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Essential Song

Three Decades of Northern Cree Music

Lynn Whidden

Indigenous Studies Series

Hardcover 192 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-459-1

Release Date: May 2007

Online discount: 25%

$85.00  $63.75


eBook availability

ForeWord Magazine 2007 Book of the Year Award–Bronze Prize Winner in the Music Category
Shortlisted for the Manitoba Historical Society Margaret McWilliams Award–Scholarly Category

Includes audio CD with over 50 Cree hunting songs

Essential Song: Three Decades of Northern Cree Music, a study of subarctic Cree hunting songs, is the first detailed ethnomusicology of the northern Cree of Quebec and Manitoba. The result of more than two decades spent in the North learning from the Cree, Lynn Whidden’s account discusses the tradition of the hunting songs, their meanings and origins, and their importance to the hunt. She also examines women’s songs, and traces the impact of social change—including the introduction of hymns, Gospel tunes, and country music—on the song traditions of these communities.

The book also explores the introduction of powwow song into the subarctic and the Crees struggle to maintain their Aboriginal heritage—to find a kind of song that, like the hunting songs, can serve as a spiritual guide and force.

Including profiles of the hunters and their songs and accompanied by an original audio CD of more than fifty Cree hunting songs, Essential Song makes an important contribution to ethnomusicology, social history, and Aboriginal studies.

Lynn Whidden is an associate professor of Native studies and music at Brandon University, Manitoba. Her research has focused on the role of songs in the lives of subarctic Cree and Caribou Inuit. She has published many articles on the song traditions of the Métis and the Dakota and has contributed to numerous television and radio broadcasts about Aboriginal song.


Essential Song: Three Decades of Northern Cree Music, with its accompanying compact disc is a welcome and much-needed addition to the literature on the musical expressions of Canada’s First Nations...and who better to guide us on this journey then Lynn Whidden, who has herself lived in Canada’s North for much of her life.”

— Paula Conlon, University of Oklahoma, Native Studies Review

“Along with the detailed descriptions of the repertoire giving context, text, and translation into English, this study is extremely valuable for considering each musical manifestation within Cree existence. The details of the relationship of the hunter with the bird, animal, or fish, through the particular song being used, underlines how different the view of the Cree person is from a member of the Canadian dominant society.... I want to underline that this is a particularly valuable document on northern Cree music.... All libraries dealing with musical expressions and Native Studies should have this book in their collection.”

— Elaine Keillor, Carleton University, Canadian Association of Music Libraries Review

“One of the strengths of this book is its view of Cree music, past and present, as integral to the lives of the people who have created and used it.... In this lucid and engaging work Lynn Whidden has created a valuable resource for young northern Cree who seek to strengthen their communities by building more elements from their own culture into their lives; and, for anyone with an interest in subarctic cultures, in the music of the Canadian north — or in Cree expression of the universal human need for song — Essential Song is essential reading.”

— John Bennett, Meridian: Canadian Polar Commission

“Providing a thorough account of the musical culture of the Cree people ... this excellent book makes a unique contribution to ethnomusicology.... Highly recommended.”

— B. Nettl, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, CHOICE

“A thoughtful and valuable ethnography, grounded in Whidden’s knowledge and field experience with the Northern Cree.”

— M. Celia Cain, University of Toronto, Ethnomusicology