Fourteen performances in four days in six different venues! (Sounds like a country song) I’ve just returned to Seattle after presenting my program,Heart and Place, Music of the Westward Expansion, in Great Falls, MT last week. The week involved hauling around a guitar, fiddle, Cheyenne Courting Flute, and sometimes a full size keyboard, and amp along with samples of C.M. Russell artwork.
The C.M. Russell Museum sponsored the residency which included programs in middle and high schools, as well as an evening performance in the museum.
The highlight was playing a concert in the intimate setting of the museum for around eighty people on a beautiful Yamaha grand. There was something magical about playing 19th Century music surrounded by Russell’s artwork and artifacts from the same era. Many people in the audience were from my hometown of Choteau. Choteau is 50 miles down the road from Great Falls. Thanks to all who made the journey down the road!
I can’t say enough about the dedicated arts professionals in Great Falls including the music and art teachers in the classrooms, along with the Music and Art Supervisor for Great Falls Schools, Dusty Molyneaux and Eileen Laskowski, Education and Programs Manager for the C.M. Russell Museum.
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.
I’m delighted to announce the launch of a new program, Heart and Place: Stories of the Westward Expansion told through music and narrative. This project feels like coming home, as I grew up in rural Montana. Choteau, Montana, to be precise, population 1800.
My early music experiences in that small town and have fueled my career as a music educator/ musician. Some of those experiences include singing in choirs, playing in band, studying piano, playing for church, acting in musicals, and to driving to the next small town for voice lessons. This program brings it all home.
I’ll be launching the program in Seattle on Oct. 14 and will be taking it to Montana to perform at the CM Russell Museum Oct. 26, 7:00, as well as several Great Falls area schools.
The story of the West is epic, and while I cannot focus on everything, I’ve chosen certain aspects to highlight including the music of the Overland Trail, the early frontier settlements, and the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute as taught to me by Jay Old Mouse of Busby, Montana. The performance includes solo piano music, singing, guitar, and demonstrations on the fiddle and the Northern Cheyenne Courting Flute.
“COURAGE IS BEING SCARED TO DEATH, BUT SADDLING UP ANYWAY.” ― JOHN WAYNE
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!)
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!
Boom! Summer is here and the living is busy! My recording blog is on a temporary hiatus as I’ve been very busy with the Seattle Opera in Schools (teaching in summer school), my private students, and preparing for my Cuba concert in the fall. I participated in an amazing piano master class in Portland over the weekend with the inspiring Dr. Jill Timmons, my mentor. What a thrill and humbling experience to play a concert hall sized Bosendorfer, valued at $300,000.00 (that’s a whole other story). Joe and I made a weekend of it and spent the next day at Mount st. Helens.
After an overnight at a Super 8 along I5, we headed toward Mount St. Helens. In all, we spent about 4 hours at Johnston’s Ridge, the highest visitor’s center. We took in the exhibits, lectures, and movies and also took a short hike on a very pleasant trail with great views. There were two really interesting films about the eruption and the geology of the mountain which is still, by the way, active! The rangers also do a great job with their talks. It wasn’t an entirely clear day, but it was still spectacular. What a bonus, that the area was alive with wild flowers at their peak bloom! You can see by the pictures, the side of the mountain blown out with the landslide still looks quite barren.
The eruption was in May of 1980, 57 people died, you can see the memorial below. The explosion could be heard as far away as Missoula, Montana. I still remember waking up to an ash covered Choteau, Montana when I was about 10 years old, everything was covered with the grey dust including cars, steps, sidewalks, etc.
On our way down from the mountain, we stopped at an adorable road side cafe overlooking the Toutle River- picture of Joe drinking coffee.