Songs of the Journey

SATB, piano, drum / 10.5 minutes

Songs of the Journey is a cycle of four traditional songs of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) people. Ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore collected hundreds of traditional Ojibwe melodies near the beginning of the 20th century, and I chose four as the themes for this set of contemporary choral pieces, which portray the four cycles of life in the Ojibwe medicine wheel. Each song depicts a different season, a different time of day, and a different stage of human development.
Four is a sacred number to Native Americans—it symbolizes many natural orders which are divided into four categories—the seasons, the times of the day, the phases of human development, even the major human races of the world. The Medicine Wheel (or “sacred hoop”) of the Anishinaabe consists of four quadrants, each of which represents certain elements of natural order.
Songs of the Journey begins with the eastern section of the Anishinaabe medicine wheel. This yellow section represents beginning, dawn, and birth. The first movement of the cycle is a dancing song used to initiate new members of the Midé (the religious society of the Anishinaabe), and describes a bird-like apparition. The second movement occupies the black quadrant, and is a song sung by tribal women to their husbands before leaving for battle. In this context, it symbolizes the beginning of the journey through independent life. The third movement is an Ojibwa love song, in which the singer assures his mate that he will not die—this red section represents autumn—beauty and strength before death.
The premiere featured colored lights and a video display with translations superimposed. The accompaning video can be found on YouTube.

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Recording: CMU Concert Choir; Nina Nash-Robertson, conductor

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