Thunder Nation Records Inaugural Powwow CD at CMU

A drum group brought its beat to Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year.

Alexa Woloshyn , an assistant professor of musicology in CMU’s School of Music , said this was the first time that powwow music has been recorded at the Vlahakis Recording Studio. The recording will be released digitally Nov. 18. The album release was delayed because of the pandemic.

"Thunder Nation is our region’s only powwow group," Woloshyn said. "They write their own songs, and this is their first album."

Richard Cwalina began Thunder Nation in 2000 with his father, grandfather, brothers, stepmother and friends as a way to keep drum music alive and preserve stories and teachings. The group has evolved over the years and has 13 members.

"We have kids in our area that are seven or eight years old who know nothing about this music but their moms and dads follow these ways. Their grandmas and grandpas, and aunts and uncles. So we’re losing these traditions," Cwalina said. "Having these recordings helps them learn these things as well."

Thunder Nation recorded its inaugural album in February, marking the first time that powwow music had been recorded at the School of Music’s Vlahakis Recording Studio.

The tradition of sharing songs was handed down to Cwalina from his father and grandfather. The songs that Thunder Nation sings are intertribal.

"Powwow music is the music that we dance to," Cwalina said. "These songs are written for certain things, certain times, certain places and about certain people. Powwow music is hard to describe because it’s a feeling, it’s an emotion. Sometimes these songs will bring something out of you that you don’t know where it came from."

Riccardo Schultz, a teaching professor in CMU’s School of Music, manages the studio, which is used for teaching classes and recording projects for faculty, students and members of the community. He and several students assisted with the recording.

"It’s a great facility," Schultz said about the studio. "It’s a hidden gem of the College of Fine Arts. So many students have benefitted from this and faculty as well. We have many CDs that were produced here. The plaque on the door says, ’Realizing dreams with music and technology.’ And this is really what happens here."

Woloshyn is working on a three-year project looking to understand the history and future of indigenous people in the Pittsburgh region. She teaches courses such as "North American Indigenous Music," "Contemporary Soundscapes" and "World Music."

As part of her work, CMU has collaborated with the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, the East Coast River Two Spirits Society and Echoes of the Four Directions to produce programming for students and the public on various indigenous cultural practices and history.

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