Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Cherokee 'Angels' Lift Up Tribe


 by The Oklahoman Online


art Pow Wow Magic by Bob Annesley

TAHLEQUAH -- Their chief refers to them as special "Cherokee angels."

The two dozen singers who make up the Cherokee National Children's Choir are messengers of sorts. Besides making good, harmonious music, the fifth- through eighth-graders from schools throughout the 14-county Cherokee Nation are on a mission for the tribe.

Featured annually at the Cherokee National Holiday on Labor Day weekend and at tribal council meetings, the group travels the state to present traditional Cherokee music. The choir also is an important part of the ceremony at the annual Miss Cherokee pageant.

The music is all vocal. The songs, two of which are featured on a compact disc distributed by the tribe, are sung in the Cherokee language.

Principal Chief Chad Smith says the choir's use of the Cherokee language is one of the most important functions of the group. But its members also are great singers who must show a high level of commitment to the music and the overall mission, he said.

That mission includes Cherokee tradition and culture, Smith said recently in Claremore, where the group was performing for a tribal health conference.

The songs are meaningful to the tribe for other reasons. Many have been sung in Cherokee churches since the tribe was moved to Oklahoma. Some, such as "One Drop of Blood," were sung on the Trail of Tears.

"I stop by their rehearsals some evenings and it just lifts my spirits to see these kids proudly singing traditional Cherokee songs," Smith said. "Everyone is so proud of them."

Their development is one of the tribe's priorities.

Choir members are selected through audition and interview. This year's audition is Saturday at the tribal complex at Tahlequah and is open to sixth- through ninth-graders who have completed an application process at their schools.

"All the kids can really sing," said Jamie Geneva, who organizes the choir. "But they don't just have to learn the music, they have to learn the words."

Most of the singers are mastering the music and the language simultaneously. They haven't had occasion to use their native tongue often.

Choir director Jan Ballou says the singing helps them become bilingual faster because it's easier for them to learn through music. She said many of the choir members have not been exposed to this aspect of their heritage.

After their selection this month, choir members will complete a series of workshops. Singing practice is mixed with other activities to expose the youths to their heritage.

Although members of the choir pay their own travel and personal expenses, the tribe underwrites the group's activities. One of its next projects is to record a full-length compact disc in time for the National Holiday event.

The choir practices weekly, but Geneva said she has stopped trying to fill requests for performances. She books them for one monthly event because she says they have lives apart from their choir duties.

"All the kids can really sing. But they don't just have to learn the music, they have to learn the words."Jamie Geneva, choir organizer

For more information about the Cherokee National Choir, contact Jamie Geneva at (918) 696-3390.

Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma




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