WHY CREATE A REQUIEM FOR AMERICA?
Requiem for America is an amazing musical commentary on the founding of America, and a vital one in today’s American landscape. Not only does the anti-requiem saliently lay bare America’s forgetfulness of her original people, but each performance directly involves the indigenous people in nearby tribal communities. This beautiful project deserves our best support!
— Winona LaDuke
As we struggle against the deep legacy of racism in the United States, it’s high time for us to face and to mourn the genocide of Native Americans, on which this nation was founded. I'm proud to be associated with this project.
— John Luther Adams
We invite you to join us on a powerful and courageous journey into America's un-remembered past. Mohican composer Brent Michael Davids is composing a 90-minute, secular ‘anti-Requiem’ to give voice to America’s invisible people: the American Indians.
An interactive, interdisciplinary performance work, REQUIEM FOR AMERICA places indigenous voices front and center, embodied by the creative team, the on-stage performers, and the mission of outreach and community-building that is central to each performance. REQUIEM unites the creative talents of Brent Michael Davids, a respected Mohican Indian composer, Diné filmmaker Ramona Emerson, of Reel Indian Pictures, and Yup’ik choreographer Emily Johnson, of Catalyst. The trio will jointly create a powerful concert experience blending elements of opera and symphonic music with video production. But what makes this project unique is the recruitment of Native American singers, from local tribes and individuals, to perform center stage. As the nucleus of the work in performance, indigenous singers embody the interaction between native and non-native musicians and communities that is at the heart of this project.
Subtitled “Singing for the Invisible People,” the subject matter of REQUIEM FOR AMERICA is nothing less than the genocidal founding of the United States. As demonstrated by persistent, dehumanizing stereotypes and continuing arguments over cultural appropriation, America’s assault on Native American cultures continues to this day. REQUIEM FOR AMERICA aims to shine a light on historic injustices but at the same time to model and to create solutions in the present, by building collaborative relationships with indigenous artists throughout the country.
The work breaks with convention in myriad ways. By spinning the traditional death mass on its head, composer Davids is reworking the standard 18 movements of the classical concert Requiem into provocative confrontations that challenge the norms of concert music and the sanitized rhetoric of American history. Dispensing with the traditional Latin Requiem text, Davids’ lyrics juxtapose genocidal texts from America’s founding against historical letters by American Indians themselves. The libretto contrasts chauvinist writings of prominent US leaders with the desperate pleas for survival articulated by American Indians. The music is often dissonant, bewildering, and gut wrenching, but also lyrical, reflective, and empowering.
As a composer, Davids skillfully blends indigenous and Western classical musical influences. Building on previous experience creating works with similar collaborative missions, the composer will recruit Native American singers from local tribal communities where each performance takes place. By composing the exclusively oral singing styles of American Indians into the written REQUIEM, Davids literally places real, non-mythical, indigenous Americans front and center. As a Mohican himself, Davids understands the cultural protocols for successfully inviting the local indigenous talent for each performance.
The multidisciplinary aspects of the work will deepen its impact. Projections by video artist Emerson will highlight the power of the libretto and provide compelling visual context and reinforcement for the production. During the final rehearsals, Emily Johnson, an award-winning choreographer of Yup’ik descent, will create choreography that juxtaposes and blends American Indian and modern dance styles, laying bare the conflicts depicted by the words and music, but also facilitating reconciliation between the performers on stage, between performers and audience, and between the message of REQUIEM and America as a whole.
REQUIEM extends themes and issues raised by Davids before, but on a grander scale. His Un-Covered Wagon layers together three different indigenous singing styles in performance by a non-indigenous choir, presenting a powerful counter-narrative to the myth of the “untamed wilderness” of the American West. In Black Hills Olowan, Davids integrates indigenous singers as a new section within a standard symphony orchestra. Over the course of the work, the Native American singers gradually emerge as the leading voice of the texture. In the concert opera Purchase of Manhattan, Davids recounts the founding of New York City from the Lenape perspective, on whose land the city was built. The opera features western and indigenous singers, sometimes in dialogue, and sometimes in outright confrontation, just as the forthcoming REQUIEM will do.
A growing consortium of national partners are committing to perform REQUIEM. The ultimate goal is to perform REQUIEM in every state of the nation, collaborating with the local tribal communities for every performance. Each time REQUIEM is performed, the musicians, American Indians and audiences will cultivate new friendships. Inviting indigenous people to collaborate is essential to the overall mission. By joining forces, each performance hopes to build good relations with, and foster greater insights from, America’s first inhabitants.
All 18 movements will be completed in 2021. The first performance of REQUIEM will take place in the famous 1,089-seat Capitol Theater in Madison, WI, in spring, 2022. A professional chorus and orchestra will join the Medicine Bear Singers and four operatic soloists for the premiere. The distinguished soloists, all of whom have worked with Davids before, will be Metropolitan Opera artists Alexandra Loutsion, Annie Rosen, Stephen Powell, and John Bellemer (of Wampanoag lineage).
Given the current controversy regarding cultural appropriation of indigenous music in supposedly neutral concert settings, REQUIEM FOR AMERICA takes the opposite approach by foregrounding American Indian creators, performers, and communities. In the face of the widespread invisibility of American Indians in contemporary America, REQUIEM sings of the invisibility and models the solution by actively fostering collaboration between Native and non-native Americans in the arts, and in the towns, cities, and states impacted by them.
Related Reading: "Cultural Appropriation in Classical Music?"
(By Brent Michael Davids, New Music Box, Nov 21, 2019)
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