Harvest Time

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recorded music, stories, and narrative from my forthcoming book: Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier.

Harvest. ca. 1869., artist unknown. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Van Orsdel, “Brother Van,” known as the best loved man in Montana. (ca. late 1800s)

Brother Van with friends and bear cub in Great Falls, Montana. Photo courtesy of the Brother Van Museum Archives. (ca. late 1800s)

“Harvest Time,” known as “Brother Van’s Song.” played by Laura Dean
Harvest Time 
The seed I have scattered in spring-time with weeping 
and watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvesters reaping 
shall gather my grain in the sweet by and by.

Over and over, yes-deeper and deeper 
my heart is pierced through with life's sorrowing cry,
but the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper 
shall angle together in joy by and by. 

By and by, by and by 
by and by, by and by
But the tears of the sower and the songs fo the reaper shall
mingle together in joy by and by.

Then palms of victory, crowns of glory, 
palms of victory I shall wear. 

William Van Orsdel (1848-1919), known as Brother Van, was often referred to as “the best loved man in Montana.” Brother Van, an enthusiastic singer, often broke into song during his sermons. He was a 19th century Methodist minister and circuit rider – a preacher who rode from town to town conducting church services. He tirelessly preached the gospel to congregations both large and small – on a steamboat, in saloons, in churches, and on rustic homesteads throughout the state of Montana. As a young man, a riverboat captain asked why he was going to Montana, Brother Van replied, “To sing, to preach and to encourage people to be good.”

For more about Brother Van and how he once saved his life with music, you’ll have to read my forthcoming book! I just learned that my manuscript has moved into the paging or pagination phase-which means another step closer to the publication date-early 2022.

Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier at McFarland Publishers, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ask about the book at your favorite book seller.

Honoring Chief Earl Old Person (1929-2021)

“Legend of the Plains” by Charles Wakefield Cadman, an early 20th century composer whose compositions were often inspired by Native American melodies. Played by Laura Dean.

Missoulian photo

Get up. Jump up. Try hard and don’t give up. – Chief Earl Old Person

Chief Earl Old Person died of cancer at the age of 92 on October 13th. Old Person was a national treasure who served as the chief of the Blackfeet Nation for more than 60 years. He was an expert of Blackfeet language and culture, an advocate for tribal land and water rights, an inspired political leader, and an international ambassador. In his lifetime he met every president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. He also met Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister of Canada-Pierre Trudeau, and the shaw of Iran. In his later years, he created home recordings of traditional stories and songs for the benefit of future generations.

I grew up in Choteau, Montana, on the Eastern Rocky Mountain front, about 70 miles south of Browning, Montana-the headquarters of the Blackfeet Reservation-the last stop before Glacier Park. The Choteau Bulldogs and Browning Indians were in the same athletic conference. Throughout my elementary to high school years, I regularly traveled to Browning for swim meets and to watch basketball and football games.

Earl Old Person rarely missed a high school basketball game-Browning is legendary for champion basketball teams and enduring fans. For his last visit to the Browning high school gymnasium, his casket was placed in the middle of the basketball court where thousands of mourners came to honor his memory and to say their final goodbyes. The mourning period lasted for four days and included processions, dancing, songs, and stories celebrating the life of the beloved chief.

Earl Old Person singing the Badger Two Medicine Song

New York Times: “Earl Old Person, Chief of the Blackfeet Nation, Dies at 92”

For an unforgettable story of high school basketball on Montana’s southeastern reservations, read: Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Colton

The Heart List

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recorded music, stories, and narrative from my forthcoming book:

Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier.

Red Boots (a gift from artist, Julie Andrews of California).
“What Wondrous Love Is This,” American Folk Hymn from the early 1800s, played by Laura Dean.

Indigenous people, explorers, pioneers on the Oregon Trail, missionaries, miners, cowboys, preachers, teachers, and frontier settlers all left behind a rich musical history. Each group that traveled west brought heart to the experience as they wove their unique threads into the musical tapestry that was as diverse as the people and experiences of the nineteenth century American West. Below you will find the “Heart List” which highlights the many roles that music played as people established a new sense of place.

Indeed, the “Heart List” applies to our modern world. For a contemporary story that illustrates the healing power of music in the face of Alzheimer’s disease, I encourage you to watch the 60 Minutes episode that aired last week,”The Final Act,” which features musical legends Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

The Heart List: In the 19th Century American West, music provided…
• Celebration
• Comfort for people (and restless cattle)
• Community connection
• Creative outlet
• Diplomacy
• Diversion
• Entertainment
• Expression of cultural identity
• Expression of friendship
• Expression of joy
• Expression of love
• Expression of sorrow
• Historical records of events
• Memories of home
• Sense of place
• Solace
• Worship

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Whiskey Before Breakfast

“Whiskey Before Breakfast,” arranged for solo piano and performed by Laura Dean.

I’m in the sweet spot on the author’s continuum. The manuscript for my book, Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier, is with my publisher-McFarland. The images have been approved, the permissions have been gathered, the cover has been finalized, and the book is up for presale on various platforms including McFarland and Amazon. While working through the final stages of the editing process with McFarland, I have been learning traditional tunes, songs, and instrumental pieces that are mentioned in the text of my book.

One of the songs mentioned in the book, “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” is a popular Métis fiddle tune that captures the adventurous and optimistic spirit of the Old West. The old time tune may have Irish roots, but it was made famous in the 1950s by Métis fiddler, Andy De Jarlis. The Métis people, of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry, are known for a vibrant fiddling culture dating back to the 1800s.

For a fiddle version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” check out: https://www.vithefiddler.com/whiskey-before-breakfast-fiddle-tune-a-day-day-21/

The inspiration for the solo piano arrangement came from Mickey Abraham who created a flatpicking arrangement of the piece : https://www.flatpick.com/category_s/1996.htm

Please enjoy “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” and stay tuned for more music and stories in the weeks to follow!

Leading up to the release date, I’ll be creating posts featuring narrative and music from the book. Please sign up here for uplifting recordings and musical posts sent directly to your inbox!

Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier

After months (really years) of work on the manuscript, I’m delighted to announce the book cover and title of my forthcoming book to be published by McFarland Publishers later this year. The book is 7 x 10 inches and contains 10 chapters along with 60 images, bibliography, index, and a selection of lead sheets.

As the publisher is hard at work on the editing process, I turn my attention to offering a sneak peek of the book. Over the next several weeks, I’ll post snippets of the narrative along with my own recordings of songs mentioned in the text.

The cover image features the Fort Shaw Mandolin Club circa 1905. The young ladies hold a variety of string instruments including mandolins, violins, and guitars. The image was likely taken at the Fort Shaw Indian School near Great Falls, Montana. (Image courtesy of Montana Historical Society.) 

The story………………….

Many people have heard of The Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Trail, and the Westward Expansion, but few are aware that music played a significant role in the movement. The diverse cultural landscape of the Old West included Northern Cheyenne courtship flute makers, fiddle-playing explorers, dancing fur trappers, hymn-singing missionaries, frontier flutists, girls with guitars, wagon driving balladeers, poetic cowboys, singing farmers, musical miners, and preaching songsters.

During the Westward Expansion, some 400,000 people uprooted their families in pursuit of a better life in the West. Taking only the bare essentials that would fit into simple wagons, the pioneers made room for musical instruments alongside their guns, food, and tools. Music often provided the only spark of light and happiness for these weary travelers during what seemed like an endless dusty journey fraught with hardships. Heart and Place offers a new look at an old story, an opportunity to drill down deeply into the experiences of our forefathers and foremothers, discovering again and again how music sustained them, provided joy, and often eased tensions between disparate groups along the trail.

Heart and Place- The Book!

