Playing on cultural harmonies: South Dakota strives to foster understanding through music

The Argus Leader’s story about the Lakota Music Project on October 18 provides welcome good news from Indian County.

The newspaper’s coverage of South Dakota Symphony’s program to work with Lakota musicians offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the work of an inspiring organization striking down cultural boundaries through art. Descriptions of collaboration between classical musicians and Native instrumentalists in this South Dakota symphony offer hope that cultural coexistence is possible and differences can be overcome.

The Lakota Music Project is fueled by a harmonious sense of working in concert. While Lakota flute player Bryan Akipa (member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe) draws from sounds of nature and the feelings around him, the classically trained orchestra play off strict counts. Here, these differing processes are revered rather than repressed.

Lakota Music Project compositions are perfected through careful listening rather than working towards a goal of uniformity. As Akipa listens to oboist Jeff Paul’s original piece “Pentatonic Fantasy for Dakota Cedar Flute and Orchestra”, he formulates flute melodies to complement Paul’s music.

Pieces such as “Pentatonic Fantasy for Dakota Cedar Flute and Orchestra” are continuously rewritten and adapted to make room for Akipa’s style. This is a process of cooperation and mutual respect. The goal is to create a blend of unique sounds rather than diminishing distinctive styles to a muted common ground.

This fusion of sounds, influences, and cultures is a means of celebrating and embracing differences.

Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra Delta David Gier’s efforts to deeply enrich the community rather than merely entertain has proved successful. Mutual inspiration between classical and Native musicians streamlines into vibrant, engaging performances.

Although the Lakota People’s Law Project remains focused upon issues of legal justice, we are moved by positive cultural happenings such as the work of the Lakota Music Project.

Below is a video of the orchestra performing at Sinte Gleska University in 2009. Read Argus Leader’s full story here.

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