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Northwest Passages

(2004) for Chorus, Narrator, Piano, Percussion, Violin, Viola, and Cello


"Setting Out”
"First Encounter”
Dream Song (Chippewa)
"Standoff with the Teton Sioux”
War Song (Sioux)
"White Cliffs”
War Song (Pawnee)
"Falls of the Missouri”
Dream Song of Siyáká (Sioux)
"Continental Divide - Ft. Clatsop”
Dream Song (Wintu)


Chorus (SATB), Narrator, Piano, Percussion*, Violin+, Viola+, Cello+
* Marimba, 2 Tam-tams, Bass Drum, 2 triangles, miscellaneous bells (triangles, bell tree, crotales, finger cymbals, etc.) to be shared with strings.
+ doubling assorted small bells in Song #5

duration:    35 minutes (songs only: 20 minutes)

premiere: March 12, 2004, fEARnoMUSIC, in collaboration with The Portland State University Chamber Choir, Bruce Browne, Director; David Dzubay, conductor.

live audio from premiere (arrowheads navigate tracks):

   PORTAGE #1a   PORTAGE #1b    SONG #1   PORTAGE #2   SONG #2   PORTAGE #3   SONG #3   PORTAGE #4   SONG #4   PORTAGE #5   SONG #5

Perusal Score


Score Samples

Song Texts

Continental Harmony links communities with composers through the creation of original musical works. The program is a partnership of American Composers Forum and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funds provided by the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and from Marshall Field's Project Imagine with support from the Target Foundation. Commissioned by fEARnoMUSIC, Philip Hansen, Artistic Director.

Program Note

Northwest Passages presents two compositions in parallel. One of these, a series of five movements for instruments and narrator, follows the western course of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, beginning at the departure from Saint Louis in May 1804 and ending with the arrival at the Pacific Ocean in November 1805. The narrator recites excerpts from the Corps of Discovery's journals, focusing on a few landmark events from the journey. In the score, these movements are called 'portages,' as they serve to link from one to the next of five choral songs comprising the other composition, which in fact can be performed alone under the title Five Dream Songs. The songs are settings of Native American song texts, and present a counterpoint to the narrative of the expedition. Alongside the songs the narrator recites excerpts from Chief Seattle's oft-repeated speech of 1854, creating another counterpoint in this work representing in some way a passage of two peoples.


Performance Notes

Narration: The narrator should have a powerful presence, and speak with two different tones, rather quick and enthusiastic for the journals, and slower, more peacefully resigned for Chief Seattle's text. The narrator must be amplified.

Performance Options:
1. COMPLETE. (with narration, 5 instruments)
2. SONGS ONLY, with the title, Five Dream Songs.
    a) CHORUS, NARRATOR, ALL 5 INSTRUMENTS (Duration: 20 minutes)
    b) CHORUS, NARRATOR, PIANO . (All songs)
    c) CHORUS, PIANO . (All songs. Someone from chorus narrating in Song #5)
    d) A CAPELLA CHORUS. (Songs 1, 3, 5. Duration: 10 minutes)
    a) Instruments only, in 1 movement, with the title Portage. (Duration: 11 minutes)
      The cuts are indicated in the score in this manner: X: to P3
    b) Instruments and Narration, with the title Portages. (Duration: 13 minutes)
      Add P2 to above (before P3). Leave out narration on p. 47.

TEXTS in the "Portages"

From the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806:

