperative, the stakes are further raised for heightened diagnostic penetration into the systemic nature of racist pathology in the field.

  • The Evolutionary Imperative

An evolutionary continuum comes into view, beginning with a transformed music studies model, with Black music and aesthetics at its core. Conventionalists immediately tend to infer in this the denigration, if not demise, of Eurocanonic engagement, and among Lower Order change activists, due to multicultural entrenchment, Black music privileging. However, an informed, transcultural vision foregrounds coevolutionary growth along all lines (cultural/disciplinary) of musical practice. Performance and study of the European canon, albeit redistributed and resituated in a contemporaneous, creativity-based and globally mediated context, take their next evolutionary strides. Here transcultural chronological and epistemological axioms converge: Appreciation of the treasures of the past (West and East) is predicated on continued rediscovery thereof through the lens of the improvisatory present. Even more significant may be the ramifications for a new vision of K-12 public school music teacher (artist/pedagogue/visionary), where conventional Band/Orch/Choir engagement is not jettisoned but, in fact, enlivened—even with new distribution—in the emergent epistemically diverse format.[18]

DEI, because of its combination of epistemic frailty, unexamined racialized biases and musical confusion, is devoid of any such evolutionary visioning, as well as further arts-driven transformative impact. Here a second, consciousness-based evolutionary phase follows its creativity-based predecessor—thus harkening back to the two epistemic meta-crises. Whereas the first heals the absence of improvisation in musical practice, the second heals the absence of meditation in intellectual life.

Yet again, Black music and aesthetics provide the necessary epistemological tools and scope to place this transformative spectrum in full view.[19]

It is but a small step, yet one that is monumental in ramifications, to situate the recognition of Black musical achievement as historically significant global achievement within the growing body of work that recognizes the Black origins of human civilization. While the African bio-genetic roots of humanity are well known, the idea that the psycho-spiritual-aesthetic-cultural foundations of species homo sapiens sapiens—through a migratory trajectory that can be traced from East Africa to Egypt, Asia and Europe—also stem from African continent significantly alters prevailing, racialized narratives on the evolution of civilization that are oblivious to these roots.[20]

From this rediscovery of our African past origins stem new waves of Afrofuturistic visioning that are not only significant for the flourishing of Black people but all of humanity.[21]

  • The Noetic Musicology Imperative

When all is said and done, the DEI-as-pro-racism crisis is a crisis in musicology. While music studies applies the disciplinary label (musicology) to coursework, degree programs, departments and practitioners, what is lacking is an actual field—and thus musicological paradigm—that is adequate to illuminating and guiding real-world musical navigation and transformative impact. . Conventional music studies practice, as well as decades of efforts (DEI the most recent wave) to reform the field, are predicated on the illusion that such a musicological backdrop is indeed in place. The moment the activist lens shifts to epistemology, the consequences of such an illusion, and the fact that all the answers that are needed to heal the music studies racial justice/artistic justice crisis are found in the MUSIC itself, could not be more vivid.

A new model is needed that goes as far beyond Ethnomusicology as its Historical counterpart (and systematic, cognitive, ecomusicological and other variants might be included).

Noetic musicology is a potential candidate that grounds musical inquiry in the two epistemic pillars noted above—improvisation along the creativity line, meditation along the consciousness line—and offers a means for entirely new pluralism discourse that proceeds from the innermost dimensions of the soul. This may be best understood by parsing the heading into its two components: Music and Ology.

The primary modality for understanding MUSIC is improvisation; when situated as a primordial epistemology, an infinitude of overlying modalities immediately come into focus—including multiple improvisatory and compositional languages, performance, aurality, rhythmic fluency, somatic engagement and a broader scope of theoretical, historical, cognitive, aesthetic and spiritual aptitudes.

The primary modality for OLOGY, which unites the study of any topic with the study of the self/Self structure that conducts the investigation, is meditation and consciousness-based engagement.[22]

Black music and aesthetics exemplify principles of noetic Music-Ology and offer an arts-based template for far reaching educational and societal change.

  • Higher Order Leadership Imperative

The interplay between heightened diagnostic penetration into racist pathology and expanded evolutionary visionary provides a useful lens for distinguishing between lower order and higher order activist leadership

It also brings into focus a conclusion that is inevitable when one steps back and views the situation from a historical perspective: There is no getting around the heightened activist edge, diagnostic candor and difficult dialogues and work inherent in racial justice/artistic justice healing if celebratory, evolutionary conversation and action are to transpire.

Indeed, given the depth of racist entrenchment in the American psyche and societal and educational systems, it would more astonishing were a field like music studies—for which the topic of race is remarkably new in its half-century-plus of change deliberations (let alone conventional practice)—would all of a sudden rise to the occasion in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

It is almost as if, when music schools across the nation and world jumped on the BLM bandwagon, the weight of the field’s racist past brought everything to a halt. The question, then, becomes how music studies moves forward upon realizing this weight. The need for new kinds of leadership has never been more urgent.

This leadership absence can be analyzed in terms of two strata of accountability.

Beginning with college/university administrative leadership, one almost gets the sense that Provosts, Presidents, Chancellors and other administrators across the nation have conspired to render their respective music schools/departments exempt from the racial justice/artistic justice imperative, perhaps hoping no one would notice the contradiction: The field that is, at once most equipped to catalyze structural, arts-driven change, yet also riddled by unmatched racist pathology, is absolved from culpability or reform obligation.

In turn, music school leadership has perpetuated this accountability crisis within its own units, allowing the most foundational manifestations of musical racism to remain in place even while hoisting larger and larger DEI banners.

While I realize that some will object vehemently to this characterization of the situation, I believe the above analysis only renders those objections further supporting evidence.

Once this reality is placed front and center, levels of conversation may then transpire about artistry, creativity, deep pluralism and the transformative potential of the arts in a world in desperate need of such that dwarf what typically take place.

The time is long overdue for individuals and institutions with either genuine leadership aspirations, or at least leadership implications in their titles, to look deep into their hearts and souls and decide how they will proceed.

