Thursday, December 21, 2006

BBC story on Sami in former Soviet Union

Here's one to add to the HUM 221 syllabus ... a British Broadcasting Corp. story on the Sami in Russia and effects of Soviet policy on their culture. Here's an extended quote that sums it up:
The deserted and seemingly endless potholed road to Lovozero cuts through a landscape of vast lakes and forests that has changed little since the nomadic Sami people arrived on the Kola peninsula some 500 years ago.

The vast arctic tundra provided good grazing for their reindeer, so they quickly fanned out across invisible borders to the west, into neighbouring Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Over time, borders were drawn and strict controls were introduced. Then, during the Cold War, the border between Russia and the West was closed. Contact between Russian and Nordic Sami people was completely cut off.

The Sami people's traditional way of life has been under assault for decades as they have been gradually forced off arctic Russia's fertile tundra grazing-land and into artificially created towns.

Much of the displacement was caused by a steady expansion of industry, forestry and mining, and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from other parts of the Soviet Union - many of them arriving as forced labourers in Gulag camps.

Then, during the Cold War, Sami coastal fishermen were ordered to move away from the shores of the Barents Sea, which is currently littered with secretive navy installations, and reindeer herders were forced away from a 200-mile exclusion zone that ran along the Cold War frontier.

To this day, the few who still herd reindeer complain about bored and hungry soldiers who use their machine guns to shoot their animals.

Urban Sami, meanwhile, bemoan the way powerful tourist companies prevent them carrying out their fishing traditions in Voronya River or Lovozero Lake.

"We are not used to private property rights, and we are not used to competing," laments Vatonena Lyubov, vice president of the Association of Kola Sami.

"We will never regain our grazing lands and our rivers."
A very different society in the former Soviet Union, but some of the same problems ... economic encroachment on subsistence patterns, borders drawn by the majority cultures (cf. the Tohono O'odham in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Well worth adding to the syllabus.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Simon Ortiz chili' recipe -- in Alaska! ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ new address

Here's something I stumbled onto while doing keyword searches for something else -- a chili recipe based on a poem by Simon Ortiz. I know the poem, I like it and I want to try it (the recipe) someday. If I ever find the book! In the meantime, "Chef Boy Ari," the food columnist for the weekly Anchorage Press, has something that's almost as good. No, it's just as good. Maybe even better. Especially if you like venison. It's a column that tells how he followed the recipe in Ortiz' poem. It was in the Dec. 6-12 issue.

Chef Boy Ari begins, logically enough, a little before the beginning. You realize this isn't going to be your typical "cook page" column:
There's a poem by Simon Ortiz, of the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, called “How to make a good chili stew - this one on July 16, a Saturday, Indian 1971.” I like this poem, because it is at once a recipe and a meditation upon the many interconnected stories that come together behind a simple meal.

Like most recipes, the poem begins with a list of ingredients. But you quickly realize that this is no ordinary list. The poet in Ortiz demands a more in-depth exploration.

For example, the ingredient “beef” is more than just beef. It's “Beef (in this case, beef which someone who works at a restaurant in Durango brought this morning, leftovers, trim fat off and give some to the dog because he's a good guy. His name is Rex.)”

The directions likewise read less like a recipe and more like a poem: “And then put it on to barely boiling, cover and smell it once in a while with good thoughts in your mind, and don't worry too much about it except, of course, keep water in it so it doesn't burn, okay.”

This poem hits its mark with me for reasons beyond the facts that I'm a big Ortiz fan and I dig chili. It provides temporary release from a dilemma that's plagued me since college.
Chef Boy Ari's dilemma is this -- he doesn't like recipes, they remind him too much of college chemistry classes. For a cook-page columnist, not liking recipes could be a problem. Instead, he tells a story. This is the story of how he cooked his chili:
I've made Simon Ortiz chili, or something like it, several times - each time different, each time with what I had on hand, and each time it turned out delicious. What I've been making lately has diverged so much from the original that it hardly seems right to call it Simon Ortiz chili anymore, and that's OK. That's evolution. Last Monday, for example, I took one of the final hunks of last year's deer out of the freezer. Since I was in a hurry (sorry Simon, I know that's against the rules) I put the frozen meat in a cast-iron pot with a heavy lid and about an inch of water with cooking oil. I cooked it on high to thaw the meat. When the water cooked off, I added a bit more. When the meat was thawed, I cut it into little pieces, put it back in the pot and let it cook until the water cooked off again, at which point it began to fry in the oil. I fried it on medium heat until it browned nicely, and then I added cumin, Herbs de Provence, salt, pepper and red wine. Whenever the red wine cooked off I added more.

When the meat was delectably browned I added carrots, onion, garlic, crushed dried chili peppers, cubed potatoes, turnip, rutabaga and frozen cauliflower. I added water to fill the pot and let it cook on medium heat until the potatoes began to fall apart.

As it cooked, I adjusted the seasonings, added some soy sauce, vinegar from a jar of pickled peppers, more red wine. I don't have a dog named Rex, or any dog for that matter, but my housemate's dog Keelie stepped up to the plate for scraps.

As the water cooked off I added more, because I like a lot of broth with my stew, which I recommend serving with a nice dollop of mayonnaise.
I'd call it more a stew than a chili, I wouldn't use red wine and I'd feed the meat scraps to my cat since I don't have a dog. But Simon Ortiz' poem is more of a recipe for living than it is for chili. Chef Boy Ari's story is more of a recipe than a story. And things don't always have to be what they seem to be at first.

NEW LINK -- LATER (Feb. 2014): Googled into this while I was looking up something on Simon Ortiz, and the link to the paper in Anchorage is dead. But I found the column by a syndicated food writer named Ari LeVaux, who hails from New Mexico and Montana. It was in the San Antonio Current, another "alternative paper"(?), Dec. 12, 2006, and it's archived at

Ari LeVaux writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that’s appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 25 states. Available on line at

Friday, December 01, 2006

HUM 223 -- today's presentations

Class is cancelled today. I can't get an answer when I call SCI, but we're on the Channel 20 list of school closings. Those of you who had presentations scheduled today won't have to give them -- I will just count your grade on the written part of your research project.

I'm posting this message to my blogs and the Message Board linked to my faculty page. If you see other students who are in our class, please let them know. And you'll turn in your final exam papers in the Presidents Room at the regularly schduled time Wednesday morning.

If you have questions, please contact me at or my email account at

-- Doc

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New office -- where to find me

I'm getting moved into my new office now, so I'm cross-posting directions to my class blogs and the Message Board linked to my faculty page.

I'm in Beata Hall (the old Ursuline convent) across Eastman Street from St. Joe's parish and school. Either Room 31, if you go by the list of room assignments I've been given, or Room 8, if you go by the numbers on the doors. I've also attached my business card to the door.

To get there from Dawson, go out the south entrance and take the walk past Ursuline Academy. You'll go between the buildings, with the old building on the right and the gym on the left. Keep going through the parking lot, and there'll be a porch on the right (women's housing is straight ahead). On the south end of that porch, there's a door with a Christmas decoration. Go in the door, take the stairs just to the left and you'll be on the floor with faculty offices. They're in the hallway to the left at the top of the stairs. It takes a little less time to walk it than it does to give the directions!

Computer and phone are now hooked up ... you can reach me, as before, by phone at 525-1420 ext. 519 and by email at Email is usually better, but the voice mail in my office is working again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving and Native cultures

Cross-posted (and edited slightly) from my class weblog where I am commenting on newspaper stories for students in my copyediting class. These stories, both of which ran during the Thanksgiving holiday, also tell something about how Thanksgiving is approached in some Native cultures.

Here's a Thanksgiving special for you -- two Associated Press stories with a holiday theme. The first moved on the AP wire a couple of days before the holiday, and the second was in The Anchorage Daily News today.

In California, AP correspondent Ana Beatriz Cholo put a fresh lede on a fairly standard Thanksgiving story on how teachers handle the traditional story of Pilgrims and Indians joining in what sometimes we call the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621. Basically, she picks up on a teacher's imaginative way of getting it across to his third-graders, and leads with it.

Cholo's lede:
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he "discovered" them. The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.

Morgan is among elementary school teachers who have ditched the traditional Thanksgiving lesson, in which children dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and act out a romanticized version of their first meetings.

He has replaced it with a more realistic look at the complex relationship between Indians and white settlers.

Morgan said he still wants his pupils at Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. But "what I am trying to portray is a different point of view."
By telling the story the way she does, without explaining why Morgan snatches up the kids' belongings, Cholo lets us as readers experience it the way they did.

It's pretty effective. But the history of U.S. relations with Native Americans is controversial, and Cholo balances it with a statement from another side of the issue:
Others see Morgan and teachers like him as too extreme.

"I think that is very sad," said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. "He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving."
Notice that Cholo does not comment on this statement. Instead, she allows readers to decide for themselves whether Morgan is teaching hatred. Cholo goes on to quote other people whose views mirror the often subtle complexity of the issue.
Even American Indians are divided on how to approach a holiday that some believe symbolizes the start of a hostile takeover of their lands.

Chuck Narcho, a member of the Maricopa and Tohono O'odham tribes who works as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, said younger children should not be burdened with all the gory details of American history.

"If you are going to teach, you need to keep it positive," he said. "They can learn about the truths when they grow up. Caring, sharing and giving - that is what was originally intended."

Adam McMullin, a member of the Seminole tribe of Oklahoma and a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, said schoolchildren should get an accurate historical account.

"You can't just throw an Indian costume on a child," he said. "That stuff is not taken lightly. That's where educators need to be very careful."
And this:
Laverne Villalobos, a member of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska who now lives in the coastal town of Pacifica near San Francisco, considers Thanksgiving a day of mourning.

She went before the school board last week and asked for a ban on Thanksgiving re-enactments and students dressing up as Indians. She also complained about November's lunch menu that pictured a caricature of an Indian boy.

