3 Native-American Melodies as Set by Arthur Farwell

This coming Sunday, Lakewood UCC celebrates UCC’s Native American Ministries. As part of that liturgy, all the music for the service is based on Native American melodies: 2 hymns, 3 songs set by the American composer, Arthur Farwell (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Farwell, https://songofamerica.net/composer/farwell-arthur/, and https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035729), and one setting of my own. I’ll post my own setting—one I’ve posted before—later this week, but today’s post are the 3 Farwell settings combined into one video.

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…

  • respectful,
  • 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.”

https://www.ucc.org/event/american-indian-sunday-usa/2021-09-26/

“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. “

https://www.ucc.org/giving/ways-to-give/our-churchs-wider-mission/neighbors-in-need/faq_what_is_caim-2/

Purpose

Igor Stravinsky, by George Grantham Bain Collection – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ggbain.32392. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/

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.

Just Music

If you want to just listen to some background music, I continue to accumulated tracks that I’d done for my church job at https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sets/music-at-lakewood. Easter Sunday I’m going to do my first in-person since more than a year ago. There’ll be good ventilation, I’ll be double masked plus a face shield and very distanced physically. Not sure if they will continue with in person services, however. They are only accommodating distancing by having two services and achieving adequate fresh air by opening an entire wall of sliding doors. It will soon be too hot to do that, keeping up two services isn’t sustainable, and it’s still way too soon to give up on distancing since such a small percentage of the population is vaccinated. So, they may go back to cyber until it’s either safe to have in-person services continuously or it’s cool enough outside to make the sanctuary open-air. That’s not up to me. I know I’m not willing to eat indoor restaurants yet…don’t know how I feel about playing indoor services. It’s causing me a lot of anxiety but I’m trying to stay calm. LOL

Politics in art – a few links

from https://www.flickr.com/photos/99129398@N00/422228506/

 

Not much actual writing by me on this post because the only thing I feel competent to discuss is music itself. But, the topic is very important to me and, I believe, to everyone whether they think so or not. So what follows are links to some articles and art by others you might want to read or experience.

First, one on the topic itself, politics in art:

I mentioned songs of the abolitionists at the end of the previous article but didn’t follow up with specifics. Here a few you might consider:

For the same time period, songs of the underground railroad:

As I work on this post, I realize how totally insignificant my suggestions are compared to the overwhelming wealth of knowledge their is on the Internet. Just google [songs of the underground railroad] and you’ll be amazed…amazed!

Even the American revolution had its songs:

Of course, songs of the Civil War:

Of course, anti-war songs of the Vietnam war would take up a whole book:

Political songs aren’t limited to America. You are probably familiar with the song, Waltzing Matilda. There’s this:

No less an artist than Beethoven is no stranger to political statements in his art:

Back to America and an iconic American at that, Walt Whitman:

The fascists like to denigrate what they derisively refer to as “identity politics.” Of course, no one likes to have their art dismissed as “women’s film,” “gay poetry,” “Black music,” “Latin composers”…the list goes on. But, what can be more important to defend and espouse in one’s art than personal characteristics that are discriminated against in society. I recommend, if you feel uncomfortable with the people of any of those socially excluded categories, you seek out and steep yourself in their art and let what they express build your empathy for their identity. This is politics in art of the most personal sort. I’ll have a complete post on this sometime.

BUT FOR NOW… that’s enough words. Here’s a couple pro-union songs by Pete Seeger to send you on your way:

The times in which we live

I’m 75. I was born just before the end of WWII. So, I was of an age that as an undergrad and grad student in college and conservatory and in my early days as a young professor myself, many of my professors and colleagues were immigrant refugees from Nazi Germany (one from Communist East Europe). Their stories stay with me. One, quite literally, escaped out the rear of their home as the storm troopers came through the front door, leaving his wife so traumatized that decades later his wife always had to be in the protection of attack dogs. There are too many stories I could tell.

It’s hard for me to write this post because it’s supposed to be just a blog about music composition. But totalitarian politics, especially fascism, has always impacted music. Last night’s bullying by Trump on the national stage and his open favoriting of a fascist terrorist group–and a history of similar statements–compels me to give this statement of principle. Right-wing fascist philosophy must be uprooted and banished from America forever.

If you disagree with the philosophy of that and the songs that follow, please un-follow me, because…

“We must always take sides… Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

— Elie Wiesel

Since this is a music site, I’ll say most of what I have to say via songs.

