ntoluhkewakon - my work
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa’ is a collection of traditional songs of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet people). These phonograph recordings from the early 1900’s are the earliest recorded songs known in Wolastoq territory. As a proud Maliseet person, these scratchy and at times indiscernible recordings are a unique musical glimpse into the lives of my ancestors. William H. Mechling, the ethnographer who collected these recordings, remarked in 1913 that:
"...the younger generations are not able to sing the Indian Songs, so that in all probability the music of the malecite (Maliseet) will die out with this generation"
It is my greatest ambition to prove Mr. Mechling wrong, and I intend to do just that with this project. However, the problem is that these recordings, the last remaining accounts of our ‘old songs’, are extremely inaccessible to our communities due to poor sound quality and so these incredibly important recordings rarely find their way outside of archives. My project hopes to change this and make these traditional Wolastoq songs a part of our communities again. I will notate, arrange and re-record these tracks in hopes of giving them new life.
The revitalization of music is a catalyst for the promotion of culture more generally, as well as language and indigenous ways of living and knowing. When people started singing indigenous songs, it ignites a fiery passion for all elements of culture. I believe song is a critical method of language and value learning and, by extension, a specifically Wolastoqiyik worldview. Traditional Wolastoq songs are no longer sung here and it is my greatest desire to change that. I see this project as a way not just to reclaim these songs as Maliseet, but also to give them back to my people.
Psiw-te npomawsuwinumak kiluwaw yut! (All my people, this is for you!)
Original wax cylinders that Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa were recorded on in 1911. These are currently housed at the Meseum of Canadian History in Gatineau, QC.
Working with these wonderful melodies has been a real privilege, but one of the most painstaking elements of this project has been the transcription process; putting the songs on paper.
I thought I'd share what that process entails so those of you who don't know can get an insight into how it works.
While listening to the melody, I will generally scratch down the shape of what I'm hearing; as shown below. Does it go up? down? are there melismatic patterns?
Then, I need to figure out what key it is in. There is no hard and fast rule to determine this, but the starting and finishing pitch of a melody give you some clues. I discerned that this particularly melody was in A minor.
Using the shapes that I drew earlier and a little help from the piano of course, I write down the melody.
This is the sketch and melody together. The similarities between the two are hopefully clear...
Once the melody is totally transcribed, I then find some chords to bring out the characteristics of the melody; this is shown by the letter below the notes.
Once I've done that, I transpose it into a key that sits well in my voice. In this instance, I transposed it up a minor 3rd (from Aminor to Cminor).
And viola! Now that I have a foundation for this piece (transcription, transposition and basic arrangement) I can start to build up from there.