Songs of Memory
2020 Newsletter
If a village has no music,
how can it be called a village?
- Akha Saying
Hmong Songs of Memory
Protecting the Living

S’gaw Karen soul-calling ritual, kaw ke la
Bu Gae, intermediary, secures Ter’s souls
Tying ritual string around neck and wrists
Ban Nam Bo Noi, Lamphun, Thailand
Mourning the Fallen

Ulo Akha Funeral Ceremony
Ga La Pochear chants Akhazong song kho
Leading Abo Tu Gaw’s souls to the spirit world
Ban Saen Jai Gow, Chiang Rai, Thailand

For most of year 2020, the coronavirus has swept our planet unchecked without a clear understanding of what it is or how it spreads, infecting and affecting our entire human species at precisely the same time—all this in spite of mankind’s advanced medical knowledge, state-of-the-art technology, and global coalition of specialists. It is astounding to consider that all people throughout the world—think of it, every continent, country, county, and remote corner—are experiencing this virulent contagion as an invisible, unpredictable common enemy, one that takes on mythic proportions in the way it provokes universal feelings of loss of control, dread of the unknown, and fear of suffering and death.

Such primal impressions in the face of nature’s volatility tie us emotionally to our first ancestors, who, before the advent of science, turned without recourse to their age-old spiritual beliefs, superstitions, lore, and ritual enactments in order to understand the universe, to address their anxieties, and to survive decimating hardships. Suffice it to say, with a cure for Covid-19 in sight yet not in arm, we are left only with the ability to lock ourselves in and block disease out—we are as vulnerable as our animist forefathers of yore. This realization confirms a fundamental truth: we are connected to all peoples throughout time and place in our primordial drives, in our collective unconscious.

Excerpt from Prayers, Portals, Totems, and Talismans
Surviving Covid-19 the Ancestor Way
A Collection of Photo-Essays by Victoria Vorreiter
Coming in 2021

To read one essay, please link to:
Hmong Ancestor Wisdom: Surviving Covid-19

Note to Reader:
As this is a one-off Newsletter for a one-off Year, please do take your time. . .

Sharing the past year in the life of the Songs of Memory project with you, as I do once each year, will surely seem jumbled given the mix of activities and when they occurred—such is the complex and challenging experience we have all faced in 2020. While acknowledging the incalculable misfortune surrounding our global community, the lockdown time has also given rise to great transformation, introspection, and creativity. The Songs’s story is no different. It comes to you now in three very different parts:

Before the Coronavirus represents the early months without a care in the world, filled with a photographic exhibition in Thailand, presentations in Laos, a book/film review from distinguished ethnomusicologist Dr. Terry Miller in Ohio, and outreach in Hmong cultural/educational centers in Minnesota. Research, documentation, and design lay-out for my first, out-of-print book, Songs of Memory, hummed along.

During the Coronavirus marks the unleashing and spread of Covid-19 throughout the world. It signaled lockdown and untold devastation to people’s lives. In the north of Thailand this was met by the Pwo Karen community with compassion, as they traveled far from their remote mountain villages in Mae Hong Son to offer the bounty of their organic harvest to feed city dwellers in lowland Chiang Mai, the second largest city in the country. Please read below my short piece about such generosity of spirit.

Inner life sparked inner reflection, which prompted a new project exploring the multitude of sacred ways the indigenous peoples of the Golden Triangle care for their own using rarely performed ceremonies specific to pandemics. This gave rise to a series of six photo-essays, Prayers, Portals, Totems, and Talismans: Surviving Covid-19 the Ancestor Way, representing the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu. Look for this essay collection in 2021. (The essay on Hmong practices is found on my site and is linked below.)

By July, I was able to return to Chicago, my hometown, after sixteen years away documenting indigenous culture in Southeast Asia. While continuing a quiet life stateside, I came upon decades of personal papers. One such discovery came in my 1998 thesis The Sonic Environment of Highly Creative People, based on interviews with creators in various fields. Below you will find my audio conversation with Ed Paschke, an innovative artist able to shake up a viewer’s consciousness with his bold, luminous style, consummate skill, and jarring social commentary. Ed felt listening to music transformed his work in manifold ways. Similarly do the highland communities who practice oral tradition feel music’s mystical, subliminal power. A river runs through my life-work.

After the Coronavirus looks to the future when the Songs of Memory Multi-media Exhibition will travel to the United States! The Kent State University Museum, in Ohio, has graciously invited the collections to go on display from October 2022–February 2023. Mark your calendar—it will be a pleasure to show you around then.

