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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs