About the piece
Anna C. Gibbs is described in the Oshkaabewis Native Journal as being simultaneously a “well-respected religious leader” and “a character so funny and idiosyncratic that she must be a close relative of Nenabozho himself.” This is how Anton Treuer, the editor of the journal, describes her and I believe you can sense these qualities—spiritual and ebullient—in Anna’s stories, which Anton translated into English from the original Ojibwe. “Three Ojibwe Stories,” uses three of the stories told in this journal which Ms. Gibbs either wrote herself or learned as a child living in a traditional Ponemah home.
The first movement, “Prologue,” is Anna’s explanation of what a legend’s purpose is. Much in the same way that a recitative in opera usually explains the following aria, I used a simple texture in the bassoon and bass clarinet, allowing the voice to float in a rather free and speech-like manner above the accompaniment.
“The Indian Blanket,” tells the origin story of the state flower of Oklahoma (my home state) and common summertime roadside wildflower, the Indian Blanket. I think Anna’s joyful way of telling stories is evident in this movement and I wanted the bassoon part to echo that buoyancy and cheerfulness. Loosely, the bassoon represents the Head Spirit and the bass clarinet represents the little Ojibwe boy. We hear the boy steadily walking along, playfully, in the bass clarinet line. The bassoon, exploring its upper register, seems to float above the boy, creating the beautiful blanket of flowers that covers him and the hills around him. The bassoon part seems improvisatory, reflecting the creative nature of the Head Spirit.
The last movement, “The Month of March: A Fight Between Spring and Winter,” was an obvious choice for this commission—when I found out the performance would be in the middle of March, I knew I had to close the work with the story about the change of seasons from winter to spring. This movement introduces a second vocalist, reflecting the dialogue between the two seasons as one slowly, unwillingly gives way to the other.
I would like to thank Anton Treuer for allowing me to use his translations as published in the Oshkaabewis Native Journal, and I want to thank Anna C. Gibbs for her wonderful stories. A big thank you to Miriam Webber, Jeremy Wohletz, Cory Renbarger and Derek Bebeau for their effort and artistry which brought this work to life. And, lastly, I’d also like to thank the Bemidji State University, the Music Department and the President's Office whose vision and funding made this collaboration possible.
Available on MusicSpoke, Spring 2018