January 29, 2010

Composer shocked at own ignorance

An Interview With Composer Rob Kapilow on Summer Sun, Winter MoonRob Kapilow, the composer featured in the documentary Summer Sun, Winter Moon to air January 31st on SundayArts, was commissioned by the St. Louis and Kansas City Symphonies and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra to compose a symphonic work with a specific theme: a reflection of the enduring legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Seeking to collaborate with Blackfeet tribal member Darrell Robes Kipp, the innovative artist delved into a sharply alternative--and controversial--avenue of perspective, that of the indigenous storyteller’s view “from the river bank, not the boat.” Summer Sun, Winter Moon documents the collaboration to create this cross cultural piece project that brings a Native perspective on American history to light.

In connection with the January 31st airing of the documentary, Kapilow recently answered a number of questions for SundayArts via email about his creative process and his journey with Summer Sun, Winter Moon.

At the beginning of the documentary Darrell calls you a good Blackfoot. What is your relationship Native American tribes? Would you say that your creative collaboration created a kind of tribal bond?

I believe that relationships are with individuals and not groups. Before this project I had not a single relationship with a Native American. Over the course of this project and since its completion, I have developed hundreds of relationships with individual Native Americans of many different tribes–obviously the largest number within the Blackfoot community. I have become aware of a group of people, and a wide range of issues that I had previously never been aware of before, and developed extremely deep relationships with many different individuals and a sympathy for them and their issues I would not have thought possible. I have also developed a much greater comfort level in my dealings with all tribes and a sensitivity to the kinds of issues that can arise in these encounters that has deepened these relationships. I would not claim that I have a relationship with Native American tribes but the creative collaboration and the time I spent in the Native American world allowed me to connect with an enormous number of people and issues in the tribal world.

What was the impetus to document the creative process behind the commissioned musical composition?

From my side, the impetus came first from my own shock at how ignorant I was of the people and issues I was encountering as I entered the Native American world, and the hope that some of the amazing experiences I was having might be shared with others, and open up some of this world to them. I also believed profoundly that the tribal world had an important story to tell that we needed to hear–not only about Lewis and Clark but about their side of the American experience–and the more I learned, the more valuable it thought it might be to have this information shared with others. I also believe deeply in this kind of collaborative experience with people from completely different walks of life–”crossing the divide” experiences–and I hoped that by documenting this process, others might be inspired to try to create similar projects.
Comment:  Kapilow's experiences sound a little like mine. It's taken 20 years before I could claim to be semi-knowledgeable about Indians.

For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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