Notes from Native America

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70

“It is a merry little piece,” said Shostakovich of his Ninth Symphony. “Musicians will love to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.” He wrote it in the space of six weeks at the Soviet Composers’ Home near Ivanovo, some 150 miles northeast of Moscow. It was completed on August 30, 1945. The first performance was given by Eugene Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra on November 3. All but one of the movements were encored.

True to the composer’s prediction, the critics hated it, possibly because they were expecting a “war” symphony, like the Seventh and Eighth. Calling it “a playful and fanciful trifle,” Israel Nestyev faulted the Ninth for its “ideological weaknesses” and failure “to reflect the true spirit of the Soviet people.” He suggested that Shostakovich take a vacation. One English critic fled a performance in “a state of acute irritation” because of what he perceived to be “a farrago of circus tunes, gallop rhythms and harmonic quirks.”

Artur Rodzinski, who brought the work to New York in 1946, was philosophical: “I prefer to present the Shostakovich Ninth to the music lovers of New York and the radio listeners. History alone can sit in final judgment on any artistic effort; only through familiarity can humanity weigh its value.”

The Ninth Symphony is cast in five brief movements, the last three played without pause. During the time of its composition, Shostakovich and Dmitri Kabalevsky played four-hand piano arrangements of classical symphonies. Therefore, more than a few commentators have detected the influence of Haydn in the work.

Daniel Zhitomirsky, who was present at Shostakovich’s first run-through of the work, described the music: “The Ninth Symphony opens with an Allegro of Haydn-like simplicity, in which one senses a subtle note of sly irony. In essence, the music seeks to recapture the spirit of bubbling, unrestrained mirth typical of the early Allegro up to the time of Rossini’s overtures. Yet a mood of ultra-modernism inheres in this classical form…. In the second movement Shostakovich shifts to a mood of romantic lyricism…. A striking lucidity marks the texture of the entire movement, as if patterned on glass…. A scherzo of precipitous pace now follows. The music swishes by like a gust of wind, whistling piercingly in its upward and downward sweep…. The fourth movement consists almost entirely of an extended bassoon solo of improvisational character, heard against a background of sustained chords…. The finale returns largely to the dominant mood of the first movement, though the keynote now is rather open buffoonery than spontaneous gaiety.”

~ Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2017.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: 2 movements from Lowak Shoppala’ – Fire and Light

Lowak Shoppala’ (Fire and Light) is a work that expresses Chickasaw identity through modern classical music and theatre.  The entire work is in eight scenes and features orchestra, narration, children’s chorus, traditional Chickasaw and modern dancers, traditional Chickasaw and classical vocal soloists and Chickasaw storytellers.  Each scene depicts a part of Chickasaw culture and history:

Scene 1: Fire and Light

Scene 2: Double Header

Scene 3: Shell Shaker

Scene 4: Clans

Scene 5: Removal

Scene 6: Spider Brings Fire

Scene 7: Hymn

Scene 8: Double Header / Finale

In old 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, Bird, Alligator, Squirrel, Skunk, Panther and Raccoon – and incorporates numerous traditional Chickasaw melodies and rhythms.

Hymn is a dramatic/operatic homage to Southeast Indian hymns sung in Indian churches. They are all Christian text, yet sung in our languages. Our hymns are a product of Scottish contact over 400 years ago. We adapted them and composed new ones that are known for sustaining us during the mass removal to Oklahoma, and continue as a strong tradition today. This Choctaw hymn was composed during the Removal and tells us to find hope and courage in Christ.

Lowak Shoppala’ was conceived, designed and composed by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate and premiered Saturday, November 21, 2009, at the Te Ata Theatre, East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma, with Mr. Tate conducting the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra.

Lowak Shoppala’ – Hymn Poem
by Linda Hogan
We were a river losing its water,
then we were trees losing deep roots
and a fire burning away, and before we lost heart
some took the new ways and changed them to ours
and their songs became our songs.
We made them our own.

Lowak Shoppala’ – Clans Libretto
by Linda Hogan


  1. We have all been given the fire.
    Let us burn our way into the world,
    let it light our dreams.
    It will take us beautiful and grace-filled
    through the future
    the ones our grandmothers and grandfathers dreamed
    for us as they journeyed
    as they carried us inside them
    in the time before ours.

Minko (Chief)

  1. I stand in the green world,
    its strands woven in all our breaths,
    the delicate, the strong.
    I am like seed, a memory of the future.
    We are beautiful people, look how we
    make a path for those we care for, light a fire,
    sweep the path between us, human,
    all my people it is time for the story
    of a night of telling, the word another seed.

Bird (Foshi’)

  1. Wing, feather, light,
    we make our houses of red grasses
    or rushes at the river, of twig
    and horse hair, and soft moss.
    We live in clay
    and the dark holes of trees.
    With our minds of hummingbird, woodpecker, owl
    you do not see us sleeping
    in the deep quiet of our nesting places
    only that most of us wake before first light
    to announce the world is still here.

