Groupmuse and Historical Music

We’re starting this New Year with a big announcement, catalyzed by one of the most powerful shockwaves of the titanic year that just was. Inspired by the Movement for Black Lives, Groupmuse is expanding the program parameters beyond allowing only “canonical classical music” to be a required half of every program. We’re proud to announce that the “canonical classical” requirement has turned into a “historical music” requirement.

After George Floyd was murdered and the whole world erupted, we knew we had to act, but first we needed to listen.

Within a couple months, we’d started an initiative called the Planetary Music Movement, intended to celebrate Black voices in the Classical Music World. But we also felt the call for a deeper change.

So we started asking ourselves deep and difficult questions about the work that Groupmuse does and the kind of music we center.

Questions like: Why is it that there is a special and exclusive place for Western-European classical music in our society? Institutions to carry it forth with 7, 8, 9 figure endowments? Big, beautiful concert halls? Yes, it deserves all of those things — but surely it isn’t the only music that does. Perhaps it does speak to a deeper pattern of power in our society — a pattern that contemporary movements are striving to evolve beyond.

Groupmuse belongs to these modern movements, and everyday we’re working hard to usher in a new paradigm that restoring reverential connection to the old world.

It’s why we became a cooperative. It’s why we started the Groupmuse Foundation. It’s why we started the Planetary Music Movement.

And yet, at the same time, those who know and love classical music know there is something special about classical music. Something rare and precious and worth preserving and celebrating. Something that has made Groupmuse what it is. But that special something totally transcends questions of race and place. Mozart isn’t great because he was white and European. He’s great because he’s Mozart! In like measure, classical music isn’t great because it’s “classical music” — it’s great because it evinces certain eternal values. And while these values are certainly manifest in classical music, they are not exclusive to classical music.

So our challenge was to discern those values, without using the words “classical” or “western” or “European”. We aspired to continue doing the work that has made Groupmuse such a fulfilling social and cultural community — but in a way that disrupted problematic legacies of supremacy.

Our team undertook a months-long discernment process to distill what makes the music we share at Groupmuse so well suited to the wholesome and profound joy of our gatherings. We approached the question from a three-fold perspective, attempting an analysis that touches on the groupmusical experience at a global scale, a local scale, and an immanent scale.

At the global scale, this music is about the treasures of our shared cultural ancestry. It’s about connecting to the ones who came before and made music of a world so beautiful that it countervailed the sands of time and brightened rather than dimmed. That transcendent connection to the past is more important now than ever — in a society suffering perpetual historical amnesia and lurching forward with the newest technology that arguably brings us farther from what we’ve always known is most important — presence, love, growth. So, in accordance with our new standards around historical music — it must be music rooted in the past with a pedagogical tradition that stretches back at least a century.

At the local scale, Groupmuse has always been about creating a space to celebrate those wild ones among us who devote their whole lives, their whole beings, to this stuff we call music. Lessons after school, summers at camp, in the halls of higher education — the musicians at groupmuses drop our jaws and open our worlds because they manifest a lifetime commitment to craft. And with all of those hours of love and labor comes a degree of subtlety, sophistication, and depth that makes a groupmuse so awe-inspiring and satisfying.

And then at the immanent scale is the question of space and the unfolding of a groupmuse in the moment. At Groupmuse, we’ve never had to make a rule about putting phones away — no one logs on anyway because of the type of attention and presence engaging with this music calls forth. It’s not music to be talked over as background music. It’s foreground music. So we sit down and we let it wash over us as we sit in reverential silence. And it’s happening only a few feet in front of you, speaking of a world before arena rock and EDM warehouses. Groupmuse is carried by music intended for an intimate scale. It’s music for the chamber, wherever in the world that chamber may be, and however it might look.

So without much further ado, the “classical canonical” half is no longer required at every groupmuse program. It has been replaced with a required “historical music” half.

We define historical music as:

  1. Music that is rooted in a pedagogical tradition that stretches back at least a century.
  2. Music that can only be made by folks who have made a lifetime commitment to their craft.
  3. Music intended for an intimate scale — “chamber music” in the broadest sense of the word.

All of this in no way means that there still won’t be a ton of Western classical music on our platform and in our community living rooms (someday again soon let’s hope…). Our vast body of musicians are overwhelmingly committed to Western classical music, so the content we foster will still for the most part be just that — at least for a long while. But it also means that we’ll be a home for Balinese Gamelan players, practitioners of Burmese court music, ancient music from the mountains of Armenia, and, of course, that deepest musical gift America brought to the world: Jazz. As a matter of fact, we’ve got some astonishing jazz talent in the pipeline, so RSVP here if you want to be a part of that!

Thank you for being part of this journey as we deepen our present with the past.

All our best,

Team Groupmuse

A social network for classical music house parties, because art is better with your friends. #BeAlive

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