Sunday, October 13, 2019

George Walker-Piano Sonata No. 2

It's thanks to Ethan Iverson's blog that I've heard of George Walker and his music.  Walker passed away not too long ago and my hope his work can be more widely heard.  In the interesting of sharing his music, here's a video courtesy of Albany Records. 

Leo Brouwer Sonata for Guitar (No. 1) w read-along score

I'm going to get to blogging about the Brouwer sonatas in more detail, I hope, someday.  But for now let's have a little video of a performance of one of the sonatas.  Last year I wrote a moderately detailed analysis of Brouwer's Fuga No. 1 with help from an online video that had audio and a read-along score.

Julia Duin at GetReligion highlights articles discussing African discussions of repenting of African participation in the slave trade, some thoughts on Native American slavery and a proposal that the West has retained slavery but redefined it

By way of Julia Duin at GetReligion, she mentions a WSJ piece by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani titled "When the Slave Traders were African". She also links to a piece from last year at The New Yorker by an author describing her family in Africa reckoning with a family history involved in the slave trade.  African families who have discovered their families were involved in the slave trade have, when Christian, been reported to have deliverance ceremonies in which to confess family participation in the slave trade and repenting of that participation.

My relatives disagreed about the cause of our family’s curse. Most believed that it was because of Nwaubani Ogogo’s slave trading. Some suspected that it was his broken alliance with Njoku. My father thought that it might have resulted from his human sacrifices. Sunny was not sure the family was cursed at all. “If our problems are because of the sins of our fathers, why are the white people making progress despite the sins of their fathers?” he said. Nevertheless, they agreed to hold a deliverance ceremony, and settled on a plan. On three days near the end of January, from 6 a.m. until noon, family members around the world would fast and pray. My father sent out a text message in preparation that included passages from the Bible. He has never been overtly religious, and it amused me to watch him organize a global prayer session. I teased him about the fact that he would have to skip breakfast, which was usually waiting for him at the same time each morning. “I’m a saint,” he declared.

On the first day of the fast, members of my family met in small groups in London, Atlanta, and Johannesburg. Some talked on the phone, and others chatted on social media. Thirty members gathered under a canopy in my parents’ yard. With tears in his eyes, my father explained that, in Nwaubani Ogogo’s day, selling and sacrificing human beings was common practice, but that now we know it to be deeply offensive to God. He thanked God for the honor and prestige bestowed on our family through my great-grandfather, and asked God’s forgiveness for the atrocities he committed. We prayed over a passage that my father texted us from the Book of Psalms:

Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

During the ceremony, I was overwhelmed with relief. My family was finally taking a step beyond whispering and worrying. Of course, nothing can undo the harm that Nwaubani Ogogo caused. And the ohu, who are not his direct descendants, were not invited to the ceremony; their mistreatment in the region continues. Still, it felt important for my family to publicly denounce its role in the slave trade. “Our family is taking responsibility,” my cousin Chidi, who joined from London, told me. Chioma, who took part in Atlanta, said, “We were trying to make peace and atone for what our ancestors did.”
This is interesting to read about because during the 1990s there was a spiritual warfare phase among evangelicals and charismatics (keep in mind these groups can often overlap but are not actually exactly the same).  Cutting soul ties was one of the things that was considered important in spiritual warfare of the Rebecca Brown M.D. variety.  Whether or not it accomplished anything can be debated separately from an observation that even in American Christian spirituality there's a concept of group guilt or family guilt.  Mark and Grace Driscoll have their new book out, Win Your War, with Charisma House and it will be interesting to see if beyond a general affirmation of group guilt (don't doubt that they affirm it) will include any discussion of confessing group guilt for involvement in the slave trade or perpetuating slavery.

Because Native Americans have been presented in popular liberal writing as the victims of American colonial and imperial expansion (which they obviously were) less attention has been paid to the almost universal practice of slavery in Native American groups.  I didn't find out that all of the tribes of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest had words for the concept of "slave" across all thirty-five some recorded languages from Native American relatives.  There has been some effort to say that slavery was introduced by the Spanish but that doesn't fit with the scholar Alexandra Harmon's account of early Native American and European business dealings in the Puget Sound region.  I.e. there have been some Native Americans who, when presented with the history of slavery in the aboriginal groups of this region, have attempted to pin the blame on the Spaniards.  Now there's a centuries long litany of atrocities perpetrated by the Spanish against Native Americans across the western hemisphere but ... if we're going to take the idea of group guilt seriously and also take as given that slavery systems are evil then Native Americans have had a share in the group guilt of slavery.  

