July 21, 2007

Native Museums Disassociate Themselves From Yeagley

from the Bad Eagle blog

Bad Eagle (.org) was born from the ashes of reason and commonsense, when those two qualities were being burned by Yeagley’s blog and his desperate aspiration for some kind of “American Indian” celebrity, no matter the cost. In addition to his puffed up image as a “doctor” (when he’s really a simple piano player who dabbles in composing), it is widely recognized that on nearly all things ‘American Indian’ Yeagley is a lost soul. Yeagley pontificates about his own self-worth as a supposed “Indian” by quoting bible passages of all things, and by citing this “time-honored” activity or that “time-honored” accomplishment as if there were such a utopian honored place in time.

Fortunately for most of us, Yeagley’s fantasy-based rationale is easily dismissed as the utopianism it is, especially when fact-based reality enters the picture as it does here at Bad Eagle (.org). And as time goes on, Yeagley’s basic demeanor becomes clearer and clearer to me, vacillating between the “I’m a persecuted victim” stance (that he uses to blame others rather than take responsibility for himself) and the “I’m gonna show you who’s boss” mentality (that many find snobbish and pretentious).

However, in the midst of all Yeagley’s false claims to accolades in music composition (such as his boasting the “newness” of an already hashed-and-rehashed theory of harmony), one might miss a subtler point if not directed to it by a professional and accredited composer. As a person who earns my living by composing (composer by profession), and as a person who was awarded the Outstanding Alumni Award from both Universities were I received by composition degrees (composer with training), I have two brief points to make regarding Yeagley and music.

Indians and Musical Meaning

First, Yeagley appears to my eyes to be very non-Indian in his approach to music. Why? Because he seems to “compartmentalize” the material constructs of music away from the emotional and communal foundation of music, a mistake common to practitioners of western composition. For western thinkers, music has been treated as a “thing” that one creates, that impacts upon the emotions as an afterthought but which remains itself concrete and stagnant once composed or written.

For American Indian musical thought however, no such tidy “box” exists in reality, separating emotion from musical activity (including music composition); Yeagley simply does not think ‘musically’ as an Indian would think, with his “time-honored” harmonic boxes all lined up in a row. Yeagley is missing a fundamental reality of Indian thought — being related — which applies to all things musical and nonmusical.

David Yeagley — “Now, I think probably all are equally important, equally valuable, and certainly equally precious in the eyes of the Creator. But that has nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion of ART!!” (7-18-07).
It is because Yeagley appears to be a non-Indian thinker that he discounts the ‘relational’ reality that other Indian thinkers readily understand. American Indians generally do not put music and emotions into “time-honored” boxes, separated one from one another like apples and oranges. The social realities and the musical realities could never be separated, even conceptually; for Native People there is no important distinction between the “psychology” or “sociology” of music versus the “aural” or “oral” realities of music. Those boxed distinctions are a product of westernized thought, not American Indian thought.

It is precisely the communal activity of music — the inseparable nature of things mislabeled “musical” and “nonmusical” by the West — that Yeagley seems to lack in his own approach. Yeagley has moreover adopted the inaccurate westernized categories, as an "acceptable" false dichotomy, for activities that Native People understand to be relational.
David Yeagley — “Now, for social value, for power to effect social change for the better, that's a different issue. That isn't about art, but the effects of art. THat isn't about music, but the effect of music” (7-18-07).
There is no separation between social power and music power for Native People. If you wish to examine this concept further, might I suggest two books for further reading. Even if you are not a music composer, these would provide a beginning outline for better understanding the ‘relatedness’ concept of American Indian people, both in a deconstructive and constructive way.

The Sam Gill book is deconstructive, as it breaks apart the faulty ways in which Westerners have mistakenly viewed Native People. The Ruth Underhill book is constructive, as it begins a discussion of music and power as actually inseparable for Native People. Taken together, these books would provide an excellent initiation into the history of American Indian thought and the inseparability of music.
Gill, Sam D. 1982. Beyond the Primitive, The Religions of Nonliterate Peoples. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 120 pages.

Underhill, Ruth Murray. 1938. Singing for Power: The Song Magic of the Papago Indians of Southern Arizona. Berkeley: University of California Press. 158 pages.

Musical Craft and Meaning

Secondly, Yeagley’s desperate need to disprove his so-called “detractors” simply has Yeagley slipping further off the deep end. The more Yeagley pontificates, the more of his utopia-driven rationale slips out from his own “time-honored” tongue.
David Yeagley — “I felt obligated to demonstrate the meaning of the concepts I have presented in a few recent blogs, concepts of music, words, and consistency. ‘Classical’ music, I insist, pertains to the nature, character, and content of the music, not what instruments happen to be playing it” (7-20-07).
Yeagley "demonstrates" nothing, but again refuses to explain his own theory of harmony, even when challenged to do so by his contemporaries. Instead, he relies on catchall declarations like “nature,” “character” and “content” but never really explains what he means by using them. No musical definition, no footnote, no explanation, no clarity. Rather than uncovering his musical method, he has sought to obscure it in an effort to puff up his own image.
David Yeagley — “I simply note that time honored, established words are most likely to be usurped by lying, cheating knaves... The attempt to use top-shelf words to validate the less worthy, or the unworthy, is a communist use of language... This is called 'redistribution of word meaning'” (7-20-07).
Language is not a word game. Language and meaning go hand-in-hand, again they are “inseparable” for Indian thinkers, rendering his hermeneutical argument above moot. One cannot shift word meaning around as if it were a fixed deck of printed plastic cards. Language is ever shifting as is meaning. Life, language and music cannot be boxed up in tidy little boxes of “meaning” to be paraded around on someone’s resume. Yeagley’s semantic ploy is nonsensical.
David Yeagley — “‘Classical’ music, as I explained before, generally refers to the highest order of intellectual, artistic craft, both in composition and in performance. The word is rightly reserved for that specific reference. Some may call this elitism, or snobbery, but I call it consistency, respect, and accurate communication” (7-20-07).
Actually, Yeagley's attitude is snobbery. Yeagley’s view is also inconsistent, because his so-called “classical” craft is utilized in many art forms considered non-classical, but used in nonhierarchical ways. Yeagley’s notion of “high art” versus “lower forms” is simply classical-centrism.

