The boy choir of Duke University has been done away with, apparently at the behest of one of the campus ministers, a woman who had never even attended any of the services at which the choir performed but who complained that the group was one of the “subtle and not so subtle vestiges of male privilege” that she has a vocation to extirpate. It is refreshing to see a modern day cleric promoting orthodoxy of any sort, but some of us could suggest more obvious places to start a heresy hunt.
Duke University is in Durham, North Carolina, a funky old New South town whose chief contributions to American life probably lie in the areas of piedmont blues music and the mass production of cigarettes. Like any Southern town that has been around for a while, Durham has its odd features. A writer for the Charlotte Observer reported recently, for instance, that four of the seven Americans known to have swallowed their toothbrushes were from the Bull City.
Even odder than that, in some wavs, is the fact that this wholesome blue-collar town is home to Duke. Yet there it lies, its mock-Gothic campus nestled incongruously among the abandoned cigarette factories and the Carolina pines, an institution once best known for basketball, the rice diet, psychic research, and turning down the papers of its most distinguished alumnus, Richard M. Nixon. A while back a physician named H.L. Newbold speculated in the British journal Medical Hypotheses that tobacco baron James Duke founded the place because of neurological damage and depression resulting from pernicious anemia—and that certainly does explain a lot.
Now if someone could just explain the peculiar behavior of some of Duke’s literature professors. As you’ve probably seen, their high jinks have been getting a lot of bad press lately from Dinesh D’Souza and his friends.
I often find myself defending the place. After all, mv wife, her brothers, my godson, and several of my cousins are Duke graduates, my uncle taught there for many years, and several of my friends still do. So I always try to point out that Duke is not only a trendinista stronghold but also something of a bastion of the counterrevolution, the home of some fine reactionary scholars and publications, and the only campus in the country with its own chapter of the National Association of Scholars. It is not beyond salvation.
Look, I yield to no one in my concern for women’s rights. I care a whole lot more about my daughter’s opportunities than about the prerogatives of the couple of billion earthlings who happen to be male, most of whom I do not even know. But this assault on the boy choir is just silly.
Some splendid music has been written for women’s voices, and no one would complain if Duke nurtured a girls’ choir of distinction equal to that of its now-late boy choir. But it’s simply a fact that the unchanged voices of boys sound different from those of girls, or of a mixed-sex choir, and many masterworks of church music were composed for precisely that sound. Moreover, the Duke chapel may well be the only space between Washington and Atlanta truly suited for the performance of such music: it is the nearest thing this world offers to a Methodist cathedral, from the Duke family’s heroic tombs to sculpted images by the doorway, including those of John Wesley, Savonarola, and Robert E. Lee.
Choral evensong is one of the glories of the English university tradition that Duke apes in a great many less attractive ways. But a boy choir by definition is not “inclusive,” so it has to go. If nothing else, this bizarre decision reveals the hollowness of the “diversity” scam, which celebrates the alleged contributions of almost every imaginable culture, no matter how squalid or insignificant, except the historic European one that gave us, among other things, Duke University. “Within the context of Duke University and its goals, values, and mission,” the dean of the chapel says, having a choir open only to boys is “unfair.”
Bull pucky. Last I heard, the Duke basketball team was still all-male. You Dukies want to get serious?