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Otstenra'shon:a Onekwénhtara (2022) means “rocks red” or Red Rocks in the Kaniènkéha:ka (Mohawk) language. The piece reflects my sonic expression of the red rocks in Moab, the ancestral home of the the Navajo and Ute and Paiute Indians. As a musician of Mohawk heritage, that reflection is filtered with my own musical and tribal understanding. Ancestral memories and histories of turtle island are held in these rocks. They have stories to tell spoken through the slow vibration that they have held throughout millennia. The powerful and beautiful red rocks of our mother earth remind us of her glory, strength and antiquity. Rich with iron and a variety of other minerals, they join with moving groundwater. Many have springs  and natural catch basins that sustain a variety of plants and animals.

Indigenous peoples have used the rocks as shelters, while others built structures upon them. Evidence among the rocks of Indigenous histories include not only the songs that the rocks sing, but also ancient kitchens and roasting pits), petroglyphs, and pictographs. In this sacred place, I am reminded and renewed as the red rocks bless us all with their serenity and strength while holding histories that should be honored and not forgotten.

The work begins with the spirit world and its connection to the land and its people as expressed through the ethereal sounds of harmonics played by the string players. Indigenous Rattles may also be played, reflecting the same purpose. As a means of indigenizing both performance space and practices, the players are asked to break the boundary of stage vs. audience and bring them into closer relationship with each other. Layered relationships of land, history, ancestors and people are connected through sound. The first musical entrances of the piano express my imagining of the sounds of the rocks, coming deep from the earth. I dream of slowing down enough to truly hear the rocks sing, but as the world distracts and settlers lay claim, I have yet to pursue this deep practice of listening.

As the strings (and rattles) continue to play timbres of the spirit world, musical histories make themselves known through the pianos with accented chords reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Bach’s Prelude to the Goldberg Variations, followed by an original song in the style of a traditional Haudenosaunee women’s song. These may represent different phases in history along with their infringement.  After some of the stories and the distractions are told through the pianists, all of the instrumentalists come back to the sound of the rocks and their antiquity.

The work employs contemporary performance techniques include (strumming, muting and striking with mallet and palms on the strings inside the piano) and prepared piano (with the placement of pencils, paper clips or glass rods to create a rattle sound). The strings incorporate natural harmonics repeating harmonics, and arpeggiated harmonics. They are given phrasesand pitches, but choose their own rhythms, order and tempi, as they walk on the land amongst and around the audience.

Otstenra'shon:a Onekwénhtara (2022)

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