Alligator (Acho’chaba’)

  1. I am the river bottom.
    I am the dead log on water,
    half-smiling, the most deceptive of all.
    You would not know this moss,
    these short legs, the eyes that shine
    two fires in the dark of night
    able to fly, oh this log of a body,
    really a living tree, the river bottom rising
    and how you think no danger is anywhere so fast
    in the stillness of this hold.

Squirrel (Fani’)

  1. From the nest high off the ground
    with the speed of a falling leaf
    we look down on you and never do you know
    except the tail which gives us away
    or the apples stolen from the trees.
    But ah, how we care for the little ones
    and chatter as if ice had come
    when it hasn’t, and pass from
    canopy to swaying leaf
    so lithe, a mouth filled with nuts
    and seeds, and the little red fire of tail
    following beneath the clouds.

Skunk (Koni)

  1. Beautiful as night and day,
    deep as the color of dark sky
    with the milky way down my back,
    I am all soft fur, sweet face,
    but my smell inspires the fear of others.
    Even the large run from me
    And if the others do come to our secret places,
    toward our young,
    the lovely, slow, and loneliest fire of all,
    we run, tail in air,
    like a running tree, a pole,
    with the milky way down its back.

Panther (Kowishto’ Losa’)

  1. Warrior eyes at night, so silent
    no one knows when she’s about
    all sleek and muscle, ears like shells
    that could hear the ocean from far away.
    She admired our songs, our beauty,
    the goodness she watched from hidden shadows.
    She watched us gather fruit
    and heard us talking, that creature
    so beautiful and tawny,
    the paws of first morning,
    all that we see of her brilliant fire in this world.

Raccoon (Shawi’)

  1. Oh, striped tail, mask,
    intelligent lover of peaches, grapes
    and stolen things. We wash our food at the cleansing river.
    Our long dark fingers keep busy
    and we visit the conjurer at night. That’s why we are clever
    night creatures on the prowl
    going through your things
    twigs in our striped fur, eyes hidden,
    dressed as trees and shadows
    looking through the hidden places
    with another set of eyes.

Minko (Chief)

  1. And at the end of the spoken, the sung,
    the dreamed into life and the fire, that is when
    we are new and begin, the clouds rise up,
    the creative life has spoken through all the nights
    and fires, all along the sacred forest and river and stone
    with its own words. The telling could begin
    and once it begins it may continue
    one seed, one life, one thing, one word,|
    growing after another.

~ Notes by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, copyright 2017.

John Christopher Wineglass (b. 1972): Big Sur: The Night Sun

Oceans – deep, dark, engulfing.
All-encompassing, passionate. Raging, silent, murky yet
sometimes glistening. Mysterious… Predictable yet
unpredictable. Destructive yet at times – healing. In my
dreamscape it has come to represent the portal to my
soulish realm… of which I am delving deeper into new

The natural beauty of Big Sur is sacred to many.  This sanctity was shared by Wineglass, who formed many of the themes of his tone-poem Big Sur: The Night Sun while in residence on the grounds of the Glen Deven Ranch and other areas such as Pfeiffer Beach.  The beautiful impressions and warm enlightenments that affected him while on the retreat became the root – and soul – of this magnificent work.  

The first of four total movements sets the mood for the tone poem as a whole: the “Mystery of the Night Sun” is divided into three distinct sections, opening with two talking drums, a native flute player, and an Ohlone-Chumash vocalist, all contributing in an improvisational manner.  The second section, “Path to the Night Sun,” begins with the pulse of the timpani and talking drums, and reflects the spiritual experience that Wineglass had while taking a walk during the night at Glen Deven Ranch, where he was transformed by the deep power of the risen full moon.  The third section culminates in a climactic revealing of the full glory of the risen moon (“The Night Sun Revealed”).

The second movement, appropriately named “Rushing Waters,” opens the listener to the loveliness of the crashing waves along the California coastline.  The motivic ideas from this section were derived from student examples: children from the BSLT children’s camp with Bach Festival violinist Edwin Huizinga contributed their ideas, which Wineglass then included into the completed work.  This stemmed from a compositional component at a camp for local YOSAL students, who were challenged to go into the woods and create musical ideas on their own instruments…the very concept that Wineglass subjugated himself to in order to compose this tone poem.  

The second movement pairs well with the third, “Pfeiffer Beach – A Secret Revealed,” where a path through the trees opens to an unexpected view of the Pacific Ocean, revealing the overwhelming beauty of this hidden creation by God.  The presence of God and the admiration of beauty are central themes not only to this tone poem, but to Wineglass himself, and as such his music offers praise and celebration of both.

The fourth movement, titled “The Return,” was inspired directly by the brilliant writing of Robinson Jeffers, in particular from the poem of the same name which Wineglass discovered while on retreat down at Big Sur one year ago.  The movement begins and opens with the Ohlone-Chumash vocalist, reflecting the peoples who preserved and cared for this great land.

~ Notes by Dr. Todd Samra, copyright 2017.