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More Than Music: Native American inspirations

A detail of the world's most precious violin, The Osmium violin, created by Austrian violin maker Edgar Rus is seen in Vienna, Austria.
A detail of the world's most precious violin, The Osmium violin, created by Austrian violin maker Edgar Rus is seen in Vienna, Austria.

There’s a growing list of successful composers who proudly identify their heritage as American Indian. It’s renewing interest in the “Indianist movement” which flourished at the turn of the 20th century.

How does this forgotten and complicated musical genre resonate with composers today? And what does an old TV ad for Hamms beer from the 1950s tell us about that journey?  

Our latest “More than Music” installment looks at the ways in which Native and non-native Americancomposers, have attempted to incorporate Native American music and lore into our mainstream concert tradition.

Also, we explore how this country’s earliest rhythms and sounds shape what many consider to be “American.”

It can make for difficult listening. Leading conductor and pianist Timothy Long is a member of the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma.

“We still don’t get recognition. We’re not in the history books. People know nothing about us. This really makes it very difficult for me to listen to the Indianists. We were being occupied and the occupiers were celebrating us, even, with our own music,” said Long.

Cultural historian Joseph Horowitz is our guide for a movement that has offended and inspired.

More Than Music is scripted by Joe Horowitz. Sound design and production by Peter Bogdanoff.  Joe Horowitz is the author of Joe Horowitz is the author of “The Propaganda of Freedom: JFK, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and the Cultural Cold War.” More than Music is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Joe Horowitz writes about Arthur Farwell in his book Dvorak’s Prophecy and the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music. The Omaha Wau-Waan song heard was sung by George Miller, Joseph Merrick, and Migthintonin in 1895, and recorded by Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche. 

In collaboration with, and with the consent of, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, the recording was included on a Library of Congress publication and currently resides on its Omaha Music website.

It was included for broadcast it courtesy of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center. Lisa Cheryl Thomas’s recordings of the piano works of Arthur Farwell may be heard on the Toccata label.

Earlier ‘More Than Music’ programs can be found hereherehere, and here.


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Rupert Allman