I spent my last few days in Ottawa working with archivists at the Museum of Civilization (now called the Museum of Canadian History; thanks Harper?). I was totally struck by the architectural beauty of this place.
Nice, eh?! So I was there to go over their collections of the Maliseet people. I was able to look at documents, photos and stories. However, certainly of most interest to me were the songs; the majority of which were collected by William H. Mechling from 1911-1917. Mechling was particularly interested in the songs & dances of the Maliseet and attempted to document as many as he could totalling hundreds of distinct melodies by the time he had finished his field work.
The songs were recorded on these wax cylinders. Before there was vinyl, these cylinders were one of the sole methods of recording sound (You're the man, Edison!). So while hipsters go vinyl...I'm going wax. The sound waves were etched into the wax cylinders by this phonograph pictured below.
Many cylinders are chipped and cracked and they are further compromised with every listen, so I listened to the tracks that were transferred onto tape.
So many amazing experiences being surrounded by materials collected from my ancestors. It's really like hopping into a time machine when you listen to this stuff. It was so humbling to think that although these recordings were made over 100 years ago, those songs go back many generations before, carried on through oral tradition. Another great experience was to read Mechling's hand written field notes from his time among the Wolastoqiyik. As you can see below, when he listened to our stories, he would phonetically spell out our words and translate them later... quite the process. Apparently by the end of his 6 years he was a fairly fluent speaker of the language.
Shout out to the text, photographic and audio archivists at the Museum who were so helpful in taking me through this material and giving me a new appreciation for it. I saw the photo below on my last day in Ottawa. It describes my feelings on the trip pretty well I thought.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me! Comment below if you have any questions and want to know more about anything I talked about.
Koselmoltipa (love to all)