Poster Lyz Jaakola
Lyz Jaakola
MPR/Nate Ryan

Meet Class Notes Artist: Lyz Jaakola

Water Walk Song
Water Walk Song Choral Arrangement
Woman's Love Song
Sweetheart Song
Zaagiidiwin (Love Song)
Wenaboozhoo and the Ducks
Mary's Meme
Niijiwag nagamonan bezhig
Niijiwag nagamonan niizh

Lyz Jaakola always likes to start her presentations by introducing herself in Ojibwemowin — the language of the Ojibwe-Anishinaabe people. Not only is she expressing herself culturally, but in case any spirits of her Ojibwe ancestors happen to be listening, she wants them to be able to understand her. She then centers herself with a song that she created to help her maintain a sense of inner balance. Balance is incredibly important in Ojibwe-Anishinaabe culture. Represented by the number four, it pops up everywhere: four drumbeats at the beginning of the song acknowledge the four cardinal directions, songs are structured in four parts, the four sections of the medicine wheel represent the four ways to be human (which are physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual). Jaakola, whose Native American name is "The Lady Who Knows How to Sing," believes that she balances all four of these ways when she sings.

Jaakola structures her presentation around introducing representatives from each of the four instrumental families. She begins with the voice, since that is the instrument that everyone is born with and is unique to each person. There are songs in the Ojibwe culture for just about everything — celebration, ceremony, birthdays, teaching, rice, and maple syrup making. Some songs are only sung in ceremony and are not written down or recorded out of respect for the life of the song. It is also very important to ask permission to use another person's song (which Jaakola has done for those songs she performs that she did not compose herself). The students who attend her Class Notes Artists performances have the opportunity to learn one of her call and response songs, which were originally composed for the purpose of revitalizing the Ojibwe language by sharing it with native children. The song lyrics translate to "I am looking around to learn"/ Will you help me? / We can go together."

The Ojibwe creation story tells that before there was anything at all, there was a sound like the rattle of a shaker. Shakers are hand-made from hide and are so sacred that they are only used for ceremony. Therefore, while Jaakola brings her shakers to show the students, she actually uses an ordinary maraca to accompany the songs that she performs. The Ma'iingan song she sings came about after her women's choir, the Oshkii Giizhik ("New Day") Singers, made shakers and hung them on the wall to dry. Noticing the pattern in which they were hung made Jaakola think of how the melodies of old territorial songs were composed based on the shape of the horizon. The high and low melodic pattern of this song corresponds with the pattern in which the shakers were hung on the wall. "Ma'iingan" is the word for "wolf," and the lyrics of the song translate to: "Wolf, my brother, you run around the earth."

The Ojibwe people believe that drums have a spirit, and should therefore be treated with considerable respect. Jaakola will host a feast on behalf of her hand drum as a way of maintaining a good relationship with its spirit. It is only over the past few decades that acceptance of women playing hand drums has grown. Jaakola is a champion of women drumming in the native community, and her Oshkii Giizhik Singers often accompany their singing with hand drums.

As with shakers, drums such as medicine and water drums are only used in ceremony, but pictures and public demonstrations of hand drums and powwow drums are permitted. Indeed, big powwow drums are central to those celebrations (which are open to the public), however only men are permitted to play them. Jaakola explains that women, who can stand behind the men and sing, allow the men to play these drums because they need to access the life force — the heartbeat of the earth and its people — that the drum provides. As women are able to carry children, they already carry this life force inside of them, and therefore don't need to play the big powwow drum.

The origin story of the powwow drum dates from the 19th century, when the Native Americans were being attacked constantly by the U.S. military. According to the story, a young woman ran away from an assault on her village and hid inside a lake until the army left. She breathed through a reed to stay alive, and while underwater, she had a vision of the powwow drum and the songs to go with it. She returned to what was left of her people and shared her vision with them. The purpose of that drum was to bring native people together, and to end the wars with the U.S. government. The powwow drums still gather native people together at least once a month in various Minnesota locations throughout the year. Indeed in the summer, there are so many powwows happening every weekend that it can be hard to decide which one to go to.