The Cherokee, of course, abolished slavery in response to the Emancipation Proclamation and slavery was phased out by the Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest. It could be said, and has been, that the United States fought a Civil War over the issue of slavery and other countries didn't do that. Well ... yes ... but other nations found ways to abolish slavery without fighting civil wars so, if anything, that could make the United States seem all the worse of having had one when a comparable civil war didn't happen in the United Kingdom or Canada or France.  The Spanish and the Belgians didn't have civil wars over the ways they treated colonial subjects in Africa, did they?  

But before the contemporary Western powers feel too confident about abolishing slavery at a formal level, couldn't it be argued that the credit systems in place have commuted slavery into new forms?  The United States field of scholars has fixated on slavery as an explicitly race-based and racist system of exploitation and subjugation over the last century or so that any discussion of systems of slavery seem to be filtered through the Civil War and defenses of a very specific type of race-based slavery.  Part of African reckoning involving participation in the slave trade involves coming to terms with the historical observation that the kind of slavery Africans sold Africans into turned out to be a different kind of slavery than the forms they were traditionally participating in.  

In many a form of slavery you ended up in slavery as a prisoner of war captured in a raid (one of the most common ways to become enslaved if you were involved in a battle between Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest); or you were born a slave in a cultural system in which the children of slaves inherited the states of the slave parent; or you were sold into slavery because either you or your parents could not afford to feed and clothe you, which is, perhaps, more commonly attested in Asian literature (which, for the sake of discussion includes the Middle East as we know it in the West, i.e. the accounts of slavery in the literature of the Abrahamic religions).  

But something I've been mulling over is that although it's easy for Western citizens, particularly secularists, to regard the casual acceptance of slavery in ancient near eastern societies as evil not all secular commentary on the acceptance of slavery spends much time on the ways in which the Western economic world hinges on lending money at interest or how this was universally condemned in the context of Abrahamic religious beliefs until about the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries as the mercantile system began to evolve.  People who condemn slavery but are okay with lending at interest, two-cycle billing on credit cards, and lending systems that financially indenture people to paying for houses they still have to pay property tax on could be seen, and has been seen in some progressive and conservative perspectives, as a commuting of slavery or a series of ploys that disguise that slavery still exists.  

As I get older I consider how all the way through my thirties I wasn't aware that Native American slavery practices were commonplace, that Native Americans enslaved each other and enslaved blacks and in the Pacific Northwest there were some reports that Russian sailors were enslaved from time to time by Native American tribes.  That the tribes of the Pacific Northwest phased out their slavery practices in the generations after an unsuccessful bid at making slavery illegal did not manage to be enforceable on the Native groups doesn't mean that those slavery practices didn't happen.  

In other words, I had gotten the impression that on my dad's side the Indians didn't own slaves so why would we, as Americans in the most generic sense, be responsible for slavery in the South?  Well, I didn't know that there was slavery the world over or that in many key respects slavery continues to exist and will continue to exist and that the innovations of the Western powers has been to disguise it rather than abolish it--I have also come to increasingly strong belief that slavery will never be abolished and that economic and caste-based slavery systems will always be with us.  Contemporary discussion and debate American practices of slavery have tended to be maintained in explicitly racial categories which, as I get older, I begin to suspect can lead to two things.  

First, discussion tends to move in a direction in which groups debate or decide whether or not, on the basis of defining slavery practices only in terms of the American South, their particular group can be considered culpable of group guilt in association with that specific slavery practice at the expense of considering slavery as a global and universal human practice that is often defined or disguised differently from context to context.  

My discovery that Native Americans practiced slavery and of a sort in the Pacific Northwest that was considered callous and inhumane enough that even whites who were otherwise okay with slavery or racial segregation found the practices terrible forced me to reconsider at a personal and more general political level whether the American tendency to only discuss slavery in terms of the race-based slavery of the plantation systems of the American South has occluded our cultural capacity to discuss racism and slavery by focusing too narrowly on the topic in literally and figuratively black and white terms.  Native American slavery was not more excusable simply because it was not predicated on one ethnicity subjugating another with the rational of skin color differences.  Native American slavery in the Pacific Northwest as also not more humane because ownership of slaves could be passed along matrilineal lines.  It turns out it's not just rich white ladies who can have domestic workers helping them, Native American free women in the Pacific Northwest had servants they got to handle tedious scut work, too, it turns out.   That housecleaners and nannies can be regarded as part of a well-heeled family could simply confirm that the servant caste level of workers continues to exist and that we just don't call these people slaves because the status is not the result of a race-based stratification system.

Second, there's more to re-labeling what would have been done by slaves into domestic work at work, there has also been exporting what might have been done by slaves to overseas production.  In blunter terms, we've exported the routine, menial work overseas or designated it to migrant workers through a generations long process of deciding at a cultural level that real Americans shouldn't have to make a living doing such repetitive work, if possible.  This has been an area where slogging through someone like Adorno has been useful for me, considering that what ideology can be used for is to disguise the ways in which what would have been called slavery in the past gets commuted into new economic and social categories in the present.  This is not necessarily going to lead to a strictly progressive or conservative approach, though.  

