January 03, 2009

Mixing classical and indigenous music

American Indian Composers Go ClassicalA small but growing number of American Indian musicians are embracing classical music.

Drawing as much from European composers as traditional American Indian harvest songs, the music and the musicians are getting noticed in concert halls and on reservations.

Composer Timothy Archambault used to play his traditional American Indian wood flute in private, strictly as a way to stay connected with his Kichesipirini Algonquin ancestors.

Then three years ago, he was invited to perform at the first "Classical Native" series sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the American Indian.

There, he met other native composers who wanted to write music for his flute. Composers like George Quincy, who wrote Choctaw Diaries and performed it with Archambault this year.
And:[Jerod] Tate compares his work to that of contemporary Indian painters who abstract cultural icons, such as feathers and horses. In his work, Tate recasts American Indian musical icons such as flutes and drums. Like many classically trained American Indians, Tate's gone back to explore his cultures. The combination of the two musical worlds, he says, has an unexpected benefit for tradition.

"Not only are American Indians expressing contemporary expressions like this," Tate says. "But they're also going back and learning their traditions very well, along with dancing and language. So they're both kind of moving parallel with each other."

Mixing European classical with indigenous and folk music is nothing new. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries European composers such as Antonin Dvorak and Bela Bartok drew from European folk music. And in 1935, Mexican composer Carlos Chavez wrote his Sinfonia India, drawing on his country's indigenous music. But it would take another half-century before American Indians began to embrace classical music to express their cultural identity.

In the 1950s, composer Louis Ballard was inspired by Bartok to write chamber, orchestral and choral music as well as ballets that incorporated his own Quapaw and Cherokee background. Ballard's work gained acclaim, and he continued to compose until his death in 2007.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Music = Symphonies and Operas.

Below:  "Composer Jerod Tate never thought his classical training could merge with his American Indian heritage until he started composing."


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Anonymous said...

John Kim Bell, Mohawk from Kahnawake Territory near Montreal, is a classically-trained composer and former Broadway orchestral director, founder and former head of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation in Canada which continues to support artists with millions of dollars in grants and sponsorships.

Just thought you should know there are fantastic things going on north of the border as well.

Tomson Highway's libretto for Cree opera inspired by real lifeNews1130 - Vancouver,British Columbia,Canada
The choreography and costumes incorporate aboriginal and Japanese cultures. The opera is said to be the first written in the Cree language.

Powwows meet preludes in groundbreaking music festival that brings ...Winnipeg Free Press - Winnipeg,Manitoba,Canada
It's probably the first time in the world that an aboriginal rock band
has had its hits arranged for symphony orchestra. Eagle and Hawk has
been wanting for ...