tom gordon moravian music

Musicologist Tom Gordon recently discovered about 1,500 pages of handwritten manuscripts belonging to the Moravian Mission, some from as early as 1810. (Photo courtesy Memorial University)

A retired Memorial University music professor has made a rare archival find in northern Labrador, believed to be 200-year old manuscripts belonging to the Moravian Mission.

The discovery may offer new insights into the musical traditions left by the religious order.

The Moravians first established stations in northern Labrador in the late 1700s at Nain, Hopedale and the abandoned settlement of Okak. They have long since returned to Europe, but the music the Moravians brought to the region has continued to endure among the Inuit.

Honorary research professor Tom Gordon believed he had documented most of the audio recordings from sheet music left behind. But last week, he was invited to root around in the rafters of a church shed in Nain.

That's when he hit an archival jackpot.

"There were about 1,500 pages of handwritten music, some of it from as early as 1810," Gordon told CBC News.

"Big choral pieces  parts for the choir and parts for the orchestra — all of it in Inuktitut."

Gordon estimates there are at least two dozen musical pieces he had never seen before. Some of the works were signed by Jeremias Sillit, who was believed to be from the former station at Okak.

Gordon said the pieces seem to be distinct in style from works he has documented in other Labrador communities.

"If this turns out to be the main body of music out of Okak, that enhances that portrait quite a bit."

Gordon said he hopes the historic manuscripts can one day be brought to life in music and song.