'Iholba': Haunting Wind Music In Chickasaw

Composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate's
Composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate's "Iholba" premiered Wednesday at the Kennedy Center. (Kennedy Center)
Friday, September 23, 2005

Music scholars spend a lot of time analyzing Western classical music and explaining its meaning to the rest of us. But no expert was needed to understand the emotional nuances in the world premiere of a work by Native American composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate on Wednesday at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.

You could hear the quiet prayer, sense the heartbeat and feel the wind in Tate's "Iholba" ("The Vision"). Tate's connection to nature and the human experience was quite apparent in this piece, which is based on a traditional Chickasaw song, with original poetry sung in Chickasaw.

Conductor Emil de Cou led National Symphony Orchestra flutist Thomas Robertello, accompanied by a chamber orchestra of NSO musicians and a chorus, with sensitivity and empathy through the 20-minute piece. The chorus, eight members of the Master Chorale of Washington, capably handled the challenge of singing in the Chickasaw language, with its nasal vowels and glottal stops.

Robertello's solo part required not only singing as well as playing the flute but also slapping the keys of his instrument percussively and bending notes. He executed all that with careful dignity. The piece began with the celestial effect of Robertello breathing incantations into his bass flute while the chorus whispered so gently that only their sibilant sounds could be heard.

Tate is rare as a Native American composer of classical music. Rarer still is his ability to effectively infuse classical music with Native American nationalism. Wednesday's premiere, a Kennedy Center commission, was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.

-- Gail Wein

© 2005 The Washington Post Company