Stravinsky and Hip-hop Culture

Daniel Asia

I am confronted today with not an unusual problem. 

Two weeks ago, we presented our yearly Music + Festival, which featured the music of Stravinsky.  This included symposia, concerts, and a film presentation. The experience proved to be rich and deep.  In fact, for many of my students, it was a transformative experience. After all, they were being confronted by one of the acknowledged greatest composers of all time. Now, I make this statement knowing that it is now controversial to make such a statement.  I do so though through a search of a wide review of the opinions of noted colleagues, who would in fact generally agree that the two most influential, important composers of the 20th century are Stravinsky and Schoenberg; and through the process of experiential learning, which in this instance, means repeated deep listening.

In the course of putting together such a festival in an academic environment, it is usual to seek co-sponsors, for financial and educational reasons.  We did just this, and received such support from the department of Russian and Slavic Studies and its parental affiliation, The School of International Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Today I received a request from the director of the latter, and it goes like this:

I was awarded a …grant to host an international symposium entitled "The Poetics and Politics of Hip-Hop Cultures"……we have secured some of the most respected and upcoming scholars of hip-hop studies who will be visiting the campus. We also plan to have local DJs and artists to be featured….Since we have collaborated on the Stravinsky event in the recent past, I am writing to invite the School of Music to consider co-sponsoring these events.

So, what to do? Dare I say that it turns my stomach to have Stravinsky and hip-hop culture spoken of in the same breath, that to do so trivializes the whole nature of the academic enterprise? The culture of non-judgmentalism is present in all of its ugliness. How do I politely tell him that I can’t participate, because I can’t abide this nonsense?

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