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Dream Songs
by Thomas Vennum, Jr.

A comparison of a dream song Densmore recorded at Ponemah from Kimiwun in 1910 and a version performed by singers living in the same community today provides an excellent example of continuity and change in Ojibway music. Although Ponemah is now connected by highway with the town of Red Lake, the political seat of the reservation, Densmore had to travel by boat with her bulky recording equipment over twelve miles of open water to reach the settlement. The isolated village has always been characterized by its conservative nature. Today there is a high degree of retention of the Ojibway language in the community, even among school children, despite the influence of television.
        Of the forty songs Densmore recorded at Ponemah, twenty-six were said to have been composed in dreams, many of them during the puberty fast. Although sacred in origin, these songs came to be used in a number of tribal contexts and for a variety of purposes: for war dances, women's dances, doctoring, and moccasin games. (10) The context for Kimiwun's song was not designated; however, its drum- accompaniment pattern, with alternate accented offbeats, and present-day use at Ponemah indicate that at some point it became a women's dance song. In Densmore's day, most Indian songs lacked titles in the European tradition, so she named them, based on the texts. Kimiwun's song thus became "The Sky Will Resound"; today, however, it is known in Ponemah as "Song of the Eagle," which may impart more information about the origin of the song than Densmore was able to obtain. It suggests that, in the dream that inspired the song, an eagle, possibly a tutelary spirit, dictated the text to the singer. (As was Densmore's custom, she recorded both the singer's name and the number of his song directly onto the wax cylinder, as well as sounding a pitch pipe for later use in transcription.)
        Kimiwun's song and the recent version by the Ponemah Singers demonstrate style change over time, particularly in the formal structure of the melody. Songs recorded earlier in this century show a variety of structures, ranging from the simple to the complex. The more complex song forms used components, such as incomplete repetition and the coda, that developed into formal aspects of Ojibway song (see discussion, above). Later generations of singers seem to have adopted older songs and recast them according to the new formal principles. "The Sky Will Resound" conforms to the older, simpler type. The Ponemah Singers have added an incomplete repetition, moved the text to the beginning of the repetitions, and concluded the song with a coda. The differences can be summarized as follows (the phrases bearing meaningful words are underlined; those not so are sung to vocables):
KIMIWUN (1910) //:A BCC'DE://
SINGERS (1972)


10. Densmore, Chippewa Music-II, 252-53.

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