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.
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:
Here are some more beautiful paintings from the exhibit!
Sigismonda (or Gismonda), 1897 by Joseph Edward Southall
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?
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.
It’s June, the garden looks fabulous, and exciting music projects are in the works. Just a quick note to let you know I’ve revamped my wedding and special event offerings page. I’m available, that is, musically speaking! Check out my new page here!
Laura playing Sunday Kind of Love by Louis Prima:
I want a Sunday kind of love A love to last past Saturday night I’d like to know it’s more than love at first sight I want a Sunday kind of love
Rodeo queens, show girls, casinos, hustlers, Texas hold ’em, slots, swanky shops, and mile after mile of neon lights, oh my! Last weekend, Joe and I took a trip to Las Vegas, my first time. Why Vegas? Two words: George Strait.
I’ve been listening to and singing George Strait songs for over thirty years. I love his soothing voice, the beautiful songs, his personality, and his old- school country sound. What’s better than George singing more than thirty of his greatest hits, accompanied by the Ace in the Hole Band? Amarillo By Mornin’, Check Yes or No, The Chair, Easy Come Easy Go, are some of my favorites. I also enjoyed the two songs tribute to Merle Haggard, including, Are the Good Times Really Over, now that’s some old-time country!
I can’t stop thinking about the show, what a delight to experience a stage full of seasoned musicians who effortlessly and elegantly tossed off hit after hit. I think musicians of all genres would find inspiration in watching these professionals at work. Some of those guys were in their late 70’s if not 80’s. Definitely not their first rodeo.
While in the big AT&T Stadium, the concert had excellent sound with amazing views of George and the band no matter where he was standing on the square-shaped stage, thanks to the Jumbotron. For the encore, the George and the band played a perennial favorite… All My Ex’s Live in Texas, the Milk Cow Blues, and an old-time swing number, Take Me Back to Tulsa. Here’s George Strait singing Old Troubadour.
We also took in Cirque du Soleil’s One, featuring the music of Michael Jackson. A stunning show with death-defying acrobatics, creative staging, brilliant costumes, amazing performers, and dazzling lighting. Standouts of the show include, Billy Jean danced in the dark, the dancers (and flying acrobats), outlined by a tiny lights, the sexy, Dirty Diana, danced by an athletic, and incredibly flexible woman, the fierce female bass player playing all those memorable riffs such as Beat it and Smooth Criminal, and a hologram of the King of Pop himself, dancing the grand finale of the show. Absolutely mesmerizing. Here’s the trailer for the show.
Below are some shots of the strip and check out George Strait singing Old Troubadour.
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.
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.
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.
Ruby Dressed as a flamenco dancer.
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.