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

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora