Billings, Montana, marketed as Montana’s trailhead, located in South Central Montana in Yellowstone County, serves as Montana’s largest city with a population of nearly 115,000 residents. I was born in Billings while My Dad was attending Eastern Montana College (now Montana State Billings). My Mom reports we lived in a humble abode ( a garage) for around $30.00 per month. We lived in Billings for my first four years, then moved to Poplar, Montana, then ended up in Choteau, Montana.
My recent trip to Billings, accompanied by Joe, was nostalgic, relaxing and educational. The primary reason for the trip was to pay a visit to Jay Old Mouse and learn about the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute. In a couple of packed days, we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield, hiked along the Rim Rocks, strolled along the Victorian Mansions in the Historic District, and visited the Western Heritage Museum. We also spent time with my brother and family who drove over from Clyde Park, near Bozeman. (also ate at a great restaurant called the Wild Ginger!)
I love finding unusual music stories, and I found a treasure in the Western Heritage Museum! Ever heard of the song, the Hippy Hippy Shake, recorded by the Beatles and 30 other bands? It also turned up in that 80’s movie, Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise. As it turns out, that song was written by Mexican-American rock star, and Billings born, Chan Romero ( born in 1941). Here he is performing The Hippy Hippy Shake.
I had no idea there was such a rich Mexican- American in Billings. It’s truly a thrill to find these hidden music gems on my travels.
I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.
My first recording on the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute…. The flute is not tuned to a traditional diatonic scale, the sound is more improvisational, however, I have found that I can play some folk songs. Here is a sample of me playing Wayfaring Stranger on my beautiful flute.
In traditional Northern Cheyenne culture, when the time came for a young man to find a mate, he would enlist the help of the tribal flute maker. The flute, made of cedar wood, showcases a bull elk, along with sun and moon carvings. This design honors the elk for shelter, food, and clothing, and the sun and the moon for the blessings of the day and the night. Upon receiving his flute, the young man would go off to a quiet area and play a love song, hoping to attract the attention of his intended mate.
Although not used for courting anymore, the tradition of flute making and playing continues through the work of JD Old Mouse, a Northern Cheyenne Indian who lives in Busby, MT. Busby is about a 1.5 drive from Billings, MT on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, near the Little Big Horn Battlefield. This was a pilgrimage from Seattle to Eastern Montana (my native state) to learn about an aspect of Native American music from a primary source. This is part of a larger music project I’m creating called Heart and Place: Exploring Westward Expansion through music and stories.
JD traces his flute lineage back three generations starting with Turkey Legs who lived near Fort Keough (Miles City, Montana) in the late 1800’s. After Turkey Legs, the tradition was passed to Grover Wolf Voice, then to Douglas Glenmore, also known as Blackbear.
JD learned the craft of building the flute from his grandfather, Douglas Glenmore. Not only did JD learn the building of the flute, but he’s also a master at playing. He plays for weddings, funerals, schools and other special occasions. Whenever a flute player is requested, JD answers the call, this is part of the flute maker’s responsibility and legacy.
Last week, I had the privilege of spending a morning with Jay and his wife, Amy, at their home outside of Busby to learn about the Northern Cheyenne Flute, an experience I’ll never forget. Jay showed me photographs of early flute builders and samples of their flutes, he also played the flute and gave me a lesson on playing this gorgeous instrument. I felt honored to get a peek into this culturally rich world. I purchased one of his wonderful flutes, which I brought home to Seattle.
Traditionally, the flute is played only by men, but JD has given his blessing for me to play and talk about the flute. He has built flutes for other women who are interested in the flute for healing , or for educational purposes.
For a video of Jay talking about and playing the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute visit, please visit here.
Jay is a warm-hearted, funny, wise, and and soulful. Talking with him feels like a visit with those three great generations of Northern Cheyenne Flute makers who came before him.
Girls with Guitars! Last week, I taught a beginning guitar day camp that introduced these young ladies to the guitar. Thanks Ruby (my daughter), in the pink shorts, for helping me this week! We had a blast. We met for two hours every day Monday-Friday and our week culminated in a performance for family and friends on the deck.
Our songs for the week included….. Firework by Katy Perry, You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift, This Land is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie, and a traditional camp song… Ain’t No Bugs on Me.
I’d like to give a shout out to Rob Hampton of Heartwood Guitar. I love Rob’s site and frequently pull from his 600+ chord charts for inspiration. Thanks a million Rob for all of the great work you do! (I’m convinced you never sleep) These girls certainly appreciated learning such cool and accessible songs!
Here are two wonderful links to the song: Girls with Guitars who was written by Mary Chapin Carpenter performing it here. Also check out the incomparable Wynnona Judd performing it here. Oh, to be that fierce on stage!
Everyone love guitar, including French composer, Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944), who wrote this piece for solo piano: Guitare , which I recorded a couple of years ago on Women with a Past.
The Shoreline Jam
Remember that old song, I don’t Want to Work? Well, last week, I got paid to bang on the drum all day! Among my music offerings including performances and private lessons, I work in communities near and far as a teaching artist. This means I utilize my skills and knowledge as a music educator and performer to tailor music experiences for a variety of audiences. For example, I’ve crafted tambourines and danced the Tarantella with elementary students, I’ve taught singalongs at retirement homes, and I’ve taught teenage Spanish classes the Salsa!
