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