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

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win 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.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs