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Education & Community

Lakota Music Project

The Lakota Music Project is the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra’s flagship Bridging Cultures Program. Created between 2005-2008, the Lakota Music Project (LMP) addresses a history of racial tension, builds bridges between Native and non-Native Americans, and creates an environment of openness through the sharing of music. Essentially, it is a practical demonstration between white and American Indian musicians to advance cultural understanding. 

The LMP concert program features combinations of South Dakota Symphony musicians, the Creekside Singers, a Lakota drumming group, and Dakota cedar flutist Bryan Akipa, each performing music of their heritages as well as unique repertoire commissioned for the musicians to play together. To date, four works and one arrangement for Lakota artists and SDSO musicians have been commissioned for the LMP.

The Lakota Music Project embraces the following strategies to create each program:

  • Provide positive, safe, open space for dialogue
  • Explore what our different cultures share, rather than what makes them different
  • Embrace the value of peaceful collaboration

The People Behind the Lakota Music Project

The LMP was created through conversations between the South Dakota Symphony and leaders of the Lakota and Dakota communities with a goal of fostering deeper understanding between white and American Indian cultures through peaceful, positive collaboration. Barry LeBeau, a tribal relations consultant and Indian affairs and arts lobbyist, arranged a meeting with tribal leaders for Music Director Delta David Gier. Their first stop was the Rosebud reservation to meet tribal elder Robert Moore. Moore was a trainer singer in both classical (Lamont School of Music) and Lakota singing. He was an integral part of the initial Lakota Music Project program, singing in both styles and joining the Porcupine Singers at the drum.

During their South Dakota tour, LeBeau and Gier met Ronnie Theisz, professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at Black Hills State University and author of several books on Lakota music and culture. He has served as a mentor to everyone involved in the LMP, including the SDSO musicians. Theisz and Gier were the architects of the initial LMP program, choosing the four themes of love, war, grief and celebration as the foundation of the musical message. Theisz also worked with American Indian composer Brent Michael Davids to identify the best traditional Lakota song to incorporate into his commission piece Black Hills Olowan. Ronnie continues to speak and teach during the LMP programs and has sat at the drum with both Porcupine and Creekside Singers.

Jeffrey Paul, SDSO principal oboist, was an integral part the project from the beginning, adapting his piece, Desert Wind to incorporate a Lakota song by Melvin Young Bear, keeper of the drum for the Porcupine Singers. Paul later wrote Pentatonic Fantasy, a cedar flute concerto, for Bryan Akipa  (an NEA National Treasure).

Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate was commissioned in 2013 as part of a New Music USA’s Music Alive program. His song cycle written for the LMP, Waktégli Olówaŋ (Victory Songs,) was originally intended for Robert Moore to sing before he died. Tate served as SDSO composer-in-residence in 2017 and created the first Music Composition Academy which teaches both white and American Indian student composers. Ted Wiprud succeeded Tate as composer-in-residence in 2018 and continued the Academies and also wrote an orchestral arrangement of the Lakota’s Amazing Grace for the LMP.


You can get a more in depth look into the Lakota Music Project and the people behind it thanks to 
South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Check out these documentaries:
THE LAKOTA MUSIC PROJECT - travel back to 2009 when it first began.
"VICTORY SONGS": THE LAKOTA MUSIC PROJECT - how it's evolved into what it is today.

Lakota Music Project Repertoire

Four commissioned works and one arrangement for Lakota Music Project

Jeffrey Paul: Desert Wind

Jeffrey Paul: Pentatonic Fantasy

Brent Michael Davids: Black Hills Olowan

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate: Waktégli Olówaŋ Victory Songs

Theodore Wiprud: arrangement of Amazing Grace