The Native American melodies (of primarily the Omaha tribe)) harmonized by Arthur Farwell were drawn from the late 19th Century 20 year research of Alice C. Fletcher, holder of the Thaw Fellowship, Peabody Museum, Harvard University.
Creative folk (musicians, authors, graphic artists, dancers, etc.) create amid a world of 7,874,965,825 ideas of what we should and shouldn’t do! It’s hard enough discerning what we believe ourselves, but the cultural noise gets deafening and discouraging sometimes. One bit of that cultural noise is the prohibition against “cultural approbation.” To make matters worse—regard that issue—white supremacists have taken up against the issue. One is damned if one does support cultural sensitivity or damned if one doesn’t!
Unless we wish to discard Debussy’s pieces based on the traits of Spanish music, Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Ravel’s music based on Asian scales, Beethoven’s “Turkish March” in his 9th Symphony, and on and on and on…then, everyone needs to find their own comfort zone as to where the boundaries are regarding the setting of “folk” material. (I realize even the term, “folk,” has a colonialist tinge to it.)
My own feeling is that if a setting of other material is…
fully acknowledges the source,
isn’t intended to represent itself as anything other than what it is, and
makes its own contribution to the material artistically,
…then it doesn’t deserve to be condemned for cultural approbation.
I believe Farwell’s setting (and hopefully my own) fall into the “approved” category.
Here’s some info about the UCC’s Native American Ministry. I especially like the first one!
“The 29th General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a Resolution of Witness calling for the UCC to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, which authorized the genocide of native people and the theft of native lands. In that Resolution we recognize the complicity of the Churches, including the UCC, in the perpetration of these injustices.”
“The Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM) is the voice for American Indian people in the UCC. CAIM provides Christian ministry and witness to American Indians and to the wider church. Justice issues that affect American Indian life are communicated to the whole UCC by CAIM. “
A while back I wrote three preludes based on the hymn tune, St. Anne, better known as “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past.” This is the 2nd movement of that set. The hymn tune is stated twice. During the first half of the prelude, the melody (in G major) is the top note of the chords in triple meter (it’s usually in quadruple meter), in the second half of the piece, the melody’s in the top note of the chords in the right hand. The melody’s easier to hear in the second half.
This will be one of the selections I play for this coming Sunday’s in-person/Facebook Live service. It’s Charter Sunday, celebrating the founding of this church. At one time, this song by Doris Akers was the theme song for the parish so it seemed appropriate to do it.
This is one of the movements of a collection of pieces I wrote for use during Lent on year at Lakewood UCC. The collection is titled Meditations & Reflections. The sheet music for the whole collection or for individual movements is available at SheetMusicPlus. The audio CD for the entire collections is available at BandCamp.
I’m enjoying getting back in the groove of using my little home studio after not having it available I’m enjoying getting back in the groove of using my little home studio after not having it available while we moved and after Lakewood went back to in-person services from only cyber. But absence really does make the heart grow fonder: I’ve come to realize just how much making music means to me! So, even though they’re not required at Lakewood, I’ve started back up making them for the pleasure of making them and hopefully for the pleasure of listeners.
This blog primarily serves as an electronic “business card” for myself as a composer/performer. At first, I talked about what I knew…teaching composition. But, then the damn pandemic hit (I called it the “damndemic”). As dreadful as this has been–and continues to be–my worklife as a musician was changed from life performance to studio only in order to provide the music my job required. I loved working in the wee hours in my studio and releasing the results as needed for my job (music director at Lakewood UCC). I posted those music videos here.
Then, thanks to the vaccine, I was able to return to live performance of a limited sort (socially distanced, fully masked, fully vaccinated participants). Then, suddenly, my need to provide studio music no longer existed. So now what? What intrinsic PURPOSE does my music have now that there’s no extrinsic need requiring it?
The picture at the top is of Igor Stravinsky. I was very, very lucky to attend, for my last two years of undergraduate study, the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, California. My composition teacher was Standworth Beckler. If I was lucky to be at UoP I was even luckier to be Mr. Beckler’s student. Once a semester he offered to both grad and undergrad students a class based entirely on his own research. One such course was a his analyses of every piece Igor Stravinsky wrote! Every piece!
I took away a lot from his courses, and one thing I took away from his Stravinsky course was that Stravinsky seemed to be teaching himself how to compose throughout his life. That was the only explanation I could find that accounted for the wide, wide, wide range of styles he wrote in throughout his life. Stravinsky, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and the Beatles all had that continual stylistic exploration in common! Perhaps it’s no coincidence I am as fond as I am of these composers.
It’s dawned on me, as I look back at my own life, including the present, that–although I’m not claiming to be a Stravinsky–when there is no external circumstance demanding a “product,” the underlying purpose of my music–why I compose–is to learn how to compose. The “product” is my learning. What people hear is just the “byproduct.” The real product is what happens within me and the growth of my skills.
It is freeing whenever I remember this. It doesn’t matter what others think. If they happen to like something, that’s nice, but their liking it doesn’t provide the purpose for me doing it in the first place. It’s what I learn how to do that’s important.
It’s not even vague things like “crafting a work of art” or something. With each piece my subconscious has things it (me) wants to learn how to do. In making the piece I discover (that’s a key word I think…I don’t “figure out,” I “discover,” it’s very much a non-verbal how-to) how to do that. The piece is just a result.
Curious how this lines up with what I spent my life doing as a profession: teaching others to compose. For me, it’s about learning, discovering. Down deep, that’s the intrinsic motivation for me. Extrinsic opportunity to show-and-tell is nice, but when I want to do something that “matters,” for me it’s learning how to compose.
Marco has been my private composition student since he was 14 (maybe it was 13… can’t remember). He starts with dual enrollment at Julliard and Columbia this fall. I highly encourage your attendance either in person or live streamed. He is exceptional.
Easter Sunday was the first Sunday I returned to playing services in-person. It had been more than a year. The Easter videos for last year were among the very first in our effort to continue to provide spiritual community only via the internet. I’ve learned a lot during this year, especially about making videos, but also about music itself. At 76 you wouldn’t think I’d still be learning about music, but I am, mainly about how much better the music gets the simpler you make things!
This past Sunday was my third week of playing an in-person service. During these past two weeks, I’ve taken a “vacation” from making videos, except for an Earth Day compilation that will post this coming Thursday, Earth Day.
So, I’m resuming making a couple mid-week videos today with this beautiful tune from The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion: Charlestown.
When I do these, I take the melodies directly from the Southern Harmony itself, deleting any of the harmony and counterpoint of the original, keeping only the melody. If it’s also published in various hymnals, I completely ignore those settings, so I’m interacting only with the original tune, devoid of even its own original harmony.
I didn’t know this tune, but I discovered and making the video, it does appear in some hymnals. I’m glad. It’s a beautiful melody.