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Patrick Byers (Cante Luta): The Composer

Introduction To "The Composer" - May 1, 2009

Patrick 2000Larry Binns encouraged me to write this journal. “Write about the music and what events influenced the compositions,” he said. Larry’s booming baritone voice on the phone was like Gabriel calling for heavenly order. Out of earthly lack of order, no rhyme or reason, one part of living like no other part of living, his own love for the art of classical music shone as a light not unlike sun peeling a layer of clouds. What did I see? I saw that I did not have to compose music. I saw that the decision to compose a work had rough beginnings. I saw that many around me sacrificed for me to compose music. I saw little financial reward and fewer rewards in recognition. Would I have composed music in the past knowing these things? One sees that only through the shared life the value of any endeavor justifies the doing. I have been blessed with those whose sharing inspired the creation of music.


Larry and I have shared hours and composing classical music remains the best I could do in our sharing. Someone asked Ravel whether he was teaching Leo. Ravel responded that he was not teaching Leo, they were exchanging and sharing music. Nik Munson and I have shared since boyhood, and with these heady times for both of us the sharing of music keeps our heads above water. Jennifer and I have shared music and love and the raising of children. I have shared music with my children, Marissa often performing works. Kim Cournoyer and I have shared a dream of a new music. Walk into a foreign city with your harmonica in your pocket as Thom Jenkins often does and sit down to share with some musicians and life sings and has abundant meaning. For this reason I humbly submit this journal in order to share the anecdotes of my work. Take freely and keep only what touches the human spirit. -Patrick Byers, 2009

(To Larry) Dear friend and fellow sojourner - April 30, 2009

Here is as suggested a journal covering the major works Jennifer sent to you. I wrote from memory, keeping in mind that this is intended to be a guide, one read by others. This is tricky. When one works on a movement of music alone and works for an intended performance, the appearance in the room of another person puts an edge on the music. There is an unintended edge in this journal I have sent you. I believe this is an aspect of composing and performing we have not discussed yet. Performing my own works I hear differently as compositions. I act differently. Sitting in the hall when others are playing my works I am on edge. Perhaps it is the nature of the music composed. If I could write recklessly without form and musical content the free for all would be great fun and I and other players would be able with abandon to hide behind reckless notes of music not concerned about whether they had to be well placed and defined. At least to me these works always seem to be like a child's sandbox. Everyone has a grand time. The public under the spell of sandbox performances extol their virtues.

This journal records the doings of a structured music. While I face the specter of life and death living with an illness surrounded by friend and family I must ask for your assistance with verity. My eyes move far too easily to tears. I feel the day deeply, a friendship dependently, a love for my children concerned. My view of the journal as I say at the end depends on Larry Binns' request and his ears and eyes as a composer. I cannot see past the day drowned in the emotion of loving those who must suffer my illness. I am of no value to the structured music my life believed a temple. Your musical intellect and heart are great masters in and of themselves. For this I am most grateful and for this I ask assistance with all sincerity.


In great friendship and equal respect,


Reflections on NCSA 1966 through 72 - April 29, 2009

Duncan NobleWhen I was a 16 year old student at UNCSA I loved watching dance classes. There was a pianist for each of the classes. One day I looked in a class and there was no pianist. On a lark I entered the room and sat at the piano. Duncan Noble, legendary dancer and choreographer walked into the studio. He looked at me. I was not the age of the other pianists. He began class. I played. The music improvised I shaped from what he demonstrated. A few times my tempi flew because I was excited watching the dance to my music. At the close of class Duncan Noble elegantly walked up to the piano. He asked whether I would consider playing on a regular basis. I was thrilled. It was worked out by the school administration to be work study to pay for my education.

Up until then I had worked in the cafeteria for work study. Sarah (or Sally as I knew her) was also a piano student at the North Carolina School of the Arts. She played with me on my first public performance of my works at Guilford College in the early 70’s with the two pianos Nix Olympica. I met Sarah Steinhardt once again when Ralph Neiweem and Claire Aebersold performed at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.

