When Boise Philharmonic music director Robert Franz was asked to come up with an idea to commemorate Boises sesquicentennial celebration, his first thought was, What was happening here 151 years ago?
Being new here, he says, I was curious about what had come before.
That simple question led Franz to discover the history of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and how they once flourished in the Boise Valley but were forcibly relocated to eastern Idaho in the 1860s.
It seemed poignant to remind people about this history at this time, Franz says. One of the things we can do with art is express ideas and make people aware of them. I thought it would be fitting to somehow honor and describe that history.
Franz commissioned Idaho composer Jim Cockey to write a piece for chorus, percussion, harp, woodwinds, strings and dance, inspired by the Sho-Ban Indian culture and history.
Cockeys Sacred Land will make its world premiere this weekend in two Boise Philharmonic concerts that will feature the orchestras 110-member Master Chorale and choreography by Ballet Idahos Alex Ossadnik. Also on the program is Stravinskys The Rite of Spring.
The philharmonic received a $10,000 Boise 150 Grant from the city to help underwrite the piece. This concert will be one of the first official Boise Sesquicentennial events.
Mayor Dave Bieter will be in the audience Saturday night along with about 200 members of Shoshone-Bannock tribes, including several elders.
Earlier in the day, at 11 a.m., the creative team and a representative of the tribe will participate in a panel discussion at the Boise Art Museum ($5 museum admission), and the talk and performance will be filmed for the citys archive.
Franz says he instantly thought of Cockey, who wrote the Idaho Symphony in 2008 for the Philharmonic and The Gift of the Elk, a composition for Native American flute.
When Cockey received Franzs call, he reached out to the Shoshone-Bannock community and Tribal Council.
They embraced the project immediately, Cockey says. I was really lucky to get connected to the right people, who put the project in the right direction from the get-go.
Cockey immersed himself in the Sho-Ban culture for his inspiration. He worked with members of the tribe, who gave him a crash course in Native American music and history.
This is very exciting. Its epic on many levels. Were telling a large and very important story in an epic format, Cockey says. I grew up here and was aware of the history but the real story eluded me completely. Its a story that most of us dont know.
The Shoshone-Bannock tribes lived throughout the western United States, as far west as Oregon and as far south as New Mexico. In Idaho, they thrived in present-day Treasure Valley land the tribe still considers sacred today.
As more settlers came to the territory in the mid-1800s, the native people were displaced and eventually forcibly relocated to the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, says Leah Hardy, researcher and manager for the tribes culture and language center.
By 1868, the treaty was signed, and it was a done deal.
The relocation is written on a violent and bloody page of Idahos history. Many died. There are stories of the river running red with blood. For those who survived, the move was devastating, Hardy says.
Its pain that gets passed down through generations and is still felt today, she says.
Having their story told now also is significant because the tribe is making an attempt to reconnect to the land and their story.
For the past two years, theyve held a gathering of the Return of the Original Boise Valley People at Castle Rock. Called Eagle Rock by the Sho-Ban, it is an important spot in tribal culture and history.
This gathering is about honoring the land as sacred, Hardy says. We want the people of Boise to be aware of the significance of our being here. Even though we were forcibly removed, that didnt remove the land from us. Its still our sacred land.
Cockey attended the gathering this past June; it included people from tribes across the state. He met the tribal elders and spoke with descendants of the people forced to march. He was deeply moved.
The bulk of my writing came after that gathering, he says. It was a very profound experience to connect to the emotional depth of feeling they have for this area. It even changed the way I feel about living here.
Cockey used what he learned to inspire his rich romantic composition.
This is not like Dvoraks approach, who borrowed native and folk themes to create his The New World Symphony.
Im more like Bartok, who collected bits of folk music and stories and then used them to influence his music, Cockey says.
So, this isnt traditional material orchestrated. Its Jim Cockey music influenced by his involvement with the tribe.
Cockeys musical influences come out of the 20th century romanticism of Bartok, Stravinsky and Copland.
He did incorporate some translated text into his work, but the musical elements are all original.
The piece has four movements. Four is a sacred number in native culture, Cockey says.
The first, To the Creator, is loosely based on a sacred circle dance, with texts from songs and prayers that praise the land and Creator. The second, To the Earth, is about the great intertribal gathering before European settlement. The third, To Our Ancestors, deals with the relocation.
The fourth movement, To the Healing of All People, is the large envelope that it all fits into, Cockey says.
The piece is ultimately about healing. I think we still feel guilty about what our ancestors did, because we havent gone through the process to open ourselves up to look at this history in the context of healing as opposed to the context of guilt. Its powerful.
© 2012 Idaho Statesman