Potlach Song of a Lonely Man from Athabascan Dances


Program Note

for harp and percussion

These pieces are inspired by the music and spirit of the Athabascan people of Alaska’s boreal forest.
The first and third dances are based on songs by Joe Beetus, a Koyukon elder from the village and Huslia.

The second dance is based on a short traditional song of the Dena’lina people of the Kenai peninsula, as remembered by the late Peter Kalifornsky and transcribed by the late Thomas F. Johnson.

In their original settings these melodies would be sung in unison, with no harmony or counterpoint. Working as a composer in the Western tradition, I have extended and transformed them in many ways.

I have “borrowed” and “set” these melodies with permission and with the hope that my treatment of them conveys my profound respect for their origins.

The second and third pieces are derived from my settings of poems by Adeline Peter Raboff written in the dialect of her Gwich’in people, who inhabit the country from Artic Village to Old Crow.

I offer this music as a gesture of respect to the first peoples of the Northern Interior and the Kenai Peninsula.

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…