CONCLUSION

DEI has fallen dramatically short in its failure to: 

  • Differentiate between tokenism and structural change, and further, to recognize empty rhetoric as an intensified and thus even more egregious manifestation of racism;
  • Recognize epistemology as key racial justice/artistic justice indicator, and thus epistemic dysfunction as racism catalyst;
  • Identify Black American Music as epistemological exemplar that has been racially marginalized in both conventional practice and progressivist, anti-racism discourse;
  • Foreground the curriculum, particularly the core, and interpretive specialist musical identity as locus for perpetuating racism and the corresponding urgency for curricular overhaul, from core level on up;
  • Emphasize K-12 music teacher education in America as both a uniquely racist site—largely bereft of engagement (beyond token encounter) with American/Black American music—and in urgent need for overhaul;
  • Diagnose the multi-tiered nature of systemic musical racism as well as its two dominant epistemic meta-crises, and importance of addressing such to make more than token strides toward healing;
  • Advance anything beyond the most superficial intimations of how racial justice might propel music studies to new evolutionary vistas as measured by artistic achievement and transformative impact in education and society at large, as the result of which pluralist discourse defaults to a racist deficiency narrative;

    Which thus supports the conclusion that DEI is not only incomplete but is, in fact, predicated on undermining each of its three constituent themes:

    DEI is decidedly anti-Diversity, pro-inEquity and not even remotely Inclusive. 

    DEI is therefore not a work in progress, but rather more aptly recognized as a work of violence.

    Music schools that are endowed with the leadership commitment that enables the above degree of diagnostic penetration to coexist with commensurate evolutionary visioning have the capacity to catalyze the arts-driven revolution in creativity and consciousness that may be among the most far-reaching developments in the history of the academy.

    ACTION STEPS

                   A series of possible change pathways, including both short-term and longer-term interventions, will follow shortly. These will include new approaches to core curricular reform, curriculum committee structure and function, K-12 music teacher education overhaul, a program of relabeling of courses, curricula and disciplinary areas and other strategies.

     

    An immediate step that may be deceptively impactful is for music schools/departments to issue a Declaration of Commitment to a new, Post-DEI pluralism agenda that is sent to all students, faculty, staff, alum and the institution (and possibly all of music studies and education) at large.

     

    The purpose of this statement is to mark an end to, and decisive rejection of, empty rhetoric and initiate strides in the direction of the all-important leadership that the present moment calls for and which has been notably absent.

    APPENDIX A: Sample Declaration—Post-DEI Pluralism Leadership Commitment

    Dear students, staff, faculty and alumni:

     

    The _______school/department of music is proud to announce its commitment to a fundamentally new level of commitment to the racial justice/artistic justice imperative.

    As with many of our peer institutions, we were quick to embrace the wave of BLM-driven change discourse that engulfed our field, the nation and world following the murder of George Floyd and other African American citizens in the spring of 2020.

    As we look forward to graduating our first class since that moment this coming spring, we are stepping back to take stock of what we have to show for our talk and actual efforts.

    Our conclusion is simple:

    We have fallen far short of the kind of change that is possible and urgently needed. We have allowed ourselves to be swept up in the waves of politically correct rhetoric and token interventions that have come to be defined by the DEI movement. In so doing we have significantly evaded much difficult work, instead favoring more comfortable pathways of action.

    The point is neither to dwell on these shortcomings, nor to gloss over them, but to seize this moment and assume the necessary leadership that has been all too absent in our field that changes the narrative in response to the racial justice/artistic justice imperative.

    While we realize the scope of change needed will not happen overnight, we also recognize that the simple act of declaring commitment to structural, as opposed to tokenistic reform may, in itself, illuminate an array of pathways, some of which may be pursued fairly swiftly, that otherwise are overlooked in a culture of complacency.

     

    • The foundational positioning of Black music in conversation and curricula is a primary distinguishing feature between prevailing, tokenistic discourse and the emergent leadership framework. Talk about Black Lives Matter without commensurate emphasis on Black Music Matters represents a foundational contradiction that undermines pluralist aspirations at the outset.
    • Overhaul of the musicianship core is a primary means for foundational positioning of Black music. This needs to move far beyond token inclusion of BIPOC repertory in ensembles, lessons and coursework, all of which instances of assimilation. The time has come for systemic integration of Black music from the most fundamental strata of the music studies paradigm. Given the long history of evasion of this step, it will likely be necessary to radically re-examine longstanding patterns of curricular oversight. The curriculum committee has proven over many decades its inability, and/or unwillingness, to serve the needs of students by allowing a largely outmoded, and racist core framework, to remain in place; the time have come to dissolve the conventional curriculum committee framework. Tendencies among music school/department leadership (Deans/Directors) to remain distanced from curricular deliberations represent further evasion of responsibility; this needs to give way to more active involvement. At the very least, unit leadership needs to make it clear that anything short of core curricular overhaul is unacceptable, with consequences (i.e. reduced funding, redeployment of graduate student lines, loss of faculty lines upon retirement, etc.) clearly spelled out.
    • K-12 music teacher certification is a potential initial site for significant change and leadership to take hold. An area that is in particularly urgent need of systemic change, K-12 music teacher education may also be conducive to wide-sweeping reforms that are implemented fairly swiftly. For example, school-wide core curricular change and redistributed large ensemble requirements might occur for aspiring music teachers with relative ease yet maximal benefit for everyone involved. Given longstanding curricular and ensemble politics, with Music Education faculty often caught in the crossfire, the transformation of music teacher artistic/pedagogical identity needs to be approached as a school-wide commitment. Music unit leadership needs to articulate to the entire faculty and student body a bottom-line diagnostic axiom that is beyond debate: The pattern of conferring certification to teach music in American public schools with scant grounding in American music, particularly its African American roots, may well represent the most glaring artistic justice/pedagogical justice/racial justice transgression in the history of the academy. 

    Here, however, we also need to emphasize that in our complacency about Black American music, we have also been complacent about the potential for engagement with White European Music to take its next evolutionary strides when pluralism discourse moves from the superficial to the structural. K-12 Music Teacher education could be a key site for an Afro-Euro nexus (Afro-Euro-Global).

    • Chamber music may be another potential area where paradigmatic change, including uniquely robust manifestations of Afro-Euro-Global coevolutionary interaction, could take place.
    • Catalyst for arts-driven transformation of education and society

    While comprising a longer-range vision, the identification of creativity/consciousness/spirituality connections at the outset of the new Post-DEI leadership commitment may shed important new light on immediate change efforts.

     Individuals and institutions that are interested in being part of the PDPL movement, or more information about it, are invited to contact Ed Sarath, sarahara@umich.edu

     

    [1] See Ed Sarath, Improvisation, Creativity and Consciousness (SUNY, 2012), Black Music Matters (Rowman and Littlefield (Rowman and Littlefield 2018) and Music Studies and its Moment of Truth (Routledge 2023)

    [2] Ariana Gonzalez Stokas, “Higher Ed’s Empty Talk About DEI,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 34-35, vol69., no 19, May 26, 2023.

    [3] Ed Sarath, 2023, Music Studies and Its Moment of Truth: Leading Change Through America’s Black Music Roots Routledge/College Music Society Emerging Fields series..

    [4] Sarath, Ibid.

    [5] Christopher Jenkins, Assimilation V. Integration in Music Education: Leading Change Toward Greater Equity. Routledge/College Music Society Emerging Fields series. 2023.

    [6] Ibid, Sarath.

    [7] The thinking, in other words, is that if one reads enough Ibram X. Kendi, Isabelle Wilkenson, Bettina S. Love, etc., principles will automatically translate to music. Nothing could be further from the truth; expertise in heart surgery does not equip one to operate on brains, eyes, gums or colons. The kind of surgery required in music studies may call for a team of practitioners that dwarfs in size and scope anything found in medicine.

    [8] Ibid, Sarath.

    [9] Ibid, Sarath.

    [10] Sarath, Ibid.

    [11] Sarath, Ibid.

    [12] Significant here is Pierre Hadot’s reminder, as in his What is Ancient Philosophy?, 2002 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA), that the systems of logic, rational thought and critical analysis that the academy holds dear originated in Greco-Roman philosophical schools in which meditation and related practices were central.

    [13] Alice Coltrane’s immersion in Vedanta, hence her ordination as Swami Turiyasanghitananda, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter comprise a partial list.

    [14] Bryan Stevenson, address to 2019 University of Michigan graduating class. Also see his Just Mercy (    )

    [15] Ibid, Sarath, distinguishes between multiple forms of overlying and substratal racism.

    [16] Ibid, Sarath.

    [17] Ibid, Hadot.

    [18] Ibid, Sarath.

    [19] Ibid, Sarath.

    [20] See, for example, Cheikh Anta Diop, (1974) The African Origin of Civilization (Brooklyn NY, Lawrence Hill Books); Robert Bauval and Thomas Brophy, 2011, Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient

    Egypt (Rochester, Vt: Bear and Company); and Edward Bruce Bynum, 2021, Our African Unconscious: The Black Origins of Mysticism and Philosophy (Inner Traditions Rochester Vermont).

    [21] Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones, Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. 2016. Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield: Lanham, MD.

    [22] Ibid, Sarath.

    Dec, 2023

    I am happy to announce the launch of a Post-DEI Pluralism Leadership movement in music studies, with important ramifications for pluralism discourse across fields.

    The basic tenets of PDPL, a subset of the International Consortium for Academic and Societal Transformation, are outlined below.

    Central is moving beyond the superficial conversation and action that often dominates DEI discourse toward realization of the structural change that the racial justice/artistic justice crisis in music studies requires.

    Of equal importance is a celebratory, evolutionary thrust to the PDPL initiative that is also notably lacking in prevailing DEI deliberations. Consistent with ICAST’s vision of a revolution in creativity and consciousness/spirituality, a reconceived music studies paradigm in which Black musical practices and aesthetic principles are foundational has the potential to catalyze arts-driven transformation that impacts education and society at large.[1]

    Redefining notions of diversity, equity and inclusivity, PDPL—while fundamentally changing the activist narrative—does not reject conventional practice, but rather resituates and thus reinvigorates it within a creativity-based, integrative, contemporaneous and globally-mediated context. A framework emerges that enables engagement with the European canon and broader excursions, now grounded in significantly expanded artistic foundations, to take their next evolutionary strides.

    Little in this expanded evolutionary direction will be possible, however, without heightened diagnostic penetration into the roots, and multi-tiered manifestations of, music studies racist pathology.

    Indeed, there is no point in mincing words on this account: Evasion of this diagnostic requisite has not only rendered DEI inadequate to the task at hand but has arguably even fueled the racism that riddles music schools across the nation and world.

    In short, music studies—and its activist movement—are long overdue for a wake-up call.

    This document is for those who are ready to hear and heed this call, and in turn assume a leadership role in what may be among the most exciting educational/societal revolutions of our times.

    INTRODUCTION

    Concerns are steadily mounting that DEI discourse amounts to little more than a progressivist smokescreen against which token modifications of existing structures masquerade as the substantive, structural change required by the racial justice imperative.[2]

    Important light is shed on these concerns when the activist lens shifts from the highly generalized ethnological orientation that prevails to epistemology.

    Claims to welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds (ethnologies) into a community without foundational integration—as opposed to superficial appropriation—of their diverse ways of knowing, being and creative expression (epistemologies) are not only incomplete, but actually fuel the racism in question.[3]

    Music studies, arguably among the most racist domains in the entire academy, may be a primary example.

    Schools of music across the nation and world were quick to embrace the re-enlivened Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd murder in May 2020, with unprecedented proclamations of commitment to anti-racist, abolitionist and decolonizing pedagogy and programming.

    As these same schools look forward to May 2024, when they will  graduate their first undergraduate classes following this extended wave of racial justice discourse (which now falls under the DEI heading), what do they have to show for themselves in terms of fundamentally new strides as opposed to token modifications of existing structures?[4]

    The nine primary indicators of structural or paradigmatic change, including numerous subsets, outlined below strongly support the sobering assessment implicit in the above question.

    Most music schools fall far short of most if not all of the structural change thresholds.

    Inasmuch, moreover, as tokenism may be even more hegemonic than abject silence and inaction, music studies may be more riddled by racist pathology as it was prior to Floyd moment.

    As commentary below elaborates, Black Lives Matter rhetoric in music studies without corresponding Black Music Matters emphasis is among the immediate warning signs of ethno-epistemic dysfunction.

    The artistic/pedagogical/aesthetic ramifications of this for K-12 music teacher education, which may even amplify the problem, are particularly disquieting. When these and other indicators are considered in relationship with the totality, the pathology—and thus urgency for substantive change leadership—become even more evident.

    The fact that some colleagues may push back on this assessment by citing trends among performance faculty and ensemble directors to diversify the repertory they play as indicative of significant pluralist inroads only underscores the extent of the crisis. While all strides are welcome, incremental efforts must be recognized as the tip of the iceberg—akin to a BIPOC sprinkling campaign—if pluralism is to move beyond embellishment of prevailing epistemic engagement, hence assimilation, to the genuine integration of diverse epistemologies that signifies pluralist embrace. [5]

    An extraordinary opportunity awaits music studies units that are ready to step up and provide much-needed leadership in a field that, at once, has inherited a particularly intensified version of America’s racist pathology, yet is also—were this pathology to be healed—brimming with transformative potential for education and society at large.

