White supremacy was there all along

Maintaining a unique group identity can be perilous, no matter how necessary.

The necessity side, at its best, has to do with trying to make progress, improve justice and physical comfort, live healthier, counter the corrosive forces of status quo and lethargy, be smarter, and so on. Put it any way you want, things in general could be better, and even thinking something like that will set you apart from the status quo of broader society.

On the other hand, humans are social animals. We need others as family, friends, colleagues, cohorts. We even need them to share our stories, histories, songs, and place on this earth. Relax, right?

It’s a complex calculus, then, around the world.

What I started to see in researching my book on a Quaker community in New England, though, was a blatant arrogance within the Puritan wave of immigration. I suspect similar sides are apparent in the Spanish settlers to the south or the French to the north, or, well, back in the Old World, all the way to China. Even one tribe over another.

I’m trying to look at this clearly.

The English, of course, knew they were superior to the French, who I gather saw it the other way around. (Insert proper expletive and spit appropriately.) And they were both superior to the Spanish or Portuguese or Italians, according to this scenario.

Germans? Not really on the scene in earliest settlement in America, far as I can tell, though the Dutch of New Netherlands add their own twist.

Remember, the English also looked down on the Scots and Irish, as well as the Welsh and Cornish.

Sounds to me like the old game, King of the Hill.

The comedian Eddie Izzard has an insightful riff on this where he says it all comes down to a flag. If you have no flag, you have no claim to your country or land. So, here, I’ll stick mine in the ground and this place is mine.

That does make for a short ride on the papal Doctrine of Discovery. Look it up, if you must.

What I’ve seen in my research is how this air of superiority made equitable dealings between the Europeans and the Indigenous peoples impossible. There was no eye-to-eye even exchange. Even the concept of farming was viewed as more productive, and thus superior, than the Native hunting and gathering use of a piece of land.

Well, I could argue that God preferred a wild-game offering over grain in Cain vs. Abel, Genesis chapter 4.

You know, quality over quantity.

As for equality? We have our guns and Bibles.

Which points to another distinction: written language. I’m a writer and a reader. You expect me to not take sides here?

Still, in the New England story, the English weren’t shy about labeling the Natives as “barbarians,” “savages,” and “heathens.” Never mind many of the practices of the English and French, who not only offered bounties on scalps – Native and the other side’s European – but also indulged in the practice themselves. As for heathen? For the Puritans, with their Calvinist inclination of proclaiming themselves God’s Elect, most other Christians were also lumped in that group, perhaps at a slightly lesser degree.

Many of the consequences, however, have been tragic, for all sides.

In some theology, pride is a sin, right? Ahem. (Hopefully, in contrast to justifiable self-esteem.)

Well, as some among us might note, I’m proud to be a humble Quaker. Not that we didn’t fall into that trap of feeling superior, too.

There’s plenty of work for all to do on this issue. I’ll leave my end of the discussion at that, for now.

What revelations will turn up in Dover’s early public records?

In preparation for Dover’s 400th anniversary, dedicated volunteers have been poring over early records. In many cases, these served both the town and its tax-supported church, back to the 1600s. Many of these have been digitized and posted on the City of Dover website, but they can be very hard to read.

Even so, they’re being transcribed for release as part of this year’s big celebrations.

Moreover, in the light of scholarly advances, these hold the potential of drastically revising an understanding of our legacy.

I think it will be exciting.

I’m having fun preparing PowerPoint presentations

In general, when it comes to new tech, I’m pretty much of a neo-Luddite. I prefer to stick to the tried-and-true rather than chasing after every new twist and trying to master it before it’s obsolete by the next wave.

I still haven’t stepped up to host a Zoom session, for heaven’s sake. And we’re definitely not E-Zpass users when it comes to highway tolls, either.

Preparing visuals to accompany my public presentations related to my new book, Quaking Dover, however, has me beaming.

The first leap was in learning to connect a laptop to a slide projector – you know, so folks could watch a slide show on a big white screen or a wall.

From that experience, I realized the shots really needed to be all of one size. Some pictures I was discussing ran off the screen, while others were too small. That led to the PowerPoint format.

My initial outing with PowerPoint was with the Whittier Birthplace Museum’s virtual lecture series back in January. There, I was amazed to discover how much I could enlarge a detail from a photo without having it pixilate. Individual signatures from a Quaker marriage document, for instance, could be displayed prominently. The size of the photo in hand wasn’t an issue, either. Up we go!

I’ve been at it again, this time for presentations at the Dover Public Library on March 22 and the Pembroke (Maine) Historical Society on April 18, as well as a third in July via the Falmouth Friends Meeting on Cape Cod. All will be streamed, by the way, if you’re interested in participating. (Do mark your calendars.)

