The Well-Tempered Ear

Is a lot of ‘woke’ music inferior to the music it replaces? | January 21, 2023

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Is a widespread attempt to explore historically ignored music and overlooked, marginalized composers interfering with the public hearing greater, more important and more beautiful music?

It is a problematic but timely question or issue, especially during an era of political correctness and in our current culture wars.

To be sure, you can hear some memorable music that has unjustifiably been excluded from the so-called canon. The discovery of Florence Price (below) is a prime example. The same can be said for Clara Schumann.

It does seem that a lot of the newly rediscovered pieces and composers — Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, women, LGBT — deserve an initial hearing, if only out of curiosity and to correct the historical record.

But after being heard for the first time, many of them seem second- or third-rate. They deserve to be shelved for another few decades in favor of restoring greater music and greater composers to the active performing repertory. 

To The Ear, for example, the symphonies by Michael Haydn always sound inferior to those of his famous older brother Joseph. And it doesn’t matter what critics and audiences of the day said, history its often — if not always — the better judge. The symphonies and violin concertos of the impressive and influential Joseph de Boulogne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges, below) are simply not as artistically interesting or engaging as those by his contemporary Mozart.

Anyway, whatever you think, The Ear came across an essay on the internet by George Leef that was published in The National Review — the iconic conservative political magazine founded by William Buckley. It contains background about current nationwide programming guidelines and organizations that you might not know. 

It is an interesting point of view. It often goes over the top and  clearly overstates the case against “woke” repertory by accusing those who support it of being “enemies of classical music” rather than sincere and well-intentioned progressive advocates of artistic justice.

But it deserves a serious reading and a serious answer to the provocative question of balancing the great and the less great. Here is a link:

Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Then please tell The Ear and other readers what you think in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. The NR essay is hilarious to me. Almost nobody is advocating for ending blind auditions in the classical music world. One NY Times opinion piece does not make it the truth.

    The NR opinion piece also suggests allowing the free market to decide the fate of the classical music world. That sounds like a great way to have orchestras play nothing but Harry Potter film scores and to hear Beethoven 5 every season. Lol!

    Leef’s area of expertise is conservative editorializing on higher education, specifically reducing public funding for educational institutions. Were it up to Leef, no arts organizations would receive government funding. I suggest if you hold Leef’s words in high esteem that you avoid attending arts events that receive state or federal grant money. Let the free market decide, right?

    Anyone giving Leef’s opinion equal weight to the respected panel of administrative and artistic orchestra professionals at the League of American Orchestras is demonstrating how little they understand about the music business world. Earned ticket income is declining across the industry and Leef’s suggestion is doing more of the same programming? Trying the same thing (programming the same dusty crusty works) with different results is truly the definition of insanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Bratsche — January 27, 2023 @ 4:07 pm

  2. Reading or hearing conservatives trying to avoid accountability by tossing around the word “woke” puts me to sleep. To them I can only say, Get thee to a whinery.


    Comment by bbead — January 24, 2023 @ 7:02 pm

  3. Thank you for calling my attention to this interesting article. Many years ago I had the privilege of discussing this topic with the American composer,
    Paul Chihara. He believed that any music, contemporary or centuries old, if unfamiliar, required audiences to be active listeners. Of course it is comforting to hear our favorites. It’s like relaxing in a warm bath. But I also believe that audiences should be exposed to unfamiliar works by lesser known composers. They might hear music that speaks to them in a fresh way. The musical experts have decided what the greatest compositions are, but lets not forget that beauty is still in the ear of the listener. So give every work a chance to be heard and let us listeners add to the list of compositions we might come to love.


    Comment by Elissa Strauss — January 21, 2023 @ 9:50 pm

  4. Thanks for raising this. I would imagine it’s a hard subject to bring up.

    My feeling is to let programmers, whose musical education is better than mine, to judge the composer, the piece, the audience, as well as the times and the symphony/chamber group’s programming history. A lot of listeners I dare say don’t go to concerts of contemporary music. Or grimace through them.

    The more exposure to all kinds of music the better off we are. We can let programmers know what we think. And we can always listen to the radio or any CDs gathering dust.