The mother of four said the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations in schools instill "a false sense of what really happened before and after the feast. It wasn't all warm and fuzzy."

After she complained, it was decided that pupils at her children's school will not wear Indian costumes this year.
Cholo ends her story with a quote from a historian and gets back to Morgan, the third-grade teacher in Long Beach:
James Loewen, a former history professor at the University of Vermont and author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong," said that during the first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrims had been living in relative peace, even though the tribe suspected the settlers of robbing Indian graves to steal food buried with the dead.

"Relations were strained, but yet the holiday worked. Folks got along. After that, bad things happened," Loewen said, referring to the bloody warfare that broke out later during the 17th century.

Morgan, a teacher for more than 35 years, said that after conducting his own research, he changed his approach to teaching about Thanksgiving. He tells teachers at his school this is a good way to nurture critical thinking, but he acknowledged not all are receptive: "It's kind of an uphill struggle."
So in the end, Cholo's story is balanced. That's important. But what sets it apart from the others is a creative lede that draws readers in and helps us feel what the kids in Morgan's class -- and some American Indians -- feel about the first Thanksgiving.

The other story is also about Indians. More accurately, it's about Alaska Natives and what some of them eat for Thanksgiving. It was in today's Anchorage Daily News, and I suspect it's just as much a holiday staple as turkey and cranberry sauce ... or "Eskimo ice cream" made of seal fat and blueberries, as the case may be. The story, by AP staff writer Rachel D'Oro, begins with a good narrative lede:
David Smith was newly arrived to the North Slope village of Nuiqsut when the former upstate New Yorker cooked up a couple of turkeys and vat of chili for the Eskimo community's annual Thanksgiving dinner.

He was completely unprepared for another dish on the menu last year: hundreds of pounds of gleaming red whale meat.

"I thought we were going to have a feast. I never assumed it would be a feast of whale meat," said Smith, 76, the village's city administrator who is originally from Fillmore, N.Y. With four bowhead whales landed this year, he can only imagine what today has in store for people gathering at the village school.

"It's going to be a huge celebration," he said.
It takes D'Oro right into her nut graf -- which, like so many, is actually a couple of grafs long:
The same could be said for other Thanksgiving festivities planned in Alaska Native villages around the state. For many the holiday is a welcome boost in the dark, frozen season, which has plunged Nuiqsut to lows of 25 degrees below zero.

Tables at public and private dinners alike will be set with store-bought turkey and all the trimmings alongside delicacies made from subsistence foods, like caribou stew, moose roast and seal oil. For dessert, there might be frybread or akutaq, whipped fat mixed with sugar and berries and sometimes greens or fish. Even in urban areas, Natives might gather in groups to observe the holiday with Western and Native fare.
The rest of the story hangs nicely off that lede. It consists of brief descriptions of what people are eating today in different American Indian and Eskimo villages across Alaska. Some tell a lot about traditional subsistence patterns and Native cultures:
In Nuiqsut each bowhead caught is divided into thirds, to be distributed at Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations, as well as a traditional blanket toss in June. Each event gives residents and visitors a chance to sample the bowhead, a species that can measure 50 feet or more and weigh up to 100 tons. Edible parts include the meat, tongue and muktuk, the blubber and skin.

Whaling crews and other residents of the Inupiat Eskimo community have spent weeks cutting up portions for the Thanksgiving feast, the first round in the whale-sharing cycle. As with the other events, it is a time to reflect on the bounty brought by the bowhead to the community of 400, said Lampe, 39, who has lived in the village most of his life.

"It's about respecting nature," he said. "It's reminding people and crews that we live in a unique land and for a creature this size to give itself to the community is a real honor."
Some effective, although admittedly unexciting, photojournalism accompanies the ADN's story. At an Alaska Native dinner in Anchorage, AP photographer Al Grillo shot pictures featuring people loading their plates with whale blubber and caribou alongside the turkey and mashed potatoes. The pictures do tell a story.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Links: Alutiiq Anguyiit Dancers

Several links here to information about the Alutiiq Anguyiit Dancers, a group of young people whose heritage is (mostly) from Kodiak but who now live around Anchorage (the largest Native village in Alaska) and Mat-Su borough. Posted to the blog because I "lost" the last one and couldn't find in in Google with the spelling I was using.

"Quyana: The Gift of Dance." A story in The Anchorage Daily News about Quyana Alaska, a dance exhibition held in conjunction with the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conventions. Good background from June Purdue, founder of the Alutiiq Anguyiit Dancers, who told the ADN:
She was among the artisans contracted to sew skins for Aleut and Alutiiq kayaks as part of the Alaska Native Heritage Center's "Qayaqs and Canoes" project in 2000.

"That project was a pivotal point in my life," she wrote. "I was inspired to start a dance group shortly after. It had been my vision and dream for my grandchildren and other youth to learn about their culture and traditions by gathering in homes where we older people passed on to them things about our values." She recruited drummer Loren Anderson, whose parents came from Port Lions on Kodiak and, about three years ago, the group began in earnest. Since then they have performed in Seattle and California and as far east as North Carolina, as well as in several Alaska towns. They have also produced a CD.
The story, by assistant features editor Mike Dunham, also has good thumbnail sketches of several other Native dance troupes that performed during the AFN convention in October.

"Spreading the Culture." A May 9, 2005, story in The Kodiak Daily Mirror on the Alutiiq Anguyiit Dance group. Staff writer Drew Herman quoted Purdue as saying the group’s name means “warrior,” because, “We fight not against things seen but against things unseen.” Herman continues:
Originally from Kaguyak and Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, Pardue started Alutiiq Anguyiit Dance in late 2003 to help pass a healthy lifestyle on to a younger generation and encourage abstinance from alcohol and drugs. Now the group includes about 20 members who gather regularly in their Wasilla-area homes, to share potlucks and practice Alutiiq culture.

“It’s not just the dancing — it’s a good gathering of fellowship,” Pardue said.

The atmosphere at these gatherings recaptures the some of the feelings of community familiar from village gatherings. Pardue believes that social setting is crucial for maintaining culture, and this is espcially important to keep up when the previously rural people move to big cities among other cultures.

Preserving the culture means more than learning old songs and dances, and the group also adds new material in the traditional style.

“Culture is not just stagnant,” Pardue said. “It doesn’t stand still.”
A good sum-up. Probably the best in print so far.

Allutiq Anguyiit Dancers-Albums. This page (note spelling of "Alutiiq") gives information on the group's CD, including a list of songs and links to a couple of 30-second sample sound files. The CD was cut in October 2005 at the Gospel Music Ministries studio in Wasilla.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Zen Yardbird

Found while I was looking up quotes by Charlie Parker for a Humanities 223 assignment sheet, several that had a real Zen quality to them. Also some Zenlike impressions of the jazz saxophone player by others.

Among the quotes was the one I put at top of the HUM 223 syllabus:
Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art.
And one that's especially poignant in light of Parker's addiction:
Any musician who says he is playing better either on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced, is a plain straight liar ... You can miss the most important years of your life, the years of possible creation.
Plus a couple of others that remind me of Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery:
Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you.

You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
And my favorite of all:
I realized by using the high notes of the chords as a melodic line, and by the right harmonic progression, I could play what I heard inside me. That's when I was born.
All the above quotes taken from a website called

Next I googled around and found a Jack Kerouac poem called "Charlie Parker." Kerouac compared him to the Buddha:
And his expression on his face
Was as calm, beautiful, and profound
As the image of the Buddha
Represented in the East ...
When Parker played, in Kerouac's telling of it,
You had the feeling of early-in-the-morning
Like a hermit's joy, or
Like the perfect cry of some wild gang
At a jam session,
"Wail, Wop"
Not Kerouac's best, but enough to suggest why Parker was so popular with the Beat poets.

Finally, and I think most remarkable of all, there's a reminiscence by jazz clarinet player Tony Scott ... not the filmmaker but the featured artist on a 1964 record called Music for Zen Meditation, who played in 2001 at a Buddhist temple in Japan:
I spoke, played solo, in Tokyo and in Kyoto Temples, and, going to Shikoku Temple, played with the Buddhist monk Booze-san, singer and composer about 40 years old. His father is 82 years old. The Zen Buddhist temple, gardens, buildings and school are owned by the family and it is 600 years old. Booze-san and his younger brother Yuri speak English perfectly.

I was thrilled when Booze-san turned to me and said in perfect English: "Buddha loves Charlie Parker!" That alone was worth the trip to Japan.

Booze-san talked and sang some prayers for Bird not always playing prayers for Bird's soul, and during the morning rehearsal I started to improvise on clarinet with him. During the afternoon Ceremony the villagers all together sang prayers for Bird not realizing who Bird was, I played clarinet with them. I am always playing prayers for Bird ...
Scott's Zen meditation album is considered a minor classic, also featuring koto player Shinichi Yuize and shakuhachi flute player Hozan Yamamoto. It is considered a forerunner of New Age music, which probably ought not to be held against it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

An American journey

An Oct. 5 story I found in The Observer, by the paper's New York correspondent Paul Harris on his trip to find family roots in Iowa. His background, involving a reverse emigration from America back to Europe, isn't typical. But his exercise of searching for roots is.

And so, I think, is his account of what he finds there: Hearing a train whistle in the distance over the prairie.

Harris said he is of Swedish heritage, and he looked up relatives in New London, Iowa, who stayed there when his mother married an Englishman and moved to Great Britain. In speaking with people there, he found "that many sometimes define themselves as Swedish, German, Danish or Norwegian: cracking rude jokes about the others and cooking food associated with these long ago former homelands." Rings true.

