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Secrets Ohsatstenhserón:ni (2023) is written for the College of William & Mary Wind Ensemble directed by Richard Marcus and commissioned by the Class of 1939 Maurine stuart Dulin Artistin-Residence program in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Brafferton Indian School at William & Mary College.


“Between 1723 and 1778 the Brafferton Indian School, on the campus of William & May, served as a classroom and living space for upwards of 125 Native American students, from at least 26 tribes. While the Brafferton Indian School was a colonial endeavor it differed from nineteenth and twentieth-century boarding schools. Native students were encouraged to maintain their Indigenous language proficiency in order to serve as translators and interlocutors for their communities and colonial officials. The Indian school was arguably the most impactful Native school in the American colonies up to the time of the Revolution.” Danielle Moretti-Langholtz.


In this composition, I honor the ancestors of the land and those who attended the Brafferton Indian School. The work is intended to bring attention to those who attended the school, along with the history of the school. Attendees included students from Catawba, Chickahominy, Cherokee, Delaware/Lenape, Meherrin, Nansemond, Nottoway, Occaneechi, Pamunkey, Saponi, Susquehannock, Tutelo, the Six Nations—Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Tuscarora, and also the Wyandot tribes of the Eastern Woodlands.


Secrets Ohsatstenhserón:ni may be performed with narration written by Danielle MorettiLangholtz, Chair of Anthropology at William & Mary College. Her extensive research is available in the book entitled Building the Brafferton: The Founding, Funding and Legacy of America’s Indian School.


In this work, I incorporate what I like to call “Indigenous soundscapes.” These include a variety of rattles whose sound is reminiscent of social dances and ceremony. A powwow drum is represented by the sounds of a bass drum or timpani. At certain points, the drummer plays “honor beat” accents typical of powwow drum songs. Rattle sounds are also heard by the instrumentalists who are asked to use contemporary techniques of key clicks and key rattles that symbolize the secrets, while slap tones and slap tongues are employed to represent drum accents and secrets waiting to be told. Secrets are held with the ancestors and in the land upon which the school resides and some are slowly made known. One can hear their footsteps in the steady eighths played by tapping or clicking the keys on the instrument and the piece concludes with the blessing of the rain, a transformation of the key clicks as their rhythms become random and the air sounds are now sounds of the wind. The oboist plays an original melody in the style of a Haudenosaunee social song. The brass section introduces plainchant-like fifths, a sonic indicator in a Christian institution. The vibraphone and double bass take over the chant with unusual bow techniques that speak to the abusive nature of the church over many Native peoples. Indian secrets screaming to be told are heard in the French Horn glissandi, flute jet whistles as well as the rattling and strong accented slap tones in the brass and winds. These are juxtaposed by the soft sound of key clicks and wind blowing forcing one to lean in and listen. Ancestral spirits are represented by air sounds blown through brass and wind instruments, along with soft, flowing harmonic alternations. Although many secrets will remain, the acknowledgment of this school is crucial for the possibility of reparative healing due to the damage of colonization, but also in acknowledgment of the successful young men that studied there, while keeping a lot of their culture alive. Little Bear, former founding director of Harvard University’s Native American program, said that no one is 100% colonized. Thus, no one is 100% decolonized. Awareness, good action and decolonization are necessary for everyone upon Turtle Island (North America). Indigenous consciousness is in the land we live on, with the past always present in the future. How and if it is acknowledged or abused, and by whom, are still being negotiated.

Secrets Ohsatstenhserón:ni (2023)

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