    While there is no denying the challenges inherent in this assessment, the time is ripe for individuals and institutions who are ready and willing to commit to the change imperative in question to step up and render the world’s music schools the catalyst for such.

    WHY DEI MUST BE REPLACED: Nine Paradigmatic Change Indicators

    Is it really necessary to replace DEI? Will this not negate the gains, however limited, that may have been made? Why not retain the DEI heading and simply expand, or continue to evolve, what transpires there within? After all, is not DEI a work in progress? 

    The following nine indicators strongly support the assessment that DEI discourse is not only incomplete, but actually exacerbate racism. If, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously stated, Silence=Violence, then DEI—where talk and tokenism have masqueraded as substantive action—must be recognized as a deceptive, yet intensified form of violence.[6]

    • The Structural Change Imperative

    Proclamations of commitment to racial justice that are unaccompanied by anything more than token modifications of existing structures comprise are the defining features of empty rhetoric. This, as noted, only fuels hegemony by reifying notions of inherent superiority in dominant structures, which in music means continued centering of Eurocanonic engagement, as well as notions of inherent inferiority in nonEurocanonic engagement (infinite forms of which are dominant in the musical world around us). The longer the empty rhetoric continues—or worse, escalates in fervor—the more egregious the superiority/inferiority message, and thus racist impact, that is transmitted. Declarations of DEI 2.0 or related efforts to elevate anti-racist measures that are unaccompanied by structural change discourse and interventions only worsen the crisis.

    Closely related is the phenomenon of mandated faculty anti-racism/DEI workshops that lack actual musical application. A common pattern is for these workshops to either be led by colleagues from outside of music or to evade analysis of the multi-tiered and pervasive nature of structural musical racism. The focus instead is on structural societal racism, under the assumption that by raising awareness about this pathology, colleagues will automatically translate principles to music.

     Nothing could be further from the truth, and as elaborated upon below, music studies racism is riddled with its own set of systemic pathologies that need to be identified and addressed.

     Anti-racism/DEI discourse that fails to cross this threshold essentially transmits the message, by default, that music studies racism is not structural in nature and thus does not require diligent activist attention and analysis.[7]

     The point is not that awareness of structural societal racism is not essential, but that the absence of a musical correlate perpetuates a false sense of progressivism and thus amplifies racist impact.

     The DEI=Violence assessment gains further strength when the activist lens opens up from the prevailing generalized ethnological focus to epistemology.[8] 

    • The Epistemological Imperative

    Claims to welcome individuals from diverse backgrounds (ethnologies) without wholesale embrace and foundational integration of their diverse ways of knowing, being, creative expression and spiritual wisdom (epistemologies) lie at the heart of empty rhetoric.

    A primary example of this syndrome, which might be called “BIPOC sprinkling,”[9] involves efforts to program and study works of under-represented composers in typically Eurocanonic ensembles and coursework without integration of improvisatory and compositional processes in the curricula and culture of music studies.

    It is not that these initial surface epistemic strides are unwelcome, but that they constitute the tip of the paradigmatic/structural change iceberg, which goes unrecognized amid DEI rhetoric.

    An epistemic continuum may be helpful to analyzing and breaking free from the pattern.

    Central is the move from interpretive identity to creative identity. BIPOC sprinkling typically occurs against the overarching orientation in music studies toward interpretive Eurocanonic performance and studies, now slightly modified.

    The same modified interpretive identity remains intact even with Ethnomusicological survey courses, embellished music theory and aural skills coursework, and music teacher education methods (e.g. “world music” methods—see commentary below on linguistic racism) classes.

    A critical threshold further along the epistemic continuum involves the transformation of music interpreter to music creator identity. Now improvising and composing, engagement with diverse musical sources, and the integrative features of creativity-based artistry are not auxiliary activities (which for many music majors are entirely absent), but facets of one’s musical self-identity.[10]

    The improvisatory threshold is critical to this shift in that improvisation is the primary means by which musicians develop deep connections to their primary musical cultures as well as those newly encountered.

    A central axiom thus comes into focus:

    Music studies will never make more than a dent in its efforts to address systemic musical racism as long interpretive performance, or some embellished form thereof, remains the central identity in the field.[11]

    The identity crisis will never be solved by merely adding improvisation to existing curricula. Nothing short of foundational curricular and cultural overhaul with improvisation as central, atop the foundations of which interpretation may be (re)integrated, will suffice.

    Colleagues who erroneously infer in this analysis denigration of the European tradition only betray their lack of understanding of this great lineage and its place in the musical world around us. Indeed, the establishment of an improvisation-centered musical identity—which need not jettison, and could enhance interpretive engagement—represents both an epistemic reconnection with earlier eras of the European tradition and means for engagement therewith, now in a creativity-rich, integrative and contemporaneous form—to take its next evolutionary strides.

    • The Black Music Imperative

    When the activist lens opens up from the highly generalized ethnological orientation and surface epistemological interventions that prevail to encompass the robust epistemic expansion needed, Black American Music comes into focus as particularly rich ethno-epistemic site that is pivotal—for both diagnostic and evolutionary reasons—to pluralism efforts. The fact that this point eludes DEI discourse underscores its racist inertia. This is particularly the case when it comes to jazz, which—within the Black music pantheon—is arguably among the most epistemologically diverse and integrative knowledge systems in the entire academy.

    Here two epistemological pillars come into view—improvisation along the creativity line and meditation along the consciousness line.[12] These are far more than localized sites along a horizontal expanse, but rather epistemic landmarks that jut high above the landscape, with roots that extend deep into the bedrock of humanity’s diverse ways of knowing and being. Improvisation (predicated on an improvisation-based identity) underpins a rich matrix of musical modalities (creative, analytical, somatic, cognitive, spiritual).

    Meditation similarly underpins a rich matrix of contemplative modalities (which include much of the musical spectrum). Working in tandem—and here jazz’s long legacy of artists/contemplatives is exemplary[13]—the two epistemic axes yield the rich epistemological circuitry through which creativity and consciousness may optimally flow and inform all dimensions of educational and personal growth.

    A powerful template for arts-driven educational and societal transformation has long existed right at the doorstep of American culture but, due to the combination of racist bias and artistic and pedagogical confusion, has eluded recognition of such. Evasion of this fact may in itself be the most blatant indicator of DEI-driven racist violence.

