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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teaching Respect (Rachid, we need you!)

Over the years I have given various reasons why conservatoire students should get an introductory course on world music. Because they will work in a multicultural/multimusical society when they have graduated. Because any citizen should know something about his social surroundings. Because it broadens their view on what music is. Because it makes their absolue ideas on Good Music a bit more relative. Et cetera.

All true. But nowadays I tend to think that the basic thing I teach them with a course on non-western music (I still prefer that label instead of the too cosy 'world music') is respect.

I know. Respect is one of the buzz-words of late modernity. Under the banner of respect, many people basically demand the right to do whatever they want to do without being bothered by other people reminding them of values which are not theirs. But it is not that kind of respect I mean.


I mean respect not as an individual right which can be formulated as a demand (preferably in capitals). Not as something that others should pay you, or as something you pay to those you agree with. I mean respect as an attempt to understand people who 'do (very) otherwise' by postponing fast judgements, and posing oneself the ever actual Geertzian question 'What the hell is going on here'?

Part and parcel of that is that you leave the ironic mode of thinking which brings with it the ever ongoing suspicion that people probably do not mean what they say - that what other people do and say is probably a mystification of what they really would like to do and say, or what they ought to do and say when they would be sane in the head.

Instead of the suspicion that the real world is something hidden behind the world we perform for each other, you try to take people seriously. People mean what they say. People believe in what they do. Going fishing - rather than listening to Bach - may be a true consolation. A belief in angels - rather than in fundamental particles - may explain the world. Listening to German schlagers or Hawaiian music - rather than watching Salome - may lead to real catharsis.

In my lessons this amounts to small things. Showing a YouTube clip of the Surinamese-Javanese Jarang Kepang ritual in which people go in trance and behave like horses inevitably lead to questions by students like: do they really believe that they are horses? Are drugs involved? Why does it look like a performance if it is real (good question, that one)? I try to explain that it is not hard to mistrust what you see, and that actually it is harder to accept what you see: people being horses for a certain amount of time. But that out of respect, out of opening up the possibility to understand what-the-hell-is-going-on-there, it is maybe a good idea to simply accept that actually what you see is what you get.

Wittgenstein: Die Welt ist Alles, was der Fall ist.

But succeeding in teaching respect is not easy. I played an example of a Dutch-Moroccan guy singing typically Dutch-language schlager ('levenslied') with a Moroccan tinge, and told my students that he has a huge amount of followers of which some express on the singer's fan-site their joy that he, for once, is a good example of a nót-criminal Moroccan. (Of course the task here is to respect the singer as well as that particular fan...). One of the students (maybe more, but she formulated it) was under the expression that this singer was a fake - an invention,  a parody. Actually, the student was kind of dissappointed when I pointed out that the singer was real, as real as you and me. And other students found it equally ununderstandable.

So I offered to invite the singer to our class in order to talk with him about what was driving him. That was an idea attractive to my students, and to me. But when I tried to send him an email through his fan-site, the computer warned me that the site was infested with viruses and malware.

Rachid, clean up your site - we want a chat!!

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