Ralph is my oldest and dearest friend. We were both dreamers at the North Carolina School of the Arts. We studied piano with Olegna Fuschi. Ward2.jpgLater he studied with Irwin Freundlich and continued to the Juilliard School with Freundlich. I changed course and studied composition initially with the first Dean of the school of music, Dr. Louis Mennini (older brother of Dr. Peter Mennin), and then the following year with the Chancellor of UNCSA and Pulitzer composer Robert Ward. Among my gifted classmates was Larry Binns for whom our lives in these later years have become the shared domain of two yet active composers. We are now fathers, grandfathers, husbands, teachers, and holders of the line for the pure in classical music composition. Larry is the composer of the heart of music. Little humbles me more. He has a rare gift.

1973 - April 25, 2009

Chamber music has seen the light of performance day. I must search my overdrawn memory for the works. In student days Image of Antiquity for harp, trombone, tympani was performed, once at the school (UNCSA) and again at Guilford College. The score is lost. Four Rhymes for Deirdre is for clarinet and piano. I have no copies, perhaps the clarinetist does. Pauline Koner, a prominent dancer married to Fritz Mahler, cousin to Gustav Mahler, used us with this piece to demonstrate to an audience the relationship between performer and body language. She had us play as we usually do. Then she asked us to take special care between movements to not drop the mood and prepare for the next movement with body language in that movement’s tempo. In other words we must not drop the music’s intensity until the end when the audience applauds. She asked the audience whether they heard more of the music in the first, our usual performing movements, or the second more choreographed, an affirmation all around for the choreographed. Sonata for Violin and Piano, Joe Genualdi and I performed it at school. Later, at the Eastern Music Festival at Guilford College, the principal violinist of the festival orchestra, Darwyn Apple performed it with me. It received a “Bravo” from composer Karel Husa who I was studying with that summer of 1973.

Karel Husa, ComposerSix Preludes for piano I performed wanting more than anything to become like Karel Husa and live a life like his. A two piano work, Nix Olympica, Sarah Steinhardt and I played on a program for Guilford College featuring for the first time my works. This was a very static slow moving music in order to reflect the same on Mars where Nix Olympica was a giant crater. All of these led to Requiem Aeternam. This “abandon all hope for beyond these borders lies monsters...” music began with clusters colored by variation ending abruptly with a single statement that on and off another cluster explodes until the music simplifies to very low C’s. A minimalist motif leads the remaining movement to a nuclear explosion and then a single line with gentler cluster until low in the bass a single line silences this movement. There are two other movements in this first part of a trilogy.


April 29 War and November 13 Birth, complete the trilogy. There is variation on the technique of the first of the trilogy. Nothing that cannot return quickly to home; clusters and single lines. As a student I orchestrated the first movement of Requiem Aeternam. At the rehearsal with the orchestra the faculty conductor threw up his hands and said the music was "un-conductible". I was in the balcony and walked down to the stage up to the orchestra. I conducted the clusters without any meter then with the single line conducted from note to note. They were young as I was so it was an adventure and we arrived at a playground we could play in. That evening at the concert the young embraced the strange monster, and the adult world responded as my teacher, Robert Ward, “If you had to hear that Byers piece twice you would just scream!” As I had done with the Symphony of the Lord, Requiem Aeternam was orchestrated in New York City. There is nothing between the Symphony and the Requiem that would make them kin. The exception is the demand on the musician to play either. It contained far too many notes. The orchestration is full bodied. After Requiem Aeternam and Symphony of the Lord, life changed dramatically.

Jazz Is - April 24, 2009

Patrick Byers, Years passed and life took detours with me working as an admissions counselor for Lagrange College in Georgia, pumping gasoline in Miami, Florida and hired as musical director for musicals. Passing through Winston-Salem I dropped by the dance department of NCSA. My class skills as a musician were remembered particularly by Duncan Noble. He asked me to stay and musical direct a show he created called Jazz Is.


RJ Reynolds Industries corporate vice-president, Ron Sustana, approached J. Paul Sticht, CEO, about a national tour of the show as a way to advertise the fact that R.J.Reynolds (RJR) was more than tobacco. Sealand, Aminoil, and Del Monte were companies RJR owned. Ron Sustana said he could operate on a $250,000 budget. With industry support from the local companies a 20 city tour, from New York City to Los Angeles, Lincoln Center to Disneyland was planned.

The show was performed for the most part from a semi 18 wheeler with the side cut out as a stage. My job was to play rehearsals, take Duncan Nobles’ choreography and vocal direction, and from the music charts compose a score, orchestrate it, and prepare individual parts for the musicians. This was long before Finale and computers. I conducted from the piano, flute, trombone, two saxophones, and one double on clarinet, two trumpets, bass, and drums. Baldwin pianos in New York for publicity and credit supplied a small grand to travel as well as a piano tuner in every stop on tour. There were dancers and vocalists to headline the show. The tour for RJR was a success. As a reward for my efforts, the chancellor, Robert Suderburg, a composer, awarded me a commission. I decided to work with dance faculty, Diane Markham. I was assigned a group of music students and an 11:30 pm time to rehearse. The music dean, Robert Hickok, and some of the music faculty had issues about my role in Jazz Is. It was payback time with the 11:30 pm rehearsal time. The ballet Diane Markam titled, House. She felt that American society revolved and centered on a home bought and paid for with the sacrifice of the human soul. The score had two flutes, two trombones, bass, harp, tympani, and percussion. It was a dark score with bitter sweet motifs sprinkled among the ruins. As it is for many of my theatre and dance scores the record of them is a recording. Again, the manuscripts are lost.

Reme LaChat was a successful businessman whose life crossed mine when House was being created. I met him through Caroline Ebeid, a prominent socialite and a beauty. She had become a sanctuary for Reme LaChat. Reme was married to another prominent socialite. They had a ten year old daughter and lived in one of those houses Diane Markham’s ballet centered around. Reme came home one day to find his daughter drowned in the bath tub and his wife passed out from an overdose of sleeping pills. His wife survived only to face her drowning her own daughter. He was a shaken man when I met him but had a demeanor of one who had suffered before. Naturally this affected the score to House, something that created the bitter sweet motifs. This was 1983. Not until 2001 would an event seep into a score again. It went against the grain. I composed music that needed the generosity of the human spirit. Indulging in an event was an imposition demanding listeners to experience a limited window into the soul. If it had happened to me would I compose music? Perhaps. As a chronicler of Reme LaChat’s tragedy I took liberty that was not mine except that I imposed it.

New Challenges - April 23, 2009

North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, had as artistic director, Malcom Morrison. He had approached me at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He needed a teacher of music for actors. I fell in love with the theatre quickly and soon I was composing incidental music for Malcom when he asked.

Far from the Madding Crowd was a six hour adaptation Malcom made of the book authored by Thomas Hardy. Needing period music with sweeping romantic melodies I discovered and fell in love with composing them. I wept with every theme as though it grew from a virgin heart. I had not learned about recording so the musicians and I sat behind a flat on stage playing cues I had written in parts. Three hours, break, then in the evening three hours more. I have heard that to this day the actors in Far from the Madding Crowd whistle the melody that opened the play whenever they call each other. I learned great classics composing for Malcom.

I became a Shakespeare fanatic. Macbeth, Richard III, then there was Cyrano de Bergerac, Cherry Orchard, Sam Shepherd, and Fugard’s Blood Knot. There were many. In the summer Malcom was artistc director for the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. I composed for him Richard II, Richard III, coached Amadeus, Romeo and Juliet and more. Every Christmas “A Christmas Carol” gave me opportunity to arrange carols and musical direct. I was composer for Romeo and Juliet when Kent Thompson directed. When I moved to New York City Kent became artistic director for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. For eight years I flew down to compose for him. When I add the numbers theatre composing with directors who asked me regularly it is close to 20 years. I enjoyed the specialized composing. Patrick Byers who composed Requiem Aeternam was very different from Patrick Byers who composed countless scores for the classical theatre.

Leo Arnaud - April 22, 2009

Leo and PatrickMy mentor had been Sir Leo Arnaud. Leo married Lady Faye and sold his Hollywood home building a one story Hollywood home in the midst of North Carolina tobacco fields in order to be near Lady Faye’s mother. There was a pool and tennis court. I read about Leo in the Winston-Salem paper. He was the composer of the Olympic Theme ABC used every four years. He was an orchestrator for MGM and had worked on films like Dr. ZhivagoI wanted to study with him but the shine from the article in the paper kept me shy.


Shyness changed when the conductor of the Winston Salem symphony asked me to orchestrate three Edith Piaf songs for his girlfriend to sing. I orchestrated from a piano score and left the piano score as the conductor’s. The conductor would have to trust my orchestration, without knowing which instrument was playing what. Since Piaf was on the program, the conductor invited Leo to add some orchestrations and arrangements of French songs. At the rehearsal Leo came with a beautiful group of women. He was handsome so they matched the Hollywood aura. I played piano for this concert. When the conductor asked for the Piaf he announced that the pianist had done the orchestrations. I was horrified. Leo looked my way. I was shaken. When the conductor gave the downbeat and my orchestration filled the room, Leo gave me a thumb up. I asked Leo at break whether I could study with him. He told me I should come soon and he would teach me a few “tricks”. That weekend I drove to Leo’s home in Hamptonville, North Carolina. I rang the door bell. Leo was in the music room. In a short time my visits were frequent; the family made a place for me, and Leo called me his son. The “tricks” he taught me made orchestration masterful. Smoking pipes and drinking wine we sat at his piano and I listened to stories of a life of rich musical personalities and events. ...Continue 

"Incident" in New York - April 21, 2009

If I may presume that there is a period when my composing reached years of maturity, I will presume that that period is New York City, my former nemesis. I lived in terror of the city. My nerves were always on edge. I suffered. Traditional scenarios have suffering as the key to creative revelations. Perhaps it is subject and the persons who share the city. Peter Bennett had directed plays my music supported. We met in North Carolina at the Shakespeare Festival. He had called me about redoing Brad Korbesmeyer’s, Notre Dame. Brad had another play a one act that had been published by French. Peter felt it would make a great opera. Brad could not imagine such a beast. Would I work on it? Once a week Peter and I met and had great exchanges working on Incident at San Bajo. The story centered on a mysterious stranger, Maxlin. San Bajo was a trailer park out west. Why would anyone move to the dessert and live in a trailer park? The stranger, Maxlin offers an elixir for $5 with the sales quip, “It will make you live longer”. Of the three hundred residents only seven buy it. The next morning the seven wake to a trailer park full of dead people. One year after the tragedy the seven are interviewed. Why did they come to San Bajo originally? Who was Maxlin? Where were they now after surviving?

Originally Peter and I worked on it as a piece for actors. Not an opera for theatre actors. Nathan Mathews had worked with Peter on shows as musical director and Nathan had an opera company, Riverside Opera Ensemble. He had a string of successes. I met Nathan at Venieros an Italian bakery in the east village. Peter was there to describe what we had done. Nathan was polite and distant. He wanted to hear the music thus far. We met again at his apartment Riverside and 94th. His partner, Stephen Pickover joined us this time. I am not a singer. I played the score thus far and sang! The music excited both Nathan and Stephen and they warmed to me. The four of us seemed to want to finish “Incident at San Bajo”. However, there was a palpable insecurity since I was unproven, but the music and story seduced all of us. Actor’s voices and opera voices have very different ranges. Nathan and Stephen wanted an opera. They assured me that opera was producing fine actors. The issue with opera is that the music has a wide range of pathos and power in vocal range at times sacrificing hearing the words. Continued

Blakely Russell Kay - April 20, 2009

When I moved to New York City in 1993 I sent out resumes. The Martha Graham School called and offered me a class. I knew Graham's technique having played for Dick Kutch and Dick Gain at NCSA while I was working on Jazz Is. Diane Grey ran the school and after my playing the class called me and sad I had passed with flying colors. The pay was minimal and she wanted to keep me so she gave me the musician’s spot traveling to Port Washington with a Graham dancer who taught special classes in the schools. Dave Meoli ran the arts for the schools. We soon were comfortable enough to apply for a Meet the Composer’s grant with the high school. A ninth grade student had written a poem about Martha Graham. This poem was beyond a ninth grader’s usual state of mind. It was remarkable and I was interested. Meet the Composer agreed and I began setting and orchestrating America, I am. The young poet, Blakely Russell Kay, met with me and I suggested we exchange sketches of each other’s work. The final poem I set to music is moving.

BlakelyLater, when I was editing older works, one was America, I Am. I had scored it for high school orchestra. I re-orchestrated the score for professional players. I had assumed a youth with Blakely’s talent would find her own way in the world. I looked for her online only to find out that she had died. This information came from a school for the deaf. I contacted them via e-mail. They forwarded my inquiry to Blakely’s mother, Barbara, who yet lived in Port Washington where I had had my commission. From Barbara I learned the news that breaks the heart leaving the breath in the land of no rhyme or reason. Blakely had taken her life at the tender age of 25, depriving the world of her inimitable poetic voice. Barbara and I began a series of e-mails. I sent her the Finale audio of the new score. Finale cannot sing, so while a chorus sang AH...there was no reference to Blakely’s beautiful poem. A live orchestra and chorus must bring her poem to life. In the midst of any future performance is the unanswered question, why? America, I Am

In Vietnam - April 19, 2009

October Ballet Company & PatrickDiane Grey approached me one day asking if I was interested in auditioning for company pianist and tour with them in Asia. The pay would be the same as a principal dancer for the company. The music was Joplin rags. I learned them over the weekend for memory and showed up for the audition. A month later I was sitting on a Korean Air jet flying to Singapore, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Japan, Manila, Philippines, Hong Kong, and finally Bangkok, Thailand. I met the October Ballet Company from Saigon, Vietnam. Sponsors had flown them to Bangkok to participate with the Martha Graham master classes. I played for these.


In the lobby of the hotel I saw the Vietnamese dancers sitting and chatting. I approached them and they stood when they recognized me. I had played for the class the day before that they took. One of the dancers spoke English. I was the first live musician they had danced with. My music made them want to dance. I was very excited. Would they be interested in my coming to Vietnam and playing and composing a score for them? They were excited. I had told a colleague working with me in South Africa that Vietnam was my next adventure. She thought I was mad. That was 1996.

Patrick and Audra in VietnamFebruary 2002 I was on my way to Saigon. My daughter, Audra, was with me, and Thom Jenkins, composer and arranger who had partnered my Alabama Shakespeare scores, was already in Saigon prepping the company. The Surdna Foundation had awarded me an Arts Teacher Fellowship. I had postponed my trip because of 9/11. It was hot but not the rainy season in Saigon. The magic was palpable.


Saigon in the evenings has to be experienced. Motor bike is the preferred means of travel. Thom, Audra, and I visited the October Ballet via riding on the backs of their bikes. Thom discovered Mogambos where western men were taken well care of by Lani. Audra and I moved to Mogambos where the rooms were $15 dollars a night, rather than the $40 I was paying, and the food was prepared so one did not get any dysentery. Lani had returned to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, from Hawaii where she owned and ran a successful strip bar. She had a life size photo of Tom Selleck and Lani on the wall at Mogambos, a memento of her strip bar where Tom Selleck was a regular.


