Art in Your Backyard: Lingít Ghíxh’jaa (Tlingít Violin)

What happens when three creative teachers combine sign language, Tlingít language and violin? An amazing program called Lingít Ghíxh'jaa' (Tlingít Violin). 

Roby Littlefield at Porch Fest 2021

What happens when three creative teachers combine sign language, Tlingít language and violin? An amazing program called Lingít Ghíxh’jaa’ (Tlingít Violin).

It began as a simple idea in 2017 by Sitka musician Debby LeVeck Ghíxh’jaa Shaawát (violin lady). She explains, “I wanted to give local violin students a chance to play together in a group setting.” With this in mind, LeVeck started Sheet’ká Tíx’x’ (Sitka Strings) under the umbrella of the Greater Sitka Arts Council.

“We began performing weekly for the Sitka Pioneer Home residents, playing a mix of classical music, world music and fiddle tunes.” says LeVeck. The group has also participated in the Fiddle Grind, a popular variety show event that takes place every year.

Koolyéik Roby Littlefield and Daasdiyáa Ethel Makinen were invited in 2021 to work with the Tlingít Language Revitalization Program in Juneau. There, local Tlingít speakers, linguists and music educators developed a program to incorporate the Tlingít language into classroom instruction and specifically, into teaching violin. This program is now implemented in their JAMM (Juneau Alaska Music Matters) program.

Tlingít Violin students

In 2022, LeVeck began a mentorship with Littlefield to learn Tlingít. The two joined forces with Drew Larson Dudli.áxhjee Kóo at latéewu (band instructor) to develop a Tlingít violin program at Blatchley Middle School here in Sitka. Littlefield at the time was a Tlingít language instructor at Blatchley, Sitka High School and the University of Alaska Southeast.

“We learn songs and sing them in Tlingít with sign language, and learn to play the melodies and harmonies on our violins,” explains LeVeck. ”The instruction is comprehensive in all three areas, creating a full sensory experience.”

Fiddle Grind 2023

Instructor Larson adds, “The Tlingít Violin class has been such fun and an inspiration to help teach. It’s amazing to see the students not only learn music in Tlingít, but also to see them actively engage with two living subjects in a way that bolsters the learning in both subjects. Students have been able to progress as language learners and musicians faster because of the overlap between music and language.”

Student Shaanák’uwaa Damian Sam says, “My favorite class activity is playing ‘Tlingít Dingo’. That’s ‘Bingo’ where we match Tlingít words to pictures, but since the letter ‘B’ does not exist in the Tlingít language, native speakers call it ‘Dingo.’”

LeVeck discusses the future: “We are currently in the process of teaming up with Sitka Parks and Recreation to make this program more accessible for all Sitka residents. We would also like to see the program start with younger students from Keet Gooshi Heen.”

More details will be released soon. Gunalchéesh (Not possible without you)!


The 2024 Sitka Summer Arts Guide is out on stands now!

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