Last but not least of these instrumental families is the flute family. They look similar to a western recorder on the outside, but the air flows differently due to differences of the internal anatomy. Flutes are instruments used for courting and are traditionally played by boys and men; the instruments that Lyz brings for demonstration are borrowed from her sons. Each flute is made specifically for a boy based on the length of his arm and the size of his hands, giving each flute a unique sound. The boy would improvise a song for a girl that he liked, and if the girl reciprocated his feelings, she would develop a discerning ear for that particular melody and sound of his flute. The low volume of the flute always causes the audience to hush as they listen carefully to its haunting timbre.

"The Lady Who Knows How To Sing" believes that her purpose in life is to teach people to understand each other better through the medium of music. While styles of music vary greatly from culture to culture, it has the ability to transcend those differences and bring people together. She says that

"Educational performances are very fulfilling for me as an Ojibwe musician, especially when children are my audience... Having the opportunity to impact "the next generation" in their opinions about Native culture and helping them learn how to listen to Ojibwe music is such an honor. I am very grateful to our elders for passing on the traditions, to the kids for opening their hearts and to MPR for this opportunity."


  • Dorene Day, Mashkoonce arr. Lyz Jaakola: Water Walk Song

  1. Traditional Anishinaabe; Niib Aubid, lyrics: Wenaboozhoo and the Ducks

  1. Traditional Anishinaabe arr. Lyz Jaakola: Woman's Love Song

  1. Contemporary traditional Anishinaabe arr. Lyz Jaakola: Sweetheart Song

  1. Mary Moose arr. Lyz Jaakola: Mary's Meme

  1. Traditional Anishinaabe arr. Lyz Jaakola: Zaagi'idiwin (love song)

  1. Traditional Anishinaabe melody arr. for string quartet by Lyz Jaakola: Niijiwag Nagamonan "Friends Songs" — I. Behzig

  1. Traditional Anishinaabe melody arr. for string quartet by Lyz Jaakola: Niijiwag Nagamonan "Friends Songs" — II. Niizh

  1. Oshkii Giizhik Singers: Ma'iingan


  • Whittier International School — Minneapolis, Minn.

  1. Clover Ridge Elementary — Chaska, Minn.

  1. Lake Marion Elementary — Lakeville, Minn.

  1. La Academia — Chaska, Minn.

About the Classical MPR Class Notes Artists program

Now in its sixth year, the Class Notes Artists program at Classical MPR brings performers to elementary schools throughout the state of Minnesota to give educational concerts. Each performance includes a presentation about the Artists' respective instruments, as well as the style, technique, history, and traditions related to the music that they perform.

The Artists are selected for the quality of their musicianship, and for their interest in promoting music education. Over the next few months, the following Artists will collectively travel to 60 schools in four different geographical hubs.

  • Belladonna Baroque Quartet — Twin Cities

  1. Excelsior! Trio — Northwestern Minnesota

  1. L'unica Trio — Saint Cloud area

  1. Lyz Jaakola — Twin Cities

  1. Mill City String Quartet — Southwestern Minnesota

  1. The Mirandola Ensemble — Twin Cities

  1. Minnesota Percussion Trio — Twin Cities

  1. Summit Hill Brass Quintet — Twin Cities

These performances are supported by Minnesota music education standards-based curriculum designed by Classical MPR's Curriculum Specialist. These lessons and activities are given to music teachers in advance of each Artist's visit, and are to be used as learning materials for before and/or after each performance.

Students at participating schools will also receive an MPR-produced compilation CD featuring the year's Artists, allowing students to experience a wide range of different musical styles and ensembles. The 2014-15 album, Bach, Birds, and Blues, is also available to stream online.

Classical MPR's goal for the Class Notes Artist program is to create authentic and transformative experiences for young pupils that will inspire their creative pursuits, and be a meaningful addition to what they are already learning from their music teachers.

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