    • The Curricular Overhaul (Core on Up) Imperative

    The curriculum can be thought of as the DNA of an educational paradigm as well as an activist movement. The core curriculum in particular is where artistic, cultural, pedagogical and aesthetic assumptions—hence both nutrients and toxins—are transmitted to all parts of the system. Pluralism discourse that is absent explicit emphasis on curricular overhaul from the core level on up allows toxins—in the form of epistemic lapse, aversion to musical Blackness, BIPOC sprinkling amid further concerns—to flood the system and undermine whatever nutrients might be transmitted.

    DEI discourse that stops short of emphatic centering of core curriculum reform perpetuates this pattern.

    • The K-12 Music Teacher Education Imperative

    The longstanding pattern by which musicians are licensed to teach music in 21st century public schools in America with notably minimal engagement with 21st American music, particularly its African American foundations, may be among the most glaring racist transgressions in the history of the academy. Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception, as evidenced by a typical scenario: Out of the 130 credits or so that comprise music teacher education curricula in America, many programs require only a handful in American/African American music.  

    • The Diagnostic Imperative

    The interplay between heightened diagnosis of racist pathology and expanded evolutionary visioning is key to fathoming the extent of systemic racism and, upon addressing its many manifestations, transforming pathology into gateways for growth. DEI is notably confined to the most superficial analysis of musical racism as well as limited evolutionary thinking, and thus celebration of the extraordinary benefits—beyond fulfilling politically correct criteria—to be reaped from robust (as opposed to tokenistic) pluralist commitment and action. The result, to be examined more closely below, in an unexamined deficit narrative that only adds to the racist impact.

    The above points launched a kind of diagnostic analysis that has begun to penetrate into the deeper bedrock of systemic musical racism. Following is commentary that builds on this essential work.

    Diagnostic analysis A (surface and substratal musical racism):

    First involves the multi-tiered nature of systemic or structural musical racism. The activist Bryan Stevenson spoke to the 2019 University of Michigan graduating class and compared structural anti-racism work (unlike token DEI activity) to successful responses the COVID 19 pandemic. Just as biomedical experts not only combined detailed grasp of viruses in general, but the structure of this virus in particular, anti-racism expertise comprises detailed grasp not only of systemic racism in general, but its manifestations in specific fields.[14] Music studies, amid all its proclamations, has yet to see substantive inquiry into the multi-tiered nature of systemic musical racism.

    Familiar areas include admissions, curricula, assessment (juries, recitals), hiring/promotions criteria, and music school assessment criteria (NASM); progress along all of which remains in its embryonic stages. A litany of less familiar, yet no less egregious manifestations, are yet more evasive—even from the standpoint of basic identification and understanding. Here an extended epistemological lens not only illuminates a wide array of examples, but—strongly underscoring the DEI futility thesis— those that may be categorized as forms of “racism within anti-racism discourse.” Elsewhere I have also identified these patterns (as well those related to previous points) as indicative of substratal racism, that which eludes attention but is as egregious in racist impact.[15]

    An important overarching, and admittedly counter-intuitive example includes multicultural ideology and its offshoots. Best understood along a monocultural/multicultural/transcultural continuum, musical multiculturalism falls short in reducing musical reality to a curricular assembly line devoid of key ethno-epistemic landmarks. Marginalization of Black music and aesthetics is a primary causalty. Numerous other manifestations of include deAfricanization of Christopher Small’s widely cited notion of musicking, the “anti-aesthetic turn” (also called aesthetic praxial divide) that has gained traction in prominent Music Education philosophy circles, superficial approaches to culturally-responsive/sustainable pedagogy, the ‘world music pedagogy’ mirage, and even critical/anti-racism multiculturalism attempts that—while seeking to penetrate to the heart of multicultural dysfunction—fall short in their aims.

    Further eluding attention are somatic racism, involving embodied, culturally mediated psycho-physical patterning that preclude engagement across traditions, and an array of manifestations of linguistic racism.  The latter goes far beyond overtly denigrating statements (which are still heard in the field) to include instances of what literary theorists have called “exnomination”—where exclusionary tendencies are inherent in how classes, disciplines, degree programs and departments are labelled. Headings, for example, such as Music Theory, Music History, Musicology, Performance and Composition—as well as common qualifiers such as Art Music and Western Art Music—at face value appear ethno-epistemologically neutral, meaning that they could readily center a range of cultures and practices, yet in reality overwhelmingly privilege Eurocanonic focus. The effect is even more insidious than overt declarations of Euro-superiority/nonEuroinferiority via the message: Such privileging/denigration is so self-evident it need not even be named.[16] 

    DEI diagnostic inquiry scarcely scratches the surface and thus perpetuates systemic musical racism.

    Diagnostic analysis B (two epistemic meta-crises):

    An instructive further step in heightened diagnostic analysis involves situating multicultural and other seemingly progressive ideologies within the context of two epistemological meta-crises that are important to ICAST’s transformative vision.

    Already broached is the disappearance of improvisation in the Eurocanonic tradition.

    In essence, the moment improvisation began to fade from common practice would encode a core split between creation and performance in music studies culture from which a long chain of further epistemic and ethno-epistemic dysfunction and splintering would ensue. The discipline of Music Theory, initially enriched by direct connections with improvisation and composition, would take on a life of its own as it gravitated toward structural analysis of repertory and related syntactic concerns. The advent of Musicology continued in this dissociative direction, followed by divisions between constituent Historical and Ethnomusicological streams. The birth of Ethnomusicology, particularly through its periodic interactions with Music Education (e.g. Mus Ed partial embrace of Mantle Hood’s bimusicality thesis), would have particularly serious repercussions for change discourse against this creativity-deficient backdrop. Again, with improvisation as the key means by which musicians forge deep cultural connection, the absence of this epistemological identity marker would not only make tokenism but systemic racism inevitable.

    Here the analysis returns to the multicultural ideology that, as noted above, would take hold. Against a backdrop of disciplinary compartmentalization, hence epistemic dysfunction, it would be almost inevitable that an ethnological parallel—cultural/genre compartmentalization—would follow. Real-world musical navigators transcend (yet also reconceive) of the overarching, cultural/genre (and disciplinary) boundaries that dominate academic awareness, recognizing these delineations as language-bound, academic constructions. Superficial appropriation, even if at times masquerading as substantive engagement (including when students, moving beyond distanced fascination with the exotic, actually become enamored of a newly encountered tradition), is thus the norm.

    DEI is a direct manifestation of this ethno-epistemic dysfunction.

