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the ghosts in these trees

for voice and string trio (2018)



There are

the ghosts of trees

in your shadow.

The water flies deep

over the sun and forest.

Black swallow

you leave my dream

and enter the earth

without returning.

(excerpt from Cantos)

The idea and title of the piece come from the poem above by Mapuche writer, Jaime L. Huenún Villa. It is one example of what Stuart Cooke, author and scholar of trans-Pacific poetics, refers to as “ecologically sensitive” poetry: a poetry deeply concerned with the vulnerability of the natural world, as well as what the Mapuche peoples consider to be its nourishing and healing properties. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the Foye Tree (cannel or Drimys winteri); considered by the Mapuches to be a sacred tree of life, bridging the natural and spirit worlds.The Mapuche shamans, or machi, use its leaves and bark as part of healing ceremonies.

Along this vein, the idea of the machi evokes a spiritual space also linked to the female voice/maternal song.

Typically women, the machis are viewed as spiritual leaders and oracles for their communitites, using medicinal herbs and other remedies combined with song (ül) in order to bring healing. In this respect, they correlate to mythological characters such as La Huesera or La Loba - each of them a kind of free-spirited, luminous criatura that sings life back into beings in danger of being lost to the world. The instrumentation I chose for this piece relates directly to the background information mentioned above: solo female voice, the machi, and a trio of wooden instruments, symbolic of the Foye Tree. Another important aspect is the rhythmic construct used formally throughout: the imposed acceleration within the period represents the idea of the life-generative ül, in its gradual shift towards accelerated movement and a dance-like pulse.

The  full score can be viewed here:



What's an Ecologically Sensitive Poetics? Song, breath and ecology in Southern Chile

By Stuart Cooke

Poetry of the Earth: Mapuche Trilingual Anthology

By Sergio Holas

Shamans of the Foye Tree

By Ana Mariella Bacigalupo

Women who run with the wolves - myths and stories of the wild woman archetype

By Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.

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