So does something else Harris said. Here's his account of visiting his grandparents' farm, which is no longer in the family, with a local museum director:
As we stood outside the farmhouse in which my fondly-remembered grandfather had grown up, we thought of a story he had often told. He was an urbane man, born to a farmer's lifestyle he hated. He used to say he had lain in bed at night as a boy, listening to the sound of a train whistle nearby, and wishing he was on it, heading to a big city, going anywhere but a prairie farmstead. As we stood on the grass outside the farmhouse we felt a disappointment that my grandfather's story now seemed untrue. The nearest train tracks were miles away and the sound surely could not have carried that far. Then, in the silence that only the prairies can bring, we suddenly heard a distant blast from a whistle echo over the fields. He had been telling the truth after all. It was a reminder that just as Americans can find some roots in Europe, Africa and Asia, so an Englishman can find them in America.
Harris had some interesting thoughts about what he calls "a quest for defining oneself by another part of the world that a long ago ancestor left behind." But it's that train whistle in the night that spoke to me. How American.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Documentary on WWII Aleut internment

Posted to the blog for future reference, a link to the website for The Aleut Story, a documentary on the evacuation and internment of Alaska Natives from the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The website offers a variety of reviews and other resources.

A capsule from the website:
In 1942, as World War II invaded Alaska, Aleut Americans were taken from their homes and removed to abysmal government camps 1,500 miles away. Death was ever-present in the camps. An estimated 10 percent of the men, women and children sent to the camps would die there—a death rate comparable to that suffered by Americans in foreign prisoner of war camps. As the Aleuts prayed for deliverance, "friendly forces" looted their homes and churches in the Aleutian and Pribilof islands.

Those who survived would fight for their rights—in the nation's courts and on Capitol Hill. In a historic action—one that continues to influence our lives and our nation's ideals—Aleuts joined Japanese Americans in seeking wartime reparations from the federal government.

Aleut Americans ultimately prevailed.
Says Marla Williams, screenwriter for the film, quoting from the 1990s-vintage U.S. government commission that authorized reparations to the Aleuts and Japanese-Americans:
"Removal from their homeland permanently changed nearly every aspect of Aleut life," the special Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded in a report to Congress. "The many who died in the camps were a huge loss to both family and community which also endangers the future of the Aleut as a distinct people. Evacuation meant irreversible cultural erosion ... America, proud of its cultural diversity, thereby lost a distinctive part of itself."

Only through the telling of the Aleuts' story will America ever truly regain that part of itself which was lost. As filmmakers, it is our hope this documentary will contribute to a more accurate understanding of our civil rights history and a renewed appreciation for the diversity of our nation.

Friday, September 22, 2006

'Starring' in Alaska -- MP3 radio show

Here's a link to a two-minute radio show on Russian Christmas in Alaska. It's narrated by James Metzger, executive producer of the Pulse of the Planet radio show, and it's titled "Starring: Alaskan Russian Orthodox Christmas." Playing in the background for ambience, according to the credits, is a Slavic carol.

Metzger quotes Father Benjamin Peterson, dean of Saint Innocent Cathedral in Anchorage:
"Starring is one of those ways in which these very remote communities that are very often isolated from each other, especially in the dark and cold of winter, how they manage to kind of keep together. It's kind of a social glue that keeps these communities together. Some of them are only, have seven hundred people. Some of them have less - 300 people. So starring becomes a way that people connect with each other, and in the giving of gifts, you know, kind of open themselves to each other. Its kind of a way of renewing communities. So it even sends out a sense of belonging to people who are away from home - and, and keeps these communities together."
Fr. Benjamin says as the carolers go around, "each home becomes an extension of the church, in a sense a kind of little church."

According to the show's website, Pulse of the Planet is broadcast over 309 public and commercial stations around the world and on the Voice of America and the Armed Forces Radio Network, reaching more than 1 million listeners daily. The series is presented by the National Science Foundation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Music survey -- Humanities 223 class

Results from an informal survey I took this morning of the 25 students in my ethnic music class. It was beyond informal: I asked them to journal for a page or so on the role that music plays in their daily life. Some of their answers below, aggregated, anonymous and slightly edited ... with spelling and obvious grammatical errors silently corrected.

A couple of generalizations: Several HUM 223 students took piano lessons or played trombone, flute or other instruments in school, and a few still play guitar or piano for their own enjoyment. One practices daily. Says another, "I sing all the time, anywhere, @ restaurants, fesitvals, etc." Others say if they sing, they do it in the car. "The only time I ever sing is in the car by myself or in a large group of people who sound just as bad as I do," says one. "I used to sing in church choir and in school," acknowledges another. "Now I only sing in the car, which is for the best."

But music is part of the daily texture of their lives. "I absolutely refuse to drive anywhere without music on," says one, who also plays the guitar. "When I am not listening to music, I am looking up or downloading new music." Others just keep it on. "I listen to music every day in my car, my home, in class, and before I go to bed. I also listen to music and work ... every time my families and I get together, we listen to music. When I go out to eat, I hear music."

With little variation reflecting ethnic heritage or family background, most students reported enjoying the same kinds of music ... and for the same reasons.

"Music sets people apart from one another, gives [a] topic to conversation, unites you with friends, sets a mood. .... calms or shows my emotions ... shows beliefs in church songs ... puts me to sleep every night, pumps me up for volleyball games, makes me think of a person or memory, reminds me of a lost loved one. ... Music relaxes me, can get me pumped up before a game, rejoicing and praising, or helping the time go by. ... Gospel inspires me or lifts me up, R&B keeps me happy and relating to the artists, and rap keeps me either thinking about reality or gets me crunk for an outing with my girls! Music keeps me well rounded. ... Music has a huge purpose in my life. It's probably the thing I am the most passionate about.

"I love music, I have to listen to music when I'm driving. Music is something that puts me in a good mood if I'm having a bad day. It's like my escape from everything. ... Most of the music that I hear is in the bar, family gatherings, parties, work, and in the car. The purpose of music in my life is to relax me or put myself in a better mood. ... My baseball teammates and I listen it it while we are in the clubhouse. We also just listen to it when we are just chilling. ... Every social gathering I attend, there is music playing and people dancing. ... The reason I like rap & hip-hop so much is because of the beats, rhythms and bass lines. I like to dance, so I like songs with rhythm. ... Most social gatherings in Springfield consist of listening to music while consuming one's beverage of choice. I would truly be a completely different person without music in my life."

"Well, I hear a lot of rap in my car, although I listen to a lot of country & rock. Every once in a while mother or grandpa will play a Frank Sinatra CD. ... I like to listen to music while I'm cleaning because it makes the job more fun and musical. ... If I am sad or in a bad mood, I will listen to music to either cheer me up or to show the way I feel that day. ... I do listen to specific genres of music depending on my mood. For example, if I'm wanting to get ready for a game I would want to hear a rock/rap song but not country. ... My main type of music genres are rap & hip-hop. I do like R&B and alternative rock. Some country is fine with me but not all the time. ... Most of my family can't stand my choice in music so we never listen to music together. ... I think the kind of music you listen to comes from how you grew up. Like I came from the country on a far, so I like to listen to country and bluegrass. But if you came from the city, you might like R&B or a little rap. If you grew up in the 70s, you probably like alternative rock."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"Many Years" -- PDF and MIDI files

At St. Raphel's Press, an Angelfire website on Russian Orthodox chant. According to the note at the top of the website," St. Raphael Press, named for St. Raphael of Brooklyn, produces Orthodox music from the Slavic Orthodox tradition." Music is in the public domain.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Music: '7 hogs on a windy day'

A wonderful quote in The Icon and the Axe, James H. Billington's cultural history of Russia, from the court of Tsar Alexei I Mikhailovich Romanov, who ruled in the 17th century when western polyphony was beginning to replace traditional Orthodox hymnody in and around Moscow. He writes
The overlapping of old and new sounds at the court of Alexis was linkened by his English doctor to "a flight of screech owls, a nest of Jackdaws, a pack of hungry Wolves, seven Hogs on a windy day and as many cats. ..." (147)
Billington's citation is to Samuel Collins, On the Present State of Russia (1671). Wikipedia has a brief biography of Collins, which I'm inclined to trust.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

HUM 223: Lyrics to "John Henry"

There's kind of a funky little website called A Lebanese Tribute to Bruce Springsteen that I found when I was looking for lyrics to "John Henry" tonight. It looks like a fan's site, and the webmaster - who doesn't give his/her name - says it "is the first and unique Lebanese website dedicated to The BOSS!" and "is now the largest Bruce Springsteen lyrics archive on the Internet." Some of these fansites are great, others are shlock. This one looks like a good one, a labor of love with lots of detail.

(Have you noticed I like detail? I like it in papers, too, BTW.)

Anyway, I found a page with the lyrics to "John Henry," along with some information about the recording sessions for "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and the song itself. It also includes notes about the song by Dave Marsh. I don't find them in my CD, but Marsh is listed as a researcher on the CD's credits. In any event, the notes look accurate to me, and they have some interesting details I hadn't known before.

HUM 223: Springsteen's 'John Henry'

On Friday (or sometime soon) we'll be listening to "John Henry" as performed by Bruce Springsteen and the eclectic group of musicians he brought together to cut his Seeger Sessions CD. We'll probably hear "John Henry" again - it's one of the most important single songs in American music history. For now, I want to concentrate on how a guy named Ed Ward writes about it.

Ward is a rock critic. He coauthored the Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, and he's written for Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Creem magazines. He wrote an essay on the Seeger Sessions for WNET-TV, the Public Broadcasting System's flagship station in New York City. Notice how fluently he writes:
How is it that the songs Bruce Springsteen taps into for his latest project are so familiar? From "We Shall Overcome," of the CD's title, to "John Henry," these are from a body of songs that "everybody" of a certain age knew. You might have learned them at school, at camp, in church, or from television. You felt you'd just always known them, even though you had no idea where they came from or who wrote them.