PORTAGE #1a "Setting Out"
[from President Thomas Jefferson's Instructions to Captain Meriwether Lewis (June 20, 1803):] "To Meriwether Lewis, esquire, Captain of the 1st regiment of infantry of the United States of America. The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, & such principal stream of it, as, by it's course & communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean may offer the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce. Beginning at the mouth of the Missouri, you will take observations of latitude & longitude, at all remarkeable points on the river, & especially at the mouths of rivers, at rapids, at islands, & other places & objects distinguished by such natural marks & characters of a durable kind, as that they may with certainty be recognised hereafter. The commerce which may be carried on with the people inhabiting the line you will pursue, renders a knolege of those people important. You will therefore endeavor to make yourself acquainted, as far as a diligent pursuit of your journey shall admit, with the names of the nations & their numbers; the extent & limits of their possessions; their relations with other tribes of nations; their language, traditions, monuments;their ordinary occupations in agriculture, fishing, hunting, war, arts, & the implements for these;their food, clothing, & domestic accommodations; the diseases prevalent among them, & the remedies they use;moral & physical circumstances which distinguish them from the tribes we know; peculiarities in their laws, customs & dispositions; and articles of commerce they may need or furnish, & to what extent. And, considering the interest which every nation has in extending & strengthening the authority of reason & justice among the people around them, it will be useful to acquire what knolege you can of the state of morality, religion, & information among them; as it may better enable those who endeavor to civilize & instruct them, to adapt their measure to the existing notions & practices of those on whom they are to operate. In all your intercourse with the natives, treat them in the most friendly & conciliatory manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey, satisfy them of its innocence, make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable & commercial dispositions of the U.S. of our wish to be neighborly, friendly & useful to them, & of our dispositions to a commercial intercourse with them; confer with them on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums, and the articles of most desireable interchange for them & us. If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance, wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to call on our officers, on their entering the U.S to have them conveyed to this place at the public expense. If any of them should wish to have some of their young people brought up with us, & taught such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct & take care of them. Such a mission, whether of influential chiefs or of young people, would give some security to your own party. Carry with you some matter of the kinepox; inform those of them with whom you may be, of it'[s] efficacy as a preservative from the small-pox; & instruct & incourage them in the use of it. This may be especially done wherever you winter."
[5/14/04, Patrick Gass] "The corps consisted of forty-three men ... part of the regular troops of the United States, and part engaged for this particular enterprize. The best authenticated accounts informed us, that we were to pass through a country possessed by numerous, powerful and warlike nations of savages, of gigantic stature, fierce, treacherous and cruel; and particularly hostile to white men. And fame had united with tradition in opposing mountains to our course, which human enterprize and exertion would attempt in vain to pass."
[5/14/04, Joseph Whitehouse] "hard Showers of rain. ... we got in readiness. ... we fired our swivel on the bow hoisted Sail and Set out in high Spirits for the western Expedition."
[5/24/04, William Clark] "(A close call on the river. To avoid falling banks, the boat was steered away from the side, rammed onto a sand bar.)
...The Swiftness of the Current Wheeled the boat, Broke our Toe rope, and was nearly over Setting the boat, all hands jumped out on the upper Side and bore on that Side untill the Sand washed from under the boat and Wheeled on the next bank... (Swimmers took a new rope to the shore, and things were restored to normal) ... This place I call retragrade bend as we were obliged to fall back 2 miles"
[6/19/04, John Ordway] "the water so Swift that we were obledged to hole the Boat by a Rope, we Camped on South Side opposite a poind, which was near to where we camped. The Musquetoes are verry troublesome. Got Musquetoes bears from Capt Lewis to sleep in.
[6/20/04, Joseph Whitehouse] "the Currant was Strong towed Our boat Untill we came to the head of the Strong watter Island whare the watter run so rappid that the men of the french peirouge Could not make headway by Roeing Or poleing the[y] had to jumpd out and push her through the water"

PORTAGE #1b "First Encounter"
[8/3/04, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the Oto Indians ]"Children. ­ the great chief of the Seventeen great nations of America, impelled by his parental regard for his newly adopted children on the trouble waters, has sent us out to clear the road, remove every obstruction, and to make it the road of peace between himself and his red children residing there....[He] has commanded us his war chiefs to undertake this long journey, which we have so far accomplished with great labour & much expence, in order to council with yourselves and his other red-children on the troubled waters, to give you his good advice; to point out to you the road in which you must walk to obtain happiness. ...You are to live in peace with all the whitemen, for they are his children; neither wage war against the redmen your neighbours, for they are equally his children and he is bound to protect them. Injure not the persons of any traders who may come among you. ...Do these things which your great father advises and be happy. Avoid the councils of bad birds; turn on your heel from them as you would from the precipice of an high rock... lest by one false step you should bring upon your nation the displeasure of your great father...who could consume you as the fire consumes the grass of the plains. ..We hope that the Great Spirit will open your ears to our councils, and dispose your mind to their observance. Follow these councils and you will have nothing to fear, because the great Spirit will Smile upon your nation, and in future ages will make you to outnumber the trees of the forest."

PORTAGE #2 "Stand off with Teton Sioux"
[9/25/04, Joseph Whitehouse] "about 10 oClock they came about 50 in nomber. ... the Indians did not incline to let us Go on any further up the river.
[9/25/04, William Clark: ] "... we gave them 1/4 a glass of whiskey which they appeared to be verry fond of, Sucked the bottle after it was out & Soon began to be troublesom, one of the 2d Cheif assumeing Drunkness, as a Cloake for his rascally intentions ... as Soon as I landed the Perogue three of their young Men Seased the Cable of the Perogue, the Chiefs Soldr Huged the mast, and the 2d Chief was verry insolent both in words & justures ... declareing I should not go on, Stateing he had not receved presents sufficent from us, his justures were of Such a personal nature I felt My self Compeled to Draw my Sword (and Made a Signal to the boat to prepare for action) ... I felt My Self warm & Spoke in verry positive terms. .. the perogue Soon returned with about 12 of our determined men ready for any event. ... Their treatment to me was verry rough & I think justified roughness on my part, ... I call this Island bad humered Island as were in a bad humer."

PORTAGE #3 "White Cliffs"
[May 31, 1805, Meriwether Lewis] "The obstructions of rocky points and riffles still continue as yesterday; at those places the men are compelled to be in the water even to their armpits, and the water is yet very could, and so frequent are those point[s] that they are one fourth of their time in the water, added to this the banks and bluffs along which they are obliged to pass are so slipperty and the mud so tenacious that they are unable to wear their mockersons, and in that situation draging the heavy burthen of a canoe and walking acasionally for several hundred yards over the sharp fragments of rocks which tumble from the clifts and garnish the borders of the river; in short their labour is incredibly painfull and great, yet those faithfull fellows bear it without a murmur.
The hills and river Clifts which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance. ... The water in the course of time in decending from those hills ...has trickled down the soft sand clifts and woarn it into a thousand grotesque figures, which with the help of a little immagination and an oblique view ...are made to represent eligant ranges of lofty freestone buildings... statuary...long galleries ... the remains or ruins of eligant buildings; some collumns standing ...others ...lying prostrate an broken ... nitches and alcoves of various forms and sizes... As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary inchantment would never have and end ...vast ranges of walls of tolerable workmanship, so perfect indeed ...that I should have thought that nature had attempted herre to rival the human art of masonry had I not recollected that she had first began her work."

PORTAGE #4 "Falls of the Missouri"
[June 13, 1805, Meriwether Lewis ] "... my ears were saluted with the agreeable sound of a fall of water and advancing a little further I saw the spray arrise above the plain like a collumn of smoke which would frequently dispear again in an instant caused I presume by the wind which blew pretty hard from the S.W. I did not however loose my direction to this point which soon began to make a roaring too tremendious to be mistaken for any cause short of the great falls of the Missouri. ... to gaze on this sublimely grand specticle ... formes the grandest sight I ever beheld, ... irregular and somewhat projecting rocks below receives the water in it's passage down and brakes it into a perfect white foam which assumes a thousand forms in a moment sometimes flying up in jets of sparkling foam to the hight of fifteen or twenty feet and are scarcely formed before large roling bodies of the same beaten and foaming water is thrown over and conceals them. ... from the reflection of the sun on the sprey or mist which arrises from these falls there is a beatifull rainbow produced which adds not a little to the beauty of this majestically grand senery.... of it's kind I will venture to ascert is second to but one in the known world. My fare is really sumptuous this evening; buffaloe's humps, tongues and marrowbones, fine trout parched meal pepper and salt, and a good appetite; the last is not considered the least of the luxuries."

PORTAGE #5 "Continental Divide - Ft. Clatsop"
[September 22, 1805, Meriwether Lewis] "the pleasure I now felt in having tryumphed over the rockey Mountains and decending once more to a level and fertile country where there was every rational hope of finding a comfortable subsistence for myself and party can be more readily conceived than expressed, nor was the flattering prospect of the final success of the expedition less pleasing. "
[November 07, 1805, William Clark] "Great joy in camp we are in View of the Ocian, this great Pacific Ocean which we been So long anxious to See. and the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey Shores (as I suppose) may be heard distinctly"
[December 01, 1805, William Clark] "The emence Seas and waves ... roars like an emence fall at a distance, and this roaring has continued ever Since our arrival in the neighbourhood of the Sea Coast which has been 24 days Since we arrived in Sight of the Great Western; (for I cannot Say Pacific) Ocian as I have not Seen one pacific day Since my arrival in its vicinity, and its waters are forming and petially [perpetually] breake with emenc waves on the Sands and rockey coasts, tempestous and horiable."

