Lowak Shoppala is the world premiere recording of a dance-theater piece by Chickasaw classical composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha Tate. Tate is a rarity, an Indigenous composer of modern classical music. He is known for combining traditional Chickasaw sounds and cultural themes with Western orchestral music. The album demonstrates his mastery of both sophisticated orchestration and dramatic storytelling.
Tate wraps his stirring music around tales from Chickasaw mythology, illuminating how those traditions not only persist, but continue to speak to all of us.
His musical portrayals of various animal spirits call to mind classical antecedents like Carnival of the Animals and Peter and the Wolf. He makes it easy to picture a raccoon glaring at you in 7/4 time, birds swooping through grey skies, or an alligator stalking prey from the dissonant abstraction of a fen.
In the two “Minko (Chief)” movements, vocal chants in parallel harmony struggle and meld with piercing cries from the orchestra.
The production’s second half takes up the mournful topic of displacement and genocide in a movement called “Removal.” A simple repeated motif chanted by the Chickasaw Nation Children’s Chorus clashes hauntingly with eerily wandering orchestral chords.
But hope is not lost. “We have all been given the fire,” reads Linda Hogan’s libretto. “Let us burn our way into the world.” The story of the bringing of fire by a spider who can walk across water helps restore faith in cultural survival.
Lowak Shoppala’ as a whole does the same for Chickasaw and, by extension, Indigenous culture generally. It’s a spectacular mosaic of story and song, ethereal mythology and earthy vitality.
“Some took the new way…and their songs became our songs. We made them our own.” That could well have been Tate’s motto for this dramatic, sweeping project.
This inspiring, one-of-a-kind recording features members of the Nashville Symphony, the Chickasaw Nation Children’s Chorus, sopranos Chelsea Owen and Meghan Vera Starling, baritone Stephen Clark, and spoken word from several excellent readers including noted Cherokee actor Wes Studi.