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.

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!

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. 

 

Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute

 

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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, late 1800's, Miles City, MT

Turkey Legs circa 1890, Montana

 

 

 

Grover

Grover Wolf Voice

 

 

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Jay Old Mouse with his grandfather, Douglas Glenmore

 

 

 

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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.

 

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“Old Skool” Jay’s workshop, a converted school bus

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Me and Jay after  lunch near the Little Big Horn Battlefield.

 

March Music Madness

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“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
Oscar Wilde

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!

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