Canceled for Opposing Arson


I ran across a couple of news articles about the composer Daniel Elder this week. Perhaps you’ve seen them. Elder is (or was) an up-and-coming choral composer living in Nashville.

Listening to Elder’s work, it’s clear that he is a fine composer with much to offer. I have not heard enough of his music to offer generalizations about his style, but I’m willing to bet you will find Ballade to the Moon worthy of repeated listenings.

Elder has been canceled. That’s a term that can be tossed around rather freely these days, but if it applies to anyone, it applies to Elder. The long knives came out after he posted on social media about Nashville’s historic courthouse being set on fire during one of the many demonstrations last year.

Composers and other artists have run afoul of the prevailing political winds many times before. They might fall out of favor for a time, or be banished from court, or sent to the Gulag, or worse. The current version of all that is to suffer public shame and be cut off from your job and livelihood.

I practiced law long enough to understand the peril of commenting on a situation without having all the facts. But there appears to be no debate about the content of his post, which merely condemned the arson in a rather tame way. I went to the social media posts of those who were most offended and found nothing to refute this. But some apparently revel in being offended.

Social media provides us with enough distance and anonymity to cast aside the restraints that make civil discourse (or even civilization) possible. On social media, you have to answer to the mob. But what I find most appalling in this episode is the sniveling apology penned by Elder’s publisher GIA and their demand that he post it. When he declined, GIA issued their own public apology and vowed never to publish him again. Elder’s post had nothing to do with his music, and you would think a publisher would be able to recognize that distinction. But it caved to fear of the mob and, with its aesthetic judgment corrupted, became the voice of the mob.

Elder worries that his career as a composer is over. I hope not. He wrote on his blog:

The fertile fields of artistic expression are parched. There is no vision; only voice. There is no soul; only skin.

That’s a pretty good assessment of where we now are. Art is about beauty, and as one of the three transcendentals, beauty ought to transcend. Listen, because surely Elder’s musical voice far transcends the ravings of his detractors.

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There are 7 comments.

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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    I am always somewhat reluctant to listen to modern composers as they rarely move me or create something memorable, but out of respect to the man for what he is currently going through, I listened all the way through.  It is a lovely piece.  I am hoping that the part of the country that is not insane goes out of its way to support the young man.  

    • #1
  2. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    And if you haven’t, read his blog.  What a cry of despair yet with a glimmer of hope.  It should be read at every graduation this year.

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Thank you for bringing this composer and this act of cancellation to our attention.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    What a beautiful piece, what a talent. He must be devastated. I hope that he can transcend the ugliness and find his way.

    • #4
  5. MiMac Thatcher

    His former publisher GIA is thought to stand for “God It’s Awful” by more traditionally minded Catholics……his music sounds too good for them anyhow.

    • #5
  6. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat

    @hankreynolds Thank you for this beautiful piece and story – I know some folks in the music business in Nashville and I want to send this story to them, as well as others.  We cannot let this cancel malarkey for speaking our minds continue.

    • #6
  7. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks

    It would be worse if the idea that “opposing arson” went against the popular opinion. It is bad enough that the publisher has to act as if it does, because otherwise they will be in bad odor with Very Online Twitter fiends in cafes tapping out castigation orders to the infinitesimal quantity of intellectual commissars. It is good that most people oppose arson. The task is assembling the coalition willing to say “arson is wrong” without qualifiers, and points and laughs at the people who defend it.

    There’s a moment from a film we all remember from childhood, when fear turned to derision. 

    • #7
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