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!
Emigrants 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 Expansion. The 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.
Cheyenne Courting Flute made by JD Old Mouse now part of my instrument collection.
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.
Turkey Legs circa 1890, Montana
Grover Wolf Voice
Jay Old Mouse with his grandfather, Douglas Glenmore
Jay Old Mouse teaching me how to play
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.
“Old Skool” Jay’s workshop, a converted school bus
Me and Jay after lunch near the Little Big Horn Battlefield.
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Piano Phasing, a concert featuring more than 25 pianists (playing at the same time) was one of the highlights from this month. Four of my students and I participated in the event, playing a composition by a Dutch Composer, Kristoffer Zeegers. For a taste of what piano phasing is all about. Thanks to Seattle teacher GraceAnn Cummings for making this possible and for Classic Pianos in Bellevue for hosting the event.
The experience was meditative, loud, and cathartic. I can see the attraction of making a lot of noise. What a treat to participate right along with my students in a performance. I adore my students xoxoxoxo!!!!!
In addition, there were adjudications sponsored by the Seattle Music Teachers Association. Nine of my students played two memorized pieces and received written and verbal feedback on their performances from a wonderful adjudicator from Spokane. Three students participated in the Young Artists Festival at the University of Washington- which is adjudications…. amped up a few notches with very high level playing, expectations, and world class adjudicators.
I adjudicated for a local festival myself, spent a Saturday from 8-5 listening to about 50 young pianists play two pieces each while I worked with another adjudicator to give feedback on their performances. Some of their performance attire could melt a heart! A six year old in a pouffy white dress with black polka dots comes to mind.
Oh March, never a dull moment. I started a music residency at Ridgecrest Elementary featuring Cuban music and dance. I’m presenting music and dance of Cuba in narrative, photos, and videos, and then we salsa, rumba, and sing our hearts out! It’s great to spend a day dancing. (or a week! ) I’ll see every student in school for two classes when all is said and done, by the end of next week.
There’s a new project in the works for the fall, and probably for the next several years. The new project consuming my creative energy is Heart and Place: Music of the Westward Expansion. I’m reading a wide array of history of the West in the 1800’s, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition, diaries of pioneers and settlers of the Western frontier, and anything I can get my hands on. The story of Westward Expansion is complicated, compelling, heart-breaking, inspiring, and massive! I’m spending a good amount of time talking to historians and people who have personal stories (for example, this wonderful story, featuring Al Wiseman and the Métis fiddle tradition). What a delight to work on this project which is quickly becoming an obsession. In a way it feels like coming home to my roots.
I’m determined to add traditional music that would have been played on the trail by he early pioneers to my performance repertoire for this project. In pursuit of that goal, I’ve started taking fiddle lessons. A humbling experience, to say the least, but I’m highly motivated and so I spend an hour every day sawing on my new instrument, the fiddle! Rosin up that bow!