    Comment by ronnie — January 21, 2023 @ 11:41 am

  5. I believe it is true that people tend to buy orchestra/concert tickets to hear pieces they know they are going to like. It is also part of the programer’s responsibility to market the event in an engaging way.
    I have been researching 18th Century women composers (yes, there were 18th-century women composers!) and transcribing their music for solo viola. I am a violist and there was very little music written for viola in the 18th century. My hope is to fill two gaps: highlighting unknown women composers and adding to the viola repertoire.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Becky — January 21, 2023 @ 9:23 am

    • Hi Becky
      Thanks you for your comment.
      I agree with you about what motivates people to buy tickets to concerts.
      And congratulations on your research and development regarding 18th-century women composers and music for the viola..
      I wish you well and perhaps you can keep us up to date with your endeavors.
      The Ear


      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2023 @ 9:43 am

  6. Hi, Jake,

    I just wanted to let you know that your last few posts haven’t been “text wrapped”, if that is the right way to say it. I’m not sure you’ll see it below as I see it in this Reply message, but for example, most of the sentences require scrolling several times to the Right.

    Granted, my laptop is only 13” wide, but usually in the past your posts have been more “vertical”. I didn’t even see that there are pics of Clara and Wolfie until I wondered why there was so much white space and I started scrolling.

    As an example, one sentence finally does wrap, at this point (not showing the rest of the lines to the right); that first line continues very long to the right:

    From long ago, I seem to recall some setting in web design that honors the current user’s screen size, and allows resizing.

    Hopefully, it won’t be difficult to resolve.




    Comment by David F Salsieder — January 21, 2023 @ 8:39 am

    • Hi David
      Are other readers experiencing this problem? Let me know.
      So far you are the only reader who has mentioned this problem and your own setting makes lines go past my screen.
      Did you somehow change your setting?
      In any case, I can’t do anything about the formatting.
      It might be something the new owners of WordPress have done.
      You might try unsubscribing and resubscribing.
      That has worked for other technical problems that occasionally pop up.
      Try it and let me know.
      I apologize to you and others for any inconvenience
      All the best


      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2023 @ 9:54 am

      • I receive these blog postings at two different email addresses which I set up a while back when email delivery wasn’t consistent.

        The emails I get from Well Tempered to a stand-alone email program (Thunderbird) experience the same difficulties described by Mr. Salsieder. Postings from and the New York Times arrive with no formatting difficulties.

        The Well Tempered emails that come into my web-based Gmail account are perfectly formatted.


        Comment by Robert Palmer — January 21, 2023 @ 11:04 am

  7. Orchestras across the country face declining audiences, and many have shut down, in part because their programming model is woefully outdated. There are other factors of course, but if classical music is to continue to attract new audiences, one way to engage them is by programming – alongside the current canon – new and interesting works by new and diverse composers. That the League of American Orchestras has seen fit to offer “actionable strategies for orchestras seeking to diversify the repertoire they present” is a helpful development. I disagree with Joshua Nichols that “the problem with the guide is that it destroys meritocracy in the orchestral repertoire and places a heavy burden on artistic organizations to choose diversity over compositional merit.” The Artistic Director of an orchestra, chamber festival, opera company, or chorus is still ultimately responsible for making programming decisions and can discern “compositional merit.” Eminent conductor Leonard Slatkin put it this way, speaking to the American Symphony Orchestra League: “There is now a common repertoire. The overuse of a repertoire results in a malaise and an ennui among your audience.” (,9171,162020,00.html) Such ennui is the death knell for any musical organization.


    Comment by Kathy O — January 21, 2023 @ 8:23 am

    • Good morning Kathy,
      Thank you for your reply.
      I would like to see demographics about audiences and attendance to see if what you, Leonard Slatkin and others say turns out to be evidence-based or just speculative.
      There may well be other reasons for declining attendance.
      I too like diversity.
      But I really see no reason and feel no obligation to listen to inferior and uninteresting music that doesn’t move me, that I just can’t connect to.
      Great music needs to be more than diverse or new.
      I expect we will be hearing a lot more about this topic in the near future.
      Best wishes always,


      Comment by welltemperedear — January 21, 2023 @ 9:51 am

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