Other new initiatives are swirling on the horizon to be further developed as soon as I can return to Chiang Mai.

Before the Coronavirus

What’s Black and White and Red All Over?
An Exhibition of Photographs from Southeast Asia
(with 25 Curator Walks)

Daifa Lifestyle Café
Thapae Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
15 November 2019 – April 2020

Hmong Songs of Memory
Multi-media Presentations
Ock Pop Tok
Hmong Threads of Life – Traditional Hmong Textiles
Laung Prabang, Laos
30 January 2020

Traditional Arts and Ethnicity Center
Hmong Songs of Memory – Sacred and Secular Hmong Music
Laung Prabang, Laos
1 February 2020

Book / Film Review
Journal of the Society of Asian Music
Volume 51, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 2020)

Review: Hmong Songs of Memory: Traditional Secular and Sacred Hmong Music
By Dr. Terry Miller
January 2020

Hmong Songs of Memory
“Encountering either of Vorreiter’s books, Hmong Songs of Memory (2016) or her 2009 work, Songs of Memory, one cannot help but open the book and become engrossed in her artistic design as well as its amazing array of eye-catching color photos. Vorreiter, however, is not just a gifted artist who made her own photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, and book designs, but also a skilled ethnologist with extensive musical training and a penchant for detail. The result is an unusual balance of solid ethnography presented artistically.”
Dr. Terry Miller
Professor of Ethnomusicology (Emeritus)
Kent State University
Co-Author, World Music: A Global Journey

Educational Curricula
It is an honor to announce that The Hmong Archives, a repository for collecting and preserving Hmong materials reflecting the history of the Hmong people, has purchased six photographs from the Hmong Songs of Memory project for display at its cultural center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Hmong Songs of Memory
Left: Nplias Xyooj embroiders Paj Ntaub cloth; Ban Than Thong, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Right Top: Xob Lwm Vaj performs the qeej for Hmoob Txiaj friends; Ban Tan, Phongsali, Laos
Right Bottom: Txiaj Vwj, a Hmoob Dawb Shaman, calls spirits; Ban Nam La, Luang Nam Tha, Laos

Hope Carey, a teacher at the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, uses the Hmong Songs of Memory Book and Film as resource material in her classroom. “Thank you, Victoria, for the immense work you have done to catalog Hmong culture. As an elementary music teacher, I have used your resources to help support my own knowledge of cultural insights and plan to use them to support the growth of that of my students as well.

During the Coronavirus

Chiang Mai City Life

Compassion in the Time of Covid – The Karen Way
2 May 2020

Hmong Songs of Memory
Pwo Karen Donate Food to Thais in Chiang Mai
Ban Mae Tun and Ban Na Keiyn, Om Koi District, Thailand
May 2020

Research / Book Design
Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle

This past year has been devoted to updating my first book, Songs of Memory, which is presently out of print. Fieldwork and documentation of the music and ceremonies of Southeast Asia are near completion, as are the text, photographs, and lay-out design. Highlighting the musical heritage of the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu, this new edition, complete with a CD of their music, will include age-old instruments and customs that are so rare they are difficult to find and are on the cusp of disappearing. (Slated for publication in 2021)

Hmong Songs of Memory
Abo Abyeu Jutong
Ulo Akha Musician
Plays his chu lu Flute
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Lahu Shi Girls
Beat Percussion Instruments
Harvest Festival
Wan Kong Pyak Tae, Myanmar
Ami, Lo Shi Lisu Singer
Leads Ancestral Songs
New Year Festival
Ban Pba Kluay, Thailand

Hmong Songs of Memory
Mapho and Lalua, Kayan Lahwi Couple
Playing the ji tu violin and ta ju guitar
Ban Nai Soi, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand

New Photo-Essay Book
Prayers, Portals, Totems, and Talismans
Surviving Covid-19 the Ancestor Way

Hmong Songs of Memory
Prayers, Portals, Totems, and Talismans: Surviving Covid-19 the Ancestor Way, a collection of photo-essays by Victoria Vorreiter coming out next year, reveals the ritual structures and instruments, sacred ceremonies, and ancestral practices, specific to plagues and rarely performed, that were carried out in early 2020 by all indigenous peoples of the Golden Triangle. While following the guidelines of their local governments, the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu recognized that for true physical and spiritual protection they must tap into their ancestral cache of traditional knowledge to protect every village, family, and individual so they survive the ravages of Covid-19 and the chain of their ancestral wisdom remains unbroken.