Only much, much later might you have begun analyzing the songs. "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain ..." What is that, anyway? Who is "she"? Why is her arrival so important? Or, speaking of mountains, how about "Big Rock Candy Mountain"? Never mind the fact that rock candy isn't around much these days; all of a sudden it dawns on you that this is a song about hunger, hunger as experienced by people without a home, but yearning for one where there's no effort in obtaining life's basic needs, at last. You've stumbled upon an artifact of America's hobo class, as chronicled by singer Harry "Haywire Mac" McClintock -- something that both does and doesn't exist today, a social problem going back to, among other things, the federal government's treatment of Civil War veterans.

Which is just another way of saying that folk music is complicated but easy. Easy to learn, easy to play and sing, but complex in its content when looked at closely.
And notice what he says about "John Henry." It's incisive. It suggests why the song matters, and it gives us something to think about:
And how about "John Henry"? A tune about an African-American martyr to the industrial system -- the giant who beat a steam drill and died from his mighty exertions -- has been sung for years and now will be introduced to a new generation, thanks to Springsteen's decision to include it in his SEEGER SESSIONS CD. Did John Henry exist? Who are the others in the story? And, come to think of it, why is it so much fun to hear about a guy killing himself with overwork?

His legacy doesn't stop there. Examine this song long enough and you realize that John Henry is black and the boss, the guy running the steam drill, is white. Is this one of the reasons that beating the drill is so important -- not just to John Henry but to the song's survival? Obviously, there's something affirming in knowing that the human body, the human spirit, can outdo the machine, but there's something more: behind the jolly tune and its story, this, like many folk songs, is a protest song.
Well, I think "John Henry" is more than just a protest song. I heard a lot of them in the 1960s, and most of them are just as well forgotten. But "John Henry" has been around since the 1800s, and I still admire what it says about the human spirit. The points Ward raises here are worth thinking about. And his writing is certainly worth using as a model for my own. At least trying to.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Willie Nelson, dancing about architecture

HUM 223 students (who will be called upon to write papers about music before the semester is over) take note --

Elvis Costello, an 80s punker who's reinvented himself as kind of an elder statesman of the British rock scene, once said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Meaning you can't do it, it's the wrong medium, the wrong art form.

Well, rock critic Bob Gendron came pretty close in today's Chicago Tribune. He was reviewing a Sunday night concert by veteran country artist Willie Nelson at Chicago's Charter One Pavilion. "Playing to a multigenerational crowd that encompassed toddlers and grandmothers, it's easy to see why he lives for live shows," Gendron said. Here's how he described Nelson's singing and playing:
While his bedrock voice is slightly chipped, Nelson remains a skilled practitioner of subtle nuance and casual phrasing. Shading syllables, he brought fresh perspectives to universally recognized lyrics.

Nelson's zesty acoustic guitar playing formed the epicenter of the jazzy interpretations, his worn fingers moving according to feeling instead of note-for-note exactness. "Night Life" flowed like the Rio Grande, snarling as it sonically stretched amid craggy curves and narrow passages. Fluid and improvisational, the needle-and-thread style was reminiscent of Jerry Garcia's latter-era work and provided insight into why Nelson is embraced by jam-band fans.
Great descriptive writing. Architecture that's got a beat you can dance to.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

HUM 223: 'music ... the new cotton'?

Two themes we will be studying in Humanities 223 (ethnic music) are expropriation and commodification of ethnic art forms. Want to know what they can feel like? Read Edmund W. Lewis' editorial column on Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentatary in Louisiana Weekly, an African American newspaper in New Orleans. Lewis isn't complaining about Lee's movie, he's complaining about the way black music is exploited for the tourist dollar. Here's what he says about it:

New Orleans is still a town where the ruling minority gets wealthy off the genius, creativity and labor of people of color while treating tourists of color who come here for events like the Bayou Classic and Essence Music Festival like animals. It's a city whose world-famous hospitality and warmth are seldom extended to the black masses who barely make it in the best of times.

This is a city where it is crystal clear, as some revolutionary poets and others have suggested, that music is the new cotton. While there's an abundance of talent and creativity among the city's musicians of color, most of the money generated by the music goes directly into the pockets of those who own the majority of the city's record labels, music stores, nightclubs and tourist venues. Some of the best talent African America has produced has been reduced by bigotry to sharecroppers by opportunitists.
Music is the new cotton? The reference, of course, is to black slaves picking cotton for the white masters who exploited them.

How true is it? We'll be studying that in HUM 223.

For the record, Lewis liked Spike Lee's "When The Levees Broke" ... as far as it went. Lewis says:
The beauty and resilience of New Orleans shine through the documentary despite the ugly circumstances under which the documentary took place.

There is lots to laugh and cry about in the documentary, as well as ample opportunities for anger.

Watching Condoleeza Rice shop for shoes during this national disaster will certainly do nothing to endear her to people of color or increase her chances of becoming the first female or black president. And President Bush's legacy will always be tainted by his piss-poor response to Hurricane Katrina.

One of the more surprising aspects of the film was the outspokenness of some of the more successful people of color who appeared in the documentary. In New Orleans there is a long, sordid history of privileged people of color doing and saying as little as possible about racial inequity and injustice. Katrina obviously changed that as the haves and have-nothings suffered alongside one another.

Spike Lee did the best he could do. But those who know the history and reality of living in this city know that he didn't bring it the way he could have. It is impossible to understand what happened last August without fully grasping the history of New Orleans.

Then again, the brother only had four hours.
From all the reviews of the movie, including Lewis' in Lousiana Weekly, it's as powerful as "Do the Right Thing" (1989).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shaggy dog story ...

I can't vouch for the science behind this, but it is nothing if not a shaggy dog story. Michael Heggen of Salem, Ore., who maintains entertaining website called the Heggen Report, defines them like this:
A seemingly plausible (usually) story of varying length (the longer the better, I say). As the story progresses, the listener/reader should become more and more intrigued, even if they know it's a shaggy dog story. The last line is always an absolutely hideous pun.
In what may be a classic example of the genre, Heggen also notes:
The art of creating a well-crafted pun is lost on many people unfortunately, so enjoying a shaggy dog story is sort of like enjoying a cigar -- the person smoking has a great time, but bystanders usually gag.
Anyway, here's the story:
A South Carolina farm wife called the local phone company to
report her telephone failed to ring when her friends
called -- and that on the few occasions when it did ring, her
dog always moaned right before the phone rang.

The telephone repairman proceeded to the scene, curious to see this
psychic dog or senile lady.

Upon arriving at the residence he climbed the utility pole,
plugged in his test set, and dialed the subscriber's
phone number.

The phone didn't ring right away, but then the dog
moaned and then the telephone began to ring.

Climbing down from the pole, the telephone repairman
discovered the following:

1. The dog was tied to the telephone system's ground
wire with a steel chain and collar.

2. The wire connection to the ground rod was loose.

3. The dog was receiving the volts of signaling current
when the number was called.

4. After a couple of jolts, the dog would start moaning and
then urinate.

5. The wet ground would complete the circuit, thus
causing the phone to ring.

Which demonstrates that some problems CAN be fixed by
pissing and moaning.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pennsylvania scheitholt links

I'm posting this link to the blog because I'll never find it again if I don't. It's to the PDF file of Henry Mercer's paper "The Zithers of the Pennsylvania Germans" in A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society, Part 101, Volume V (1923). It's in the PA's Past Digital Bookshelf at Penn State.

The scheitholt, which Mercer's informants called a "zitter," is of course the direct antecedent of the Appalachian dulcimer. It was carried down into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where it got over into Scots-Irish culture and got to be known as the "dulcimore."

But, as I learned googling around this morning, the instrument may have been called that earlier.

An 18th-century "dulcimar" in Pennsylvania? While I was looking for a post to the Everything Dulcimer discussion group that mentioned the Mercer scheitholts, I googled instead onto this post by Greg Gunner of Riga, Mich., that cites a "dulcimar" in an 18th-century probate record in southeastern Pennsylvania. He writes:
In her master's thesis on the origins of the zither, Alissa Ann Teresa Pesavento quotes from a copy of the 1757 estate inventory of an early Mennonite settler in southeast Pennsylvania. The settler, Henry Ruth, emigrated to Pennsylvania before 1720. His estate inventory clearly lists a "dulcimar" among the items of his estate. According to histories of the area both Henry Ruth and a neighbor, John Clemens, were known to play the zither. The zither of the southeast Pennsylvania Dutch Country is none other than the scheitholt, which is thought by most experts to be at least one of the direct ancestors of the mountain dulcimer. To verify Ms. Pesavento's claim I contacted the Mennonite Meeting House in Bucks County and obtained a copy of Henry Ruth's estate inventory. The "dulcimar" is clearly listed as part of his estate.
Fascinating. Pretty convincing, too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Early dulcimer brought to Illinois

Here's more on an antique dulcimer that was brought from West Virginia dulcimer to Illinois in the early 20th century. I mentioned it and posted a picture to this blog on March 7, quoting an email I received in 2002 from Les Williams of Orlando, Fla., who grew up in Hamilton, Ill. It has the general appearance of a Charles Prichard instrument, and the Williams family dates it to 1902. Now I've located a copy of another email from Williams, dated July 21, 2003, giving more details about the instrument and how his grandmother played it in response to my questions. He wrote:
She double picked, usually with a turkey/goose quill, and sang s well. My Grandfather played the dulcimer also but he only picked in one direction. I have seen him play it. My Grandmother also played the banjo but I am unaware of which kind, a plectrum or tenor. I do recall asking Mom about the violin peg, peghead and the fact that it slips from time to time. She said that Grandmother would have that happen, she would laugh, retune and continue! She did use a noter, most often a kitchen match since that was usually most handy. I asked if she had chorded as we do now and Mom said she had never heard/seen her use anything but a noter. The noter has been lost in antiquity.
In an earlier email, I had asked Williams if he had seen one of Prichard's labels, and he said "there was nothing in the sound box to indicate the builder." He added:
The only thing unusual on this dulcimer, that I could detect, there were/are two small "T" units that were mortised together and then the top of the "T" was glued into the fretboard/sound board at the beghead end of the sound holes, and also at the picking hollow sound holes. This seemed unusual to me, as I have been studying some luthier methods for building dulcimers and there is NO mention of that sort of addition. The only string instrument that I can recall of having such an addition is the violin.
The Williams family hailed from eastern West Virginia, near Renick.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Willie Nelson on who's (not) a Texan

Willie Nelson says the Dixie Chicks got "a raw deal" when they voiced disapproval of President Bush in 2003. According to an Associated Press story published Sunday, he told Time magazine he's said as much or more about Bush himself:
"I said 'He's not from Texas and he ain't a cowboy, so let's stop trashin' Texans and cowboys.' It got a little chuckle, but I didn't get run out of the country," Nelson told the magazine.
The crossover bluegrass-country-pop group stirred up a firestorm of controversy when lead singer Natalie Maines said she was embarrassed both she and Bush were Texans.

