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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000135.txt from 2005/05

From: "Jim O'Briant" <jobriant@-----.com>
Subj: RE: [kl] Possible racist views in music titles (was: Rubank Method: not all by Voxman)
Date: Fri, 06 May 2005 20:00:35 -0400

Edwin Lacy wrote, in part:

> ... When I was in my early high school years, the
> band played "Lassus Trombone," and I, perhaps naively,
> joined in, never having an inkling that there might be
> any racist connotations to this piece. I thought it
> was about the trombone.

Fillmore wrote fifteen of these trombone novelties. They were published
separately, and also in a book called "The Trombone Family." The book's
cover describes them as fifteen "Humorous Novelties."

The cartoon character on the book's cover (both the band and orchestra
editions) would be considered extremely offensive today. Also extremely
offensive are some of the titles: "Pahson Trombone," "Shoutin' Liza
Trombone," and so forth. Even more objectionable are the blatantly racist
subtitles that appear on early editions. Either "Bull Trombone" or "Boss
Trombone" (I forget which) has the subtitle, "He's De Head Man." I believe
that "Sally Trombone" is subtitled "Mose Trombone's Ah-finity."

After Carl Fisher bought Fillmore Music House (around 1950), they
re-published all 15 of these pieces as separate arrangements, but with the
subtitles deleted.

These pieces all originally date from about 1915 to 1928, and weren't
unusual for their era in their portrayal of Black Americans. Old piano
sheet music covers, particularly ragtime titles, carry some absolutely
incredible cartoons of blacks. The titles themselves are often demeaning as
well. And when any composition of that era includes the word
"characteristic" in its title or subtitle, the inference is to syncopated
music -- synonymous at that time with "Negro music."

The dilemma today is this: Do we perform these pieces at all? If so, do we
talk about the offensive subtitles" Do we change possibly demeaning titles?
Do we perform them under the original titles and use the opportunity to
discuss past and present attitudes about race?

There was an extensive and vehement discussion of this on the Trombone-L
List some months back, and no consensus was reached.

--Jim O'Briant

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