Texts in the "Songs" (translated)

SONG #1: DREAM SONG (Chippewa) [2:00] mp3 1275k

as my eyes
the prairie
I feel the summer
in the spring

SONG #2 : WAR SONG (Sioux) [3:30] mp3 1687k

clear the way
in a sacred manner
I come
the earth
is mine

SONG #3: WAR SONG (Pawnee) [1:30] mp3 801k

Let us see, is this real,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living?
You, Gods, who dwell everywhere,
Let us see, is this real,
This life I am living?


SONG #4: DREAM SONG OF SIYAKA (Sioux) [3:15] mp3 1555k

at night may I roam
against the winds may I roam
at night may I roam
when the owl is hooting
may I roam

at dawn may I roam
against the winds may I roam
at dawn may I roam
when the crow is calling
may I roam

SONG #5: DREAM SONG (Wintu) [6:00] mp3 3852k

It is above that you and I shall go;
Along the Milky Way you and I shall go;
Along the flower trail you and I shall go;
Picking flowers on our way you and I shall go.

1) Densmore, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 53, 1913
2) Densmore, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 61, 1918
3) Briton, Essays of an Americanist, 1890, p. 292.
4) Densmore, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 61, 1918
5) Demetracopoulou, "Wintu Songs," Anthropos, Vol. 30, 1935


[The speech given by Chief Seattle in January of 1854 is the subject of a great deal of historical debate. All known texts are second-hand. "Version 1" (below) appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star on Oct. 29, 1887, in a column by Dr. Henry A. Smith. He makes it very clear that his version is not an exact copy, but rather the best he could put together from notes taken at the time. There is an undecided historical argument on which native dialect the Chief would have used, Duwamish or Suquamish. Either way all agree the speech was translated into the Chinook Jargon on the spot, since Chief Seattle never learned to speak English. - Nancy Zussy, Washington State Librarian, 1993]

The excerpts used in the narration are in boldface.

[Song #1] Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change. Whatever Seattle says, the great chief at Washington can rely upon with as much certainty as he can upon the return of the sun or the seasons. The white chief says that Big Chief at Washington sends us greetings of friendship and goodwill. This is kind of him for we know he has little need of our friendship in return. His people are many. They are like the grass that covers vast prairies. My people are few. They resemble the scattering trees of a storm-swept plain. The great, and I presume -- good, White Chief sends us word that he wishes to buy our land but is willing to allow us enough to live comfortably. This indeed appears just, even generous, for the Red Man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, as we are no longer in need of an extensive country.

There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory. I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to blame.

[Song #2] Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Thus it was when the white man began to push our forefathers ever westward. But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.

[Song #3] Our good father in Washington--for I presume he is now our father as well as yours, since King George has moved his boundaries further north--our great and good father, I say, sends us word that if we do as he desires he will protect us. His brave warriors will be to us a bristling wall of strength, and his wonderful ships of war will fill our harbors, so that our ancient enemies far to the northward -- the Haidas and Tsimshians -- will cease to frighten our women, children, and old men. Then in reality he will be our father and we his children. But can that ever be? Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, He has forsaken His Red children, if they really are His. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The white man's God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. How then can we be brothers? How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His paleface children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament. No; we are two distinct races with separate origins and separate destinies. There is little in common between us.

[Song #4] To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors -- the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.

It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian's night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man's trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

[Song #5] A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.

We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.

Score Samples

(first page of each movement)

Portage 1a (page 1 of 3):

Portage 1b (page 1 of 1):

Song 1 (all 3 pages):

Portage 2 (page 1 of 2):

Song 2 (pages 2, 6 and 8 of 11):

Portage 3 (page 1 of 2):

Song 3 (page 1 of 3):

Portage 4 (page 1 of 2):

Song 4 (pages 1, 2, 3 and 15 of 15):

Portage 5 (page 1 of 3):

Song 5 (pages 1, 2, 6 and 7 of 7):