“Ojibwe Song” is a ten-minute electroacoustic piece for percussion and fixed media. To record the audio, I interviewed Alphonse Pitawanakwat, a First Nations Ojibwe speaker who moved to the Lansing area as a young man to work in the auto industry. Now retired, he is one of many Ojibwe (Chippewa) speakers who have been contributing to the rebirth of the Ojibwe language.
During my interview with Alphonse, I learned much of his life history, including stories of his rural childhood on Manitoulin Island, the last unceded reserve in Canada; testimony of how his mother was forbidden to speak Ojibwe as a child in her Catholic boarding school; and his fond memories of singing in his church choir. These spoken phrases allowed me to frame the piece as a metaphor for the rebirth of the Ojibwe language: the speaker became lost in a fog (the language was threatened); he experienced corporal punishment (the language nearly disappeared); and after passing through the fog he was again able to sing church hymns and songs written in Ojibwe (the language is returning).
As always in my electroacoustic music, the percussion and the recording intertwine to create an atmosphere that carries the listener on an emotional journey. The percussionist acts as the protagonist while the audience is surrounded by evocative atmospheric sounds that portray the drama of the story suggested by the recordings. My goal with this and with my other electroacoustic works is to explore ways in which some of the complex tapestry of American voices can be heard through my work.