Brent Michael Davids (Featured American Indian Composer, Mohican)
Brent Michael Davids is an American Indian composer and flautist. He is a member of the Stockbridge Mohican Nation of American Indians.
Davids’ composer career spans nearly four decades, including awards from the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, ASCAP, National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, In-Vision, Joffrey Ballet, Park City Film Music Festival, Kronos Quartet, School for Advanced Research, Chanticleer, Meet-The- Composer, Miró Quartet, National Symphony Orchestra, Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, and Jerome Foundation, among others. In 2011, the “Dakota Music Tour” featured a full concert of Davids’ orchestra works, performed by the Mankato Symphony with the Dakota drum group Maza Kute, on a tour to Dakota communities in MN. The tour was filmed for TV broadcast in the following year. Davids was featured in 2009 by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the famed Porcupine Singers on a SDPB-TV network special, following a road trip of his “Black Hills Olowan” performed in Lakota tribal communities across South Dakota.
Davids’ work, “Powwow Symphony (for Powwow M.C. and Orchestra)”, was premiered by New Mexico Symphony (1999), Phoenix Symphony (2002), and Mankato Symphony (2011) to rave reviews. Commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra, his Canyon Sunrise (1996) premiered at the Kennedy Center to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center and the
60th Anniversary of the NSO. Garrison Keillor asked Davids for the orchestra work, Prayer & Celebration (2005), that premiered on A Prairie Home Companion show. Davids has also been commissioned by Grammy Award-winning Chanticleer, for Night Chant (1997), Mohican Soup (1999), Un-Covered Wagon (2003), and Leather Stocking (2012).
In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts named Davids among the nation’s most celebrated choral composers in its project “American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius,” along with Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Foster, and
25 others. In 2011, Davids was invited to conduct a month-long tour of Russia, lecturing and performing in Khabarovsk, Birobidjan, Vladivostok and Moscow
under an award from the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission of the
American Seasons in Russia program.
Davids holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Composition from Northern Illinois University (1981) and Arizona State University (1992) respectively, trained at Redford’s Sundance Institute (1998), and in 2003 apprenticed with film composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare In Love) on the TV-Miniseries “Dreamkeeper” (Hallmark and ABC). He has garnered the Distinguished Alumni Awards from both of the universities he attended, NIU (1996) and ASU (2004), and has been nominated for the prestigious CalArts Alpert Award two times (1995, 2006). In 2011, Davids won a Silver Medal for “Excellence in Original Scoring” from the Park City Film Music Festival for his orchestral score to the animated feature “Valor’s Kids.” Davids has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, NPR, PBS, and NAPT. Davids’ film scores include: “Valor’s Kids” (2011), “Opal” (2011), “Raccoon & Crawfish” (2007), “The 1920 Last of the Mohicans” (2003), “World of American Indian Dance” (2003), “The Business of Fancy Dancing” (2002), “The Silent Enemy” (1996) & “Bright Circle” (2006).
Most of Davids’ works employ traditional Native American instruments and ofteninstruments of his own design, including a soprano quartz crystal flute (1989), bass quartz crystal flute (1991), and a dozen other percussion devices that chirp in the air on strings, or whistle when dunked into water. Many of his bowl-shaped devices and resonating drums can be bowed, shaken, or tapped. With an expert hand, he fashions ink manuscripts that are themselves visual works of art, visually beautiful manuscripts that are performable as written sheet music. He has worked extensively in the choral field as well, often featured as a clinician for conventions, such as his work with Chanticleer at the 6th Annual World Choral Symposium held in Minneapolis (2003). His work for 200-voice chorus and orchestra, We the People (2004), honors the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. with the names of all the American Indian nations sung back to back, without repeats, for 30 minutes.
As an Educator, Davids originated and founded the Native American Composer Apprentice Program (NACAP) in Arizona (2000), and the Composer Apprentice National Outreach Endeavor (CANOE) in Minnesota (2005), to teach Native youth to compose their own written concert music. Under these programs, over
100 students have successfully written music scores for string quartets and other
instrumental ensembles; and, many of these students did so without the ability to read music prior to Davids’ innovative curriculum. Dedicated to education, Davids founded a new organization in 2004, the First Nations Composer Initiative (FNCI.org), as a virtual chapter of the American Composers Forum, and served as its first Artistic Advisor (2005). Today, with support from many funding organizations including the Ford Foundation, FNCI operates with a 12-member advisory board of leading Native American composers and performers, and has initiated additional composer programs and educational residencies in several communities in Minnesota, Maryland, Colorado, South Dakota, Wisconsin and California.
Davids is widely regarded as an American Indian music expert in all geographic culture areas of North America, and he is schooled in American Indian Religious Studies at the Masters degree level. He is remarkable as a professional Source Music Director for projects involving American Indian singers, drummers, flutists, solo artists and contemporary bands. Davids began composition studies at the early age of 16, and upon graduating with his Bachelor’s degree, accepted a position as Composer-In-Residence at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. Twenty-three at that time, he was teaching and mentoring students only a few years younger than himself. Thirty-one years later, Davids has become highly successful as a professional composer of both concert music and film scores, and remains one of the country’s most sought after composers. In 2013, he was honored with a NACF Artist Fellowship in Music.
Davids’ Mohican name is “Blue Butterfly”. He divides his time between a home in Saint Paul, Minnesota and his home working studio on the Stockbridge-Muncee Reservation. He has been an active participant with the First Nations Composer Initiative. He has also served as Composer-in-Residence with the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project.About Made By American Indians (2009)
MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS is a new work for concert band celebrating the prominence of our Indigenous People on the founding and sustaining of America. After hearing of the wonderful success of Joan Tower’s “Made in America”, a work commissioned and performed by a large consortium of orchestras around the country, it became apparent that a similar work might be created specifically for American Indians. The title of Tower’s work is a clever play on words describing at once the vision of the work as being an outgrowth of American sentiment, but also alluding to the tactile label of things manufactured in America. Both the inspirational idea of Tower’s work and the final work itself effectuate this dual meaning exactly.
America was founded on a framework literally borrowed from the Iroquois confederacy, founded on Native soil, founded with Native resources, and even founded with Native assistance in many cases. MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS honors the unsung contributions and extreme sacrifices of the American Indians to America. Benjamin Franklin championed the Iroquois “Great Law of Peace” as the illustrious model for creating the Constitution of the United States. Franklin recognized that the Iroquois constitution guaranteed both rights of freedom and rights of expression within a unified nation state unlike any European model.
The Great Law specifically outlined the concept of a two-house legislature within a national government, combined with a union of individual states each operating independently. The Iroquois model specified a commander-in-chief who delivers a ‘state of the union’ address, and fellow legislators are implored to remain quiet while specific legislators are addressing the chamber, unlike the practice in Britain. One significant difference from the US Constitution however is that the Great Law included women as governors and legislators, as the indigenous nations were matriarchal.
The Iroquois met with the founding fathers in 1744, where Canassatego, an Iroquois sachem, encouraged the founders to adopt a similar organization modeled on the Iroquois confederacy. The oration was later published by Franklin:
“Our wise forefathers established a union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighbouring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and by our observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power: therefore, whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another.” (Canassatego, 1744)
While “Made By American Indians” does not quote Iroquois songs nor any
American Indian songs directly, it does present an original and overarchingNative theme that is developed for concert band. As a soaring melody, the theme proudly rides atop woodwinds, brass and percussion; but as an undercurrent, the theme appears and reappears in fragments all along the way. “Made By American Indians” portrays the emotions and sensibilities of contemporary American Indians in both rural and urban settings. One can readily hear the resounding complexity of the “City Indian” as well as the more pastoral life of the reservation.
There were early American Indian brass bands dating back as far as the Carlisle Indian School, and much American music has been performed by these Indian bands. A continuation of this legacy, MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS was composed with the intent of bringing an American Indian perspective to schools and audiences across the United States.
Finally, in comparison to Joan Tower’s achievement, MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS incorporates a similar play on words, as there exists a bona fide certification for marketing artwork and objects created by America’s Indigenous citizens: “Made by American Indians”. It is even an official trademark of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, under the U.S. Department of the Interior. This new work for concert band also fulfills the dual meaning of MADE BY AMERICAN INDIANS, in both idea and actuality. The idea of the work celebrates America’s birth from the seeds of American Indian thought exemplified in the Great Law of Peace, and is, in the same breath, the literal work of an American Indian composer. BMD