People who actually believe that, if you just go to the right sort of liberal arts college and get the credentialing there, you'll get a well-paying job and have your life set for life, most likely have had the benefit of having that life-script work out for them.  That's not how it worked for me, but I am not so sure it's a sign that the system is uniquely terrible for that, every system is evil in all sorts of ways.  But the moment of discovering that you, personally, will not end up doing what you hoped to do in your college years is still a sour moment, and the process of realizing that the school wants your money whether or not you get a degree in the field you studied for can leave you cynical. 

One of my fellow middle-aged friends told me that he looks back on this promise that he accepted at face value, and he now regards that as one of the greatest scams Generation X bought into.  We can spend decades of our lives paying off student debt getting degrees for which there's been few jobs and should we complain that this seems to have been a long con by vested economic and academic interests we'll get some rebuke that we're middle-aged guys shaking our fists at passing clouds.  Maybe so, but this can also be where writers critical of the way capitalism works would point out that that's the nature of the scam.  It's possibly in the nature of neoliberalism to propose that if you got that arts degree and aren't being paid to do your art that your art must not be good enough.  Maybe there's a lot to be said for that but Haydn was technically more of a master of ceremonies servant whose job included writing party music.  His day job wasn't actually composing music and that gets at something else that, the older I get, seems more and more to be a misdirection in arts education in the United States.  

This gets at something else I've been thinking about as an American watching Americans discuss and debate slavery.  If slavery has been disguised in so many ways then it becomes harder to point out that it still exists. To put this in terms of Abrahamic religions, Americans who point out that the Torah and the New Testament and the Koran all make some reference or other to slavery is something I've seen American secularists highlight as a reason to regard these books as terrible.  As I've considered the slavery systems recorded as used by Native Americans and the ways slavery seems commuted in Western societies, my perspective is that Jewish and Christian writings that took for granted slavery existing in all economic systems does not strike me as "approval" as a pragmatic observation that these caste systems are unavoidable.  What that can entail is this, I propose, recognizing those inequalities exist brought with it case laws that set limits on what was acceptable in light of that inequality.  Native American slavery practices varied widely across the continent but in some tribal traditions there were ways for slaves to work toward free status and in other tribes if you were a slave your status never changed and your children would be slaves, too.  Free persons could own slaves but if a person were captured in battle the free person became a slave as a captive of war.  People write about the precarity of the contemporary gig economy but there could be a precarity to being a free-person or a high status person in Native American contexts in the Pacific Northwest, too.  

If our society does not admit it has any forms of slavery then legal constraints on what can be done to those who are functionally slaves but not recognized as slaves could be overlooked.  

Having abolished an explicitly race-based form of slavery doesn't mean slavery has not persisted in other forms or that it won't persist until there are no humans on the planet.  That won't make it less evil but one of the evils of our time and place may be, as I have increasingly come to believe that it is, that we find more inventive ways to disguise slaveries from ourselves individually or collectively.  I don't see Jewish and Christian writings that take the reality of slavery as given and then insist that we set limits on what can be done to slaves as a sign that these ancient societies were more barbaric that contemporary Western societies.  I actually, at the risk of making a statement that could seem rather harsh, think that it's more likely a sign that contemporary Western societies steeped in systems like fiat currency, lending at interest, credit systems and educational tracks can imagine they have abolished slavery are simply better at lying to themselves by saying there's no longer slavery like there was before--like there was before isn't the same thing as saying nobody has the functional and practical status of being a slave.  

I have, as I have admitted before at this blog, been reaching a conclusion that power brokers and pundits in the two-party system have been making it a side-business to scapegoat each other for systems of slavery rather than consider the shared participation of developing and perpetuating slavery systems and disguising them.  If African families are confronting in direct ways their family histories of participation in slave trade something comparable could (but I confess I suspect probably won't) happen in the United States.

Kyle Gann-Hyperchromatica playlist up on Youtube

You can head over to Gann's site to find PDF scores and audio for the work

It's also up as a playlist, too

Hans Haug-Fantasia for Guitar and Piano w read-along score

Duets for piano and guitar aren't exactly rare but effective, memorable ones can be.  The Castelnuovo-Tedesco Fantasia for guitar and piano is the pinnacle of the medium, in my estimation, but there are a good deal of other worthy pieces in the genre.  Ferdinand Rebay has composed some fun duets for piano and guitar.  Diabelli's works may seem on the light side but they are pleasing enough if you can get past a post-Beethoven dismissal of Diabelli as an uneven hack which, honestly, he often was but that doesn't mean his best moments aren't worth hearing  Hummel wrote a charming duet for piano and guitar I might have to link to at some point.

But, for today, let's listen to Hans Haug's Fantasia.