Thursday, August 29, 2013

Donald Byrd's Workshop at BAM

This is from "Four Measures of the Blues and a Bar to Spare: A BAM Line Review Supplement" by Kelly-Marie Berry.

April 9, 1974

Donald Byrd's Workshop was that of the educator-musician which is what Byrd has evolved into but I perhaps the reverse order: Musician-Educator. For years, a leading trumpet soloist and recording artist, in 1967 he received his doctoral degree in college teaching and administration from Columbia Teachers' College of Columbia University in New York.

Informative and thought provoking, Byrd's workshop was straight up lecture format and the contents of his lecture dealt with some fundamental aspects of educational philosophy. His remarks/direct and pointed:

"When you got to school, the reason why they teach you white Western history is because it is supposed to be part of your heritage. So when they talk about Beethoven they are not just talking about him because he was suppose to be a great musician, but because he was also German. And that is part of the German culture and heritage.

"When you go into a Black situation and you talk about Beethoven and Bach, well the students aren't supposed to relate to it because it is not part of their heritage. So people wonder why Black people are turned off by classical music. They are supposed to get turned off. It's alien. There is nothing absolute about Western history. Whites in this country get you to believe that everything that they teach you is absolute as if it were written by some divine person. So what the mistake is that by training Black people in the white tradition, the presumption is that their grand and great grandparents came from Europe. And that's not true. It's an alien thing."

A man of strong direction and commitment, his concerns are grave and at one point when asked what course would he prescribe for young Black student musician, he replied, "Do the same as I did, only do it faster; as fast as possible. IT TOOK ME 17 YEARS TO GET TO WHERE I AM NOW. I received my M.A. in 1963 and then spent another four years studying in Europe and received my Ph.D. in 1967."

He explains that earning his livelihood as a musician meant frequent interruptions in his education and work on his undergraduate degree alone was protracted over roughly twelve or thirteen years.

Dr. Byrd spoke to the necessity of Black students clearly understanding the functional motivation behind the establishment of white academic institutions in contrast to Black institutions of higher learning. He pointed out that the oldest universities in this country were founded in the 17th Century specifically to develop and to train an aristocracy that would take over the government; a class of gentlemen after the model of Oxford and Cambridge would run the country, 400 years later, that model still works.

On the other hand, he continued, Black academic institutions were developed as late as the 19th Century after the close of the Civil War for the purpose of teaching Blacks how to read and write and religion with no specific function in mind. "So if an institution isn't structured to do anything to begin with, then 100 years later it is still teaching reading and writing and religion. In essence, it isn't supposed to do anything."

However, he cited, Imamu Ameer Baraka's school in Newark, New Jersey as one of the few Black institutions in the country which was established and is guided by basic educational philosophical tenets.

"White universities have developed sophisticated methods for compiling information that is used systematically to preserve and to perpetuate white history. We, as Blacks must be about the same thing, for if we do not document and write down our history, the 5,000 years from now Blacks will not know who Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker were. Our history will be lost forever.

"In order to attack the problem, you must be able to discriminate between what is the truth and what is B.S., and in order to do that, you must STUDY the history of the phenomenon that you are engaged in."

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