by Thomas Vennum, Jr.
The category of Ojibway love songs encompasses several types: flute melodies used in courting, dance songs accompanied by drumming, unaccompanied songs expressing unrequited love, and drinking songs performed for general amusement. (14) The oldest type of love song, one whose text tells of the departure or loss of one's lover, is typically performed in an unaccompanied, quasi- improvisational style. It may consist of stanzas and could be performed by either a man or woman. One of the best known was first collected by Indian agent Henry R. Schoolcraft; later versions were recorded by musicologists Frederick R. Burton and Densmore. In the song, the singer sees a flash on the water and anxiously takes it for the returning canoe of a departed lover, but it turns out to be only a loon.
Three love songs in the traditional style are included in this recording. The oldest recorded Ojibway love song, by Swift Flying Feather, represents a style closely related to Ojibway flute music, now long extinct. Such songs were meant to be performed on the courting flute, the only melodic instrument of the Ojibway. Sung stanzas were often alternated with the same notes played on the flute. Burton noted that in composing love songs, "care is often taken that they shall be capable of reproduction upon the flute." (15) The association of love songs with flute music is discernible in Swift Flying Feather's nasal, slow, drawling performance style, particularly in the untexted first two phrases of the opening stanza. Most evident of the relationship are the brief upward appoggiaturas at the end of sustained tones in imitation of the sound of the flute's release tones.
Shortly after Fletcher had made her recordings, Edwin Tracy transcribed and harmonized them. The Reverend Joseph Gilfillan included Swift Flying Feather's song in a novel about Ojibway life, publishing both the Ojibway words and a translation: "I shall come in the early night; I shall ask my sister a question in the early light, I shall come today in the beginning of the night; I wonder what my sister will think about it; I intend to see my sweetheart this day in the early part of her night." (16)
The first of Littlewolf's two love songs presented here, recorded some seventy years after Swift Flying Feather's performance, conforms to the older style, although the flute release tones are absent or at least imperceptible. (17) While this might reflect the loss of that part of the tradition, the rubato, improvisational style is retained, and Littlewolf's melody is a variant of the old loon song. Due to space limitations, only three stanzas of this lengthy song are given below.
Debwewebide waasamoo-jiimaanenzhish inaabiyaan gii-ani-naaniibawishi niinimoshenh mii gwana wiin go zhigwa wii-ani-maajaad [ni . . . ] niinimoshenh.
Inaabiyaan animwewebideg waasamoo-jiimaanenzhish gii-ani-naaniibawishi niinimoshenh ani-waawaasiwebinaad waabishki-mooshwens.
Apane gosha wiin gaa-bishkwewebideg oshki-oode- naansing mil gosha niin go ezhi-mawiyaan mikwendamaan gaa-babaa-ayikidod.
The sound of an old motor boat is heard
When I look, my sweetheart was standing as she left
My sweetheart intends to leave.
When I look, the old motor boat is heard departing
My sweetheart was standing as she left
Waving a white handkerchief.
It fades away going to Walker.
I just cry when I remember what she said around.
Littlewolf's second love song can be so identified only because of its text, with its repeated reference to "my sweetheart" (niinimoshenh), a word that appears in nearly all Ojibway love songs. In all other aspects the drum accompaniment, the melodic contour, tonal material, and lack of ornamentation- it resembles a typical war dance song. Although it is impossible to say with certainty, it appears that Littlewolf superimposed a love song text on a war dance melody. The discrepancies between the lengths of melodic phrases and the structure of the song text result in the textual refrain "my short sweetie" falling inconsistently on different phrases of the melody throughout.
14. Frederick R. Burton, for instance, in the early 1900s collected a number of drinking songs from the Garden River (Ontario) Ojibway at the east end of Lake Superior. Their texts were typically humorous, yet all of them belonged to the love song category.
15. Frederick R. Burton, American Primitive Music (New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1909), 85.
16. Joseph A. Gilfillan, The Ojibway: A Novel of Indian Life of the Period of the Early Advance of Civilization in the Great Northwest (New York: Neale, 1904), 169.
17. Littlewolf's songs, here and below, were recorded by John Nichols at Vineland in July and August 1971. Nichols also provided the transcriptions and translations.
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