July Brothertown Indian Nation Annual Picnic

warmth, welcome, surprises, serendipity, and a music’s homecoming… …a great day. Thanks!!

…one big reason of the many for my travel to Wisconsin beginning in early July 2017, and for the precipitous timing of departure before funding was secured (a.k.a. “leap of faith”), and for the need for car, was that I was invited to the Annual Picnic of the Brothertown Indian Nation, July 15 this year.  The event was held in the Brothertown Indian Nation Community Center (BIN CC) , actually a transformed huge store space in a small shopping plaza near Lake Winnebago in the city of Fond du Lac (the foot of the lake), where the greatest concentration of today’s enrolled tribal members live.  I also really liked the travelling gear trailer in the parking lot!

Among seemingly half of my entire CT studio jammed into car was my travelling road show of everything I needed for a performing, interpretive, interactive, Q&A, show-and-tell presentation about the Brothertown Indian Singing Legacy.  Maybe my favorite performance style: free and open, share the floor with people close in a room together, perform music, explain context, respond to questions, riff on observations– like a plumped-up Bonsai Concert from my New London Violin Training Gymnasium open house days (which is how my presenting about Thomas Commuck and Brothertown Singing Legacy began in 2011!), like my presentation mentioned and pictured in first blog entry here (given in historical society in Middletown, CT), like the presentation in real-time interactive web video-conferencing on Brothertown Forward’s Zoom platform in April of this year.  🙂  🙂  🙂

Although I was invited, the programming I was bringing back to Brothertown wasn’t entirely exactly expected or planned out.  I had imagined that maybe most appropriate would be for me to tuck away in the far corner museum room of the BIN CC, and have a somewhat separate acoustic space for me and violin and interested friendly experiencers, away from the big room and the powwow drums and singing and celebrations.  Whenever a few were gathered, I would “turn on” and present–stand and deliver!–and, if not so much gathering, then I could wander the room, meet and greet, hear stories, listen to drumming and singing, enjoy serendipities, oh yeah: of course, EAT!–and then back to the museum and present some more. Right?

But everyone had lots of surprises that day.  It turned out to be spectacular and charmed!  At the entry door, the hand which opened it for my encumbered self turned out to be that of Tribal Council Chair Jeremy Marx.  It was delightful to meet first exactly one of those with whom I had already been corresponding for my research clearances &c. (more on that saga in future blog entries!).  He is one of those down-to-earth, straight-ahead, humble, strong, immediately likeable, warm, affable sorts of guys–just the beginning of a long day of such feelings!  Very soon next, I recognized from pictures another of my Tribal Council email correspondees, Jessica Ryan–again, the warmth and welcome and beauty were wonderful.  I explained my imaginings of where/how to set up and why, but Jeremy encouraged me to set up in the main room.  Anyway, I chose a far corner, for the borrowed acoustic sound shell effect of it, and for the security-feeling a violinist gets by being out of traffic–I drove the 1000+ miles with Grandpa’s violin, after all!–and for consideration for the expected drumming and singing and storytelling to have their own distant zones…

…but, Wisconsin–much of middle USA–had been experiencing a series of dramatic rainfalls throughout the week and half before the picnic (including a couple of insane deluges I experienced during the long driving with my world in the car!).  Maybe for this reason, maybe for other reasons, many people didn’t make it to this year’s picnic.  We heard about travel challenges; about farms, property, animals, which required attention from water damage or threat…  Tribal attender with name I can’t resist, Raven!, and with a rain gauge at home reported three separate recent single days each in excess of seven inches of rain–and on one of those, another friend an hour’s drive away [(“as the Raven drives”? ;-)] reported over eleven inches in one day!…

As it turned out, the friend-tribe Stockbridge and their powwow drum didn’t appear; particular famed story-teller didn’t appear; hoped-for Brothertown elder with shape note singing experience and affinity didn’t appear;  . . .food was ready, people were gathered, yet for a brief bit, it all felt oddly hollow. . .   . . .but not to worry: great things happen in hollow squares, and in other open spaces shared by gathered people. . .

So, pretty early on, I was approached by council members asking if I’d be OK with gathering chairs around for mostly everyone and starting my presentation–surprise!  A very kind, generous request, considering how little they actually knew about what I might be up to!  “Sure!  I’m ready!” . . .

…and suddenly, Brothertown hymnody and singing history and legacy, brought back to life and music, became the central focal event of the 2017 Brothertown Indian Nation Annual Picnic!!!   More than once, I mentioned to the rapt auditors that, well, after all, it’s a picnic, and the food’s over there waiting for us…  …but, no, there were more questions, more stories shared, more music, requests… and on and on  !!

Early in my presenting, another digital correspondent and non-tribal guest arrived–  Seth Wenger, from Iowa that day!–  Seth is a shape note singer who has just begun a program at Yale Divinity School, and he has joined a project team of people from Yale, shape note community, and Brothertown Indian Nation who are joining together to SING Thomas Commuck (Narragansett / Brothertown) for recording audio clips to join anticipated uploading by Yale Indian Papers Project of a Commuck tunebook of 1845…  …but perhaps THAT’s yet a whole nother saga for a future blog entry!  Still, we were able to share what we knew about that project with the gathered people of Brothertown, which is good.  More serendipity.  And we sang a bit impromptu from the Sacred Harp–more Native/Brothertown-relevant music, I believe…  😉 .

I don’t have much in the way of pictures or audio from this big event–I was busy!! and my hands were full, not to mention my brain!  Others were documenting.  However, I was able to get some autographs and comments from people, sort of yearbook-style, in a little notebook kindly gifted me by a Brothertown citizen only the day before.  Comments include:  “I was amazed to hear the music of my ancestors. Beautiful.”   “…It was very emotional to be able to hear the Brothertown shaped note singing & Indian Melodies [= the title of Commuck’s tunebook].  Both the performance and the supporting lecture were informative and entertaining.”   “I know the Generations will appreciate all you’re doing.”   “Very interesting.  We were on the 1999 Eastern Bus Trip and heard this type of music for the first time.  Please keep it going.”   and, a couple final selections, each in clearly adolescent-girl-handwriting 🙂  “We thought you were a really good musician and learned a lot.”  and  “You make it seem easy to play the violin but it’s really not so easy lol.  But I loved your music [sic– really it’s her music!! Brothertown music I’ve arranged and returned!] and I think it’s great you’re sharing your talent with very many people as you can.”

oaw  !!!    melting!

Then I did get to become periphery, and get some photos, plus a group photo which was shared.

For the group pic, they said “Elders in front”, but then insisted that Seth and I take front center seats–so we brought along honored Elders Samson Occum and Thomas Commuck to hold in the picture! It was a bit the cat-herding thing–lots of attenders aren’t in the pic.  Next going down left, a blurry shot of awesome active auctioneer hawking, could it be, a CD of Thomas Commuck tunes, specially autographed by their modern arranger, performer, and recorder-producer–where did that come from!?  And a zoom-in detail of old-style nation flag.  Beside those, second layer down on right, the calumet (pipe) and spear cross, a part of tribal logo/seal, on a nice honoring parchment intro to the tribe.  Cheerful colorful regalia pictured next down on left was that of honored June Ezold, Tribal Council Chair during much of decades-long Federal re-recognition attempt begun in 1980; then to the right, zoom in detail of parade / 3D-crafted version of Nation logo/seal!.  Along bottom, not from museum but hanging in the big main room, gift blankets from Mashantucket Pequot and from Mohegan from 1999 Eastern Bus Trip.  Finally, a selfie with sort-of-accurate official Wisconsin road sign marker about the Brothertown, on my drive back to motel after picnic–just another windy day on the east shore of Lake Winnebago, in Brothertown Township.  Holy ground.  🙂

Thank you thank you Brothertown Indian Nation people, every one of you I met, for being so warm and welcoming and beautiful!!!  It was a great day.

Author: whiteravenarchivesproject

musician, independent scholar, shape note singer, Brothertown Indian Nation cultural researcher and ally

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