November 29, 2012

Tate's music expresses Native pride

Composer Jerod Tate: A Hyper-Story Guy

By Lee AllenChickasaw classical composer and 2011 Emmy award winner Jerod Tate is true to his roots, deciding early in his composing career that he would write music based only on Indian themes. “Indian country is full of stories and I’m, like, a hyper-story guy. There’s so much inspiration here, an endless amount of music that can be written to complement a story or a legend from our past. In our tribe, we have little people and scary forest people as well as star and cloud people--I use them all as inspiration for my work.”

Tate was born with performance creativity in his genes, a combination of Oklahoma Chickasaw father, who was classical pianist and baritone vocalist, and an Irish mother from Nebraska, who was a dancer and choreographer. “I grew up with a whole bunch of theatre and music in the house watching my Dad play Bach and Rachmaninoff. The first instrument I gravitated to was a piano--a mini-orchestra with so much range of expression--and I knew I was hooked, that music was my path by the time I was 9 years old.”

As Artistic Director for the Chickasaw Chamber Music Festival and Composer-in-Residence for the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy, he has been named a cultural Ambassador for the State of Oklahoma. “My heritage is very important to me, coming from both the men and women who make up who we are. Together my awesome dad and his mother, my grandmother, gifted me a wonderful balance of what it means to be a Chickasaw man. Their combined experience has been a tour de force in our family and I owe my cultural identity to both of them.”

Appearing recently on an Indian radio station in Tucson, Arizona (Gabriel Ayala’s Liner Notes show on Pasqua Yaqui station KPYT), Tate explained many of his compositions and how they came to be…like The Thunder Song (or Taloah He Loah): “This is chamber music for a solo tympani, a percussion instrument like a kettle drum, made famous in Peter and the Wolf. In our legend, when it thundered it meant the good and bad spirits were having a match and our hunters would shoot their guns into the clouds to assist the good spirits. I wrote this solo piece completely inspired by the thunder beings we have in our peoples history.”

Asked by both his radio host and Indian Country Today Media Network about how his musical path evolved, his response was simple: “I believe American Indians have a natural ability to represent themselves musically in the classical fine arts so I use my Chickasaw influence the same way Indian painters to when they use cultural icons and abstract them into a modern expression. I do the same in music with round-dance rhythms and Native language chanting. Famous composers like Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and Ludwig von Beethoven all infused their national identity with their classical training. I do the same in dramatic and romantic works. I'm highly expressive about my Indian pride.”
Comment:  For more on Jerod Tate, see Jerod Tate Wins Emmy and First Indian Chamber Music Festival.

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