Lani took an interest in my visit. She was highly connected even though she was not a communist. She took me to a dance school where I met with the students, Lani interpreting. Lani had a loud voice and I had no idea what she was translating relating to the arts and culture exchanges. Lani and her American husband hired a driver and took Audra and me to Dalat, high in the mountains and as Shangri-La as it can get. A French style luxury hotel had been remodeled after the American war as the Vietnamese called it. It was owned by an American who had high hopes. There was a Steinway grand in the dining hall which opened to the balcony and a view of Shangri-La. I played in solitude. There were not many checked in the hotel the days we were there. Lani had come to Dalat for a wedding. We experienced a Vietnamese wedding for the upper classes. The bride’s home was at the top of a winding road. It was gated. Luxury dripped everywhere; even the garden flowers were pristine and growing in well designed settings.

Lani greeted some Vietnamese officials one day in her restaurant. She was very excited and nervous. Approaching me she announced with a Lani voice that they had come to speak to me. Lani had spread the word and it had traveled to Hanoi. One woman was secretary to the woman who had negotiated in Paris with Henry Kissinger. The other was a man. He headed the Vietnamese Children’s Department and spoke English. He translated for me. The woman had eyes like steel. I asked the man to forgive us. I referred to the war and the millions who died. He translated. The woman’s eyes sparked. I was concerned. She finally spoke. The man translated, “She says you are a man with a big heart.” We spoke at length about the music and the power it has to heal. Young people meeting young people from a generation not touched by the war. The man then told me that there were yet children in Vietnam suffering from disease from Agent Orange, used by the military in the war to clear forest. How many, I asked. Over 200,000 we affected. They sat in corners of their homes the parents not knowing what to do with them. The United States had not taken responsibility for the outcome of Agent Orange and this was a serious issue with Hanoi. I suggested the music exchange with youth be for the Agent Orange victims and bring awareness. My daughter, Audra, sat next to me listening.


These sorts of conversations to many dissipate into the air. It was nothing but sheer talk. I had witnessed music, Seana Marena, become the vehicle for a group that toured the world as cultural ambassadors. One might wait years. The fruit of music and peace travels its own path through time and human hearts. The following morning, our last in Vietnam, CNN was giving the news on the TV at Lani’s bar. The small ticker tape at the bottom announced that the United States had decided to take responsibility for the Agent Orange victims. Naturally I wondered whether the two the night before mistakenly believed I had something to do with this.

Thom JenkinsWhen I returned to the United States I scored, Music for Saigon, my wife, Jennifer cello soloist. The orchestra was Thom Jenkin’s virtual orchestra. Thom had taken his harmonica to Vietnam and played it for the October Ballet company. We recorded spontaneous piano and harmonica moments that divided the larger movements. We did all four moments in one take. Later, as if it was not enough, we recorded at Thom’s house, Light from the East (played throughout this website). Thom played alto and bass flute, I played piano. In order not to pick up the piano clicking noises, Thom ran a cable into the laundry room where he played his flutes with the door shut. Thom at the end of cables in his laundry room, I on the clavinola piano in the studio, we drifted easily into our memories of Vietnam.

"The Adventurer" in Africa - April 18, 2009

Patrick in the BushIf it is common to have an alter personality mine would be an adventurer. An adventurer leaves good sense behind in exchange for exotic climes in faraway places. My adventurer dreams lived in three lands; Africa, Asia, and the Native American Reservation. In time from journals music would be composed and one book written. I confess there was romance, particularly when I was in my 30’s. Seana Marena: Journey through Africa chronicles the most intense of the journeys. It is the journey that has the most music composed.

Music for Soweto MAMS, a concerto for viola and orchestra was composed from a National Endowment for the Arts composers grant through the North Carolina Arts council. Amadi Hummings, who would one day become conductor of the Harlem Symphony Orchestra, played viola. Three Sotho Wedding Songs, arranged for piano solo, then for the Steinway concert they were arranged for piano, clarinet, and cello, the Byers Family Trio. Wind players from the National Symphony of South Africa took me with them in the townships near Pretoria where they played short demo programs in the schools. They were a fun bunch. The music they did not have for their program was the music sung accapella that was the signature vocal presence in South African townships and homelands. They asked me to make some arrangements for them.

