A composing boot camp is allowing teens and adults from a South Dakota American Indian reservation who may never have written a piece of music before to hear their original compositions performed by professional musicians.
Eight students and adults from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe and nearby community teamed up with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra as part of the Lakota Music Project, aimed at building relationships between American Indians and white communities. Two ensembles will perform the works at free concerts Thursday and Friday in Sisseton and on the reservation, which covers northeastern South Dakota and part of southeastern North Dakota.
"It's good music, very good music," said composer-in-residence Jerod Tate, 49, a Chickasaw from Oklahoma. "I'm so inspired by the composer in them."
The only requirement, Tate said, is that students must know how to play an instrument. "You can't write poetry until you know how to write the letters," he said.
Although the program is focused on young American Indians, Tate said it also includes non-Indians. And even within the Indian community, the program helps build bridges as it did for aspiring composers who took part in a recent similar program on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he said.
"They're all composing next to each other," Tate said.
The music composition academies include daily lessons in composing and activities emphasizing cultural understanding. The academies were made possible by the Bush Prize for Community Innovation, given by the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Bush Foundation, and New Music USA's "Music Alive" program, which selected the Sioux Falls-based South Dakota Symphony Orchestra to participate in the national three-year residency program.
"It invests in the students themselves, teaching them new skills and building their self-esteem," SDSO music director Delta David Gier said in a news release.
Garrett Lawrence, 18, who plays baritone and piano and is in the Sisseton High School band, is among those who will hear their works debut this week. His father, Derrick Lawrence, a Dakota from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and IT director for the tribal college, and 16-year-old sister, Alannah, also are having original compositions performed.
Garrett said he did not know how to write a single piece of music when he started the program. It took him six days to learn how to write a piece.
Garrett's two-minute piece, "The Unforgiveable River," which will be performed by a woodwind quintet, has "a soft flow to it, kind of like a river," he said, "and eventually turns into a raging river." He said he already has started writing another piece and is looking at studying music education at college.
"I learned that there's more to writing music, writing a piece, than just sound," he said. "You really have to put in emotion."
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate: http://www.swo-nsn.gov/
South Dakota Symphony Orchestra: http://www.sdsymphony.org/
Music Alive: https://www.newmusicusa.org/grants/music-alive/
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