But most of all, Yeagley’s utopian “highest order” rationale is also very non-Indian, it is completely contrary to the “all my relations” reality of Native People. For Indians there is no such hierarchy of music, there is only music that is related (good music), and music that is not related (bad music). Classical or not, Native People can easily see that Yeagley’s “time-honored” classicism is a utopia-based rationale that he uses to claim personal accolades for himself.
David Yeagley — “‘The Writhing of Earth Worms’ was given its world premiere... at the National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington DC... Of course, not everything on the program was classical, unfortunately... the Museum's approach to ‘Classical Native’ contributes to the popular obfuscation of the concept” (7-20-07).
Setting aside Yeagley’s snobbish comment about the NMAI’s alleged “obfuscation” which I’ve already identified above as Yeagley's own non-Indian mischaracterization, I did give a listen to his recent You Tube upload. My initial reaction is that it’s not-too-bad compositionally, but also not-too-great.

His harmonic language (his self-attributed-but-never-described harmonic theory) seems adequate, and an acceptable effort. If he were my student, he’d get an acceptable grade on that aspect of his composition. There are a couple weaknesses though, too, that could be improved upon: rhythm and orchestration.

Rhythmically, the piece is rather middle-of-the-road in quality, seemingly reliant on a series of steady pulses of regular beats with little variation. One can listen to the beginning for awhile and by reaching the end will have heard almost no change in rhythm throughout. If you, either as a musician or non-musician, reach the final notes of this music
finding yourself rather uninspired, generally speaking, one of the reasons for this effect is the rhythmic monotony.

A similar critique of the orchestration is warranted, as the ranges of the instruments are never utilized to full capacity in the composition. The higher range of the upper instruments and the lower range of the bass instruments remain largely unused, rendering a middle-of-the-road outcome. Great music has satisfying ups and downs, like a musical roller coaster ride generating excitement for an audience. Yeagley's orchestration seems excessively committed to the mid-range and remains a lackluster effort as a result.

Native Museums Are Not Fooled

Yeagley is basically a media whore for ill purposes, taking a highly questionable and unverified claim to a drop of Comanche blood, along with a degree in playing the piano, to the gross heights of white supremacy and misogyny. His unearned and rather egocentric demeanor is Yeagley’s way of clawing out some attention for himself and crackbrained agenda. His musical claims have been repeatedly proven as lackluster and inflated, serving moreover to pad his own media resume and continue his lunacy.

But, in retrospect, Yeagley is starting at least in part to be recognized for what he is, delusional. He was uninvited to the National Museum of the American Indian because of his derogatory mischaracterizations of the Museum, and the negative associations with his anti-Indian stance; The NMAI promised to never have him back. Even the two American Indian violinists invited by Yeagley to perform his work at his sole NMAI appearance, were justifiably disinterested.

And now, it appears that the Comanche Nation’s new Museum has followed the lead of the NMAI, declining to even consider Yeagley’s participation there. When asked if Yeagley would be associated with the Museum’s opening activities, the response from the Museum was “No, absolutely not,” citing the need to disassociate the Museum with the negativity generated by Yeagley’s activities. Bravo to the Comanche Nation Museum.

So it seems that Native People are not so easily fooled by Yeagley’s mental contortions, though sometimes amusing to watch. Yeagley’s puffed up image in the media, his self-aggrandizing, is not being gullibly taken in by as many folks as in previous years. That is a hopeful note for all of the Web Sites who regularly correct Yeagley’s misinformation and half-truths, including this one. Yeagley’s abuse of his piano degree as a means to further his deluded agenda, is as mediocre as his “new” harmonic theory, and we can be thankful that more people are starting to realize it.

As for his music, it seems to me that perhaps Yeagley has spent hours pouring over his "new" theory of harmonic development, but in doing so has mostly sidestepped the development of other important aspects such as rhythm and orchestration. But I’m not Yeagley’s teacher, and am not intending to give Yeagley advice with my comments. Quite simply, it is of interest to note the non-Indian approaches Yeagley has utilized in forming his compositions, as well as some apparent weaknesses of the craft involved. He may have received a D.M.A. for playing the piano, but he is a student of composing with much to learn.

Music and meaning are subjective and communal activities, so those who see greater value in Yeagley’s work have simply to claim a diverse world where differing opinions coexist (you know, a "cosmopolitan" world), and they are justified in claiming so. As for my own opinion of Yeagley’s efforts, I see some room for improvement and further study. Obviously, there is also much room for Yeagley to improve regarding all things American Indian as well. It is unfortunate for legitimate musicians and American Indian musicians in particular, that Yeagley's piano degree continues to be utilized as a media ploy for his promotion of white supremacy and misogyny.