One of their programs was at a teachers training college. As we drove onto the lot of the college the sound of the vocal accapella South Africa came from the central building. I asked the guys whether any of them had a tape recorder. They did a cassette recorder and a tape. I recorded three of the melodies. The singers sat while they sang. They also shuffled and stomped their feet. I would learn that these melodies had movement and were wedding songs. It would be awhile before I knew the titles. One, Seana Marena, became the guide to the journey to Soweto classical musicians. I titled my book Seana Marena. In time Sandele Khemese and his brothers would return to the homelands playing these melodies as a string quartet. They told me the folk in the homelands were at first confused hearing their music other than vocal accapella. They in time warmed to it. When the quartet returned to Johannesburg their concerts became hits in venues that included both whites and blacks. Mr. Mandela heard them after his release from prison and he invited them to play at his inauguration and then made them cultural ambassadors. The Soweto String Quartet eventually performed with Dance Theatre Harlem in New York City and traveled with their new music world wide.

Sowto String Quartet and MandelaOne story that I enjoy telling is that when I had first met the musicians in Soweto we gathered in Johannesburg and I asked to play with them Seana Marena which I had written down without reference to its origin. They played from memory. I was as happy as a musician can get surrounded by this music. Later, Paul Myburgh commented that it did not sound African. I called Lindumtze MnGoma and reported Paul's comment. Laughing, he said, "But Patrick, we're following you!" There is a generosity among peoples sharing music, and only blind fools (as I have been) think they are playing correctly.

(Be sure to turn off music before playing the video)

"Indian Country" My Native American Family - April 17, 2009

Patrick and Native AmericansThe third adventure of my alter-self seems to be the most remote and unfeasible. Native Americans lived isolated on United States imposed reservations that have shrunk from decade to decade. I could visit and even get into a conversation. Perhaps a pow-wow where everyone is open to visitors I would befriend someone. I wanted to “become” a friend and take this concept of music to a people whose musical voice had, in my opinion, been silenced. Not long after 9/11 my golden opportunity came. Waiting in the airport for a last leg to Montgomery, Alabama, I sat next to an attractive woman in an over-crowded room that had only one seat available; the one next to her. She noticed my driver’s license and asked about 9/11.


She had watched the smoke at the Pentagon from her office in United States Probations. Rene Green was a United States probations officer. She was on her way to Montgomery to advise courts and lawyers how to save money in the probational process.

Native American extended familyWe were on the same plane. When she found out I was faculty at the Fame school she spoke of art she had collected working in what she referred to as “Indian Country”. I asked whether the youth had talent. “Do they!” she said. On the plane between Atlanta and Montgomery we planned a program that later we gave the name, Share the Fame. Rene contacted the various probation and court chiefs in Washington and North Dakota and by November 2002 I was on the road traveling from Spirit Lake, to Turtle Mountain, to Mandan, and finally Standing Rock reservations.


It was Standing Rock that I met Kim Cournoyer, a musician and like me, classically trained with the same dreams and ideals about music. She began her band program at Fort Yates high school from the ground up. I mentioned the idea of a classical music that traveled from South Africa, to Vietnam. Music from traditional music that transcribed to orchestra, band, or other ensembles revealed a culture and inspired others to play the music from other cultures, particularly for the young. She had had the same dream. Lakota drum music had not been transcribed for other ensembles. She was surprised that I felt she would be the musician to transcribe the drum ceremonial songs. She had dreamed of the music but never had thought she would be the vehicle. For two summers Jennifer, my children and I traveled to Kim’s home with her husband, Patrick, and children Chase and Chayla. We set up in their back yard our camping tents and eating tent we named “Martha Stewart”. Very soon we were family and sharing life and humor.

Jennifer found from the American Music Center a grant called Common Ground for Native American composers. I contacted Kim. She was yet getting used to the idea of being the person to create this music. Julie Polito, an inspired New York City educator and visionary, worked with me to apply for Kim. Common Ground was a grant from the Ford Foundation. All of the monies would go to Native Americans. Julie being the woman she had proven to be many times over in education wars in New York City worked on the grant simply because it meant a vision in motion.

