I did an interview today with radio host and Portland writer Lynn Darroch on the jazz radio station KMHD. Lynn posed the question of how I went about trying to capture the idea of territory in music. The process for me is threefold. First I need to find a story that I want to tell, a seed of inspiration. Then I sit and listen to for the musical seeds that might come from reflecting on those stories. The fun part for me is then looking for a point of view, much like a writer or a film maker would do. Trying to find a place from which to tell the story. For me this place is often discovered through words- whether text of lyrics I’m inspired to write, or those of others.
This post has some words that found their way into The Territory. It has the practical purpose of letting whoever might be interested see the lyrics to those vocal movements of the piece, since there was not room for these in the concert program.
One figure whose words inspired me was the Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph. Whether or not Joseph was a great leader of the native people, or a prop of the US government is a matter for debate. I think we are fortunate, however, that many of his words, which resonate with some profoundly wise thoughts, have been preserved.
One statement that inspired me was made to him by his father, Joseph the Elder, on his deathbed. As is so often the case, the father charges the son with taking up the burden that he can no longer carry. I knew when I read these words that I wanted to use them in the piece. They provide the text for the verse section of Part 3: Chief Joseph’s Lament.
“My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”
I was also inspired by Joseph’s famous Surrender Speech from October 5th, 1877
“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Together these two statements provided the impetus for the refrain of this movement. That this man, whose spirit was broken, might in giving up have sown the seeds for the future.
Chief Joseph’s Lament
So many miles
into the long ago…
When we were wild,
rising to run the ground.
Sky father smiled
down on these bleached bones
Taught us to fly
carried away one by one.