This past week, I taught classes in bucket drumming as part of an arts camp offered to elementary aged kids and teens through the Shoreline Lake Forest Park Arts Council. I was one of several teaching artists offering unique arts experiences including, movie making/editing, theater improv, print making, fiber arts, cartooning, silhouette creation, and cooking, to name a few. The goal of the camp, according to Kelly Lie, Shoreline Lake Forest Park Arts Education manager? The Three E’s: Expose, Experience, Experiment! I’ll say, the campers experienced the three E’s in a big way!
My class, Rhythm Explosion, included Latin American percussion, bucket drums, body percussion, and repurposing recycled materials into percussion instruments. I met with two groups of students each day for a week. The overall experience culminated in an Arts Showcase where all participants presented their work to family and friends. Our final performance included both improvisation and composed pieces.
The great thing about bucket drumming? It only requires a five gallon bucket, a pair of drum sticks, and imagination. (Ear plugs don’t hurt either!) There’s something cathartic about banging out rhythms in a group, or solo experience.
The work the students (with the help of some outstanding teachers) completed during the week was impressive. The showcase included a professional looking gallery of visual art along with a variety of live performances. Upon exiting the showcase, audience members were offered an icy cold fruit pop made by the culinary arts class.
Lorie Hoffman, executive director of the Shoreline arts council gave a presentation during the week about being an artist. She told us, “Making art makes my heart sing.” This week made my heart sing. I can’t help but think experiences like this have ripple effects and improve the world little by little, poco a poco.
For more on bucket drumming, I encourage you to check out this clip:
Here are two websites offering tips on getting started with bucket drumming:http://www.bucketdrumming101.com
Santa Fe proved a sweet destination for Spring break 2017. My (soon to be 15 years old!) daughter and I headed down to the beautiful Southwest for some desert fun in the sun.
Santa Fe, steeped in complex history and diverse cultures, is a mecca for art and history museums. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and The Museum of International Folk Art, are both situated on Museum Hill overlooking 365 degree views of the mountains and the sweeping desert landscape. We stopped at a café for an outside table taking in the view between museum going.
Along with an impressive historical display depicting the lives of the indigenous cultures of the Southwest, The Indian Arts and Cultures museum included thought-provoking works by contemporary Native American artist, Frank Buffalo Hyde.
The plaza in downtown Santa Fe, a stroll from our hotel , was a terrific place to people watch, listen to music, window shop, and talk to the jewelry vendors selling their wares just outside of the Palace of the Governors (one of the oldest buildings in the country, dating back to 1610).
My favorite museum, New Mexico History Museum, tells the heartbreaking and captivating stories of the American Southwest – the native people, the Spanish colonists, the Mexicans, the Santa Fe trail, it’s all there! A bonus exhibit on Flamenco dance and music was a highlight. Turns out Santa Fe is a hot spot for Flamenco dance and culture.
Then there was the Georgie O’Keeffe Museum showcasing a collections of paintings showing the evolution of her art throughout her career. I was as fascinated with her life as I was by her beautiful paintings. O’Keeffe lived 1887-1986, and spent much of her time at Ghost Ranch outside of Santa Fe, she was ahead of her time as an artist, traveler, observer, and independent woman.
It wasn’t all museums, we also took an afternoon to enjoy soaking and relaxing the 10,000 waves, a Japanese inspired spa just outside of Santa Fe. We also enjoyed the delicious and spicy Southwest cuisine and loved the crisp clear mornings and sunny afternoons.
Ahhhhh, Santa Fe. We’ll be back!
One of the highlights of my week was teaching a the salsa in an elementary school next to a 4th grade Muslim girl who had a huge grin on her face the entire time. Her eyes were beaming as she gave me a big bear hug at the end of the class before heading out the door. In that moment of humanity, we were saying to each other, “I get you, and you get me.” I’ll never forget it.
I just spent one week in an elementary school in Shoreline- teaching a Cuban cultural/dance/and song workshop to 45 classes and 600 kids in all. This residency was made possible by a grant from a local arts organization, The Shoreline Arts Council. To say the least, it was rewarding, to take kids on a “classroom trip to Cuba.” I showed photos and videos of my trip, taught a tradition Yeruban song, a Spanish song, and taught the basic steps of two Cuban dance forms: Rumba, and Salsa. The previous week, I spent a day in a high school Spanish classroom giving the same workshop to 5 groups of high school seniors (150 students in all), yet another arts experience made possible with an arts grant.
You’ve heard it before, the arts transcends borders. When kids are exposed to the arts and culture through the arts, it broadens their world view, takes them outside of themselves, and makes them more compassionate human beings.
After one class, a second grader commented, “I see that even though a leader of a country can be thought of as not a nice person, that doesn’t mean the people that live there are bad.” Too true, my friend!
Here are some comments from the high school seniors:
M.K. I appreciated the opportunity to express myself through artistic movement
L.E. It was the most fun thing I’ve done in Spanish all year.
E.Z. It was cool to learn a tradition of another culture.
L.E. I’m glad I put myself out there to try it, it allowed me to be exposed to others.
Arts funding is currently under attack under our current administration. Please take a moment to read this article in the New York Times about the importance of arts and arts funding to our society.