On Musicology Now and issues of privilege

Earlier today, the AMS blog Musicology Now (MN) published a piece called “Don Giovanni Goes to Prison,” in which Pierpaolo Polzonetti described teaching opera in a correction institute. I–along with many of my colleagues–found this article highly problematic for its racism and classism. Some of us discussed this on Facebook and Twitter (see the Storify of the Twitter conversation here), and decided to write to the editors of MN. Here is the dialogue, in chronological order. At this point, I have little else to say. PLease consider writing to the MN editors, AMS board, or others as you see fit.

I think the AMS and MN need to do some very serious consideration of their attitudes towards race, class, gender, and other critical issues, and work to determine policies that do not promote or condone individual or institutional racism, classism, and other kinds of bigotry.


From KPL to D. Kern Holoman, Drew Massey, Ellen Harris

Dear Kern and Drew,

I am writing because I am upset with and disappointed by the post that appeared on Musicology Now today, “Don Giovanni Goes to Prison: Teaching Opera Behind Bars,” by Pierpaolo Polzonetti. The article is rife with racist assumptions and statements, and the author’s tone is arrogant and demeaning in speaking about his students. While I understand that the AMS wants to use Musicology Now to provide various perspectives of the discipline, surely it does not want to be promoting musicology as a classist, condescending, and bigoted. I believe that Musicology Now can be an important vehicle for promoting musicology and helping the public understand what we do, and hope that you will consider removing this post or asking the author to revise it in such a way that does not perpetuate his own racism or the view that the racism and classism of much of academia is not supported by the AMS. Posting such a piece certainly does not help the AMS become—or appear to become—an institution that is interested in addressing its own issues with racism, micro aggressions, and uncomfortable atmospheres for peoples of color.

Kendra Leonard


From D. Kern Holoman to KPL

Actually, I just read it for the first time, having little to do with the blog any more.
I need to think the issues over and report back to Drew.
One gut reaction I have is that I don’t see just removing it as accomplishing anything. How the discussion continues is the real question, as I see it.

Thanks for writing, and as I say I’ll be in touch with Drew soon enough.



From KPL to D. Kern Holoman

Thanks Kern. The commenting process on Musicology Now can be problematic, especially for people who wish or need to remain anonymous, so I’m not terribly optimistic that any discussion will develop there. And few members use the listserv these days. Perhaps a statement from the editor(s) on the post and a relaxing of the rules for commenting would help open a discussion, as would engagement with the current discussion on Twitter (Tweets directly reference @MusicologyNow).

Best, Kendra


From Drew Massey to KPL

Hi Kendra et al,

Thanks for your message. I’m traveling so will be brief. Would you be interested in writing a response to Pierpaolo’s post to appear on the blog? Dialogue among scholars here seems more constructive than requesting edits / pulling posts.

I’m looking in to the comments on the blog; some comments were posted so I’m not certain what the technical glitches may be, if any. I’m having difficulty seeing how anonymous posts would be terribly useful for a forum like MN, where the author of any material is important to know.



From KPL to Drew Massey, D. Kern Holoman, Ellen Harris

Dear Drew,

I’m sorry you have not been able to keep up with the discussion of the post, which has occurred on Twitter and Facebook as many individuals are having trouble commenting on the MN site. I personally have not been able to comment despite trying through three different systems the site supposedly accepts. And not everyone wants to have to use an ID that tracks their comments on the web—for reasons of personal privacy, because they are on the market, because their employment is contingent or precarious, etc. There are ways to ask for ID of a poster without requiring them to have an account with a corporate entity. In any case, you will see a number of comments addressed to @MusicologyNow on Twitter when you have a chance to catch up with the blog’s messages.

I would like to see AMS members of color respond to Dr. Polzonetti’s essay.

I would like to see MN and the AMS make a statement indicating that Dr. Polzonetti’s attitudes and ideas about people, race, class, and education are not representative of the AMS as a whole, or endorsed by the editors of MN, or endorsed by the AMS.

I would like Dr. Polzonetti to respond to the criticisms left by those who were able to do so on the MN site. If you want full and open dialogue, then you need to make commenting far more accessible.

I would like Musicology Now to function as a voice of actual present-day musicology, not a forum for expounding upon colonialist and elitist tropes I thought we had agreed were inappropriate thirty years ago.

I would like to see MN display sensitivity to issues of race and class and gender; the AMS just published the results of a survey that indicated that members were troubled by its treatment of these very issues.

Perhaps most of all, though, I would really like is for the blog’s editors to more carefully read the things they post, because this is not the first time that MN has published a problematic post. I am not convinced that the editors read critically—or at all—before they post material to MN.

I don’t think these things are too much to ask from a blog that is sponsored by the primary learned society for musicologists. Both the author and editor are responsible for publishing a piece here that is not only a poor representative of our discipline, but also of our disciplinary society. MN has done us all a disservice by posting Dr. Polzonetti’s bigoted essay.

Kendra Leonard


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