Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


pictograph divider


Symphony Trio Plays for Students


Imagination Celebration logo

PINE RIDGE, SD - Savannah Jensen and Dotian Levalier live in different worlds, but the two found a common bond Friday in music.

Savannah, sporting pigtails and a "Miss Perfect" T-shirt, listened attentively with others in the audience as Levalier, principal harpist of the National Symphony Orchestra, performed with fellow members of The Unlikely Trio at Red Cloud Indian School.

Students lined the wood pews of Holy Rosary Church, each leaning to get a better look at the odd goings-on near the altar where Levalier and her colleagues, William Wielgus, oboe, and Thomas Perazzoli, flute, were about to begin their performance as part of the National Symphony's South Dakota Residency.

The hourlong concert featured works by the three "B's" of classical music — Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. Along with the exquisite playing, the members threw in a little shtick.

"Why did Bach get rid of all his chickens?" Wielgus asked. "Because they kept saying, 'Bach, Bach, Bach, Bach.'"

The two other trio members finally banished Wielgus to his chair so he could tell no more bad jokes. The students laughed in spite of the puns.

"The harp was my favorite part," Savannah, a Red Cloud Montessori kindergartener, said.

After the performance, Savannah saw the instrument up close. Levalier even let her pluck the strings.

"Listen to this," she boasted to fellow student Joseph Morgan.

"She's quite good," Levalier added.

"Can you take her with you?" Joseph quipped.

Playing for remote audiences, especially children, is particularly rewarding, Perazzoli said.

"It's a real treat," said Perazzoli, who has been assistant principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra since 1968. "For me, it becomes very personal. My kids are now grown. I just love looking into the audience and seeing these fresh faces. It's really a joy."

Although students learn about classical music, orchestra instruments and life of a professional musician, symphony members learn just as much about the people and places of the United States during their residencies, Perazzoli said.

"You realize what an incredible country we live in. You can see God's work, not only in the geography, but in the beauty of these children here today," he said.

Glenn Donnellan, violin, and Richard Barber, contrabass, agree. The two had earlier performed for students at Red Cloud Indian School, leaving Rapid City early Friday morning and trekking across snow-packed roads.

Barber said that although Pine Ridge is a world away from his life in Washington, he tries to be approachable and honest with students for whom he performs.

"I want them to know that we were once middle schoolers or high schoolers like they are and that we chose this path," he said. "We're not here to get them to play a particular instrument; we want them to experience it."

And if by some chance a student's interest is piqued by the visit, so much the better, he said.

"We share with them the opportunities they have before them," Donnellan, a native of Washington state, added. "Hopefully, it will empower in them a willingness to explore new experiences in their own lives — an opportunity to find their own niche."

The Rev. Tom Merkel, superintendent of Red Cloud Indian School, said he hopes the visit from the symphony ensembles does just that. Red Cloud has no formal music program, so the symphony visit may be the first time many of the students have seen such instruments as a harp, an oboe or a contrabass.

"This introduces our students to a whole other world," he said. "And for some, it may be something they choose to jump into."

The visit to Red Cloud Indian School also was a glimpse into the world of the Lakota for members of the symphony. After each ensemble performance, student representatives from the school presented the performers with gifts, including full-color calendars featuring students and staff of the school, framed artwork and even a star quilt that Merkel hopes will hang at the symphony's home venue, The Kennedy Center in Washington.

Symphony representatives gave the school CDs of the orchestra's music.

A drum group performed at the morning event, and the honoring song was sung at the afternoon gathering.

Barber, whose wife is an opera singer, said he found the Lakota singing intriguing.

"It was fascinating for me to hear musicians making music in ways that are completely new to me," he said. "They sang in a way that could carry over great spaces."

Perazzoli said he hopes the memory of the symphony ensemble's performance will linger long after the musicians have left the state.

"It's a small step from their world to ours, but someone has to make it, and that's what I hope we accomplished today," he said. "Even if they never again hear something like this, they will have this memory."

National Symphony Orchestra

Pine Ridge, SD Map

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


Canku Ota Logo


Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Thank You