Class, Control, and Classical Music, by Anna Bull. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. xxx, 232 pp.
In Class, Control, and Classical Music, Anna Bull poses a key question to classical music stakeholders: "how are musical institutions, practices, and aesthetics shaped by wider conditions of economic inequality, and in what ways might music enable and entrench such inequalities or work against them?" (p. 1) Through ethnography and careful historical analysis, she interrogates youth classical music programs and explores how they participate in class reproduction, the formation of middle-class selfhood, and classed boundary-drawing.
As a music education scholar, I appreciate the considerable extent to which Bull's observations, which predominantly target music education, draw upon literature outside the field to produce a robust call to action. She purposefully draws on different disciplines that deepen and add complexity to her approach to core questions about economic inequality and classical musics. Stuart Hall's theorizing of "articulation," Georgina Born's intersecting "planes of mediation," and Pierre Bourdieu's approach to class as relational (alongside his work on class reproduction) provide important mechanisms for examining the relationship between classical music and the middle classes.
Her call for change stands as a crucial intervention for music education, and proposes ways forward for classical music education in policy and practice. First, readers are asked to recognize the unequal weighting of resources and institutions toward classical music. Recognition then becomes the first step toward the necessary work of rebalancing resources and institutions across different musical practices. Second, she emphasizes the importance of honoring young people's musical lives and of drawing upon their musics alongside introducing new musics--a call reminiscent of the push toward culturally responsive teaching in music education. Third, her work identifies the need for cultural and educational institutions to lead on change in classical music education and performance by collecting and publishing data on inequalities, and through revising selection processes, curricula, and pedagogies. Bull notes that music educators can address inequalities through their pedagogies and in their organizational cultures, and further advocates for "more sophisticated ways of including young people's voices" (p. 189). Drawing on music education scholarship, she suggests a democratic space for music teaching and learning.
This book underscores the importance of understanding that different musical and social identities are not valued equally across education, policy, and other mainstream institutional arenas, or even by young people themselves. "[T]he unspoken value of classical music continues to generate further rewards for the already-privileged young people who participate in it" (p. 190). Bull proposes a reframing of public funding advocacy that assumes every child should have an opportunity to learn an instrument. Instead, she argues that a public system should "sustain and develop more representative, cross-cultural, and innovative musical cultures" (p. 191). Rather than valorizing the "conservatoire 'superstar,'" pedagogues and institutions should support the development of the "creative musician with a wide set of competencies" (p. 192). She further argues that diversifying classical music will require changing its aesthetic:
In order to address inequalities evident in classical music education and...