Artist's Statement


From an early age, I was saturated with music and theatre from both of my parents. My father, Charles, is currently a Tribal and Special District Judge in Oklahoma. He is also a classically trained pianist and vocalist who was heavily involved with opera and musical theatre performances throughout his college career. He continues vocal and theatrical performances to this day. As a child, I listened to his performances of Bach and Rachmaninoff, which had a decisive influence on my decision to be a pianist. My mother, Patricia, was a professor of dance and professional choreographer and spent her entire career in the theatre. Throughout my childhood, I spent evenings and weekends at my mother's rehearsals and performances for dance concerts, musicals and ballets. She was also the first person to commission music from me for her original ballet entitled Winter Moons. Winter Moons is based on American Indian stories from the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains and provided my first opportunity to express myself as an American Indian through the fine arts.

While attending Northwestern University as a piano major, I studied with Dr. Donald J. Isaak, who was a truly unique teacher. Not only was he a master of piano technique and interpretation, he was an orchestral thinker in his playing. He profoundly influenced the way I listen to music. After graduating from Northwestern with a BM in Piano Performance, I went to The Cleveland Institute of Music to begin a masters degree in piano performance, where I studied with Elizabeth Pastor. I added composition to my masters degree and began studies with Dr. Donald Erb. While completing my MM in Piano Performance and Composition, I began composing works based on traditional Chickasaw and other American Indian music.

In 1994, I was invited to participate in the first convention of American Indian composers, in Boulder, Colorado where my double bass concerto entitled Iyaaknasha' was performed. At the convention, I met a Comanche composer from Oklahoma City named Dr. David Bad Eagle Yeagley. Dr. Yeagley expressed his vision of American Indian classical composers following the same path as other American Indian artists - abstracting traditional materials into contemporary expression. Dr. Yeagley's words compelled me to convey the same vision to audiences abroad, and to deliver the message to other American Indians that classical composition is an arena starving for their participation.

As my musical path has evolved, it has become equally important to help young American Indians find a voice in classical composition. In fact, I believe American Indians have a natural ability to represent themselves musically and intelligently in the classical fine arts. I am currently Composer-in-Residence for the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy. I was also Composer-in-Residence for the Grand Canyon Music Festival's Native American Composer Apprentice Program and the American Composers Forum/Joyce Award community outreach program. All three programs provide classical composition instruction for American Indian students and feature their works in public performances.

I find an unyielding source of strength, love and support from my family and my grandmother, Juanita Foshi' Keel Tate, who gave me the name Taloa' Ikbi (the Chickasaw description for a composer), encouraging me to continue the vision. With this vision burning in my heart, I am dedicated to spending my life looking for American Indian solutions in classical music composition.


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