Nelson, 73, said both he and Maines were out of the country when they offered their opinions of Bush.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Christian Harmony minutes, Brasstown, N.C.

Posted here are the minutes to this year's Christian Harmony singing at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. They were compiled by Dan Huger of Asheville, who keeps minutes and sends out schedules of upcoming singings in North Carolina and adjacent states.

Christian Harmony

John Campbell Folkschool Singing
Brasstown, Cherokee County, North Carolina
Saturday, 8 July, 2006

All selections “Alabama book”.

Bob Dalsemer welcomed the singers to the Folk School.
Laurel Horton opened the singing with 206-Prayer Meeting.
Opening prayer given by Ed Smith.
67b-Dundee, Wayne Richard
70b-Brown, Becky Walker
339-Samanthra, Steve Walker
20-Cranbrook, Guy Bankes
85b-Mercy Seat, Sharon Kellam
280t-Zion, Judy Mincey
51-Lonsdale, John Hollingsworth
110-Volunteers, Ed Smith
26b-93rd, June Spencer
185b-Corinth, Pete Ellertsen
187b-, Lee Rogers
117-Angel Band, Susan Schmidt
323-Holy Manna, Ralph Parker
35b-Boylston, Cora Sweatt
184-Never Grow Old, Andy Morse
109-Not Made with Hands, Ken George
282-Friendship, Mary Baumeister
367-David’s Lamentation, Mike Nichols
76b-Night, Robert Varkony
101-An Address for All, Eddie Mash
218t-, Chris Berg
81t-Maitland, Dan Huger
140-Edom, Laurel Horton
55b-Idumea, Wayne Richard
89b-Northfield, Becky Walker
88-Pisgah, Steve Walker
171-Sessions, Guy Bankes
47-Panting for Heaven, Sharon Kellam
Blessing, Dan Huger

87-The Promised Land, Laurel Horton
Jan Davidson, Director of the School, welcomed the singers.
16-The Finest Flower, Judy Mincey
369-Easter Anthem, John Hollingsworth
131-Will You Meet Me?, Ed Smith
332-Babylon is Fallen, Jane Spencer
293-Lenox, Virginia Douglas
147b-[Hallelujah], Pete Ellertsen
264-Harwell, Lee Rogers
215-In That Morning, Susan Schmidt
82b-Gospel Waves, Ralph Parker
129-Coronation, Cora Sweatt
29-The Midnight Cry, Andy Morse
316-This Heavy Load, Ken George
24t-Volusia, Mary Baumeister
268-Come Ye to the Waters, Mike Nichols
128t-Hester, Eddie Mash
66t-Balerma, Robert Varkony
148-Leander, Chris Berg
52-Newburg, Dan Huger
11-Minster’s Farewell, Laurel Horton
255-Watchman, Jackie Elsner
41b-Ardor, Guy Bankes
49-Forever with the Lord, Sharon Kellam
340-Blue Vale of Naucoochee, Judy Mincey
1-Weary Rest, Ed Smith
274-Mother Tell Me, Ralph Parker

200-Parting Hand
Closing prayer, Steve Walker

There were about 100 singers, and at least another twenty listeners.
The day was quite mild.
Thanks to the Folkschool for having us.

For more information about Christian Harmony singing, go to ... if you follow the links to the minutes of singings in 2006, you will find a link to pictures of the Brasstown singing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Website preserves Dena'ina music

A valuable source on Dena'ina Athabascan music is the "Dena'ina K'eliga" (Songs) page on the Dena'ina Qenaga website put up by the Alaska Native Language Center at UA-Fairbanks. Its overview:
Dena’ina music remains a source of community pride and holds great potential in bilingual education. There are at least seven types of Dena’ina song: funeral songs, potlatch dance songs, paddling songs, hunting songs, good luck songs, gambling songs and love songs. Recently there have also been a number of English songs translated into Dena’ina. You can read more about Dena’ina Song Tradition by reading Music of the Tanaina Indians of South Central Alaska - found in the Dena’ina Qenaga Digital Archive.
(To see the papers on music and song traditions, written in the 1970s by Thomas Johnston of UAF, I'll let you go to the K'eliga/Songs page and follow their link.) There are several sound files linked to the page, including:
  • "Qetitl' K'elik'a Ch'tunik'nasdzeden" or "Potlatch Song of a Lonely Man," composed and sung by Peter Kalifornsky. One of the last fluent native speakers of the Kenai dialect of Dena'ina, Kalifornsky worked with UAF linguists to establish it as a written language so it can be preserved for the future.
  • "Chickalusion Mourning Song," in honor of a respected chief of Tyonek village, composed and sung by Shem Pete. One of the last speakers of the Upper Cook Inlet dialect, Pete was a gifted storyteller who passed on much traditional knowledge about the Dena'ina people.
  • A traditional Athabascan gambling song and versions of "Down in the Valley," "Silent Night," "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" in the Dena'ina language.
In Dena'ina, by the way, the title of that last song is "Ggagga Dghili Jenghiyu." The word for bear is "ggagga." It's the only word I know in Dena'ina, but I think I'm likely to remember it because it reads exactly like what I said once when I got between a bear and her cubs in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuning a dulcimer (and an aside, dear reader, on how a blog is like the old-fashioned oak filing cabinet in my home office)

Copied from an email message I just sent out to members of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings in Springfield on the theory (mentioned below) that a blog -- this blog, at any rate -- is kind of an electronic filing cabinet where I can tuck away information that would get lost otherwise.

Hi everybody --

I've got a couple of links below for the beginners, but I'm emailing everyone to remind you Bonnie and Ken Lawson have invited us (and our dulcimers!) to a picnic at their home for our regular August meeting, Thursday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m. I'll forward their message with directions, etc., in a few minutes.

Something else I keep forgetting to mention: Mike Thomas of our group has several extra sets of strings he's willing to sell. If you're interested, contact him ... or contact me, and I have his email address so I can forward the message to him.

Now, about tuning ...

At the end of last week's meeting, we looked at some of our tablature and decided there isn't a whole lot that calls for playing the 6+ fret, so it's probably best for the folks with WalMart dulcimers to play in DAD. I'm going to paste below a primer on how to tune the dulcimer from Jerry Rockwell's website. He's a very talented player and luthier from Ohio, and his website is one I keep going back to. Very informative.

Here's how you can tune the dulcimer when you don't have an electronic tuner. You always start with the bass string, and tune the rest of them to it. If you're playing with someone else, get your bass strings in tune with each other. Then tune the other strings to it. Rockwell explains how:

D Ionian (D-A-A)

Step 1. Tune the 3rd or bass string of the dulcimer to the D below Middle C (this is the same note as the open 4th string of the guitar).

Step 2. Hold the 3rd or bass string just to the left of the 4th fret and pluck this note (A). Tune your middle or 2nd string so it exactly matches this pitch.

Step 3. Tune the melody or 1st string to the same note as the open middle string. Now play the Ionian mode from frets 3 through 10 and back down. Skip the 6+ fret!

D Mixolydian (D-A-D)

Steps 1 and 2 are the same as for D Ionian.

Step 3. Hold the 2nd or middle string down at the 3rd fret and pluck this note (high D, one octave above the open bass string). Tune the melody or 1st string to this note.
Here's a link to his page, which has some more information:

You might want to surf around his website sooner or later. He's got a page on improvising that I really like, and he knows a lot about music theory. Jerry Rockwell's website is one I keep coming back to.

-- Pete

I'm going to copy this message to my "Hogfiddle" blog, too, so I don't delete the information. It's at ... I use it as kind of an electronic filing cabinet.

Kolyadkas: Carols from Ukraine

Here's a website where you can access a four-minute sound file of a kolyadka from Ukraine by a vocal ensemble from Kiev called Drevo. Strong harmonies. A good example of Slavic choral folk music, and a tradition that was adapted by Native and "creole" Alaskans as part of their Christmas celebration. Liner notes from Drevo's CD explain:
One thousand years ago with the ward of Christianity to Ukraine the culture on these grounds did not begin anew, but its new page was opened. Alongside with the partially kept prior archaic layers and on their basis, Christianity has formed other original forms of culture, genres and styles.The influence of these processes on national music was especially expressive.

In pagan times the Kolyadkas [including track 1, the one that's linked to] and Shchedrivkas [track numbers omitted] were a component of sacramentals related with New Year Day and vernal equinox. In later time Kolyadkas and Shchedrivkas (Christmas carols) became a symbol of Christmastime and other biblical dates and events. Obviously, such reassess of function has served as the reason of a semantic and stylistic variety of Kolyadkas and Shchedrivkas, represented on the disk.
The kolyadka tradition is the basis for "Starring" celebrations among people of Aleut, Tinglit and Yup'ik heritage in Alaska. A press release from the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage explains:
Starring comes from the Ukraine where at Christmas time groups of people go from house to house carrying a decorated star singing “koyatkee” or carols. The star honors the wise men that followed a star to find the Christ child. An honored individual has the responsibility of spinning the star, which is made from wood and decorated with festive ribbons and colors that look similar to a pinwheel. The center of the star contains a picture or an Icon.

