Snowden: Voices from the Dust Bowl - Fifth House Ensemble
In the late 1930's, thousands of farming families from across the Great Plains flocked to Central California seeking work and better living conditions after their homesteads were ravaged by unprecedented drought and massive dust storms. In an effort to deal with such a tremendous influx of poor and homeless "Okies" the US Farm Securities Administration established several migrant worker camps, which often consisted of hundreds of tents on concrete slabs with some makeshift communal buildings. Scraping by on what little work they were able to find, the residents of these camps formed a diverse, but tight-knit community, united by their hardships and the hope that the deadly drought and the depression wouldn't last forever. In 1940, the FSA sent Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin to document the lives of camp residents. Recording directly onto shellac disks, they amassed a collection of 436 recordings consisting of interviews, songs, meetings, and social functions. This tremendous historical treasure now resides in the Library of Congress. Much of my composition process for this piece involved carefully listening to every item in this collection and taking note of musical, textual, and sonic moments that would work best in a performance situation while representing the varied and diverse experiences of camp residents. Above all, I wanted to present their stories and songs in a musical context that would neither exaggerate nor understate their situation. Rather, this work represents my honest reaction to this remarkable group of people who unabashedly chose to share their personal thoughts and feelings during this pivotal point in American history. - Steven Snowden
Music video from Fifth House Ensemble's trip to Tuva in the summer of 2018 to work with world-renowned throat singing ensemble, Alash. Shot on the shores of Lake Chaghatai, the location that inspired the song.
Chaghatai is the name of a lake in the Tangdy district in central Tuva named after Genghis-Khan's hot-headed second son. The song features the beautiful murgu flute, an overtone flute with no holes made from the angelica plant. The phrase sülde-le bo has no direct equivalent in English. The word sülde has religious, divine, holy, spiritual, and even political implications, and in Mongolian means 'spirit banner,' a banner of horse-tail meant to contain the spirit of its owner. The translation provided here is meant to be taken more as a paraphrase. My Chaghatai waves and waves As it settles into its hollow. A beautiful girl, smiling and flirting, Enters her cabin. Brothers and sisters wait for me, I'm hunting the animals of Chaghatai. Brothers and sisters wait for me, I'm digging the roots of Chaghatai. My Chaghatai is the princess of the Tangdy peaks Where the countless fishes splash and play. O my bountiful Chaghatai