A quick post to let you know the news that yesterday I signed a publishing contract with McFarland & Company, Inc. for my book: Heart and Place: Music and the Westward Expansion (this is the working title). The project is near and dear to my heart. I guess you say the book has been 51 years in the making, as both music and living in the West have played such a huge part in my life. There is still a long road ahead, but yesterday marks a big milestone along the way.

The book explores a variety of music traditions of the 19th Century American West including Northern Cheyenne courtship flutes, fiddle playing explorers, women composers, medicine songs, French tunes, dancing fur trappers, hymn-singing missionaries, piano playing nuns, frontier flutists, girls with guitars, wagon driving balladeers, opulent theaters, musical instrument showrooms, Chinese American Suona players, singing farmers, opera enthusiasts, musical miners, and preaching songsters. Stay tuned for updates on the book launch date!

Signing the Contract with McFarland & Company, Inc. 6/15/20

 

Featuring music from the American West played on four instruments!

Unknown.jpegEmigrants Crossing the Plains (Albert Bierstadt), 1869

Our long journey thus began in sunshine and song

Peter H. Burnett,  May 22, 1843

For the past two years, I’ve been researching the history and music of the early American West for an ongoing research  project I call Heart and Place: Music of the Westward ExpansionThe history of the American West brims with inspiring stories, musical diversity, artistic creativity, and valuable life lessons relevant to our modern world.

Today I’m sharing four video clips featuring short narratives and music of the Westward Expansion -played on four instruments. I have played this music for concerts in Oregon, Washington, and Montana,  and even at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.  I’m looking forward to working with this music and history for many years to come.

Take a look here for more information on the Northern Cheyenne Courtship Flute. 

 

VICTORIAN RADICALS

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Musica (Melody) by Kate Elizabeth Bunce

A “June Gloom” day in Seattle made for the perfect opportunity to visit the  VICTORIAN RADICALS exhibit at Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

The attention to detail in the array of colorful paintings, tapestries, clothing, jewelry, and pottery transported me into a romantic world of  gardens, gods, goddesses, secret liaisons, betrayals, and courtly love!  My hands down favorite painting was Musica, by Kate Elizabeth Bunce. The lovely young musician with her ornate lute, sumptuous dress, and  intricate jewelry,  posed in front of a blooming floral arrangement, swept me away.

At one point I was asked to kindly step back  from a display case (got to close).  The case held a book which was open to a poem entitled, Edward  Gray.  I was mesmerized by the beautiful poem written by an English poet, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892).   I thought to myself, someone must have set this poem to music.  When I got home, I did a little digging online and found a piece of sheet music written by Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900),  of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.  As it turns out, Edward Sullivan set Edward Gray to music.  Sullivan’s setting is operatic, covers multiple octaves, and is far too complicated for the purposes of laying down a quick track for my blog……..  so I modified the melody and accompanied myself on my Taylor guitar as I don’t have a  lute lying around the studio, I do however, have plenty of floral dresses.

Here’s my version of Edward Gray:

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Here are some more beautiful paintings from the exhibit!

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Sigismonda (or Gismonda), 1897 by Joseph Edward Southall

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I didn’t get the name of the artist for this one… the narrative of the painting is about a young man who died in battle, the women are handing over some of his  personal belongings to his broken-hearted lover!

 

Couldn’t we all use more flowers, more color, more art, more music, more beauty, more love?

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Cafe Flora, Seattle

 

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Love Lift Us Up!

440px-Buffy_Ste._Marie_-_Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_Concert_-_Ottawa_-_2015_(cropped)

 

Last weekend, Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition featured an interview with award-winning Canadian singer, songwriter, artist, and social activist, Buffy Sainte-Marie. What a delightful and insightful interview!

This is the first time I’ve heard of Buffy Sainte-Marie. Where have I been? I instantly fell under her spell as she talked about her recently released biography, her life in music, and her personal journey. As the interview rolled on, her radiant spirit, humor, and message of hope came through loud and clear.  Thanks, Scott Simon!