Starring is observed differently among the cultural regions of Alaska Native villages. Starring is held for three days and begins late in the afternoon and can continue through the night. In many villages, the singers follow the star as it travels from house to house and at each home, food is offered to the singers and guests.
Drevo, the choral group from Kiev, is worth listening to on its own merits.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An Alutiiq children's song

Lately I've been reading up on how Alaska Native and Russian Orthodox cultures influenced each other's music, and this weekend I found a sound file for an Alutiiq children's song that sounds to my untrained ear like its melodic contour is European in origin. It's called "Louse Song," and it was sung by Phyllis Peterson, an elder of Akhiok Native Village of Kodiak Island, at their Alutiiq Week in 2003. I like it because I see in it a mixture of Native and Russian cultural influences, but most of all I think it's a delightful little song and elder Peterson clearly enjoys singing it so much in the video clip.

The lyrics, in Alutiiq and English, are:
Neresta taarimallria
The Louse whisked himself
He whisked himself long and hard (showing off)
Ingqim yaamaat ciqiluki,
The baby louse (nit) splashed water on the rocks
neresta atunguarualuki
And the louse sang to his little self (for the heck of it)
Ru-ru-ru-ru, Uqnartuq!
Hoo-hoo-hoo, It's Hot!
Transcription and translation is by staff of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaelogical Repository in Kodiak.

I can't help loving the humor of a louse joining the people in the banya, a traditional Russian steam bath very much like a Scandinavian sauna or a Native American sweat lodge. The museum staff explain:
Villagers in the past were often bothered by lice from the many furs they kept in their homes; at that time there was little effective relief. Rather than ignore the problem, they made fun of their own discomfort with lively songs like this one, where even the louse gets to banya.
The museum's website is an excellent source of information about the Alutiiq people (also known as Aleut), and the National Museum of the American Indian has a fascinating profile of the people of Akhiok village and their culture with text by Alutiiq museum staff and lots of photographs.

A footnote.Lice have been with us across cultures as long as we've had cultures -- at least as long as we've had languages. Somewhere I've read that "louse" is one of the words we get from the Indo-European language, and it has had the same plural "lice" since the fifth millennium (in very round numbers) BCE.

LATER: I don't think I want to base a grand narrative on this, so I'll let it be another footnote. Reading Billington's Icon and the Axe, I came across this reference in his discussion of how life in the forests of 13th- and 14th-century Muscovy influenced Russian culture:
The very process by which the body generated warmth within its clothing attracted the louse to venture forth from the clothing to feast upon its human prey; and the very communal baths by which Russians sought to cleanse themselves provided a unique opportunity for the louse to migrate from one garment to the other. ... The peasant's wooded hut, which provided rudimentary protection against the larger beasts of the forest, served more as a lure to its insects and rodents. They hungrily sought entrance to his dwelling place, his food supply, and -- eventually -- his still warm body. (22)
This follows a discussion of the bears that also lived in the forest (21-22), including this: "Legend had it that that the bear was originally a man who had been denied the traditional bread and salt of human friendship, and had in revenge assumed an awesome new shape and retreated to the forest to guard it against the intrusions of his former species" (21). Again, I don't want to make too much of it, but the legend has counterparts in Athabascan (not to mention Cherokee and other Native American peoples') mythologies.

Billington, James H. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf-Borzoi, 1967.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Resources on Native music

Cross-posted to music and teaching blogs for potential use in HUM 221 (Native American cultures) in the spring of 2007.

A valuable article in the Jan.-Feb. 2003 issue of Sharing Our Pathways, newsletter of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative at UA-Fairbanks. It's by Vivian Martindale, and it's titled "Native American Songs as Literature." In addition to an ANKN (Alaska Native Knowledge Netword) article on the Athabascan peoples, it mentions Joy Harjo, Canyon Records and other resources on Native cultures in the lower 48.

Says Martindale:
Classrooms don't have to be boring. Literature classes especially can be enhanced through the medium of song. In David Leedom Shaul's article "A Hopi Song-Poem in Context", he claims that the listener is similar to an audience during storytelling, in that the listener is also interacting with the music. The listener, as a participant, is not passive; the listener is hearing rhythms, words, patterns and much more. The listener does not have to understand the Native language in order to appreciate the song. Shaul calls attention to the genre called "song poems." These songs are in a category by themselves, separate from poetry and prose. "The text of song-poems in Hopi culture, like much poetry, seemingly create their own context by virtue of minimalist language" (Shaul 1992:230Ð31). Therefore it would be interesting to include the concept of song poems or poetry as music into a curriculum.
She quotes this from a Joy Harjo/Poetic Justice song called "My House is the Red Earth." (Poetic Justice is Harjo's band.):
My house is the red earth. It could be the center of the world. I've heard New York, Tokyo or Paris called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy scraps of fat. Just ask him. He doesn't have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter.
She also has tips and caveats on teaching traditional Native American music.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Irish jig ‘recreates past of deserted village’

Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of The Prairie Picayune, volunteer newsletter at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site.

One of New Salem’s enduring legends has to do with The Missouri Harmony, a shape-note tunebook belonging to the Rutledge family. In his American Songbag, the poet Carl Sandburg’s said, “Young Abraham Lincoln and his sweetheart Ann Rutledge sang from the book in the Rutledge tavern in New Salem, Illinois, according to old settlers there.” Early 20th-century local historian Josephine Craven Chandler recalled “stories of Sunday evenings when the family sang in unison and he turned for her by fire and candle light the worn pages of the ‘Missouri Harmony Songbook’; and, it is told, she sang for him alone sometimes in her clear, strong, girlish voice.”

As it so often happens, there’s at least a kernel of truth to the legend. And as it sometimes also happens, the truth is more interesting than the legend.

We can confirm from other sources that young Abraham Lincoln did in fact sing from Missouri Harmony with the Rutledge youngsters. We even know a song he enjoyed singing. After a fashion, at least. Lincoln had a terrible voice, and he made a mess of the song, but sing it he did. Robert Rutledge, Ann's brother, said he’d “tip back his chair and roar it out at the top of his voice, over and over again, just for fun.” The racket was so loud it bothered little Sally, the youngest of the Rutledge children.

The song is called “Legacy.” It was an Irish jig tune, related to “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning” and an English morris dance tune called “Constant Billy” as well as a Scottish song called “How Shall We Abstain from Whisky?” The Irish poet Thomas Moore set a poem to it called “The Legacy,” and his version of it got into Missouri Harmony and other songbooks of the day with that title. What’s more, there’s some evidence the song got into the oral tradition in west central Illinois, at least for a while, as a fiddle tune that John Armstrong and Lee Edgar Masters called “Missouri Harmony.”

Masters heard it in 1914, when he visited John Armstrong in Oakford. In a novel, Masters also wrote of its being played on an Illinois River steamboat. Fiddle playing often runs in families, and the Armstrongs were one of Menard County’s noted fiddle-playing families. John’s father, Jack, was the same Jack Armstrong who got in the famous wrestling match with Lincoln at New Salem.

And Lee Masters listened spellbound for several hours as.“John tuned his fiddle, and sat back and began to preface the playing of each piece with some story concerning its origin, and where and how it got its name, and where he heard it first.”

“For years [Armstrong] had attended the dances, the county fairs, the camp meetings, the festivals,” Masters continued. “There were the continuation of the New Salem events, and I felt that he was re-creating the past of the deserted village for me. I could imagine myself in the Rutledge Tavern, listening to John Armstrong tell stories of the Sangamon River, of Bowling Green, of Mentor Graham whom he knew, of William G. Greene, at the time not so many years gone from earth.”

Some of the songs Armstrong played that night were standard fiddle tunes like “Hell Amongst the Yearlings and “The Wind that Shakes the Barley.” Then, Masters added, “[Armstrong] played and sang ‘The Missouri Harmony’.” Masters quoted two stanzas:
“When in death I shall calm recline,
O bear my heart to my mistress dear;
Tell her it lived upon smiles and wine
Of the brightest hue, while it lingered here.

“Bid her not shed one tear of sorrow,
To sully a heart so brilliant and light;
But balmy drops of the red grape borrow,
To bathe the relic from morn to night.”
Masters didn’t mention the connection, but it was the same song that Lincoln sang with the Rutledge youngsters. It’s not only in Missouri Harmony but Moore’s poem and a close variant of the tune also got into The Southern Harmony, a very popular shape-note tunebook of the 1830s that has the added advantage for us today of having a copyright-free version available on line. It’s indexed in the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at …click on “L” and then on “Legacy.” There you’ll find the music – the melody is in the tenor, or middle, line – and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file. If you play by ear, like I do, you can learn it from the MIDI file.

A couple of suggestions as you’re learning the tune. If you read music, you can ignore the shapes. Just read the middle line for the time values and intervals. It’s written in the key of F, but if you play the keynote (the triangular note at the beginning and end that shape-note singers recognize as “fa”) on the third fret and work out the other intervals in DAA tuning, you’ll automatically transpose it to D. Sometimes I’ll make homemade tablature by writing fret numbers above the notes. I don’t play from tab at New Salem. It’s not appropriate to our period. But it is a good way of working out a new tune.

No matter whether you call it “Legacy” or “Missouri Harmony,” it’s a nice tune. It’s in 6/8 time, and I play it on the dulcimer with the lilt of a jig but slow enough to sing the lyrics to. When I play the song at New Salem, I feel like in a small way I’m helping re-create the past of no-longer deserted village.