    The disappearance of improvisation, in turn, may be understood as the music studies manifestation of a second epistemic meta-crisis. This entails the disappearance of meditation and contemplative engagement that was previously central in the Western intellectual tradition. The ancient Greco-Roman philosophical schools to which the academy has long paid homage for their systems of logic, reason and critical analysis were grounded in transpersonal modalities that took awareness deep beneath the surface waves of ordinary mental activity. Refinement and evolution of thought requires transcendence of thought, just as refinement and evolution of musical skill and understanding requires not only interpretation and study of repertory (West or East) but foundational integration of the processes by which repertory comes into being.[17]

    Music studies is thus constrained by not one epistemic crisis but two, the second of which has been inherited from education at large.

    Diagnostic analysis C: Deficiency narrative

    Finally, within the diagnostic dimension is the need to identify and address a particularly disquieting byproduct of epistemically-limited, diagnostically shallow pluralism discourse. This involves the propagation of deficiency thinking. The deficiency narrative manifests itself in two fallacies. The first entails the view that the prevailing paradigm is not fundamentally, or structurally flawed, it is simply deficient and thus requires only surface modifications. Just as an otherwise healthy individual may benefit from modest dietary modifications, a generally healthy music studies paradigm may benefit, the thinking goes, from surface curricular and related modifications.

    But the reality cannot be stated more clearly:

    A music studies paradigm that has severed itself from the creative foundations of human art making, and—as has happened in the US, continues to marginalize the music of its own culture—cannot even remotely be considered healthy!

    A second fallacy definitive of the deficiency narrative inevitably follows. If a music studies framework rooted in creativity-bereft Eurocanonic engagement is deemed viable, one might reasonably infer that nonEurocanonic traditions must therefore have little if anything to offer beyond ornamental trinkets. NonEurocanonic lineages are thus presumed deficient.

    Yet again, the reality could not be more dramatically the opposite, with Black music and its unmatched epistemic scope as a primary example.

    If the notion of arts-driven transformation, and particularly an arts-driven creativity/consciousness revolution, carries even a modicum of credence, identification of Black music and aesthetics as a key landmark, and the racialized obstacles—fueled by DEI—thereto, is an essential step.

    When one situates the music studies change imperative within the context of the societal change imperative, the stakes are further raised for heightened diagnostic penetration into the systemic nature of racist pathology in the field.

    • The Evolutionary Imperative

    An evolutionary continuum comes into view, beginning with a transformed music studies model, with Black music and aesthetics at its core. Conventionalists immediately tend to infer in this the denigration, if not demise, of Eurocanonic engagement, and among Lower Order change activists, due to multicultural entrenchment, Black music privileging. However, an informed, transcultural vision foregrounds coevolutionary growth along all lines (cultural/disciplinary) of musical practice. Performance and study of the European canon, albeit redistributed and resituated in a contemporaneous, creativity-based and globally mediated context, take their next evolutionary strides. Here transcultural chronological and epistemological axioms converge: Appreciation of the treasures of the past (West and East) is predicated on continued rediscovery thereof through the lens of the improvisatory present. Even more significant may be the ramifications for a new vision of K-12 public school music teacher (artist/pedagogue/visionary), where conventional Band/Orch/Choir engagement is not jettisoned but, in fact, enlivened—even with new distribution—in the emergent epistemically diverse format.[18]

    DEI, because of its combination of epistemic frailty, unexamined racialized biases and musical confusion, is devoid of any such evolutionary visioning, as well as further arts-driven transformative impact. Here a second, consciousness-based evolutionary phase follows its creativity-based predecessor—thus harkening back to the two epistemic meta-crises. Whereas the first heals the absence of improvisation in musical practice, the second heals the absence of meditation in intellectual life.

    Yet again, Black music and aesthetics provide the necessary epistemological tools and scope to place this transformative spectrum in full view.[19]

    It is but a small step, yet one that is monumental in ramifications, to situate the recognition of Black musical achievement as historically significant global achievement within the growing body of work that recognizes the Black origins of human civilization. While the African bio-genetic roots of humanity are well known, the idea that the psycho-spiritual-aesthetic-cultural foundations of species homo sapiens sapiens—through a migratory trajectory that can be traced from East Africa to Egypt, Asia and Europe—also stem from African continent significantly alters prevailing, racialized narratives on the evolution of civilization that are oblivious to these roots.[20]

    From this rediscovery of our African past origins stem new waves of Afrofuturistic visioning that are not only significant for the flourishing of Black people but all of humanity.[21]

    • The Noetic Musicology Imperative

    When all is said and done, the DEI-as-pro-racism crisis is a crisis in musicology. While music studies applies the disciplinary label (musicology) to coursework, degree programs, departments and practitioners, what is lacking is an actual field—and thus musicological paradigm—that is adequate to illuminating and guiding real-world musical navigation and transformative impact. . Conventional music studies practice, as well as decades of efforts (DEI the most recent wave) to reform the field, are predicated on the illusion that such a musicological backdrop is indeed in place. The moment the activist lens shifts to epistemology, the consequences of such an illusion, and the fact that all the answers that are needed to heal the music studies racial justice/artistic justice crisis are found in the MUSIC itself, could not be more vivid.

    A new model is needed that goes as far beyond Ethnomusicology as its Historical counterpart (and systematic, cognitive, ecomusicological and other variants might be included).

    Noetic musicology is a potential candidate that grounds musical inquiry in the two epistemic pillars noted above—improvisation along the creativity line, meditation along the consciousness line—and offers a means for entirely new pluralism discourse that proceeds from the innermost dimensions of the soul. This may be best understood by parsing the heading into its two components: Music and Ology.

    The primary modality for understanding MUSIC is improvisation; when situated as a primordial epistemology, an infinitude of overlying modalities immediately come into focus—including multiple improvisatory and compositional languages, performance, aurality, rhythmic fluency, somatic engagement and a broader scope of theoretical, historical, cognitive, aesthetic and spiritual aptitudes.

    The primary modality for OLOGY, which unites the study of any topic with the study of the self/Self structure that conducts the investigation, is meditation and consciousness-based engagement.[22]

    Black music and aesthetics exemplify principles of noetic Music-Ology and offer an arts-based template for far reaching educational and societal change.

    • Higher Order Leadership Imperative

    The interplay between heightened diagnostic penetration into racist pathology and expanded evolutionary visionary provides a useful lens for distinguishing between lower order and higher order activist leadership

    It also brings into focus a conclusion that is inevitable when one steps back and views the situation from a historical perspective: There is no getting around the heightened activist edge, diagnostic candor and difficult dialogues and work inherent in racial justice/artistic justice healing if celebratory, evolutionary conversation and action are to transpire.