She co-wrote the 1982 song, “Up Where We Belong”  from the film, An Officer and a Gentlemen. For this song, she  received a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, making her the first native person to ever win that award.

Check out Buffy’s interview with Scott Simon: 

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/29/652791230/buffy-sainte-maries-authorized-biography-serves-as-a-map-of-hope

Don’t miss this soulful video of  Buffy’s You Got to Run ( Spirit Of The Wind )

 

Up Where We Belong, I recorded this in my studio yesterday, inspired by Buffy’s interview! It’s such a beautiful song, an old favorite.

 

Who knows what tomorrow brings

In a world few hearts survive
All I know is the way I feel
When it’s real, I keep it alive

The road is long
There are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day
Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world below
Up where the clear winds blow…………………………………..

 

The original recording  by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes:

 

Indeed,

Love Lift Us Up! 

Piano Arts in Netarts

 

I recently returned from Netarts on the Oregon Coast for Piano Arts in Netarts, Where Music Meets the Sea,  a workshop orchestrated by Dr. Jill Timmons, of Arts Mentor.

I joined about forty other pianists from Oregon, Washington, and California for a weekend of continuing education, beautiful music, friendship, renewal, and stunning scenery.

All  events took place in the fire hall of Netarts, a lovely community style meeting space. We enjoyed  a concert size Bösendorfer and a concert size Yamaha for the concerts and classes, courtesy of Classic Pianos of Portland.

The weekend kicked off with a Friday evening viola/piano concert in the fire hall featuring Jill Timmons and Laura Klugherz .  This fabulous duo played works from the likes of Bréval, Grignon, Ponce, Schubert, Bernstein, and Gershwin, to name a few.  Community members and workshops participants filled the concert space.

The following day began gently with body work, specifically, Feldenkrais, led by Laura Klugherz.  We then jumped into a full schedule of master classes.  The classes highlighted  nine different performers including soloists, a four hand duo (at one piano)  and two duos playing two pianos.

For those  scratching their head about the meaning of a master class, here’s a short explanation. A master class includes a small group of performers,  in our case, all professional musicians and a master teacher.   Each performer plays a prepared  work, and then, the master teacher digs into work and the performance. She addresses  body position, articulations, tempo, pedaling,  dynamics, expression,  phrasing, music history, performance anxiety, and everything in between! It’s like a lesson, but the lesson unfolds in front of forty people.

As a master class performer, I can tell you, the experience is exhilarating, humbling, educational, scary, and a joyful, all at the same time. For our series of  master classes, the repertoire ranged from the  Baroque period  to a work from the late 20th Century.  Each performer and duo managed to add unique pieces and pianistic challenges to the mix.  The repertoire included works from Hilary Tann, Albénez, Chopin, Charles Wakefield Cadman (my contribution), Debussy, and Lutoslawaski.

The following day started  with body work, this time, a yoga class led again by Laura.  The morning workshop addressed practicing effectively,  the afternoon presentation taught us about the inner workings of the piano. We wrapped up the weekend with a community concert presented by  the master class performers.

Of course, in between sessions, we socialized, shared some fantastic meals, visited some local watering holes, and walked around the charming town of Netarts.

Upon reflecting on the weekend and my dedication to continuing education until my very last day on this beautiful earth, I think of the following  quote by Seymour Bernstein.  “Music speaks concordantly to a troubled world, dispelling loneliness and discontent, it’s voice discovering in it those deep recesses of thought and feeling where truth implants itself.  Music offers no quarter for compromise, no excuses, no subterfuge, no shoddy workmanship.”

 Dr. Jill Timmons, director of the festival,  my mentor and friend,  teaches us to practice with full availability of self and also teaches us to give up the idea of perfection in performing. Performing, after all,  is a temporal experience.  She reminds us,  “Perfection only exists in our imagination. We are perfectly imperfect!”