It’s getting easier with each round, and I’m learning how to easily copy a PP slide from one production to another. Yay!

Fun? I’m finding it downright exciting. Hope you do, too.

Town meeting and grassroots democracy

New England’s annual town meetings are often hailed as an epitome of participatory democracy, but I have yet to hear an examination of how they mutated from the original Congregational churches’ model of self-governance, back when the town and Puritan parish were one.

As long as voting on town affairs was limited only to males in good standing with the local congregation, up to two-thirds of a town’s households were excluded from the deliberations.

In New Hampshire, that wasn’t the case, even after Massachusetts annexed the colony. What happened then, I’ll venture, is that the Quakers and Baptists tempered the deliberations in the future Granite State in ways that eventually seeped elsewhere.

Quakers, or more formally Friends, served as a loyal opposition, one that wouldn’t take up arms in its cause but that would nonetheless hold firm to its convictions. Like the Baptists, they also believed in a separation of church and state.

The Quaker practice of conducting community business in a monthly session meant seeking unity on an issue without ever taking a vote. A vote, after all, would create a minority. Instead, when differences arose, due consideration might produce a synthesis – not a compromise. The former would be superior to either of the earlier positions. The latter would mean settling on the lowest common denominator.

Crucial to this process was the Meeting’s clerk, carefully listening to all involved.

A skillful town moderator, so I’ve heard, needs similar abilities.

I’m curious to hear how this played out in Rhode Island and on the Cape, where Friends and Baptists were also an influence.

Do note, the Puritan colonies had none of the toleration of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York to the south and west, yet they lacked the town meeting heritage.

I do want to hear more.


As an alternative to ‘they’ for just one body?

I’m sorry, but I have real difficulty in using a plural pronoun to refer to just one person. I don’t want to get into the political ramifications here or gender limitations of our language or other arguments. To call one person “they” has me looking for the rest of the group. And when that “they” is being discussed at the same as “their” family or coworkers, I’m left with no idea who’s really being discussed. Life’s already confusing enough.

How about a whole new set of pronouns?

Let me offer “vey,” “vem,” “veir” for consideration. (I actually misheard “they” as “vey,” which got the ball rolling.)

It’s a way we can tell vem apart from veir family, household, even team.

Yes, I know the gender identity objections, especially when all (collectively) are placed under a masculine pronoun. I can even object to that practice by noting the confusion at times of ambiguity when trying to apply it specifically to males-only.

What can we do to gain greater all-around clarity rather than muddy the language further? 


Joyfully uncovering a few more musical masters

So much of the classical music scene focuses on revisiting a core repertoire of masterpieces and their composers. Ideally, that leads to deeper understandings and discoveries within the most inspired scores, although superficial repetition and familiarity are more common. Even so, it is exciting when new faces are admitted into that circle. Within my own lifetime I’ve seen that happen with Mahler and Vivaldi, as well as to a lesser extent with Charles Ives.

Adding to the excitement is the reality that the repertoire is no longer exclusively dead white (European) males.

Americans, north and south, are gaining recognition after having long been excluded, though it should be much more. From a more global selection, so are women and people of color.

Sometimes, a composer can embody all three, as is the case for Florence Price (1887-1953). A substantial portion of her surviving work, discovered and recovered in 2009 in her abandoned summer home, is only now gaining an airing and a growing admiration. This Little Rock, Arkansas, native was, it turns out, the first Black American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra – Chicago – and her style has a lightness that blends her own roots, the America of her time, and classical expectations. As a choral singer, I can attest to her unique touch underpinning the scores we’ve performed.

Among other Black composers finally gaining overdue attention, let me mention:

Julius Eastman (1940-1990), an eclectic, genre-crossing American trailblazer whose tragic life included seeing his own works largely scattered to the wind when he was evicted from his apartment and officials threw his possessions out into the street. What remains of this Curtis-trained original is well worth exploring in its large, provocative vision of time, space, classical, jazz, pop, politics, sex, and utter wonder.

Edmond Dede (1827-1903), a New Orleans-born Creole who lived much of his life in France as a successful pianist, conductor, and composer. If he sounds a bit like toe-tapping John Phillip Sousa, remember he came along a generation earlier. He emerged from a lively scene of free Black classical musicians in New Orleans who even had their own symphony orchestras. As far as serious music in America goes, only New York seems to have had more going on in the years before the American Civil War. Don’t overlook this when you’re thinking of the origins of jazz, either.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), is remembered as a man of many talents in Paris, including his abilities as a fencer and as the French Mozart. Among his many achievements are commissioning and premiering Haydn for what are known as the Paris symphonies. For his own work, I’d start with his 14 violin concertos, especially as championed by soloists Randall Goosby or Rachel Barton Pine.

The one who excites me the most is Vicente Lusitano (roughly 1520 to sometime after 1561). He was the first Black to have his music printed, along with some crucial musical theory texts. A Portuguese-born priest and musician, his sonorous choral pieces are said to equal Palestrina’s. I’d agree with that. After some intense rivalry in Rome, he turned Protestant, married, and moved to Germany, where he disappeared. The little we know of him still redefines the history of Black composers as existing all the way back to the high Renaissance rather than being much more recent and marginal. Oh, my, I am hoping my choir will soon be attempting something of his, no matter the challenge.


While that’s a sampling of Black masters from the past, a lot is happening now, too. Two living composers of special note I’ll mention are Jessie Montgomery and Terence Blanchard.

That said, keep your ears open!

We’re welcoming the CBC

Longtime regulars to the Red Barn know that I love radio, especially when it involves classical music. Look, I was an avid listener to “educational stations” even before National Public Radio emerged, dialing in marginal ten-watt FM signals from Antioch College or the AM daylight offerings of WOSU from Ohio State University, both of them static laden. And then there was WJR in Detroit, a high-power, clear-channel voice with its own huge staff that included Karl Haas and his “Adventures in Good Music” hour in the morning as well as the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, unless those came during a Redwings hockey game.

Later, living in the interior desert of Washington state, I relied on nighttime AM broadcasts from San Francisco and Calgary, Alberta, not all of it classical. I do remember the Canadian cohosts of one country music show expressing their amazement after a visit to Nashville that folks down there really did speak with “those” accents.

As for what I was saying about static? You came to live with it as part of the show.

Flash ahead, then, to today, when I’m living at the easternmost fringe of the USA. Most of my listening has come from streaming non-commercial stations in Boston and New York or Maine Public Classical. And then, for Christmas, my family gifted me with a Bose sound system to replace my broken components stereo.

As I loaded its radio presets, my otherwise savvy elder daughter confessed her ignorance of AM radio. It ain’t what was, for sure, no matter how much I used to fume at the static resulting when elderly cars came down the street.

Two of the six FM stations I’ve set the Bose to are Canadian Broadcasting Corporation outlets in St. John, New Brunswick, a distance up Fundy Bay from us. I am surprised how clearly their signals come in.

Like National Public Radio in the United States, the CBC is publicly funded and non-commercial. Its main network is primarily news, public affairs, and other talk, while a second is all-music, including classical during the daytime hours.

We’re finding both channels to be refreshing and exceptionally well done.

New York and Washington aren’t the center of their news coverage, for one thing. And the music includes a hefty number of Canadian voices, including a program of contemporary Indigenous music that follows the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays – the latter with its own host working around what we get in the U.S.

Well, as announcers used to say on TV and radio during the station breaks, “Please stay tuned.”

And we will. There are many varied tastes in this household to match.

A candid glimpse behind the mask

Don’t know if this is still in the Wikipedia bio page, but it is revealing:

“This man has a very large ego and has hurt the feelings of a choral singer I know. He can be insensitive. Please proceed with caution. This is the ‘kind version’ of what I actually want to say. Thank you.”

Well, the subject did survive seven years as an assistant to a stellar conductor who, according to what I’ve heard from insiders, bordered on sadistic, despite the heavenly perfection of performances under his baton or the public mask of his celebrity.

As I’ve heard said of surgeons, they tend to adopt the operating room mannerisms of their mentors, however tyrannical, outrageous, or circumspect.

Two people I know who have worked under the entry’s subject have only admirable things to say about him.

For now, I’d like to know more about the anonymous person who posted the entry and why. Perhaps as a cautionary tale for all of us in our leadership roles.


I never expected so much Donizetti

I’ve posted previously on the outstanding and often original finals’ week programming on Harvard’s student-run FM radio station. Each December and May, the regular schedule shifts to a few weeks of special blocks of classical, jazz, rock, folk, world, and many other strands of music I hadn’t even heard of for something the station has trademarked as Orgy, as in “Donizetti Orgy,” which I’ll explain. For accuracy, we should note that final exams really cover closer to two weeks or a tad more.

One year, for instance, they played everything Bob Dylan had recorded. A few years later, a much shorter sequence introduced many of us to Florence Price, a significant Black American woman composer who has since been receiving a posthumous flowering. The decisions are often based on anniversaries, as happened a few years ago when we got to hear everything Beethoven had ever written, in chronological order. Musically speaking, of course. I have no idea about his letters. A year ago, Schubert got the same treatment, meaning a lot of art songs in German, especially. That one nearly became an Orgy of its own for the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, whose son once told classmates what his dad did for a living was make records. Let’s just say that many of these Orgies are highly eclectic.