    Indeed, given the depth of racist entrenchment in the American psyche and societal and educational systems, it would more astonishing were a field like music studies—for which the topic of race is remarkably new in its half-century-plus of change deliberations (let alone conventional practice)—would all of a sudden rise to the occasion in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

    It is almost as if, when music schools across the nation and world jumped on the BLM bandwagon, the weight of the field’s racist past brought everything to a halt. The question, then, becomes how music studies moves forward upon realizing this weight. The need for new kinds of leadership has never been more urgent.

    This leadership absence can be analyzed in terms of two strata of accountability.

    Beginning with college/university administrative leadership, one almost gets the sense that Provosts, Presidents, Chancellors and other administrators across the nation have conspired to render their respective music schools/departments exempt from the racial justice/artistic justice imperative, perhaps hoping no one would notice the contradiction: The field that is, at once most equipped to catalyze structural, arts-driven change, yet also riddled by unmatched racist pathology, is absolved from culpability or reform obligation.

    In turn, music school leadership has perpetuated this accountability crisis within its own units, allowing the most foundational manifestations of musical racism to remain in place even while hoisting larger and larger DEI banners.

    While I realize that some will object vehemently to this characterization of the situation, I believe the above analysis only renders those objections further supporting evidence.

    Once this reality is placed front and center, levels of conversation may then transpire about artistry, creativity, deep pluralism and the transformative potential of the arts in a world in desperate need of such that dwarf what typically take place.

    The time is long overdue for individuals and institutions with either genuine leadership aspirations, or at least leadership implications in their titles, to look deep into their hearts and souls and decide how they will proceed.

    CONCLUSION

    DEI has fallen dramatically short in its failure to: 

    • Differentiate between tokenism and structural change, and further, to recognize empty rhetoric as an intensified and thus even more egregious manifestation of racism;
    • Recognize epistemology as key racial justice/artistic justice indicator, and thus epistemic dysfunction as racism catalyst; 
    • Identify Black American Music as epistemological exemplar that has been racially marginalized in both conventional practice and progressivist, anti-racism discourse;
    • Foreground the curriculum, particularly the core, and interpretive specialist musical identity as locus for perpetuating racism and the corresponding urgency for curricular overhaul, from core level on up;
    • Emphasize K-12 music teacher education in America as both a uniquely racist site—largely bereft of engagement (beyond token encounter) with American/Black American music—and in urgent need for overhaul;
    • Diagnose the multi-tiered nature of systemic musical racism as well as its two dominant epistemic meta-crises, and importance of addressing such to make more than token strides toward healing;
    • Advance anything beyond the most superficial intimations of how racial justice might propel music studies to new evolutionary vistas as measured by artistic achievement and transformative impact in education and society at large, as the result of which pluralist discourse defaults to a racist deficiency narrative;

      Which thus supports the conclusion that DEI is not only incomplete but is, in fact, predicated on undermining each of its three constituent themes: 

      DEI is decidedly anti-Diversity, pro-inEquity and not even remotely Inclusive. 

      DEI is therefore not a work in progress, but rather more aptly recognized as a work of violence. 

      Music schools that are endowed with the leadership commitment that enables the above degree of diagnostic penetration to coexist with commensurate evolutionary visioning have the capacity to catalyze the arts-driven revolution in creativity and consciousness that may be among the most far-reaching developments in the history of the academy.

       ACTION STEPS

                     A series of possible change pathways, including both short-term and longer-term interventions, will follow shortly. These will include new approaches to core curricular reform, curriculum committee structure and function, K-12 music teacher education overhaul, a program of relabeling of courses, curricula and disciplinary areas and other strategies.

       

      An immediate step that may be deceptively impactful is for music schools/departments to issue a Declaration of Commitment to a new, Post-DEI pluralism agenda that is sent to all students, faculty, staff, alum and the institution (and possibly all of music studies and education) at large.

       

      The purpose of this statement is to mark an end to, and decisive rejection of, empty rhetoric and initiate strides in the direction of the all-important leadership that the present moment calls for and which has been notably absent.

       APPENDIX A: Sample Declaration—Post-DEI Pluralism Leadership Commitment

       Dear students, staff, faculty and alumni:

       

      The _______school/department of music is proud to announce its commitment to a fundamentally new level of commitment to the racial justice/artistic justice imperative.

      As with many of our peer institutions, we were quick to embrace the wave of BLM-driven change discourse that engulfed our field, the nation and world following the murder of George Floyd and other African American citizens in the spring of 2020.

       As we look forward to graduating our first class since that moment this coming spring, we are stepping back to take stock of what we have to show for our talk and actual efforts.

       Our conclusion is simple:

       We have fallen far short of the kind of change that is possible and urgently needed. We have allowed ourselves to be swept up in the waves of politically correct rhetoric and token interventions that have come to be defined by the DEI movement. In so doing we have significantly evaded much difficult work, instead favoring more comfortable pathways of action.

       The point is neither to dwell on these shortcomings, nor to gloss over them, but to seize this moment and assume the necessary leadership that has been all too absent in our field that changes the narrative in response to the racial justice/artistic justice imperative.

       While we realize the scope of change needed will not happen overnight, we also recognize that the simple act of declaring commitment to structural, as opposed to tokenistic reform may, in itself, illuminate an array of pathways, some of which may be pursued fairly swiftly, that otherwise are overlooked in a culture of complacency.

       

      • The foundational positioning of Black music in conversation and curricula is a primary distinguishing feature between prevailing, tokenistic discourse and the emergent leadership framework. Talk about Black Lives Matter without commensurate emphasis on Black Music Matters represents a foundational contradiction that undermines pluralist aspirations at the outset. 
      • Overhaul of the musicianship core is a primary means for foundational positioning of Black music. This needs to move far beyond token inclusion of BIPOC repertory in ensembles, lessons and coursework, all of which instances of assimilation. The time has come for systemic integration of Black music from the most fundamental strata of the music studies paradigm. Given the long history of evasion of this step, it will likely be necessary to radically re-examine longstanding patterns of curricular oversight. The curriculum committee has proven over many decades its inability, and/or unwillingness, to serve the needs of students by allowing a largely outmoded, and racist core framework, to remain in place; the time have come to dissolve the conventional curriculum committee framework. Tendencies among music school/department leadership (Deans/Directors) to remain distanced from curricular deliberations represent further evasion of responsibility; this needs to give way to more active involvement. At the very least, unit leadership needs to make it clear that anything short of core curricular overhaul is unacceptable, with consequences (i.e. reduced funding, redeployment of graduate student lines, loss of faculty lines upon retirement, etc.) clearly spelled out. 
      • K-12 music teacher certification is a potential initial site for significant change and leadership to take hold. An area that is in particularly urgent need of systemic change, K-12 music teacher education may also be conducive to wide-sweeping reforms that are implemented fairly swiftly. For example, school-wide core curricular change and redistributed large ensemble requirements might occur for aspiring music teachers with relative ease yet maximal benefit for everyone involved. Given longstanding curricular and ensemble politics, with Music Education faculty often caught in the crossfire, the transformation of music teacher artistic/pedagogical identity needs to be approached as a school-wide commitment. Music unit leadership needs to articulate to the entire faculty and student body a bottom-line diagnostic axiom that is beyond debate: The pattern of conferring certification to teach music in American public schools with scant grounding in American music, particularly its African American roots, may well represent the most glaring artistic justice/pedagogical justice/racial justice transgression in the history of the academy. 

