Jeremy Dutcher is the middle child of Indigenous music. He never actually claimed that title, but if the evening at the Canadian Museum of History went on another half hour, I’m sure the thought would have come to him. Because that’s the way the conversation was going.
Conversation? More like a pinball game. Moderator Jorge Barrera seemed to enjoy launching Jeremy and watching where he would go, only interjecting when he sensed Jeremy needed a break to collect his thoughts or take a new direction. The result was immersive entertainment for both sides of the brain.
Conversation? More like a pinball game… The result was immersive entertainment for both sides of the brain.
Take some old priceless wax recording cylinders; a grand piano; a drum; a microphone; and a Juno award winning musician. Light the stage with some pretty sensitive issues. And you are about to be taken to school!
School was just one of the hot buttons Jeremy bounced off. He told a story of wanting to inspire the youth at a reservation school through his music. But there was no auditorium, sound system, or piano. So, he had to rent a piano and pay for the transport himself. Of course, any inspired youth would be left with no piano or stage to play it on after he left. His solution to underfunded education facilities? Stop saying sorry and invest the same amount of cash and resources you did in the residential schools.
How about a question we all have but don’t even know the correct way of asking? A young student had to courage to ask Jeremy “What do we call ourselves?”. The answer got confusing. The gist of it was to associate yourself with your nation and tribe. That’s what the people called themselves before any labels were put on them. And it turns out that “Indian” is not a bad word. If it is used as a variant of the Wolastoq word which means “people who walk the earth”, and not the word given to them by a lost European sailor.
We barely had time to process one idea before the pinball was hitting another button. It was fun, and seemed chaotic, but Jeremy assured us several times that all this was leading somewhere.
Sure enough, a middle path emerged, in the responsibility of an artist and Jeremy’s personal journey in fulfilling it.
The role of the artist is to see a lack and fill it with artistic output.—Jeremy Dutcher
“The role of the artist is to see a lack and fill it with artistic output.” He attributes some of his restlessness to his two-spirit nature. “Two-Spirit people stand on a bridge between the masculine and feminine. With one eye on each.” I had a sudden image of Marty Feldman, about to fall into a river, but I understood what Jeremy was saying.
He was busy studying German for his music training, then realized “Germany is going to be OK… I should be helping my own people with their language”. Jeremy was being mentored by Maggie Paul and encouraged to listen to the wax recordings of his cultural songs, which were being held at the Museum of History. The gap had been discovered and once Jeremy heard the songs, he knew what his new purpose would be.
“In our culture we don’t do things for ourselves. We do it for the ones who came before and for the ones who are to come… I realized that in order to sing the songs properly I had to find my middle voice.” So, he kept the operatic power which matched the culture of the songs on the cylinders but adapted his voice to complement them in a modern style. The result was a renewed interest in the Wolastoq language, and a Juno award reflecting the importance of his journey.
His goal is to give life to his language through the songs and not to imprison it through an archival imitation. Music grows and adapts. “Indigenous Music is music by Indigenous People.” Jeremy then proved his point by presenting two songs in a mashup of recordings, piano, and his echoing lyrics. The combination of the haunting sound of songs from the past and Jeremy’s reverence was beautiful to watch and hear. The middle child was at peace for a moment.
But now Jeremy sees another lack. There aren’t any effective and inexpensive ways to turn this interest into an actual living language in the community.
His solution? Children’s books. “Children can pick up a language like that! … And we can train adults by having them read the books to the young children.” So is there a CODE Burt Award on the horizon for a new book series? We’ll see.
His Juno award winning album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (“Our Wolastoq Songs”) is now in my library.
The An Evening With… series is presented by The Canadian Museum of History. Designed for open dialogue, the series An evening with . . . welcomes a broad range of experts and personalities in fields such as history, politics, media and arts to present issues in the form of a moderated discussion. Dates and personalities for future events will be announced in the coming months. Tickets for each event will be $20 and available online or by phone at 819-776-7000. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. More information is available at online historymuseum.ca or by calling 819-776-7000 or 1-800-555-5621.