Returning Souls

Four Short Pieces on Three Formosan Amis Legends


for solo violin (2011), ca. 9’

In 2010, under the auspices of a Fulbright Scholar grant, I had the good fortune to live in Taiwan for a year while studying the music of the Han and Indigenous Peoples there. As a visiting scholar at Academia Sinica, I collaborated with award winning anthropologist and filmmaker, Hu Tai-Li, on a film project entitled Returning Souls. This film documents the recovery of lost tribal icons by the Amis tribe and interweaves three of their cultural legends with modern day realities, including national land policies, religious beliefs, community identity and clan rivalries. The lost icons are three wooden pillars with carvings of Ami ancestors that were removed from their community in 1958, following a hurricane. Anthropologists feared the damaged pillars would disintegrate, so they brought them back to the Academia Sinica museum for display. The Ami believed that when the pillars were taken, the souls of their ancestors were also taken away from their village. The film traces efforts by the young Ami members to return these souls back to their village. This solo violin piece was conceived at the same time as the film music for Returning Souls, and they were presented together in a series of multi-disciplinary events in March, 2013 at institutions including: Rice University/Asia Society Texas, University of California Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, Michigan State University, and Harvard University. The main melody of this project, taken from an improvised song by one of the tribal elders in the film, serves as an introduction and unifies the entire piece. Although I do not usually write programmatic pieces, to do so seemed particularly fitting for this project. Below, I provide the subtitles and brief plots of the legends that are also indicated in the score:

Introduction: Sun: The Glowing Maiden

An ancient ancestor of the Amis tribe gave birth to many children. The last child was “The

Glowing Maiden,” a girl whose body glows (symbolizing the sun).

Legend I: The Great Flood: The Descending Shaman

Sister and Brother are the only two humans to escape the Great Flood with their lives. They later

marry and give birth to strange creatures like lizards and snakes; a descending shaman brings

blessings that allow the pair to give birth to normal humans.

Legend II: Head Hunting: The Ascending Stars

Two brothers are instructed by their father to head hunt someone who is spoiling their fresh

water supply. They later find out that they unknowingly beheaded their own father, and were

scorned by their mother for their heinous act. The elder brother shows remorse. He stomps his

foot, and his body sinks further and further into the ground, while his spirit ascends to the sky

and becomes stars.

Legend III: The Glowing Maiden; Returning Souls

In the film, although struggling with many obstacles, the young people in the Amis tribe uplift

their own spirits as they recover their ancestors’ souls.

Returning Souls, Four Short Pieces on Three Formosan Amis Legends was commissioned by the

Houston Arts Alliance through an Individual Artist Grant, funded by the City of Houston

through the Houston Arts Alliance.

Score available from Trigon Music Press

Recording available at New World Records, iTunes, and Amazon