      Here, however, we also need to emphasize that in our complacency about Black American music, we have also been complacent about the potential for engagement with White European Music to take its next evolutionary strides when pluralism discourse moves from the superficial to the structural. K-12 Music Teacher education could be a key site for an Afro-Euro nexus (Afro-Euro-Global). 

      • Chamber music may be another potential area where paradigmatic change, including uniquely robust manifestations of Afro-Euro-Global coevolutionary interaction, could take place. 
      • Catalyst for arts-driven transformation of education and society

      While comprising a longer-range vision, the identification of creativity/consciousness/spirituality connections at the outset of the new Post-DEI leadership commitment may shed important new light on immediate change efforts.

       Individuals and institutions that are interested in being part of the PDPL movement, or more information about it, are invited to contact Ed Sarath, sarahara@umich.edu

       

      [1] See Ed Sarath, Improvisation, Creativity and Consciousness (SUNY, 2012), Black Music Matters (Rowman and Littlefield (Rowman and Littlefield 2018) and Music Studies and its Moment of Truth (Routledge 2023)

      [2] Ariana Gonzalez Stokas, “Higher Ed’s Empty Talk About DEI,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 34-35, vol69., no 19, May 26, 2023.

      [3] Ed Sarath, 2023, Music Studies and Its Moment of Truth: Leading Change Through America’s Black Music Roots Routledge/College Music Society Emerging Fields series..

      [4] Sarath, Ibid.

      [5] Christopher Jenkins, Assimilation V. Integration in Music Education: Leading Change Toward Greater Equity. Routledge/College Music Society Emerging Fields series. 2023.

      [6] Ibid, Sarath.

      [7] The thinking, in other words, is that if one reads enough Ibram X. Kendi, Isabelle Wilkenson, Bettina S. Love, etc., principles will automatically translate to music. Nothing could be further from the truth; expertise in heart surgery does not equip one to operate on brains, eyes, gums or colons. The kind of surgery required in music studies may call for a team of practitioners that dwarfs in size and scope anything found in medicine.

      [8] Ibid, Sarath.

      [9] Ibid, Sarath.

      [10] Sarath, Ibid.

      [11] Sarath, Ibid.

      [12] Significant here is Pierre Hadot’s reminder, as in his What is Ancient Philosophy?, 2002 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA), that the systems of logic, rational thought and critical analysis that the academy holds dear originated in Greco-Roman philosophical schools in which meditation and related practices were central.

      [13] Alice Coltrane’s immersion in Vedanta, hence her ordination as Swami Turiyasanghitananda, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter comprise a partial list.

      [14] Bryan Stevenson, address to 2019 University of Michigan graduating class. Also see his Just Mercy (    )

      [15] Ibid, Sarath, distinguishes between multiple forms of overlying and substratal racism.

      [16] Ibid, Sarath.

      [17] Ibid, Hadot.

      [18] Ibid, Sarath.

      [19] Ibid, Sarath.

      [20] See, for example, Cheikh Anta Diop, (1974) The African Origin of Civilization (Brooklyn NY, Lawrence Hill Books); Robert Bauval and Thomas Brophy, 2011, Black Genesis: The Prehistoric Origins of Ancient

      Egypt (Rochester, Vt: Bear and Company); and Edward Bruce Bynum, 2021, Our African Unconscious: The Black Origins of Mysticism and Philosophy (Inner Traditions Rochester Vermont).

      [21] Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones, Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. 2016. Lexington Books/Rowman and Littlefield: Lanham, MD.

      [22] Ibid, Sarath.

      Join the ICAST Revolution

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      Integral Theory

      While the term ‘integral’ has a long history, the philosopher Ken Wilber has articulated an IT model that is both massive in the range of perspectives–philosophical, spiritual, psychological, aesthetic, cultural, etc.–that it interweaves, but also its applicability to virtually all areas of human endeavor.  ICAST’s spirituality/arts/science foundations correlate directly with IT’s first-second-third person realities and related epistemologies.

      See further commentary under Pillar #1 below.

      Noetic Sciences

      ICAST’s connection with Noetic Sciences is largely inspired by the important work done at Institute for Noetic Sciences, founded by Edgar Mitchell to promote inquiry into the farther reaches of consciousness and human creative and spiritual potential Isee http://noetic.org.)

      See further commentary under Pillar #1 below.

      Afrofuturism

      Important sources here include: Afrofuturism 2.0, particularly its essays dealing with consciousness/spirituality; phycisist Stephan Alexander’s work at the intersection of Quantum mechanics, jazz and Vedanta (see ee Fear of a Black Universe and the Jazz of Physics and Fear of a Black Universe;Robert Blauval’s and Thomas Brophy’s work in astroarcheology, see African Genesis; and Edward Bynum’s Our Black Subconscious: The African Origins of Mysticism and Psychology.

      See further commentary under Pillar #1 below.

      Apaurasheya Bhasha

      Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Apaurusheya Bhashya, commentary on Rig Veda, offers an extraordinary account of how the vast diversity of creation sequentially unfolds from the self-referral dynamics of the eternal, silent—yet infinitely dynamic—cosmic source reverberating within itself. Inherent in this cosmic play of creation, or lila, is the interplay of subject, process and object, or rishi, devata and chandas dimensions (the basis for Integral Theory’s first-second-third person realities) in every instant of space, time and experience. Two important principles emerge that are key to music’s transformative potential. From a structural standpoint, the primordial vibrations or frequencies that comprise the basic building blocks of creation manifest in musical sounds. From a process standpoint, the improvisatory core of musical creativity is a direct manifestation of cosmic improvisatory creativity, thus supporting the idea of improvisation as a primordial process.
      (See Pillar #1 commentary—under read more).