As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I wanted to learn more about Native American composers in celebration of Native American History Month, which takes place in November. This is how I discovered Jerod Tate, a composer local to my home state of Oklahoma.
Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, studied Piano Performance at Northwestern University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. Since graduating from college, he has had many successes performing and composing. In the past, he has performed on the Broadway national tours of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon and accompanied both the Colorado and Hartford Ballet. In composition, he has had pieces played by some of the best orchestras in America. He was also a founding instructor of the Chickasaw Summer Arts Academy and has taught composition to American Indian high school students across many reservations and cities.
One of his pieces, Tracing Mississippi, features a flute soloist along with a full orchestra including strings, brass, and woodwinds. The music contained in the piece ranges from soft, calm melodies to chaotic and fast swells. It was composed as a “remembrance of the old country [his] family lived in and incorporates traditional songs and dance rhythms, along with American Indian percussion instruments.”
Tracing Mississippi is a piece that needs some historical context to understand. During the 1830s, the U.S. Government decided that it wanted Native American Nation’s lands, ranging from Florida up to North Carolina. To acquire this land, the government created laws and treaties to claim the land from the Native American Nations. Over time, the government began using violence to drive the Native Americans off of this land until they would be relocated further West to my home state, Oklahoma. During this forced mass migration, not only did the government provide little assistance to the Natives it was making homeless, it also destroyed the native’s homes and supplies before forcing them to traverse thousands of miles across the country. This dangerous and deadly migration is now known as the Trail of Tears.
Tracing Mississippi is a great example of one of the different ways music can be used to honor or remember moments, places, and people in history. Jerod Tate wrote this piece to remember and honor his “old country” of Mississippi, where his ancestors grew and built a society. But the piece is also conscious of the tragedy that took that home from his people and made an entire society start from scratch.
Music can help bring attention to terrible tragedies, but it can also bring attention to incredibly happy moments in time. There are many songs that we naturally associate with happy moments. For example, we sing “Happy Birthday” each time we or someone else has a birthday! Both “Happy Birthday” and Tracing Mississippi are examples of how music can bring greater joy and understanding to everyone’s life. The more we understand other points of view, the better we can help each other.
Tate, Jerod. “Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate.” Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, 10 Sept. 2015, http://jerodtate.com/.
History.com Editors. “Trail of Tears.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/trail-of-tears.
Tate, Jerod. “Tracing Mississippi.” Tate, J.I.: Tracing Mississippi/Ilhoba’, Performance by San Fransisco Symphony and Chorus and Christine Bailey Davis, 2009. https://open.spotify.com/album/0g3EJfqhewDt7LpHehrvPA?si=7RuO9pRVRrKth_tan0x3Sw