By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In a remarkable collaboration, the Cherokee Chamber Singers will perform seven shows with the North Carolina Symphony in October and will bring a very important message with them. The show is entitled “Si Otsedoha” which translates from the Cherokee language as “We’re Still Here” and will be performed free-of-charge locally at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on Thursday, Oct. 18 at 7:30pm.
“One of the biggest messages that we found personally was that we’re trying to tell people that we’re still here because a lot of people still view us as not being real – that Native Americans are made-up or that we’re extinct by now,” said Cece Lambert, a member of the Chamber Singers. “We really want people to know that we’re not the Indians that they portray us as on TV, and we’re not the Indians that they come to sight-see. We’re actual people. We’re our own sovereign nation, and we’re trying to be a part of modern society if people will let us.”
Michael Yannette, Cherokee High School and Middle School director of choir and musical theater, said the idea to perform with the Symphony was first tossed around a few years ago with the idea being that the students would sing traditional Cherokee songs with orchestral accompaniment. That idea changed and resulted in the 25-minute piece written by Bill Brittelle that will be performed.
“I think the whole idea really took off last year when we all decided that we really wanted it to be a student-driven thing, so Eason (Esquivel), Ella (Montelongo), and Cece (Lambert), were members of that committee that met with the North Carolina Symphony and that built the proposal,” he commented. “And, they decided that they wanted it to be about what it is to be Cherokee – in the traditional sense, looking forward to the future, and now.”
To get a pulse on the thoughts of Cherokee students, the Chamber Singers put out a questionnaire at both Cherokee High School and Cherokee Middle School asking questions such as: What do you view as a stereotype? What are you most proud of being Cherokee? What do you want people to know about you that they don’t know?
“They wanted it to be an unflinching look,” Yannette said of the piece. “They wanted the true history to be told. They wanted the present to be told. They wanted it to be real and include things that they are experiencing and also a look to the future.”
The piece itself is a mixture of song and spoke word including a poem by Kyra Sneed, a 2018 honors graduate from Cherokee High School. The poem begins, “When money becomes religion, they’ll strip down our mountains, like wallpaper, pave over us, like we’re already flat, they’ve done it before, when their freedom meant more than ours.”
Of the fact that her poem is included in the performance piece, Sneed noted, “It’s kind of surreal. When I write, it’s usually not for anyone else. It’s for me. Coming forward with this piece was nerve-racking.”
Marianna Hornbuckle, a senior member of the Chamber Singers, praised Sneed’s poem stating, “We hear Kyra’s poem in almost every rehearsal that we have, which is three days a week, and every single time I hear it I cry. It’s so moving, and you can tell there’s a lot put into it.”
She went on to speak of the significance of the performances. “With what we’re a part of right now, I feel that we’ll be making history, and I feel like it’s only going to get bigger from here. It starts with us, and what I’m looking forward to is change. There’s more to us than just per cap. There’s more to us than just a pretty school.”
Josh Driver, a senior member of the Chamber Singers, said, “I’m hoping to educate people about what we’ve gone through. Now, in the history books, we’re barely even in there. If we’re in there, it’s probably about one sentence. And, that sentence will probably say we were asked to go and we said yes. I just want people to know that we’re still here. I just want to be heard.”
In addition to the local show on Oct. 18, the Chamber Singers will perform “Si Otsedoha” with the North Carolina Symphony on the following dates: Friday, Oct. 12 at 8pm in Raleigh; Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8pm in Raleigh; Sunday, Oct. 14 at 7:30pm in Wilmington; Thursday, Oct. 18 at 11:15am in Cullowhee; Friday, Oct. 19 at 12:45pm in Cherokee; and Friday, Oct. 19 at 7pm in Boone.