The above film description comes from the postcard handed to me by the film’s producer director Peter Jemison of Ganondagan Historic Site in western New York. However, the details are missing from the brief explanation above. The film is being produced by Ganondagan, through Friends of Ganondagan, with Peter at the helm. A team from Rochester Institute of Technology have animated the film, spearheaded by Catherine Ashworth. In addition to traditional Iroquois dancers, renown choreographer Garth Fagan and his modern dancers collaborated with Peter and the Iroquois dancers to help bring the story to life onscreen. Celebrated singer Joanne Shenandoah narrates the film, and sings a beautiful Seneca Anthem that will be heard during the final onscreen credits.
I write that Joanne “will be heard” singing on the credits because I’ve not composed that part of the film score yet! The song itself, Seneca Anthem, is an endearing one, composed in 1976 and based on a melody that Avery Jimerson learned from his father, “...with a text composed entirely of vocables” writes Mary Frances Riemer on the Ethnic Folkways Recordings album cover containing the song. About the song, she continues, “The power of the Anthem rests solely on its melody and slow measured pace, evoking the quiet dignity and pride of the Senecas” [Riemer, Seneca Social Dance Music; EFR FE-4072, 1980]. Joanne has recorded herself on the Anthem, but I have yet to arrange and orchestrate the song; I have completed about 11 minutes of the orchestral score with another 4-5 remaining.
The film score is primarily orchestral, but prominently features 3 traditional Iroquois songs, sung by traditional singers, including “Eskanyea,” “Shake The Bush,” and “Wasaze.” The traditional songs are woven into the story, sometimes with orchestral accompaniment, sometimes without, and the score features Native American wooden flute with the orchestra as well. As a skilled player of the Native American flute, I’m extremely delighted to add the distinctive wooden timbre to the score I am also creating as the film’s composer.
If all goes to plan, we will record the orchestra in mid June, with another week of mastering and editing to follow. I am composing right up to the recording session though, and am at this moment waiting for the film’s final cut. The initial incomplete cut of the film I received was 11 minutes in duration with the final 4 minutes still being completed by the RIT crew. I’m guessing another minute might get tacked onto the ending for title cards and scrolling credits. I have yet to see and spot the remaining segments and the credits, but I’m excited to receive the final full, picture-locked cut in the next day or two! Scoring a film for orchestra is a time consuming and labor intensive process, but I can report as of today we are 100% on schedule — two thumbs up!