OKC Philharmonic to perform Chickasaw composer's work

Skunk, Bird, Minko, Raccoon and Squirrel clans.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City Philharmonic will perform a work by Chickasaw classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate Feb. 16 at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. The composition, “Clans from Lowak Shoppala’ (Fire and Light),” is a theatric expression of ancient Chickasaw clan leaders.

February’s performance marks the orchestra’s debut of a composition by the Emmy Award-winning Chickasaw composer.

In addition to a full symphonic orchestra, “Clans” features a Yuchi/Muscogee Creek narrator, seven American Indian actors and Tate leading a male vocal trio singing in the Chickasaw language. The performance will be bathed in theatric lighting and costumes throughout the theatre.

Several Chickasaws will be dressed in historically accurate regalia made by world-renowned Chickasaw textile and fashion artist Margaret Roach Wheeler.

“Designing the Clan costumes of ‘Lowak Shoppala’’ was one of the highlights of my career,” Wheeler said. “It allowed me to use my research from a fellowship with the National Museum of the American Indian on Mississippian textiles. The Mississippians, or the Mound Builders (900 AD-1500 AD), were the ancestors of the Chickasaw.”

“I designed the hand-woven costumes from images I had photographed and drawn from research on shell carvings, ceremonial pipes and pottery designs. There was a great amount of imagination and care that went into creating each clan leader for the production,” Wheeler said. “Jerod’s music and Linda’s words set the tone in my studio, I needed to create costumes that were essence of history of our people, the Chickasaw,” she added.

Poetry for the composition was created by Linda Hogan, a 2007 Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductee and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author; winner of numerous awards for books, poetry and novels; and a global lecturer and writing teacher. She writes from an American Indian perspective and is widely considered one of Indian Country’s most highly regarded writers.

In ancient Chickasaw culture, a family clan system was maintained through matrilineal descent. Each clan had an animal name. “Clans” focuses on seven of these family lines — Minko (Chief), Bird, Alligator, Squirrel, Skunk, Panther and Raccoon — and Tate’s composition incorporates numerous traditional Chickasaw melodies and rhythms.

Chickasaws who will be part of the show in Wheeler-created fashion are Malcom Smith (Minko), Travis John (Bird), Brandon Postoak (Alligator), Jared Walker (Squirrel), Nick Underwood (Skunk), Nola Monetathchi (Panther) and Jason Eyachabbe (Raccoon).

Tate’s work was included in the concert at the request of Alexander Mickelthwate, new conductor and musical director of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, to a musical family, he received his degree from the Peabody Institute of Music. 

He comes to Oklahoma City from Winnipeg, Canada, where he worked with many Native Canadian composers and tribes to bring their compositions to the fore. He also created the Winnipeg Indigenous Festival to connect artistic collaborations between the Canadian Indian and Western cultures. The festival has received worldwide acclaim.

“As a German, I’m excited to include music from American Indian culture in our programming. Jerod Tate is a wonderful, creative man who is a classically trained pianist and composer and uses this ability to express his Chickasaw culture in a magical way,” Mickelthwate said.

OKC Philharmonic Executive Director Eddie Walker also expressed enthusiasm about the February debut.

“We are looking forward to showcasing Jerod’s music,” Walker said. “He is a great, modern classical composer who is an Oklahoman and an American Indian. Performing his music makes absolute sense for this orchestra.”

“Lowak Shoppala’” was commissioned by the American Composers Forum as part of its Continental Harmony Program, an initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts to celebrate the full spectrum of American culture. 

“We were honored by the selection of Jerod Tate as one of a select group of composers for this program,” says John Nuechterlein, former ACF president. “His music has always been highly creative and engaging and represents a critically important part of our cultural heritage.”

Tate’s career has had multiple occasions to feature American Indian folk music in a classical repertoire.

“I am proud to bring our Native melodies into the same arena that Russian, French, Hungarian and German composers did,” said Tate. “This performance by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic provides yet another venue in which Chickasaw culture is represented on the classical concert stage.”

“Lowak Shoppala’: Clans” marks Tate’s 12th commission to specifically feature Chickasaw culture.

Tate is a dedicated American Indian classical composer and pianist who expresses his native culture in symphonic music, ballet and opera. All of his compositions have been commissioned by major North American orchestras, ensembles and organizations, and his works are performed throughout the world. His Washington Post review states, “Tate’s connection to nature and the human experience was quite apparent in this piece ... rarer still is his ability to effectively infuse classical music with American Indian nationalism.”

His works have been commissioned and performed by National Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, South Dakota Symphony, New Mexico Philharmonic, Colorado Ballet, Canterbury Voices, Santa Fe Desert Chorale and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Tate’s recorded compositions are available on the Grammy-Award winning labels Azica Records, Innova Records and Sono Luminus Records.

If you go

Date: 8 p.m. Feb. 16.

Where: Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall.

Tickets: (405) 842-5387 or www.okcphil.org.

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Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.