A footnote. I would appreciate information or leads that can help me learn more about fiddle playing and old-time string bands in west central Illinois, especially Menard and Sangamon counties. Please contact me at

Friday, June 09, 2006

Flag pledge -- in Dena'ina

Here's an interesting angle on the move for "English only" laws that accompany the current round of hysteria over immigration. It comes from an anthropologist's recollection of leading the Pledge of Allegiance with a Dena'ina Athabascan elder named Peter Kalifornsky at a school on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.

I'll let the anthropologist, Alan Boraas of Kenai Peninsula College, tell the story as he wrote it up for The Anchorage Daily News several years later:
Two hundred grade schoolers make a lot of noise even when being shushed by their teachers, and I was a little ambivalent when we stepped to the microphone. I cleared my throat, Peter cleared his, and we began:

"Dek'nesh'uh bet'uhdi_t'ayich"' Peter read. "I pledge allegiance" I repeated. "Naq'ach' k'iniyich'," "to the flag," "ts'e_q'i k'i_anich'ina," "of the United States of America."

As we read, the children became curiously silent. Johnny stopped pulling Sally's pigtails, Betty and Amy stopped giggling, and Ricky, off in his own space, suddenly was captivated. As one, they stared intently at the frail old man speaking a strange language they didn't understand. They were not confused, but awed. Even the school district administrators paid attention.

The children seemed to sense that this was the language of their place. An ancient language with ancient roots. Though they came from many backgrounds, subconsciously they seemed to want to connect to those roots. After the program was over I stood to the side talking with some acquaintances, and I happened to look over toward Peter. Forty or so kids had gathered around him. They were quiet and respectful with a look not so much of admiration, but of wonder. It was as though there was something missing in their lives that this mysterious old man and his ancient language could satisfy. They would draw near and reach out their hand, and he would reach out his and touch them. Then they would drift away and others would press to the front for a chance to touch the hand of a man who held the secret to their connection to their place.
Now here's the kicker. Again, I'll quote Boraas:
In one of the supreme ironies of our time, reading the Pledge of Allegiance in a Native language could be be illegal today. With the passage of Alaska's English-only law, English is the only language that can be used in government functions.
There's another level of irony here, too. Kalifornsky was descended from a Dena'ina Athabascan man who converted to Christianity in the mid-1800s when he worked at a Russian outpost in California. (Hence the name.) When Alaska was a Russian colony, the Russian Orthodox Church promoted the use of Native languages and it was not uncommon for people to be bilingual, even trilingual. After the U.S. took over, the new territorial government brought in Protestant missionaries and English-only schools like those in the "lower 48." Now, a hundred years later, the Native languages are dying out. Kalifornsky, who died in 1993, devoted his last years to developing a written Dena'ina language and writing down many of the old Athabascan stories in their Native language.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Salmon poem

Nora Dauenhauer, the Tlingit poet and scholar, has a poem "How to Make Good Baked Salmon from the River" on the Poetics and Politics website. It's dedicated to Simon Ortiz, and it reminds me a lot of his poem on how to make chili. She begins:
It's best made in dry-fish camp on a beach by a fish stream on sticks over an open fire, or during fishing or during cannery season.

In this case, we'll make it in the city, baked in an electric oven on a black fry pan.

INGREDIENTS Bar-b-q sticks of alder wood. In this case the oven will do. Salmon: River salmon, current super market cost $4.99 a pound. In this case, salmon poached from river. Seal oil or hooligan oil. In this case, butter or Wesson oil, if available.
And so on in that vein. But it's a recipe and a cosmology lesson in a recipe. Her serving instructions:
After smelling smoke and fish and watching the cooking, smelling the skunk cabbage and the berries mixed with seal oil, when the salmon is done, put salmon on stakes on the skunk cabbage and pour some seal oil over it and watch the oil run into the nice cooked flakey flesh which has now turned pink.

Shoo mosquitoes off the salmon, and shoo the ravens away, but don't insult them, because mosquitoes
are known to be the ashes of the cannibal giant, and Raven is known to take off with just about anything.

In this case, dish out on paper plates from fry pan. Serve to all relatives and friends you have invited to the bar-b-q and those who love it.

And think how good it is that we have good spirits that still bring salmon and oil.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Orthodox Athabascan village

Eklutna village is an Tanaina (or Dena'ina) Indian settlement about 25 miles northeast of Anchorage just off the Glenn Highway near the head of Knik Arm. It's noted especially for the Athabascan "Spirit Houses" in its Russian Orthodox church cemetery, which reflect a blending of Orthodox and Native spiritual practices. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia gives a few details:
The Eklutna area was the site of many Athabascan Indian villages as long as 800 years ago. Today's residents are descendants of the Dena'ina (Tanaina) tribe. A railroad station was built in 1918, and Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in the 1840s. Brightly-colored "Spirit Houses" in the Russian Slavic style now lend character to Eklutna.
But by far the best online resource on Eklutna is a personal webpage put up by an Alaskan identified only as "sunhusky" who has a wealth of pictures and well-informed explanations about Anchorage, the nearby Mat-Su valley and other southcentral Alaska attractions.

From the Sunhusky website we learn "the name Eklutna is the Anglicized version of Eydlytnu, which is Athabascan for 'village,'" the village site "dates back to about 1650 although it was probably inhabited much earlier than that," and it overlooks "the mudflats of Cook Inlet’s Knik Arm, which was where a string of fish camps and villages once stood." All this seems to check out with the information of Eklutna in Shem Pete's Alaska: The Territory of the Upper Cook Inlet Dena'Ina, which I read through pretty thorougly at the Border's in Anchorage. Of the church, dedicated to St. Nicholas, Sunhusky adds:
The first impression you’ll get is that [the Spirit Houses] look like tiny doll houses. They’re decorated with primary colors, usually reflecting family heritage. This custom developed as the Russian Orthodox Church adapted the native Athabascan’s custom of placing the remains of loved ones in bentwood boxes under the trees. The colors and geometric patterns aren’t chosen randomly, however. They distinguish different families, which was the only way early families had of marking the gravesites before they could read or write in Russian. The section you will see within the small fenced area isn’t the entire graveyard. It’s part of what is actually a much larger burial grounds which is largely hidden by the trees and brush to the rear. I noticed that the overgrowth makes it much more difficult to see with time, which is perhaps as it should be. It was the visible spirit houses that were the draw to tourists, however, and the village opened up the tours largely as the best means of protecting the burial ground from those who would trespass. Even today, while you are allowed to take photos, you are requested to stay on the sidewalk that circles this section of the cemetery. One of the things you’ll note is that while some stay brightly painted, others are allowed to follow the natural course of events and are slowly going the “ashes to ashes” route.
There's a lot else at the Sunhusky website, which for some reason I've had a hard time finding with search engines, all of it fascinating.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

HUM 221: Tricksters and origins

A couple of links and a couple of questions. Both have to do with Native American storytelling, and both may give you something to think about as you write your final exams on how Native peoples adapt their traditional forms of cultural expression to survive in a mass society with commercialized media.

First, the links: Go to Kathleen Nichols' website Native American Oral Tales and Songs. Follow her links and read her introduction to Native American origin tales and the Hopi creation story (which you will find by scrolling down to the bottom of the page). What kind of a creature is Spider Woman? What does she tell us about human nature? About the Hopi people? Then go back to Dr. Nichols' homepage and follow the link to her "Introduction to Native American Tricksters." Read about Coyote. How is he different from Spider Woman? How is he the same? What does Coyote tell us about human nature?

In the Pacific Northwest, Raven is a trickster god very much like Coyote. The online enclyclopedia Wikipedia has a good summary overview of the Raven stories. Multimedia artist Larry McNeil of Boise State University in Idaho is of Tlingit heritage, and he works Raven into his art. Read his story of how -- and why -- Raven stole the sun so the people could have light. Surf around his website and look at some of his photos and drawings of Raven. Then decide if McNeil is kind of a trickster himself.

Now, a couple of questions.

1. Most peoples have trickster stories. Bugs Bunny is a direct descendent of a trickster Rabbit in West African and southeastern American Indian tales. And he isn't the only one. How many trickster figures can you name in modern American popular culture? What is their appeal?

2. Here's a link to a story about a Navajo Indian and a public relations officer from NASA. It isn't a traditional story. In fact, it appears to originate with late-night TV show host Johnny Carson. But it's remindful of the old stories about Rabbit, Coyote and Raven. What in us does a trickster story appeal to?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

HUM 221: NW Coast Arts

Native American art in the Pacific Northwest reached a high level of sophistication, especially in the visual arts. One reason is that they didn't have to struggle as much to find food, since they were expert fishermen and the seas were teeming with salmon, halibut and other fish. Thier storytelling was of a high order, too, many of the stories centering on Raven, both a god and a trickster like Coyote in stories from the Southwestern cultural region. The links in this post will give you a cursory overview of the peoples and their art.

The website Alaska: A Nation Within a State has a pretty good overview of the Northwest Coast culture, which was fairly uniform among the different tribes living along the coast from northern California to South Central Alaska. Note especially their expertise in working with wood. Representative of the Nortwest Coast peoples are the Tlingit (pronounced KLINKit) of Southeast Alaska. Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History has an attractive online exhibit with a brief overview of Tlingit history, art and legends. It also mentions the Tlingits' connection with SEAlaska Corp., a regional corporation set up under the Alaska Native Claims Act in which the people are shareholders.

Possibly the best short introduction to the art of the Northwest Coast is on a website put up by Free Spirit Gallerly, an online art gallery that specializes in Canadian First Nations arts and crafts. Be sure to read Clint Leung's "Introduction to Northwest Coast Native American Art" and follow his links to articles on "The Basic Elements of Northwest Indian Art," totem poles and wood carving. The Free Spirit site is lavish with pictures, and most of the pictures are of contemporary professional artists working with traditional designs and motifs.

