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On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908). Second Suite, “Indian,” IV. Dirge (1891-95). Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa. Naxos 8.559075, Tr. 9. 6:19

Curt Cacioppo (b.1951). Lenape Refrains (2009). Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman. Live recording. 33:30

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (b.1968). Shakamaxon, II. Moccasin Game (2008). Philadelphia Classical Symphony, Karl Middleman. Live recording. 9:15

One of the ways to understand a nation’s music is to listen to the music of its indigenous peoples. On this Discoveries we’ll hear music written by, and inspired by, American Indians.

Dvorak said that Americans should use their nation’s folk music to create a national identity. MacDowell didn’t buy it, not accepting the idea of so-called “American” or any other kind of music. Music was music, whether it came from Germany (where he studied), or a book of American Indian tunes, where he found inspiration for his Indian Suite. The “Dirge” especially moved him, and scholars have pointed out its recurrence in later works of his. He told people that he wrote it partly to honor the death of his teacher, Joachim Raff. In any case, he wasn’t trying to write anything authentically American or American Indian. He was simply composing, using whatever materials attracted him. “I do not believe in ‘lifting’ a Navajo theme,” he once wrote, “and furbishing it into some kind of a musical composition and calling it American music. Our problem is not so simple as all that.”

William Birch. Penn’s Tree, with the City & Port of Philadelphia, on the River Delaware from Kensington. 1827

Curt Cacioppo’s Lenape Refrains is an extensive work built on tribal songs and rhythms. Along with the string orchestra it involves American Indian percussion, harp, clarinet, chanting by the instrumentalists, and, in this performance, solo singing by the composer himself. American Indian music and performance practice have been passionate studies of Cacioppo’s for many years. He has traveled around the country learning and performing, and he often incorporates elements of this music into his concert works.

Lenape Refrains is played without pause: I. Intimations under the Elm, II. Colloquy in the Branches, III. Sunlight through the Leaves, IV. Braiding Song and Circle Dance [listen for percussion and solo voice], V. Storm, Parody and Lament, VI. Blessing Song [a beautiful clarinet solo here], VII. Stomp Dance and Lullaby, VIII. Tarantella.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a fast-rising composer, and as a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, he brings the experience of his own heritage into music for the concert hall. His flute concerto Tracing Mississippi, for instance, depicts the tragedy of the forced relocation of the Chickasaws and others in the 1830s, infamously known as the Trail of Tears. Shakamaxon takes its name from the Lenape Indian village situated on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, on what is now Penn Treaty Park. It was here (under the same elm referenced by Cacioppo), that the 1682 Treaty of Friendship between William Penn and Chief Tamanend was signed. As a model of enlightened cooperation, it became famous throughout the world. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that “few events in history have stronger claims on our serious reflection, on our humanity, our sense of rights… [it] furnishes a practical lesson on the influence which intelligence, real friendship, and justice may acquire.”

The Moccasin Game evokes Lenape dances. Tate writes, “Moccasin games can be very intense and have always fostered healthy competition within American Indian communities. This movement is meant to depict the natural banter of the game, and to honor the determination and perseverance of the Lenape people.” Shakamaxon was commissioned by the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, as was the Cacioppo and the soon-to-be-premiered Wissahickon Scenes by Maurice Wright. In their various ways they help us understand a bit more about America and its music.

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