“Antonin Dvořák composed music with Czechoslovakian melodies, and he said America needs to have its own music based on Native American music,” said Thomas, who recently completed a doctorate focusing on the topic at the University of North Texas College of Music. “The Indianists composed music with Native American motifs, and even though they weren’t Native American themselves, their compositions were based upon documentation of Native music by ethnomusicologists, and they carried forth fascinating rhythms, scales and pitch systems.”
The Indianist movement, represented in the work of a dozen or so composers, began around 1890 and is considered to have died out by 1930. Even though a contemporary listener might find some of the names and themes to be stereotypical by today’s standards, Thomas contends that within the movement there remain pieces that are relevant to American classical music. Seth Montfort, director of the San Francisco Concerto Orchestra, agrees, comparing the Indianists to George Gershwin. The iconic American composer based many of his compositions on African-American music, and is himself sometimes accused of stereotyping by today’s standards.
Below: "Lisa Cheryl Thomas stands with her paint stallion, Cherokee Diamond Dash. Thomas is concert pianist, who is of Cherokee descent and lives near Dallas, Texas. (Orion Thomas)