Friday, January 31, 2020

A "Value System" for a Composer

There is so much going on all around us today, and at times I think, "How does that person sleep at night?" Of course, the only person I need to be concerned about in all such circumstances would be  me. I am the only one responsible for my actions, my beliefs, my spoken or written words, my ethics, and my values. As I look at the texts of some folk songs and older music sources, it really compels me to consider if I want to convey the meaning of some texts to our students during these days. Times have changed since my days as a student and as a teacher. 

Choral music styles have changed during my choral life on this earth. In fact, I think I can reasonably say that choral music changes in huge ways every ten years or so. Of course, these changes occur based on the educational structure in our society and current trends of respect for all of those in our school systems who enjoy singing in our groups. Those changes are at times based on the abilities of students as dictated by the skills they are able to attain in an ever-changing educational system (number of times choirs are allowed to meet per week, grade levels assigned to middle and intermediate schools, etc.). Because our educational system is in a state of flux, so are our choral programs.

As writers, we want to respect all groups who sing and enjoy our music. In addition, there must be a personal moral code and acknowledgement of values that run deep and profound in our being. Some of these values go to the very core of who we are as individuals, educators, and musicians. At times, I must look in the mirror and say, "I can't write those words. Those words are damaging. Those words may inadvertently give permission for behaviors that no teacher should encounter in the classroom." Yes, there are some folk songs and other public domain materials that conjure up attitudes and behaviors that are totally against my value system. So...I can't write those words. I am restricted because of my moral code. However, I love the tunes. So...I write other words

During recent years, there is a thought that has prevailed in my mind: At no time in my public school or higher education experience was I ever concerned with my personal safety. Yet, in the face of such possibilities, today's teachers go to the classroom every day of their lives What an example for those in government! 

Am I being too sensitive about the content of my music? I don't think so. I am responsible for every word that comes out of my mouth and every word that I ask others to sing. It is an awesome responsibility. 

What about authenticity? In research, I always find out interesting information. The realization is that folk songs were passed down and they have changed and morphed into many forms and texts over time. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was an issue of not having accurate recall abilities (we are assisted today via technology, notation, etc.). Maybe it was an issue of their value systems as well. Maybe they were trying to be sensitive to others in their midst. Maybe?

What am I saying? see the arrangement above entitled "The Rising of the Moon." It was a rebellion song in Ireland in 1798. It was actually a call to unity and a call to arms for battle. Do you think I would ever send this into the classroom? No....that is a definite. I would not. I want no students singing about weapons. I want no energy manufactured among students for participating in battle. I want nothing to do with anything that would be difficult for our fabulous, committed educators. You might disagree with me. That is your choice. I must live with me.

So...I choose to emphasize unity. The words in the above arrangement become "For we all must be together by the rising of the moon." You can look up the original text, if you choose. The tune is basically the same as "The Wearing of the Green." It is a great tune! Why didn't I use the "green" text? Well, as choral directors, we are always trying to get guys to become comfortable with their singing voices. After that huge voice change in middle school, sometimes it is a bit easier for the boys to sing with a bit more volume as they go through the randomness of the change. With the robust text I chose, they can sing with a full tone, and those in the midst of change can be comfortable with vocal demands. I retained as many words as possible that fit within my value system.

This piece will be on my website soon, but I wanted to talk about the piece today. For some reason, unity is on my heart. The need for unity is greater than ever. The moral center is more important now than ever. We live in an unpredictable world, where we actually can control very little. For all those things we can control, it is imperative that we incorporate goodness, sensitivity, kindness, and consideration into our music, as much as our value system requires.

We all must be together by the rising of the moon.