Hmong Songs of Memory
Mother and Father Hmong Ancestor Spirits, Dab Niam Dab Txiv
Armed with Crossbow, Rifle, and Knife
Protect their Community from Covid-19 at the Village Gate
Ban Doi Pui, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
March 2020

To read one essay, please link to:
Hmong Ancestor Wisdom: Surviving Covid-19

Ed Paschke Interview
By Victoria Vorreiter
13 May 1998

Hmong Songs of Memory
Ed Paschke (1998)
The Artist’s Studio
Chicago, Illinois
Pink Lady (1973)

In Spring 1998 I enrolled in the course “Flow and Innovation” presented by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, as part of a Masters of Arts and Liberal Studies degree from DePaul University, a humanities program that complemented my two University of Michigan music degrees. My final project, The Sonic Environment of Highly Creative People, explores the role that music, sound, and non-sound play in the lives of accomplished creators in various spheres.

One of the six interviewees was Chicago-based artist Ed Paschke, who was described by his 1990 retrospective exhibition catalogue (for the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, the Dallas Art Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago) as an artist who "creates paintings that confront social and cultural values." Using media based imagery as the source of his commentary, Paschke's work finds form as figurative archetypes emblazoned with abstract, geometric, and symbolic motifs in a spectrum of incandescent color. His paintings are on display in museums and galleries around the world. (With great sadness, Ed Paschke passed away a number of years ago, so I took the opportunity of my Chicago stay to share this interview with the curators at the Ed Paschke Art Center.)

It was an absolute thrill to interview Ed, not only because of the caliber and originality of his work but also because of the surprising, magical ways that he was inspired by music and how he incorporated it in his paintings. “I would like to think that sound enters the paint.” Ed’s connection to melody and rhythm in many ways parallels that of shamans, who experience music as a catalyst to enter into altered states to communicate with spirits.

Please enjoy the Interview with Ed Paschke
and the Interview Transcript

After the Coronavirus

Songs of Memory Exhibition Tour to the US
It is such a joy to announce that the Kent State University Museum in Ohio will host the Songs of Memory Multi-media Exhibition from October 2022—February 2023. We are excited to share these collections with the KSU campus and community by collaborating with a number of departments–Southeast Asian Studies, Ethnomusicology, Costume Design, Textiles, Religious Studies, and Anthropology Departments–as well as with local indigenous musicians of Southeast Asia. So much gratitude goes to the curators, faculty, and donors for making this exhibition happen. Looking forward to seeing you then. . .

Hmong Songs of Memory
Songs of Memory
Musical Instruments, Films, Photos
Songs of Memory
Textile Collection


What began as a three-year initiative documenting through film the ancestral culture of the mountain peoples of Southeast Asia has now expanded and transformed into a much bigger venture spanning sixteen years. Combining films with books, articles, recordings, photographs, and exhibitions, I trust, creates a more fulsome archive providing the indigenous peoples a record of their culture before it changes or disappears, and those who are interested a more holistic understanding. Yet, with every step there still seems to be new paths to follow. As the initiative grows, so does my resolve in preserving indigenous traditions and ensuring they are sustained for new generations. More is yet to come, to be revealed on an ‘auspicious moon.’

All to say, I am so very grateful to those who have believed in the Songs of Memory archives over the years. The trajectory of this independent researcher, through the joys and challenges, has been the honor of a lifetime. While I cannot list here all of the many friends, colleagues, and organizations who have supported this initiative, please know you all are appreciated for having helped make this a reality. And in kind, I trust that this body of work lives up to your belief as it celebrates the rich cultural tapestry of humankind in the Golden Triangle.
Founding Patrons
Marsha and Philip Dowd
The Frankel Family Foundation
Leslie and David Bosch
Golden Triangle Gallery
Jim Thompson Foundation

2020 Donors
The Frankel Family Foundation
Dorée Huneven
Wayne Madsen
Mary Averill
Diane and Shev Ciral

The International Documentary Association (IDA) has accepted
The Music of the Golden Triangle project in its Fiscal Sponsorship Program
so that it receives non-profit status in the US.
IDA Letter of Endorsement

If the Songs of Memory project resonates with you,
please consider helping it continue.
Sponsorship Information
Donate Now

To learn more about the Songs of Memory project
or to order the Songs of Memory materials, please visit