Singing Tlingit Songs With Harmonies

In the early 70’s I learned the songs from the Mt. St.Elias Dancers in Yakutat, Alaska via Harry K. Bremner, Sr. who came to my hometown, Juneau, Alaska to teach anyone who wanted to learn the songs and dances.  (We must remember that at that time period, there were no such thing as dance groups like there are numbers today, and we never taught our songs to others outside of our clans.)   As a teenager, I sang with many of the Mt. St. Elias elders (as there were very few, if any, teenagers or younger involved).   At the time, I didn’t know they were singing two and sometimes three-part harmonies.  By the early 80’s all those elderly singers were all passed on.  Since then, I have always felt all the songs of the Tlingit need to include harmonies.  In this way, we can truly hear and feel the meaning of the songs.  The many drums in the dance groups of today is okay for those songs that just have vocables, however, the songs that have actual verses with meaning and history, need to be listened to, and what better way than the beauty of harmony.  In this way, the beauty leads the way to retention of the story with the tune.

For nearly 15 years, my sister Irene Jean Lampe has taken it upon herself to learn the Tlingit songs of our T’akDeinTaan Clan songs.  Like Chilkat weaving has helped carry me through my rough patches in life, I believe her learning the songs is what carried her through some very tough times in her life.

Here’s an example of a song composed by one of our clan relatives John K. Smith.  One early evening in a moment of spontaneous combustion, Irene sang the melody and I sang the harmony in the lobby of the Walter Soboleff Building in the presence of our cousin, Miranda Belarde-Lewis.

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