Chumash Songs (2000) by John Thow
for clarinet, violin, piano, and percussion
Bay Area premiere

When I was commissioned by the Ventura (California) Chamber Music Festival last year to write a piece as their composer in residence, I immediately thought of the Chumash (the coastal native Americans in California from Malibu to San Luis Obispo), whose culture I learned while growing up in Ventura. My family took me to the famous rock painting sites and to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where I was both intrigued with their culture and appalled at their dismal history after the arrival of their European conquerors. Through the Santa Barbara Museum I was able to obtain a small collection of recordings of Chumash vocal music, 14 short selections, made at the turn of the last century, when the memory of the traditional Chumash culture was still possible to document. From this small group of recordings, I transcribed and reworked music for the Chumash Songs. I added some music of my own, but only as a frame for the Chumash music. I grouped these adaptations into two movements:

I: Tapakutu momini (Lullabies and Laments)
A tranquil melody, possibly a lullaby, alternates with a searing lament and another melody perhaps derived from Anglo-American tradition. The Chumash seem to have had a different language when singing as opposed to speaking, so the meaning of the original words is not known.

II.: Tomol Journeys
The Santa Barbara Channel Islands were central to the spiritual life of the Chumash, whose famous tar-sealed plank canoes, Tomol, could navigate those difficult waters. The songs here are associated with Santa Cruz Island and the religious ceremonies performed there.

— J. T.    

[from program for April 16, 2001 concert]