"Rise Up, Eagle" at The Guthrie Center - center/left to right: JoAnne Spies lead vocal and six string ukelele, Sara Lee Guthrie, lead vocal, Wes Buckley, guitar, the Hoping Machine singers. words and music by JoAnne Spies.
how it all started...
Back in 2004 there was a county wide celebration in the Berkshires of the Housatonic River. I wondered where the river started, and created a performance/event that would celebrate its confluence and would honor the diversity of people in the Berkshires. I wanted to honor the first people here and have the voices of the Mohicans begin the piece, and learned about an artist and yoga teacher who had been to the Mohican reservation in Bowler, Wisconsin - Jennifer Reis. Jennifer had put up prayer flags from the tribe to fly by the river at the Rockwell Museum, and had a continuous loop of Mohican voices playing. Through Jennifer I met Shawn Stevens of the drum group Nanapowe, who gave me a recording to play for RiverMASS. He asked that no one record the song, as it was sacred.
I asked different artists in the community if they knew where the river was, and held a meeting where I gave out y-shaped branches and quotes about the river.
Great Barrington's own W.E.B. DuBois “For this valley, the river must be the center. Certainly it is the physical center; perhaps, in a sense, the spiritual center. Perhaps from that very freeing of spirit will come other freedoms and inspirations which may be steps toward diversification and enriching of culture throughout the land.”
I invited a diverse array of people from the community to be in RiverMASS: Youth Alive, pictured below, Manos Unidas, a choir from the Berkshire Music School, kids from my Becket Art Center theatre group that summer whose play was called 'Lost River,' Stefanie Weber, Hector on Stilts, Marafanyi percussion. Different spiritual traditions were honored with readings from people in the community. And of course, the audience, that was invited to participate in call and response and singing.
Youth Alive drum line in opening procession - first RiverMASS event at St. Stephen's Church, Pittsfield, MA photos:Julie A. Brown
In the second RiverMASS performance at St. Stephen's, the drummers from the Mohican group Nanapowe loved seeing Raphael and Jerome from Pittsfield's Youth Alive (below) play the buckets with great skill.
2009 was the 400th year celebration of Hudson's voyage upriver to Albany. This was the year RiverMASS was called 'Sounding the River' and received funding from the Michael Sellon Foundation. The performance was held at Pumpkin Hollow in Craryville, NY, where the Taconic stream flowed into the Hudson.
Shawn Stevens led our group with his powerful singing.
"Sounding Mohican Pathways" was an educational and cultural exchange program created in 2010 in collaboration with Tammis Coffin, Education Director at the Mission House. This program received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Stockbridge Cultural Council in 2011.
This program helped build bridges between the Stockbridge community here in Massachusetts and the Stockbridge Mohican community in Wisconsin. I worked with contacts at the Mohican reservation and at the Mission House and Indian Museum to organize an interactive music program that incorporated stories, songwriting and history. Shawn Stevens and I presented 'Origin of Songs' at the Stockbridge Library as well as the walk down Main Street to historical sites.
Celebrating after recording my song "Survivor Tree" at Shaun LaFramboise's Thomas Island Studio on a beautiful windy day in the fall.
Shawn also brought his powerful songs to "Mumbet, Melville and Mohicans" in 2012, a performance I created at Herman Melville's home Arrowhead in Pittsfield, MA with Mari Andrejco and Nathan Smith, Jana Laiz, Sean Vernon, Jennifer Reis, Ann Elizabeth Barnes and Elfi Six.
The theme of forgiveness was explored in depth.
Here's the link to Melville, Mumbet and Mohicans, that honored Mumbet, Elizabeth Freeman. Money was raised for the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
Community performances/walks continued at the Norman Rockwell Museum for three consecutive years. "Karaoke Confession,' "Trust" and "Courage" were created for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.