Notes on“Silam Inua” by Craig Coray
Shaman’s Power Song
Calling the Walrus
Hunting for Musk Ox
Women’s Dance Song
Anchorage Composer Craig Coray, a graduate of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and the State University of New York, Buffalo, has incorporated native Alaskan songs as thematic material in his music since 1973, reflecting the influence of his childhood in bush Alaska.
Silam Inua (“Sky Spirit”), composed in 1992, was funded by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The Inupiat title represents the spirit that governs all things above the earth; the sky, weather, and universe. The eight movements evolved from original Eskimo material recorded in Alaska and northern Canada between 1940 and 1960.
Coray describes the work as follows: “In Ceremonial Song (Kotzebue), a free introduction becomes the countermelody to an Eskimo song in a different key. The left hand begins drumming and the music is repeated fortissimo. In Shaman’s Power Song (Hooper Bay) an unusual form of the pentatonic scale is disguised within the large melodic leaps and 7/4 meter. The music gains power through the repetition of a single chord. In Calling the Walrus (Southampton Island) an Eskimo hunter seems to sing as he speaks the language of the walrus.
On the piano, many overtones convey a feeling of space; the “silence that can be heard.” A stalking motive creeps into the lower register. In Rhythmic Breathing (Baker Lake) two girls breathe gustily into a kettle, causing the sound to bounce back. The piano mimics the reverberation; everything in the right hand is repeated upside down by the left hand. Other sounds represent the babble of geese on the tundra.
Hunting for Musk Ox (Chesterfield Inlet) is based on a minor pentatonic scale with one “blue” note. The left hand becomes a drum; true to the original, it’s in a different meter than the melody. Women’s Dance Song (Kobuk Valley) employs vigorous drumming in a metric division of 2 plus 3 – a forceful piano figure emerges. What sounds like an improvisation is actually a four-note Eskimo melody. The drumming and dancing intensify.
In Weather Song (Kotzebue) a single repeated chord hangs in the air like fog; the booming sound on the open strings suggests an unseen power. Somewhere a lone voice floats over the tundra in a prayer to Silam Inua for good weather. Dance Song (Barrow) – A village dance begins tentatively then builds as more singers, drummers, and dancers join in. An undefined celebration is underway; perhaps the people are rejoicing for the return of daylight in spring.”