Juggling Song from Yup’ik Dances


Program Note

for solo harp

This set of miniatures is based on traditional dance songs of the Yup’ik Eskimo people of Western Alaska.

In their original forms, these melodies would be sung in unison. The first, third and fifth songs would be accompanied by frame drums. The second and fourth are game songs, for jumping rope and juggling pebbles.

Aside from the obvious difference in instrumentation, my settings of these songs differ from the Yup’ik originals in other respects. I have extended and varied the melodies, and added countermelodies, ostinato figurations, introductions, interludes and codas.

The first four melodies are drawn from the collection Yup’ik Eskimo Songs, compiled by Thomas F. Johnston and Tupou L. Pulu, and published by the University of Alaska. The fifth was “loaned” to me by Yup’ik singer and dancer Chuna McIntyre, who learned it in his village of Eek, Alaska.

The poems preceding each piece are rough translations of the words to the songs. These verses are often cryptic and enigmatic. Their obscurity is increased because some of the words of their meanings have been lost, over time.

John Luther Adam

About John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams is a composer whose life and work are deeply rooted in the natural world. Adams was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his symphonic work…