After AghaRTA Jazz Concert - A Reflection on Diversity

On Sep 11th, my class was invited by our professor, who is a Jazz guitarist, to go to his Jazz Trio concert. The only thing I know about Jazz was that it is a musical genre of African-American origin. I have been exposed to some pieces also originating from African-American communities, such as Scott Joplin’s famous piece The Entertainer, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. However, am I going to hear something similar in a Jazz club located in a Medieval Gothic-style basement?

It turns out that the concert is anything but what was in my imagination. I cannot make sense of the music at all. The three instruments, piano, guitar, and percussions, sound equally loud. The melodic line is hard to capture, and the harmony is peculiar as well to me as a person who has been mostly exposed to European classical music. I am completely lost when listening to the opening piece, feeling confused, anxious, and frustrated. The bad feelings only faded away after several pieces when I started to gradually get used to the Jazz music.

This experience was a surprise to me in several ways. First, I am pretty shocked by how I was biased towards European classical music (my professor calls it DWEEM music - Dead White Elite European Male music, which sounds sarcastic but it is really all classical music is about). I was so used to the musical tradition of DWEEM music that even though I consciously acknowledged there are many different genres of music, my mind and ear were totally unprepared. With this being said, the second thing that makes me shocked is that although I have a strong mindset in diversity, when it comes to music, my mind still automatically reacted negatively to things I was not familiar.

If this happened to me, it would not be surprising that we can always see people become too defensive or even aggressive towards people with different backgrounds, who they cannot immediately understand. In my case, I learned a lot from my frustration, and this is because I have had the opportunities to train myself to step out of my comfort zone. But what about the people who do not have these privileges?

From my perspective, it is always good to feel uncomfortable when facing differences and develop my awareness of diversity, but is this too elite an idea?

When I am pursuing the value of diversity in a larger community, does it force some people to be exposed to things they do not like? And does it go against my starting point of promoting diversity - to make more people feel happy?

If there is such a paradox, is there any way to solve it?

The answers are not yet found, or probably will never be found. The hard part of being a challenger of society is that I always need to spend twice as much energy to question myself and try to come up with satisfying responses to the questioning.

Keep up with Ellen's personal blog here!

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