Plus, a food for thought article…

https://www.vice.com/en/article/788e4z/can-woody-guthrie-s-machine-still-kill-fascists

And an article with links to a few more songs, some more contemporary…

https://www.pastemagazine.com/music/anti-fascism/the-15-best-anti-fascist-songs/

If you’ve read this far, thank you. If you’d like to examine the history of the role of music in progressive causes, all you need to do look at the songs the abolitionists used in the struggle to end slavery. They’re still sung in churches today.

Ending this article with my absolute favorite Pete Seeger song! I love, love, love this song.

Truth in fiction

Trust me: this blog post really IS about music composition…eventually, so hopefully you’ll read to the end of the post! This is another post after returning to posting my thoughts for aspiring composers after mostly switching to posts generated as part of my job as a working musician/composer during this pandemic (see https://hiltonkeanjones.com/2020/08/12/working-musician-during-a-pandemic/ and https://hiltonkeanjones.com/2020/08/22/tailgate-trombone/ for discussions of this.

Long ago, way before personal computers and the Internet, there was a young woman I knew who, from an early age, collected quotes from books on 3×5 index cards. Even though only in her very early 20s, she’d collected hundreds of these quotes. Almost all of them were from fiction. Although I’ve never had the persistence to accumulate such a storehouse of quotes, from time to time, I noted some passages in fiction that affected me deeply. They expressed a truth about life that resonated with me.

Here’s an example: “As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come…and he would have to meet it when it did.” from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.

I just “Googled” that entire quote for the heck of it and discovered that it was listed on goodreads.com J.K. Rowling > Quotes > Quotable Quote page. Someone else had found it meaningful also.

The older I get, the more slowly I read, the more I return to re-read books I’ve read before, and the more I savor those bits of truth I find. I’ve certainly read my fair share of self-help and applied philosophy books, but I’ve never found as many helpful truths in those books as I have in fiction, for as Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Similarly, never have I found as many helpful truths in literary fiction as I have in genre fiction.

Stephen King’s 2003 National Book Awards acceptance speech is terrific. Not only does he talk about the truth in in the life (fiction), more importantly, he takes to task the academic (“literary”) fiction network and bias. I highly recommend his speech: Stephen King, Recipient of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, 2003 (http://www.nationalbook.org/nbaacceptspeech_sking.html).

In an old blog I had, I once posted, “If I were able to write a novel, the kind of novel I’d hope to be able to write is the one I just finished reading, The Starboard Sea, by Amber Dermont.” The reason I felt that way was because of the underlying truth–a truth that is true for any human being–that was the premise of the story. It affected me deeply because events in my own life vibrated in sympathy with the tones struck in that story.

Part of what makes some authors so great is that they write “as if” they were inside the reader’s own existence. They must have the capacity to experience their books as we do and that inner perception must inform what they write. I also believe that the best musicians, be they performer, conductor, or composer, write/perform what they do for the benefit of the audience, not to aggrandize themselves.

In the field of professional music performers the best musicians also have a knack for hearing what and how they’re playing from the audience’s viewpoint, as part of the whole…as if they were outside themselves, sitting in the audience…quite literally and acoustically. They don’t just play their part from their own viewpoint.

The best composers have a way of doing something similar: they are able to experiencing what they’re writing from within time–just as a listener experiences it–not just from their viewpoint outside of time as a composer looking at the whole. In both cases, the musician/composer is performs/creates for the listener, not for the informed critic. This has always been true. Most people forget that Bach, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven were all writing for the masses, they weren’t writing for the intelligentsia.

So, the moral of this story is to encourage composers to speak to the universal emotional experiences of their listeners. Engage the audience. Don’t write for critics. Write for the audience. You do that by providing them with an emotional experience. Become aware of your own emotions. Get in touch with the fact that we’re one person, that we inhabit a shared emotional world. Don’t just write notes.

 

No magic brush

Dawn
Dawn

This is the most important truth I still have to learn for every piece. It’s like I completely forget how to write music after every piece. At one point in my life, I kept the first scraps of paper from pieces so I could look back, the next time, to see how miserable the first notes were. This really is the Number One lesson to learn. That Disney thing where the brush sweeps across the screen and the picture just flows off the brush just isn’t the way it really happens. It’s true, the Cosmic Radio does exist, but sometimed the reception isn’t that great. It can be like driving across country late at night and listening to AM radio. You might pick up a station that’s really from a different piece, or maybe a different spot in the same piece, or perhaps just a bad idea, or maybe…aliens.