I did raise my eyebrows in the last round when well over a hundred hours of airtime were devoted to the 225th anniversary of the birth of Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti, known largely for a dozen or so marvelously florid operas. Turns out he created nearly 70 operas plus symphonies, string quartets, concertos, piano scores, songs, and so on, which were presented, again chronologically, in big blocks over two weeks. Where do the programmers dig up all of the recordings? Is this really some Harvard grad student’s thesis project?

Donizetti (1797-1848) is renowned, along with Rossini and Bellini, for a specialized style of opera called bel canto, “beautiful singing,” which has had a major revival in the past half-century. Today its embellishments, soaring lines, and vocal athletics have become widely embraced, but back when I was first listening, it was all revolutionary. And, among the three, Donizetti was far and away the most prolific.

What made the series significant to me was the way it revealed an evolution over his 29-year career from formulaic provincial stage comedies to what we recognize as Romantic opera. It filled in a gap in operatic history for me, getting from us classical Mozart to gripping dramatic Verdi and beyond. Composing at fever pitch, Donizetti often churned out four new operas a year, many of them in one-act pieces plus others that recycled earlier material before he reached a more sustainable stride. Think of a rock band or pop artist turning out an album, which is only an hour or so compared to a three-hour opera. Or a movie composer, for that matter, who has to create a similar amount of music. Nobody does four a year, right?

In the broadcasts, Donizetti’s early works sounded serviceable but not memorable. They were built on strings of solo arias, choruses, and recitative, which I streamed while working on my own life. That would mean one character in the spotlight, exit stage, and then another. Laundry, cooking, vacuuming, or washing dishes anyone? You know, everyday stuff, with music in the background. Midway into the series and his career, though, the dramatic level rose immensely and caught me in my tracks, especially with the appearance of ensembles of simultaneous conflicting emotions and motivations. Yes, there were hints of things ahead, like the flash connecting one faintly familiar tenor aria with what would emerge later, with nine high C pings inserted as “Ah! Mes mis,” and eventually launch Luciano Pavarotti into international household fame in 1972. (We did hear him in that role around 6 am the final day, when “La Fille du Regiment” aired from a recording of London’s Covent Garden production with Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge costarring.)

Quite simply, those were the flashes when I recognized we had crossed over into everything today’s operagoer anticipates, even with Mozart, Gluck, and Handel remaining glorious within their earlier realms.

Many of the Orgies really are once-in-a-lifetime events. With Donizetti, for example, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever again hear most of what was introduced. Simply tracking down rare pieces would be an overwhelming challenge.

Let’s see what May brings. Those kids at WHRB really do deliver.

With another new calendar year, here we go again

Hard to believe this blog is now in its second decade.

With the Barn, a new year usually signals a slight shift in focus and content.

2023, for instance, will see a series excerpting dreams I’ve had over the years. Mine can be surreal and inexplicable and yet, I feel, illuminating. They’ll likely give you unexpected glimpses into my psyche even though I’m thinking of it as literature. Meanwhile, the prose poems that have been appearing on Saturdays have run their course. Hope you’ve enjoyed their compressed impressions of my earlier life and feelings, especially when they’ve reflected your own, too.

Dover’s 400th anniversary will continue to be a major theme, including things I’ve learned since the release of my book based on the town’s Quaker heritage. And there will be announcements of presentations based on the book as they come up through the year. The ones I’ve done so far have been a blast.

Now that you’ve been introduced to Eastport and its ways, the tone of those posts will also turn, shall we say, more casual? Or at least more of the everyday experience around here rather than a record of the connections I’ve discovered. Besides, living on an island in Maine is some people’s fantasy, at least through the summer. I’m hoping to add a streak of reality to that vision.

Kinisi will continue with their off-the-wall, quirky, flash slashes. Some fall into the realm of concrete poems, a la Aram Saroyan, and others take the trippy flashes of the sort Richard Brautigan produced. Others can be seen as prompts for others to build on. These minimalist notations do reflect the way I’ve often heard and seen the world, slightly askew, even though I have to admit I don’t “understand” many of them. They’re intended to dance to their own beat, OK?

And I have to admit my Tendrils on Tuesday are great fun to investigate and offer. I never thought of top ten lists as entertaining, forget the factual dimension. They definitely have much more to dig up as we go.

One big shift will likely be in photography, from my Olympus camera to my S-22 Ultra cell phone. We’ll see what you think. Eastport and the surrounding environment are certainly visually rich subjects. Click, click, everywhere you turn.

Overall, though, I’m intending to have fewer posts this time around, yet it still looks like that still means at least one posting each day. Or, as one renowned writing teacher taught his classes, “Write 300 good words a day.” Not that I’m keeping count, even as I keep hoping to cut back. Does keyboarding really become compulsive?

My life and outlook have certainly changed over the course after signing up for a WordPress blog, which then led to four related lines. Thanks for sharing so much of it here.

What are you looking forward to on your end in the new year?