July 14, 2007

Footnote on Yeagley’s fabricated OPERA claims

from the Bad Eagle blog

In our previous article I pointed out the false claims of Yeagley’s puffed up self-aggrandizing as a composer, and that critique (unfortunately for Yeagley) stands. Mostly though, I recognize a pattern in Yeagley’s blog these days: musical purity is akin to powwow purity is akin to racial purity — it’s all a fool’s errand in the end. Going backwards to some “time-honored” (as Yeagley constantly insists) “pure” era, backwards to an era without impure mixing, is an imagined scenario. Such a place never existed, and anyone setting themselves on a voyage to find such a place is (repeat after me) “on a fool’s errand.”

David Yeagley — “yes, I've written the first classical music for the American Indian flute” (7-13-07).
Actually, the first classical music for American Indian flute was a work called “Why The Duck Has A Short Tail” by Dr. Louis W. Ballard, that was commissioned and premiered in 1969 by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Ballard wrote this work to feature the Indian flute in front of the orchestra, in other words, it is an American Indian flute “concerto” (a concerto is a work that features a soloist with orchestra).
David Yeagley — “I have the first solo album of an American Indian classical composer... I do put a lot of weight on the word ‘classical’” (7-13-07).
There are several American Indian classical composers who have released albums (cassettes, CDs, etc.) prior to Yeagley’s release in 2004. Off the top of my head, George Quincy (Choctaw) released several albums, the earliest in 2003. But okay, so Yeagley’s counterclaim might be that his was a ‘major’ label not an indie, but even that argument would be blowing smoke.

A GRAMMY-winning American Indian flutist composing a long while in classical music is R. Carlos Nakai, who has been released on tiny insignificant labels such as Columbia and BMG, in addition to others like Silver Wave and Canyon Records. Nakai has 27 albums in commercial distribution on many labels since the early 1980s, and has sold well over 2,000,000 units worldwide.
David Yeagley — “I've invested in a new harmonic system, but my compositional prodedures [sic!] are classical, in the historical, European sense... In classical music, there are compositional procedures to be observed... The content of the music has to be there for it to be ‘classical’” (7-13-07).
Today’s composers invent their own harmonic theories often, as new harmonic theories are: (a) considered common practice, (b) not of noteworthy significance, and (c) certainly not notable for a composer’s biography. My own students create their own theories routinely, not that they are revolutionary or new, most harmonic theories are not new in fact. Harmonic theories are built on mathematically-defined relationships, so any ‘new’ harmonic theories would necessarily be accompanied by a revolutionary mathematical theory.

Yeagley has put forth no groundbreaking “E=MC2” type theory, let alone allow for a peer review of his harmonic claims by describing his theory to other composers. I suspect, Yeagley never will reveal it; but if it does exist, it is most likely a commonplace variation of preexisting harmonic theories and mathematics that have been around for centuries. Even more, in order to compose “classical” music, one would necessarily have been born in the Mozart era, the “classical” period. Yeagley might be technically considered a “Neoclassical” composer or “neoclassicist,” but whether he’s another Mozart I would highly question. Most reasonable people recognize mainly two kinds of music, ‘good music’ and (to be kind) ‘not-so-good music.’

These ‘classical’ vs. ‘popular’ music categories are rather useless, except to limit and constrain music to some ideal or imagined purity. Go to Brazil and the differences Yeagley tries to separate are all mixed up together, a country with a long and rich concert music tradition. Only in Yeagley’s imagined reality is there such a thing as pure “classical” music even in America, the cosmopolitan continent.
David Yeagley — “grand opera is a historical term, with specific meaning. A person who would dispute my claim that my opera Jacek is the first grand opera on the Holocaust, simply doesn't know some basic terms of music history... I said I wrote the first grand opera on the Holocaust. I did” (7-13-07).
The first “grand” opera written by an American Indian composer was by Gertrude Bonnin (1876-1938), also known as Zitkala-Sa ("Red Bird" in Lakota) — some 87 years before Mr. Yeagley supposedly wrote his. As a classical violinist and classical composer, Bonnin's own Yankton Sioux heritage informed both her libretto and composition “The Sun Dance,” a “grand” opera co-composed with fellow musician William F. Hansen. Bonnin’s grand opera received it’s full production with orchestra, costumes, chorus, even dancers, in Orpheus Hall, Vernal, Utah, in 1913. In addition it should be noted that the first opera was composed by an Indian WOMAN composer.

Once more, Yeagley’s hope of writing the first grand “holocaust” opera is a pipe dream. Do I believe his claim? No way. Just google “grand,” “holocaust” and “opera” together and read the results. Yeagley’s claims are puffed up resume padding at best, and downright fabrications at worst. If he had even a finger of Mozart’s talent, maybe people would pay attention. However, as far as Neoclassical composition is concerned, Yeagley is (repeat after me) “on a fool’s errand.” Though he claims to have written an opera, it remains (technically and musically speaking) unfinished:
David Yeagley — “My opera ...has never been produced. (In fact, it isn't completely orchestrated. I've never had the support, I must say... I do have part of Scene 2 from ACT I recorded... Of course, my grand opera of classical music has not been produced. [David] Amram's involvement in popular music, jazz, etc., will forever bar him from the brotherhood of classical musicians” (7-13-07).
First, like I suggested in previous articles, an aria or a recit does not an opera make; and, without actually writing the orchestra music Yeagley’s so-called ‘opera’ remains nothing more than a compositional sketch: no orchestra = no opera.

Yeagley has (perhaps) composed a 'piano opera' (in some undefined state of completion) and is attempting to convince others that it is a "grand" opera scored for full orchestra (a requirement, technically speaking, of all grand operas). Yeagley’s claims are fantasy, and though he is free in America to pontificate freely, it is not necessary to actually believe him.

And second, I know David Amram personally and have many of his recordings, and he is absolutely a neoclassical composer. His compositions are jazz "influenced" but they are not jazz, they are well-constructed compositions for full orchestra. Amram plays concert piano and concert horn himself, and can also play jazz on both instruments. He is considered a crossover artist in performance, because how many other concert French Horn players do you know that can improvise like Winton Marsalis? Amram is called the "renaissance man" because of his immense talents as performer and composer; and he is 100% a classically-adept concert music composer, despite Yeagley's sophomoric attempt to "bar" David Amram from Yeagley's shadowy underground (nonexistent) "brotherhood."

In sum, Yeagley clamors on with a false sense of music “purity” the same way he pontificates about “pure” powwows of the past, and the lily-white “pureness” of America’s beginnings. America was never actually a white enterprise, not that Yeagley gives a hoot about historical accuracy (Yeagley aligns himself with the white supremacy movement). Yeagley’s idealistic notion of powwows as exclusively a “plains tribe” phenomena were shown as false (Yeagley is unfamiliar with powwow history).

And we can clearly see above, Yeagley’s own musical protests are not “classically” pure either — nor especially noteworthy. What Yeagley seems to be doing is padding his resume with jargon intended to obfuscate his lackluster professional activities. His degree is in piano performance; perhaps he "minored" in composition at some point? But he certainly did not fully complete any academic requirements to become a composition graduate. Again, this is America where one can speak freely, but nowhere is it required that anyone believe what Yeagley says.

So what's up with all Yeagley's "opera composer" malarkey? Basically, Yeagley is attempting to start up a
'sing-along' fan club — inviting the rest of us to join in — singing his praises. Does anyone know the words to "On A Fool's Errand?"