When the Bay Atlantic Symphony commissioned Ventnor resident Steven Mento to create a new orchestral piece, there was just one requirement: The pianist/composer had to find inspiration in New Jersey and its people.
Mento, 60, visited various houses of worship, notating by hand the music he heard. He was especially captivated by the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape, a Native American tribe based in Cumberland County.
One evening, Mento sat in a social drum circle—called a powwow—where Nanticokes and other Native Americans gathered to dance, sing and honor their culture. He took notes while the tribal members improvised vocal rhythms and drummed a compelling beat. “The Lenni-Lenape Indians believe that a pow wow has the heartbeat of mother earth,” says Mento.
What Mento heard became the basis for Algonquian Dreamcatcher, a three-part symphonic piece woven with elements of the tribe’s indigenous sound. Even the name has its roots in native culture: Algonquian translates to “original people,” and dreamcatchers are entwined hoops said to snare dreams. In a sense, Algonquian Dreamcatcher is an expression of the tribe’s captured dreams. The Bay Atlantic Symphony Orchestra will premiere the piece at 8 pm March 19 at Cumberland County College, and 2 pm March 20 at Stockton University.
Algonquian Dreamcatcher is also the subject of a planned documentary by ArtC, a company dedicated to bringing awareness to South Jersey’s creative arts. ArtC producer Bill Horin plans to shoot the premiere of Mento’s piece for the 10- to 15-minute documentary, which he has targeted to air on NJTV.