The Daughter Of Dawn
A 1920 Silent Film
A ComancheMedia Project
The Daughter of Dawn is a silent movie made in 1920. It is the first full length movie of an American Indian story, and that uses all American Indian actors.
In December, 2007, I was commissioned (hired) to write a symphonic score for the sound track of this historical film. The Oklahoma Historical Society owns the film, which has remained in obscurity for nearly a century. It was never released, but fell into private hands soon after its making.
It was filmed in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma, and involves Comanche and Kiowa Indians. The story is part legand and part fiction, and includes all the major aspects of Indian life that form today’s image of the old days. These aspects include a buffalo hunt (probably the first in a movie using real Indians!), dancing, a brawl (between Indians), and of course, a love story involving a test of courage. The only thing it doesn’t have is the US Cavalry–thank the eagles for that one!
Being filmed in 1920, in black and white, there are living relatives of the actors among the Comanche today. In the film, there are elderly people, as well as younger people. The elderly, in 1920, are from the wild, free days. This is an awesome thing. A person of but fifty years, in the movie, was alive in 1870–before the last of the free Comanche surrendered at Ft. Sill. A person 60 years old, in the movie, would have been living during the last of the wars. This is incredible. There are several elderly people pictured in this movie. The film is still being researched.
You can see the Indians’ way of dressing, their style of conversing (lots of sign language, and the use of incessant hand gestures–something Comanche were famous for), and above all, their style of horse riding. No saddles. No metal in the bridles. It is rather impressive, to say the least.
Now, one may ask, what kind of music am I writing for such a film? I’m not imitating pow-wow songs. I’m not using any historical, authentic songs still sung among elderly Comanche, either. I was asked to write a symphonic score. I was commissioned to write for full orchestra. This is a major, classical music effort. This is not a pop music score. This is not about sound effects or cartoon entertainment music. This is first rate symphonic music. That’s why I was hired. That was the purpose I was hired for, I should say. There were others, I understand, who attempted to procure the commission long before I even knew the film existed. The simple truth is, I was contacted by the Oklahoma Historical Society in late November, 2008, and signed the contract December 12. I knew absolutely nothing before that. I have recently found out that some Indians have heard about the existence of this film for years. (Of course they have. There are living relatives of the actors among us!) So, the expectations are growing intense, now that the word is out.
I shall be finished with some 160 pages of the orchestral score in early June. After that point, we will look for a conductor and a first rate symphony to record the 80 minute score.
For people interested in my style of symphonic composing, all I can say is this: you may purchase CDs of my recordings in stores, or order them. I think my best work to date is “HaNitzol,” for oboe solo and orchestra. This piece has been recorded twice, once by the Polish National Radio Symphony (Meir Kadichevsky, oboist), and once by the Kiev Philharmonic, (Volodymyr Koval, oboist). David Oberg conducted the Polish Symphony, and Robert Winstin the Kiev Philharmonic.