A historical footnote:One of my favorite examples of U.S. government efforts to acculturate Native Americans to white anglo society is a Report of the Siletz Indian Agency in Benton County, Oregon, dated Aug. 28, 1882. In it, the superintendent says he is making progress in teaching the Siletz how to use a sawmill, even though it "has not been used as much in the year past as heretofore, for lack of funds, a matter of much regret to a large number [of the people], many of whom have lately been induced to come in and take lands, but were unable to erect houses for want of lumber." He adds:
The labor in the mills is all performed by Indians with a single exception. I am pleased to say that a number of Indians, so far as I know for the first time, cut their timber, drew their logs, and sawed their own lumber without the aid of government, thus proving themselves on the road to self-support and independence, a thing of which they feel a pride.
But he neglects to mention (and may not have known) the Siletz had traditionally lived in cedar or sugar pine plank houses 100ft in length before contact. See also the Siletz History by Robert Kentta, tribal cultural resource director, posted to the Confederated Tribes of Siletz website.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

HUM 221: Links on powwows

In class Wednesday, we saw the first part of a video on powwows called "Into the Circle." As I was watching it and observing your reactions, I was reminded of the first powwows I attended 10-12 years ago. I was bewildered at first, bored after a while ... just for a little while ... and then I started to get drawn into it as I got more comfortable with the beat of the drum, the singing, the amplified voice of Master of Ceremonies introducing dancers, explaining what was happening, telling jokes and just moving the event along like a good MC does at any event ... the booths with arts and crafts, recordings, books ... the woodsmoke drifting through the air ... the taste of "Indian tacos" (beans wrapped in fry bread) and buffalo meat sandwiches ... the whole spectacle that's like part county fair, part craft show and part, well, a community event you won't see anywhere else. I think going to a powwow is the best way to experience a little taste of "Indian Country" for just a few hours.

We have several coming up in Illinois in the next few months. I can't make assignments after the semester's over, but I hope you'll consider going to a powwow over the summer ... the Honor the Eagle Powwow sponsored by Midwest SOARRING at Starved Rock State Park the weekend of May 20-21 ... the Return to Pimiteoui Powwow at A.H Sommer Park off I-74 just west of Peoria the weekend of June 10-11 ... or any of the Illinois powwows listed on the 500 Nations powwow website. Please note that all powwows are drug- and alcohol-free. But you won't mind!

Julia C. White, author of a book called The Pow Wow Trail, has an excellent, beginner-friendly page of tips on visiting a powwow, what to expect and how to behave. If your computer has a sound card (as ours don't in the Dawson 220 computer lab), you get an added benefit -- a looped sound track that starts playing as soon as you open the page.

But before summer, there's finals. And there's going to be a question on your final exam about how Native music and dance traditions have adapted and changed over the years. In addition to Julia White's page, here are some links to help you ace the final:

  • The American Indian Culture Research Center at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota has a good summary of the history and meaning of powwows, especially in Lakota country, the "powwow trail," the styles of powwow dancing and other basic information.
  • A group of Native dancers from Oklahoma has put up an excellent website on Southern Powwows that catches the spirit of the events, gives the history of their development among Southern Plains peoples like the Ponca and Osage, etiquette for visitors and the art form in general.

HUM 221 hints: 'What's on the final?'

I'm posting here an email message I got from a student, whom I won't embarrass by identifying, because her question ... and my answer ... should be of interest to others in Native American Cultural Expressions (Humanities 221). First, the question:

> Do you have any idea what you are going to have us do for our final in Hum. 221? I am just trying to get an idea of what I will need to do since it is a little over a week away.  If we have an A do we have to take the final, is it like Eng 111?? I was just curious! If you could either, email me back or mention this in class Friday I would appreciate it. Thanks
And then my answer:
Hi _____, thanks for asking. No, you'll need to write a final even if you've got an A ... It'll be a lot like the midterm, a 50-point essay maybe 3-4 pages long and a couple of 25-point brief (2- to 3-page) essays.

I haven't made out the exam yet, but I can practically guarantee the 50-point question will deal with how Native American people are adapting their cultural heritage today to art forms like literature (storytelling, poetry, etc.), music and dance, and film. One of the 25-point essays will be be one of those reflective essays I like so much, and one of them will probably be a reader response essay on a poem that I choose. It'll be take-home, open-book and it'll be due at the scheduled time for our final, which is Monday, May 1, at 10:30 a.m.
Next question?

A couple of further hints:

  • Look for commodification (or commercialization) and expropriation to appear somewhere on the final. Here's why: We live in a market economy, for better or worse, and it can be argued that art forms that don't have commercial value won't survive. So the question might read like this: How have Native Americans maintained traditional cultural means of expression -- like storytelling, dance, etc. -- in mass market American society?
  • We've been reading stories and poetry, and we watched a video about pow wow dancing this week. Next week I'm almost certain, barring technical difficulties beyond my control, to be screening an indie movie called Kusah Hakwaan that builds on the storytelling tradition of the Tlingit (pronounced KLINK-it) people of Alaska. And I'll also be asking about verbal arts, dance and film.
See where we're headed with this? This whole question of how cultural traditions adapt to survive in a modern world with a market economy is central to the course.

Monday, April 17, 2006

'Lining Out' 19th-Century Hymns

Written for members of the Charleston-Mattoon Sacred Harp Singers, before the annual Preachin' n' Singing, Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Lerna, Illinois, Aug. 23, 1998. I "found" it today while cleaning out old files in the SCI campus literary magazine's website.

In the early 1800s, "lining out" the text of a sacred song was the prevailing practice in Illinois. In a 19th-century history of Coles County, it is described like this:
There were not song-books to hand around to the congregation, but the leader would arise with his old "Missouri harmony," containing the music written in "buckwheat" notes, and announce some familiar hymn. He would then read in solemn, monotonous tones the first two lines and lead the congregation in singing them. Then the next two lines would be read followed by singing, and so on until the hymn was finished. (Wilson 627-28)
More often a words-only hymn book was used, and tunes came down in oral tradition. Otherwise, the practice as described in Coles County was followed widely. In west central Illinois, a historian drew the word picture of a circuit rider who stands in a Canton church doorway and "reads, or rather recites [a] grand old hymn. ... It is sung by every man and woman present, sung with voices clear and loud" (Hevline 663). Often called the "Old Way," the practice dates back to the 1600s and survives among Old Regular Baptists in Appalachia, as well as some Primitive Baptist congregations (Temperley 511-13). Leaders often line out the text in tones that resemble chant.

Sunday we will line out the hymn "Amazing Grace" to the tune New Britain (45t) in The Sacred Harp. While we won't sound like we were born to the Old Way, and shouldn't try to, we can suggest some of the sound and flavor of 19th-century lined-out hymnody without violating its spirit.

Much individual freedom was allowed in singing -- to use the technical term, the music was heterophonic in that it allowed "simultaneous variation" of the melody (see Cooke 8: 537). Historian Jack Larkin says, "the pacing was very slow. ... Some singers added their own idiosyncratic quavers and trills on long notes" (252-53). The practice of Old Regular Baptists today is nearly identical. Jeff Todd Tinton of Brown University, who recorded Kentucky congregations in 1992 and 1993, says:
The leader sings the very first line [of a song] and the congregation joins in when they recognize the song. After that the song proceeds line by line: the leader chants a line alone, and then the group repats the words but to a tune that is much longer and more elaborate than the leader's chant or lining tune. ... It is very slow and has no regular beat: you can't tap your foot to it. (10-11)
Singing in the old way is mostly in unison, but singers are free to improvise harmonies. In fact Paul Drummond says that when Primitive Baptists line out a song, as they do on occasion, they commonly sing it in the four-part harmony of their song books (21). More often, singers embellish or ornament the melody. Says Titon:
Singers learn by following and imitating others, not by reading notes. Melodies are highly elaborated: many syllables have three or more tones, and a great many have at least two. ... Each Old Regular Baptist singer is free to 'curve' the tune a little differently, and those who are able to amke it more alaborate are admired. Outsiders are mistaken if they think the intent is singing with unified precision and that the result falls short ..." (11)
To singers who practice the Old Way, as with those who sing the Sacred Harp, music is fundamentally a matter of the spirit rather than aesthetics. Paul Drummond cites Primitive Baptists who believe good singing is not "pretty singing" but singing with "the heart ... in it" (22). Illinoisans of the early 19th century agreed whole-heartedly.

While the Old Way may appear strange at first glance, it isn't wholly unfamiliar to traditional Sacred Harp singers as some of its ornamentation survives to the present -- especially in the South. Buell Cobb says it "help[s] the singer to 'feel out' the melody When traditional tenors slip a la in between the printed sol and fa in the first line of New Britain, they are ornamenting in the Old Way. Country artists from Hank Williams Sr. to Emmy Lou Harris and Ricky Scaggs have used similar ornaments and embellishments.

Best bet: Sing naturally. Don't try to sound like you're from Appalachia. Do what feels most comfortable -- sing in unison, or sing your usual part. Be clear and loud. Put your heart in it. The singing may not always sound pretty, but it'll be good.

Works Cited

Cobb, Buell. The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and its Music. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Cooke, Peter. "Heterophony." New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 20 vols. New York: Grove, 1995.

Drummond, Paul. A Portion for the Singers. Atwood, Tenn.: Christian Baptist Library and Publishing Co., 1988.

Hevlin, Jesse, ed. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fulton County. Chicago, 1908.

Larkin, Jack. The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.

Temperley, Nicholas. "The Old Way of Singing: Its Origins and Development." Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 (1981): 511-44.

Titon, Jeff Todd. "Old Regular Baptist Songs." Songs of the Old Regular Baptists: Lined-out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky. CD. Washington: Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40106, 1994.

Wilson, Charles Edward, ed. Historical Encyclopedia and History of Coles County. Chicago, 1906.