A Boulder-based chorale group is celebrating Indigenous voices with its last show of the season

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Cantabile Artistic Director Brian Stone directs singers at a rehearsal.

Cantabile is a choral choir based in Boulder that performs music in a variety of genres. It aims to use its voices to connect people through choral music, so its final concert of the 2022-2023 season will honor and celebrate the voices of Indigenous musicians and composers.

Artistic Director Brian Stone said that while he accepts that many people say we need art more now than ever, he often asks himself what that really means. 

“Like, why do we need art now more than ever in this sort of post-pandemic, hopefully coming out of pandemic time,” he said. “So all of our concerts have been sort of trying to answer that question from different angles.” 

Stone said this concert is about learning about new cultures, but it is also fiercely about making cultural connections through art.

This program includes four pieces: “Stomp on the Fire” by Andrea Ramsey, using the voice and the percussive sounds of the body to create an expression of our collective human journey as well as “Chante Waste Hoksila” (My Kind-Hearted Boy), a traditional Lakota lullaby arranged by Linthicum-Blackhorse in 2022 in honor of the children of Uvalde. 

The performance also includes “Wichita Baptist Hymn” transcribed by Tracey Gregg-Boothby and arranged by Andrew Marshall, which examines and preserves two melodies of the Southern Plains Wichita tribe, or Kitikiti’sh. And then the featured piece of the concert is by Jerod Impichcha̱achaaha' Tate, “Iholba’” (The Vision). It is based on a Chickasaw Garfish Dance song and is sung in the Chickasaw language.

Maggie Friesen, who sings first alto in the ensemble, said Tate’s approach to the music is different from a lot of other choral music. She said the way Tate uses pitches, intervals, and orchestration is very modern. 

“I love this piece because Jerod, in the interview that we did with him, described this music as being very like, reverent. And I really feel that when he talks about why he wrote this piece, of trying to reconnect with a tradition and area that his people were forcibly relocated out of it, that's incredible.” 

Friesen added that she doesn't feel as connected to Beethoven as she does to this piece. 

“The text he talks about running through canyons and looking at the sky and running over sand. It's like, ‘OK, I get this and I feel this.’”

Eden Lane/CPR News
Cantabile Artistic Director Brian Stone directs singers at a rehearsal.

Baritone Vaughn Weiss says "rhythm" is the summary word he uses for the entire concert. 

“The intricacy for me it's a unique singing experience, but I find myself, with each piece, coming back to the rhythm of the piece to find where I am and to stay with Brian.”

Tate's piece is written to be sung in his native Chickasaw language. Stone said this concert avoids concerns about appropriation by design. 

“So all of this music is offered from the composers freely. Their experience is one of, in the case of Jerod Tate, is a Chickasaw experience, American experience,” Stone said. “But this music is, he's putting this out there for us to experience in the same way that Brahms put his music out to experience, so … we're learning, and that's the intent. The intent is for us to perform this music. He composed this fully with the intention of it being accessible to all of us. It is not necessarily from a specific spiritual tradition that we are sort of trying to find our way into.”

Friesen said she also connects with what Cantabile is trying to do — pay respect to the musical traditions of the piece, as well as to the culture the composer comes from. 

“It’s a very cool concert. I've seen other choirs try to do concerts like this and do it … less ethically than we have, at least how I believe we have.”

Weiss said some friends of his have a poster in their home that lists things that we can do to understand the world around us better. He said the sentiment speaks to him. 

“Specifically in relation to different cultures. And one of them is to listen to music, read stories about those cultures and try to understand them, whether that means making a personal connection or realizing that things are different or similar,” Weiss said. “When I see that line on their poster, I think of something like this: We are just trying to expose people to a different type of music that they may never have heard before. And I think that they can really appreciate.”

The Cantabile concert has two performances: Friday, May 5, and Sunday, May 7, at the First Congregational Church in Boulder.