The grant was awarded to Kim. When we camped out in Kim and Patrick’s backyard the summer of 2008 I met Virgil “Taken Alive” an elder and Terry “Yellow Fat”, also a tribal elder. I was their age. We talked at length about restoring the Lakota culture once vibrant with ceremony, language, and tradition. I spoke about Kim’s project. Hers meant sharing the culture outside the reservation. I felt that they should be cautious about sharing with the history of United States theft, from the Black Hills to the attempt to erase the language and ceremonies in the name of cultural assimilation. I strongly expressed the feeling that Kim’s transcribing Lakota drum songs for high school band would be both historic and a place of strength rebuilding their culture with the young. The appearance of a white buffalo had signaled the Sioux and other tribes that their lands and culture would be restored. I felt that Kim Cournoyer was a part of the white buffalo’s prophecy.

KimIn a sense, Kim was a Lakota princess. Her great grandfather, Black Elk, was the legendary Lakota medicine man. Black Elk Speaks chronicles Black Elk’s life and contribution to the spiritual life of all the native peoples. I read the book moved by his life.


Rosa Martinez, his granddaughter, and Kim’s aunt, told me many stories about her grandfather. The one that moved me to tears was the fact that he had grown up wearing moccasins which fit and were healthy for his feet. The government (United States) removed him to a school for assimilation and forced him to wear shoes. In his later years his feet were deformed from wearing them. Rosa felt the injustice merited monies the government gave for mistakes made during the assimilation years. In the fall, Kim approached the tribal council about funds to take her high school band on the road with the transcribed drum songs. I contacted Fiona, who Ralph Neiweem had referred me to about arranging a performance at the Chicago Institute of Music. Fiona loved the program and scheduled a performance. Kim had a performance already in Minneapolis from the Common Ground folk. She called the Native American museum in New York City and they offered her a performance.


The tribal council came through and Kim had her Trail Tour 2009. She felt the burden more and more working on the music. I assured her that her fears would only make a stronger work of music. Of my three adventures I was not a composer for the Lakota adventure. I was a mentor a cheer leader. There are no works except Kim Cournoyer’s. My new role was patriarchal. Much like the tribal elders, Virgil "Taken Alive" and Terry 'Yellow Fat", I fell easily into the role of passing the torch. Kim had the talent, the vision, and the pedigree. Like anyone growing into the confidence needed to fulfill a talent and dream, she needed a mentor. I had grown from my own mentors. It was my turn to be one.

I joined Chamber Music America this year looking for grant money. In this month's magazine is an article on Hopi and Navajo youth composing string quartets. The teaching staff is non native which is what makes Kim Cournoyer unique. She is taking time and serious care transcribing Lakota drum songs in order to preserve the "spirit" in the music.  She is native, trained as a musician, and dreamed of an all native band. I heard the NYC performance of her work thus far. She introduced "The Lands You Fear" on the native flute. Courtney Yellowfat sang it and played the drum, followed by the band, all Lakota youth, playing the drum song. This separates the work written of in the Chamber Music magazine, not to mention the fact that Kim, Courtney, and the band performed here in NYC, and there is no evidence of this sharing from the Hopi and Navajo reservations or Chamber Music America assisting them to share it.


I learned the differences when I was with the musicians in Soweto. Non-natives can only create superficial transcriptions in the beginnings, a falseness heard by the natives in works everyone else feels are authentic. I remained out of the process with Kim Cournoyer only to make an occassional comment about meter or variation. While these music visits to the Rez are in intent, good, it must be the Rez that shares and we to listen and struggle. It is their treasure, their hope for the young, their healing, our blessing if we so choose to remain humble and contrite, having hurt them in the last century. Kim, like myself, is a musician, and it is on that plateau we meet and fellowship. What a golden valley it is for us!

 Ceremonial Drum Song in Honor of Patrick

 News Article on NYC Performance


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