Classical composer canceled for condemning arson

Classical composer Daniel Elder wrote two sentences on social media last summer condemning the acts of arson committed by Black Lives Matter rioters in Nashville, Tennessee.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

Classical composer Daniel Elder wrote two sentences on social media last summer condemning the acts of arson committed by Black Lives Matter rioters in Nashville, Tennessee. Those two sentences have gotten him rejected by his publisher, with local choral directors refusing to program his music or let him sing.

On May 30, 2020, around 1,000 people in Nashville joined in what was meant to be a peaceful protest in the wake of George Floyd's killing. Some of those protestors, though, resorted to vandalizing building, police cars, and eventually setting the city's courthouse on fire.

Elder, who lives in Nashville, was disturbed by the destruction and "found himself increasingly unnerved by the large number of emotional social media posts coming across his feeds that seemed to justify radicalism and groupthink," according to Reason. Elder deleted his Instagram, only after posting once more, cross-posting it to his other social media accounts. "Enjoy burning it all down, you well-intentioned, blind people. I'm done," he stated.

Elder was criticizing the arsonists. He wrote nothing negative on the Black Lives Matter cause, nor against anyone's ethnicity. Elder described himself as being center-left and supported liberal causes. Being "canceled" by the same people he aligned with "made this sort of a strange betrayal," said Elder.

When Elder woke up the next day, his Facebook and YouTube pages were full of comments accusing him of being a "white supremacist piece of garbage" and a racist. According to Reason, Elder began to receive anonymous, expletive-filled emails as well.

"I've relatively recently become aware of your work and have enjoyed your compositions for their sensitivity and artistry," wrote one former fan. "However, after learning of your insensitive comments on social media, however perceived as misunderstood, I've decided to unsubscribe from your [YouTube] channel and will no longer recommend your compositions to colleagues."

"I am a choir director and department head for the music department for a private school in Ohio," said another. "I want to inform you that your rhetoric surrounding the recent protests is unacceptable and my school will not be programming your music unless and until a public apology is issued."

Another commenter recommended that Elder read White Fragility by anti-racist author Robin DiAngelo.

Elder was contacted within 24 hours of the controversial post by GIA Publications, the major publisher of religious content in the world of choral music, and Elder’s publisher. On June 1, GIA President Alec Harris and media editor Susan LaBarr contacted Elder about posting an apology, which had already been written by the publishing company. Elder just had to post it.

"Over the weekend I made a post on my social media accounts that was insensitive and wrongly-worded. I deeply apologize for the anger, offense, and harm that this post caused. While this offense was not intended, it is what was created. For this I am truly sorry," the apology read.

"There is no justification that I can offer for my post. So, rather than try to offer an excuse for what was done, I offer a promise for what I will do going forward. I commit to making amends and to dialogue. I commit to continue educating myself about privilege and bias. I commit to continue seeking an understanding of the experience of others, especially the Black community. I know that working for justice requires that we each first act justly. My work begins now."

LaBarr added that "we know that you write music that promotes social justice," but that the sentiment wasn't clear to those who read Elder's Instagram post.

Elder chose not to post the apology, saying: "I chose to be that guy who didn't issue the apology. Things went from there and it wasn't good." GIA denounced Elder's comment, adding that they would no longer publish his music.

"The views expressed in composer Daniel Elder's incendiary social media post on Sunday evening do not reflect the values of GIA or our employees," it read. "GIA opposes racism in all its forms and is committed to do what Michelle Obama called 'the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out,'" said the statement, adding that "We are grateful to those who brought this to our attention and to all who continue to hold individuals and organizations to account."

Elder, who had already felt the consequences of the pandemic preventing choirs from singing, said that he lost countless friends, fans, and colleagues as a result, adding that he had to be "talked off the ledge" several times.

Elder added that despite the destruction of his career, the incident has left him listening to more voices on the other side of the isle, leading to him becoming "less ideologically narrow-minded."

"Because I was exiled, I started listening to voices on the right and the center, especially these classical liberals who have been exiled from the leftist movement," he said. "The strange silver lining is this shook me out of my prejudices a little bit."


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