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Music as social work


I’ve been writing about wokery too much recently. I apologise, but in mitigation I would say it’s almost as unavoidable as breathing, for these days wokery is the element in which we live, move and have our being. Never mind, I thought last Sunday, the London Philharmonic were playing a concert at the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne, ten minutes from my front door and, since music hath charms to soothe even such a savage breast as mine, I went along. The main item Sibelius’s Second Symphony and there’s no wokery there, only northern lights and warm orchestral colours.

My first mistake was to read the programme. Here I learned that the conductor’s ‘work focuses on diverse people and communities’. This was not music for music’s sake, or even music for the listeners’ sake. It was music as social work.

Before the Sibelius, there was a warm-up piece, a violin concerto by the 18th century composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, of whom I knew nothing. You’ve heard of painting by numbers? This was Haydnesque by numbers, without the Haydn. I read on as the D.C. al fine crashed in like a motorway pile-up. It turns out that Saint-Georges was ‘the son of a French aristocrat and one of the slaves who worked on his plantation. He was living proof that the only way black people could hope to gain deserved recognition and respect in 18th century Europe was via a combination of formidable talent, good luck and good connections.’

Same with white composers of the 18th century, actually. When Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart didn’t have enough to eat in Vienna’s cold winters, they danced around the kitchen to keep warm.

In Saint-Georges’s case, the formidable talent must be in some doubt, so it’s a good job he had a rich dad.

The soloist in his fiddle piece was outstanding. He was also black and had the good luck and the good connections a young black musician allegedly needs, for he had been loaned a superb instrument from 1735 by the Stradivari Society. The concert programme offered a brief biography: ‘Randall Goosby is determined to make music more inclusive and he has curated an album paying homage to the pioneering artists that paved the way for him and other artists of colour. He is deeply passionate about social engagement and outreach activities.’

All very informative, but I was not getting my holiday from wokery.

I have two questions, please: First, why do people – of whatever colour – engaged to provide some public service such as musical performances, football skills or ballet dancing all feel they have to parade their politically-correct righteousness? They remind me of the Pharisee who boasted: ‘I am not as other men, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all I possess.’

I rather like Jesus’s response: ‘Thou hypocrite!’

Secondly, why do so many people of colour seem to think that every time they open their mouths they have to talk about the interests of people of colour? This goes for footballers of colour, film stars of colour, supermodels of colour, Nobel Prize laureates of colour and celebs of colour endemic?

Myself, I’m white. Sorry, I can’t help it. But if I spoke and wrote exclusively about white people, I’d be damned as a racist, wouldn’t I?

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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