Love Songs for Soprano and Oboe
I have chosen this collection of texts to tell a story of the Native American woman – a story that she might tell to her child while she rocked the child to sleep. We begin with a lullaby (partially borrowed from a Chippewa lullaby) sung gently to a child, and then she begins to tell the story of herself. In “Song of Basket-Weaving” she asks the Cedar tree (mother) to prepare her for love, for bearing children, and for becoming a woman. In “Song of the Blue-Corn Dance she works with other women to harvest the corn. Falling in love, she sings a slightly giddy song “Oh I Am Thinking” which evolves into a strong and steadfast song in “Love Song from the Andes.” Then her lover comes to her in “Love Song,” but it is not too long after that he leaves her for Sault St. Marie in Michigan, never to return again(I interpret this as death – he’s gone away, maybe to fight, or to hunt, but he will never return to his lover). We assume at this point in the story that the child she sings to is their child, and she is telling the story of their love. The story ends how it begins, with the woman back in the present, continuing to sing a lullaby to her child as life goes on, without her love by her side.
It is a story that I feel can be universally understood, but points to the strength of not only the Native American woman, but to the strength of all women to persevere, to raise children and to keep community strong against all odds. It is a “love song” in that it goes beyond just romantic love, but tells of love for a child and love of the land. The work may be performed as a whole, or individual movements may be chosen for a shorter performance.
This work was commissioned and premiered by Aryn Day Sweeney, oboist and Assistant Professor of Music Performance at Ball State University with funding provided by the Indiana Arts Commission in 2014. It was premiered at Ball State University by Aryn Day Sweeney-oboe and Yoko Shimazaki-Kilburn-soprano in March 2014.
Recordings of Love Songs
Below is a recording of the premiere of Love Songs for soprano and oboe with Aryn and Yoko
Read the text for Love Songs:
Lullaby for children sung by the White Earth Chippewa and the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa as they rocked their children to sleep.
Ed. by Frances Densmore
- Song of Basket-Weaving
Kulasgh*, Kulasgh, my mother,
I sit at thy knee
Weaving my basket of grasses,
Weaving for my harvest of berries when the Ripe Days come.
Thy fingers gently touch my hair with fragrance,
Thy mouth drips a song, for the wind has kissed it –
(Love sings in thy mouth!)
The soil listens and answers;
I feel a stirring beneath me and hear buds opening,
The river chants thy song and the clouds dance to it.
Tonight the stars will float upon thy singing breath,
Gleaming like slanting flocks above the sea.
All the earth sings; and its voices are one song!
I alone am silent: I alone, a maid waiting him, the Fate,
The Stirring One, the Planter of the Harvets,
Kulasgh, Kulasgh, Mother!
See how beautiful, how liberal, is my basket,
How tightly woven for the waters of Love,
How soft for the treading of children’s feet,
How strong to bear them up!
Kulasgh, Kulasgh, Mother, remember me –
Ere the Sunset and the Dropping Leaf!
Interpretation by Constance Lindsay Skinner. *Kulasgh, or Cedar Tree, considered the source of life by the British Columbian Coast Tribes, as it supplies all their necessities, even food in fish famine. From The Path on the Rainbow”, edited by George W. Cronyn, 1918
III. Song of the Blue-Corn Dance (Zuni)
Beautiful, lo, the summer clouds,
Beautiful, lo, the summer clouds!
Blossoming clouds in the sky,
Like unto shimmering flowers,
Blossoming clouds in the sky,
Onward, lo, they come,
Hither, hither bound!
(This was apparently a work song sung by the women as they harvested the corn). Translated by Natalie Curtis Burlin. From The Path on the Rainbow”, edited by George W. Cronyn, 1918
- Love Song (Chippewa)
I am thinking
I am thinking
I have found my lover
I think it is so!
Ed. by Frances Densmore. Washington Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45 (1910)
- Love Song from the Andes (Inca)
To this my song
Thou shalt sleep.
In the dead of night
I shall come.
Ed. by P. Ainsworth Means, Ancient Civilizations of the Andes, Charles Scribner & Sons, 1931
My Love has Departed (Chippewa)
I though it was
But it was
To Sault Ste. Marie
He has departed.
My love had gone
On before me.
Never again can I see him.
I thought it was
But it was never again
Love’s splashing oar.
Ed. by Frances Densmore, reworked by Jenni Brandon. Washington Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 45 (1910)
VII. Lullaby (Reprise)