News / USA

Lakota Get Classical in Unique Musical Mash-Up

Native American drum group combines its sound with a classical symphony orchestra

The Porcupine Singers perform as part of The Lakota Music Project. Ronnie Theisz (left),  professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University, has been with the group since 1972.
The Porcupine Singers perform as part of The Lakota Music Project. Ronnie Theisz (left), professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University, has been with the group since 1972.

Multimedia

Audio
Jim Kent

It's not unusual to find musicians from different genres - or from different cultures - collaborating. Opera star Luciano Pavarotti belted out the blues with Eric Clapton and South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded an album with folk legend Paul Simon.

Another more recent musical mash-up has a traditional Native American drum group performing with a classical symphony orchestra.  

Musical mash-up

The Porcupine Singers, a traditional Lakota drum group, performs throughout South Dakota. So does the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. But they never performed together - until last year.

"Any conductor coming into a new music directorship with an orchestra is gonna spend time taking stock of the community and how the orchestra serves the community," says Delta David Gier, who took the helm of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra in 2004. His goal was to bring classical music to what he saw as traditionally underserved areas of the state. His immediate thought was the African-American community.

Delta David Gier leads the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the Porcupine Singers in a performance by the The Lakota Music Project.
Delta David Gier leads the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the Porcupine Singers in a performance by the The Lakota Music Project.

"I met this woman who was in charge of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Sioux Falls and we struck up a conversation. I said, 'You know, a lot of orchestras are involved with Martin Luther King Day. They have concerts and invite African-American choirs and artists and so on.' She listened and when I finished talking she said, 'That's really nice if you want to pursue that. But I've got to tell you, I'm a black woman and I don't have a problem in South Dakota. If you want to talk about racial prejudice here, you've got to talk about Native Americans.'"

Reaching out

Gier followed her advice and set up a meeting with some of the state's Native American leaders, including Barry Lebeau, a Lakota who works with Native American artists across the state.

Lebeau told him that ensembles from the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra had visited various reservations over the years for educational purposes.

"But he wanted to do something more that involved the greater symphony and American Indian music," says Lebeau. "I was intrigued."

Tim Black Bear and the Porcupine Singers perform with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.
Tim Black Bear and the Porcupine Singers perform with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.

LeBeau put Gier in touch with Ronnie Theisz, professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University. Although he's not a Native American, Theisz has sung with the Porcupine Singers since 1972. He's now their oldest and most experienced member.

Playing with tradition

The group is known across the country for keeping the traditional songs of the Lakota alive. They've sung at the Kennedy Center and in the film "Dances With Wolves". But collaborating with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra raised a concern

"For traditional singers, the compelling value is always to preserve the tradition, not to experiment too much, not to change things to make it like Anglo music," Theisz says.     

But since the Lakota Music Project, as it was called, would combine aspects of classical and traditional Lakota music, Theisz and the Porcupine Singers felt it could work. And - from its first performance in May, 2009, it did.

The first part of a Lakota Music Project concert offers individual selections by both groups, musically reflecting the human conditions of love, war, death and joy. During the second half of the program, the groups combine their sounds in a composition written especially for the project.

Unique collaboration

Both Native and non-Native musicians enjoyed the collaboration. Violinist Magdalena Modzelewska, who grew up in Poland, has played with the orchestra since 1998. She sees this project as an incredible musical and cultural journey.

"You feel the, the greatness of the moment, the importance of it," she says. "And it's wonderful, It really is wonderful."

Porcupine Singer Emanuel Black Bear agrees.

"We sing a lot of old songs, and so does the orchestra. A lot of thought's gone into these songs and what we're doing and it's for our music. You know, no matter what race you are, it's the music."

And the music will continue. Another piece has been commissioned for future performances so the Lakota Music Project can continue to share and expand its unique sound.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid