The program "Native Sounds" is a concert of the Grand Rapids Symphony, but is a show curated according to my personal tastes, influences and music. I was first inspired to compose after hearing a work by George Crumb in 1967, and this concert will feature Crumb's A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979 with the characteristic and striking Crumb harmonies and rhythms.
A mentor for me as an undergrad was Dr. Louis W. Ballard, a Quapaw/Cherokee composer living in Santa Fe, NM. As a fledgling student I wrote him a letter in 1979, and afterwards we became longtime friends. Saturday's concert will feature Dr. Ballard's orchestral work Scenes from Indian Life, a series of vignettes depicting American Indians in everyday life.
Closing the first half, the Robin Rupe film By Our Nature will be screened, with my orchestral film score performed live-to-picture by the orchestra. It's an 11-minute evocative film about our animals and our world, seen through the camera lens and with music. The GRS performance will be the film score's world premiere!
Honoring Kwa'apoge, my composition for Native American wood flute and orchestra, will open the second half. It's the first movement of the larger "Santa Fe 400th Symphony" commissioned by the City of Santa Fe, NM, to celebrate their 400th anniversary. The work premiered at the famous Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, and I'm proud to be performing the work with the distinguished Grand Rapids Symphony this Saturday!
I've been the honored guest of the symphony this week, but also of the local American Indians, visiting their school children and performing with the local drum group. Now, when we refer to a "drum group," we are actually referring to a group of Native American singers who also sing around, and play upon, the drum. The local singers in Grand Rapids are called the "Circle of Life" drum, and were so named by a Native elder, George Martin. The Circle of Life singers are a youth drum, with many adults in teaching and supportive roles, and they will perform several songs, with dancers too, at this point in the concert!
Ending the evening, will be my Black Hills Olowan composition for drum group and orchestra. "Olowan" (oh-LOHW-wahn) means /song/ in Lakota, and this work is a song for the Black Hills of SD, a place of significant meaning for the Lakota people. I'm honored that the Circle of Life drum will sing with the orchestra for this performance, along with Lakota music educator Dr. Ronnie Theisz. Dr. Theisz is one of the original Porcupine Singers from Pine Ridge, and himself drummed on the world premiere with the South Dakota Symphony several years ago. It's an immense privilege to have Dr. Theisz singing with us for the MI premiere of this pivotal work. Thanks professor!
My special thanks go out to conductor and friend, David Lockington, for his warm invitation to curate this Grand Rapids Symphony concert! It's not common knowledge, but maestro Lockington heard one of my choral works and thereafter commissioned my first symphony! Under his baton, the New Mexico Symphony gave the world premiere of my Powwow Symphony, which in turn opened many orchestral doors for this composer.
I wish I could see you all at this sold-out performance, but word has spread and tickets have become scarce. If the symphony keeps a working relationship with the local American Indian community here (and I hope they do!), they may have to consider a larger venue, or start giving multiple night performances! Aho!