Cedar Commissions Guest Blog: Leah Lemm


Leah Lemm is a singer/songwriter and member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and one of six 2017-18 Cedar Commissions artists. Lemm’s RUINS, debuting February 10th (get tickets here), travels through the course of moments, the times between waking and dreaming, and across a land that has intelligence and emotion – at the cusp of deterioration and rebuilding. The work is vocally and lyrically driven with piano as a loyal sidekick, and the rhythm section as companion characters. Lemm weaves Morse code and sirens into the composition, calling on poetic sounds to add to the cinematic, post-apocalyptic landscape.


For this project, I embraced the composition process in a different way than I have in the past. Usually, I start and finish a song within a day or two, at least the overall structure/progression/lyrics/melody/instrumentation… I might play with it a bit after. Until now, if I didn’t get on a roll and finish with something I was 90% happy with, I’d throw it out. BOOM.


An Excerpt from Lemm’s “RUINS”


Through the commission, I allowed myself to sit with many pieces and struggle through what I thought were dead ends. Some were, but in the end, half the pieces in the commission ended up being resurrected from the recycle bin… multiple times. Each had a bit of the arc that I wanted to explore, but either the lyrics weren’t right or the melody or feel, etc. I used every tool I could think of that I’ve gained from my poetry program, past vocal-only arrangements, and my hundreds of hours of listening and dissecting what I liked about my favorite artists and their work. There was no rush, so why act like it?



I create small scenes to draw from in my writing, a little universe derived from my life and history. I relied heavily on this to make a cohesive project that touched on an overall critique of mission work in indigenous communities, colonialism and capitalism, and remaining close to my personal and lineal those experiences and with assimilation, trauma, badass resistance, and hope. These themes are a part of my fabric that can’t be compartmentalized, or the fabric will unravel.



The images in this post are small scenes in photo form that help keep my focus. The words are either a part of my lyrics or belong to a scene that helps guide my thinking. The imagery of RUINS is made up of the outdoors, woodlands and weather, with bold colors sometimes popping out through foggy, muted colors.


Hope to see you at the show! Thank you for reading!



The Cedar Commissions is The Cedar’s flagship program for emerging artists made possible with a grant from the Jerome Foundation. Since its launch in 2011, The Cedar has commissioned and showcased new work by almost 40 local, emerging composers and musicians. Buy tickets for the 2017-18 Cedar Commissions here


The Cedar Commissions are supported by: