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Flutopedia Symposium

Membertou's Three Songs - Sheet Music for Native American Flute

Marc Lescarbot (1570-1641) provided us with the oldest existing transcriptions of a songs from the Americas — three songs by Henri Membertou (-1611), sakmow (grand chief) of the Micmac First Nations tribe.

Lescarbot was a French lawyer with a passion for exploration and adventure. He readily accepted an assignment for a client in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and arrived in May of 1606 ([Reid 2010]). He was based in Port Royal, present-day Nova Scotia until the summer of 1607 and took an interest in the lives of the region's native peoples. He became keenly aware of the tension between colonization and the desire for quick profits versus the realities of harvesting a colony's natural resources in a responsible manner — sentiments he published in 1609 in his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France ([Lescarbot 1609]).

Sometime during Lescarbot's stay in North America, he transcribed three songs of the Micmac (Souriquois) healer and chief Henri Membertou.

Henri Membertou

Title of image for sight-impaired

Canada Post Stamp

Henri Membertou was the grand chief of the Micmac tribe located near the first French settlement in Acadia, near Port Royal in present-day Nova Scotia, Canada. As a young man, he had met the French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) and throughout his life developed good relationships with French explorers. Late in life, he converted to Christianity and adopted the first name Henri in honor of the late king of France, Henry IV ([Bumsted 2007]).

In 2007, Canada Post issued a 52¢ stamp dedicated to Membertou as part of their French Settlement Series. Since there were no reliable portraits of Chief Membertou, illustrator Suzanne Duranceau conceived a portrait with the assistance of historian Francis Back ([CanPost 2007]).


The Songs

Lescarbot later published an account of Membertou's songs in Chapter 5 of the third edition of his book ([Lescarbot 1617]) using solfege notation for the melody. Here are the words and solfege melody of the three songs, from the Project Gutenberg 2007 edition ([Lescarbot 2007]):

Holoet ho ho hé hé ha ha haloet ho ho hé
Re fa sol sol re sol sol fa fa re re sol sol fa fa
Egrigna hau egrigna hé he hu hu ho ho ho egrigna hau hau hau
Fa fa fa sol sol fa fa re re sol sol fa fa fa re fa fa sol sol sol
Tamema alleluya tameja douveni hau hau hé hé
Sol sol sol fa fa re re re fa fa sol fa sol fa fa re re

Solfege notation can be adequate for conveying a melody, but it says nothing about the rhythm of a song. Rhythm had traditionally been conveyed using a number of standard rhythmic modes, but European composers were responding to music that called for increasingly more complex rhythms by developing a notation system that conveyed the rhythm as part of the written music. The system of mensural notation was developed that incorporated the rhythm in to the shape of the note heads on a written five-line staff. Mensural notation is the predecessor to the present-day modern music notation.

Shortly after Lescarbot's return to France, a religious movement began to educate, catechize, and baptize Canadian indigenous cultures. The secretary of Louis XIII asked the Récollet Franciscan order to send missionaries to Canada, with support from Anne of Austria, the consort of Louis XIII. In 1623, Gabriel Sagard-Théodat, a French missionary, arrived in Quebec and proceeded on to live with the Huron Indians ([Herbermann 1913]).

Things did not go well. After struggling to learn the difficult Huron language, Sagard-Théodat shared their incredible hardships. However, he won the affection and respect of the Hurons.

Sagard-Théodat was ordered back to France in 1625 after another missionary, Nicholas Veil, was drowned in Riviere des Prairies (then renamed Saut du Récollet). He began writing about his travels and, in 1636, Sagard-Théodat published a four-volumes work ([Theodat 1636], in French). Volume two, pages 291 and 292 contains Lescarbot's transcriptions in solfege notation. In addition, Sagard-Théodat included his own arrangement of these songs, scored in mensural notation for four-part vocal harmony. These arrangements appear on four un-numbered pages of some editions of volume two. Catalog number 102 of the antiquarian bookseller Quaritch, dated October 1866 describes this book as containing “four pages at the end which give the native words and the music of a Huron song and a Souriquois hymn” ([Pilling 1888]).

Here are images of the four un-numbered pages, from the 1866 edition of Sagard-Théodat's narrative ([Theodat 1866]):

First and Second Membertou songs First and Second Membertou songs

First and Second Membertou songs from [Theodat 1866] Larger image Larger image

 

Third Membertou song Third Membertou song

Third Membertou song from [Theodat 1866] Larger image Larger image

Transcription and Performance Notes

Rather than use the “Re – Fa – Sol” solfege syllables of the original Lescarbot transcription, I've transposed these down to the equivalent “La – Do – Re” syllables. This provides the same scale steps between the notes, and the “La – Do – Re” syllables are more natural for the native American Flute.

Three transcriptions are given below:

  • The three songs of Membertou, as transcribed in [Theodat 1866]. ... MENSURAL ...
  • The first song of Membertou, given in two starting positions on the Native American flute: Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed and Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open.
  • An arrangement of the first song as a full performance piece. See the notes below on the structure of this arrangement.

Sheet Music - Core Melodies - Six-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - six-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - Six-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image

Sheet Music - Core Melodies - Five-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - five-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - Five-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image


Sheet Music - First Song - Six-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - six-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Six-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image

Sheet Music - First Song - Five-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - five-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Five-Hole Flutes - Pentatonic Minor Tuning Larger image


Sheet Music - Full Song Arrangement - Six-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

In this full song arrangement, the core melody is repeated twice at Citation A using Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed at the starting note, then once at Citation B, transposed up to start at the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed open open note . Then an Citation A section is repeated, followed by a section at Citation C that repeats the core melody starting at Finger diagram closed closed closed open open open. Then Citation B and Citation A sections are repeated. Note that at the end of the piece at Citation D, the melody is modified slightly to resolve the melody.

This arrangement is a classic way to take a simple melody and create a longer piece using what is knows as a 12-bar blues structure.

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - six-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Full Song Arrangement - Six-Hole Flutes -
Pentatonic Minor Tuning - page 1 of 2 Larger image

 

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - six-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Full Song Arrangement - Six-Hole Flutes -
Pentatonic Minor Tuning - page 2 of 2 Larger image

Sheet Music - Full Song Arrangement - Five-hole Pentatonic Minor Tuned Flutes

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - five-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Full Song Arrangement - Five-Hole Flutes -
Pentatonic Minor Tuning - page 1 of 2 Larger image

 

Membertou's Three Songs - Core Melodies - five-hole Pentatonic Minor

Membertou's First Song - Full Song Arrangement - Five-Hole Flutes -
Pentatonic Minor Tuning - page 2 of 2 Larger image


 
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