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American Indian traditions come to classical music

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/10/24/jaredtate/ American Indian traditions come to classical music by Karl Gehrke, Minnesota Public Radio
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2007

      American Indian traditions come to classical music

      by Karl Gehrke, Minnesota Public Radio
      October 26, 2007

      At first it would seem that classical music and the music of American
      Indians have little in common. But Chickasaw composer Jerod Tate is among a
      handful of Indian composers using classical music to express his culture
      and history. This weekend the Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis premieres a
      new guitar concerto by Tate inspired by traditional themes.

      St. Paul, Minn. — Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate was born in Norman, Oklahoma
      and grew up surrounded by classical music. He listened to his father play
      Bach and Rachmaninoff on the piano. His mother was a professor of dance and
      a choreographer. He spent evenings and weekends at rehearsals and
      performances of ballets and musicals.

      Tate studied the piano and had no intention of becoming a composer. But at
      the rather advanced age of 23, his mother asked him to write an original
      ballet score based on American Indian stories from the Northern Plains and
      Rocky Mountains.

      "It was the first time I actually thought of marrying the two very strong
      identities that I have," Tate says. "One is being a Chickasaw Indian, and
      the other one is being a classical musician. My mother presented the
      perfect opportunity for me to express both of those together."

      Tate's new guitar concerto is titled "Nitoshi' Imali." It was a commission
      from the Joyce Foundation, and awarded to Tate and the St. Paul-based
      American Composers Forum.

      The work includes themes based on traditional love songs, war cries and
      dances. But with the exception of some special drums and percussion, the
      music is all played on standard western instruments.

      Tate says his goal is to illustrate American Indian sounds and culture with
      the classical orchestra.

      "I would liken it very much to American Indian painting or other fine
      arts," he explains. "American Indians in literature are using English to
      express Indian stories, even though it's not their native language. Indian
      artists are using acrylics, canvases and paint brushes, all of which are
      not aboriginal to this country. But the iconography is still in the
      painting and you can still really tell it's an Indian painting. There's a
      vibe to it."

      "So by using a non-Indian palette with the orchestra," Tate adds, "I'm
      trying to express those things and abstracting them through European

      Jerod Tate lives in Colorado with his wife, Ursula Running Bear. The
      concerto is dedicated to her and written for his friend, acclaimed guitar
      virtuoso Jason Vieaux.

      The composer and guitarist met when they were both graduate students at The
      Cleveland Institute of Music, where Vieaux is now head of guitar studies.

      To help Vieaux prepare the concerto, Tate shared recordings of the songs on
      which he based his piece. Vieaux says hearing the tunes sung in their
      original context was helpful in capturing their nuance and rhythm.

      "There's an inflection in the voice that you typically hear in these songs
      and melodies," the guitarist says. "Jerod skillfully notated them, and when
      you play the tunes, you can at least approximate that spirit. There's no
      question where these melodies come from."

      Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis Music Director Cary John Franklin says
      Tate's concerto is a very layered and stunningly beautiful work.

      The community orchestra and Jason Vieaux are premiering Tate's guitar
      concerto at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, with a second performance at Wayzata
      Community Church. Franklin says Tate has written a very personal piece.

      "The thing about Jerod's music that I find fascinating is the wonderful
      lyrical nature of the music," the conductor says. "The melodies are
      combined with very interesting and sometimes complex rhythms."

      In using the folk traditions of American Indians as the basis of his music,
      Jerod Tate is following in the footsteps of Bela Bartok and other classical
      composers who deconstructed the folk music and dances of their homelands
      and created new work.

      Whether listeners hear the Indian elements or not, Jerod Impichchaachaaha'
      Tate wants them to find his music emotionally appealing.

      "What I'm hoping is that no matter what, the music is just cool," Tate
      says. "You've got to have a cool factor in your music. I'm saying that in
      street terms, but I mean it very seriously. It has to be just good music.
      I'm hoping that people do hear the Indian influence in there, but at the
      same time I do want the work to survive on its own."

      Guitarist Jason Vieaux wants Tate's concerto, "Nitoshi' Imali," to have a
      life after this weekend's premeire with the Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis.
      He says it's a challenging work, but he'd like to get other conductors and
      orchestras excited about programming the concerto.
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