Few things are more beautiful than smiling children singing together. In a masterpiece of editing, the voices of 160 children, many of whom have never met, come together in a video by the We Are South Dakota Virtual Choir.
The video begins with all of the children singing in Lakota: “Wahnunka oganuka inchante, he sapa,” which means “The center of everything that is, the Black Hills.” Not all of the children are Lakota, which Michael Hill, one of the organizers of the choir and Orlando Chamber Soloist, said makes the video “stand as a positive representation of the youth of South Dakota and a message to the world of peace and harmony.”
“It’s a great clash of traditional drums and classical music, which brings the worlds together,” Sequoia Crosswhite, Cheyenne River, cultural relations and language advisor at the Black Hills Children’s Home, said. “It’s really nice, and the kids are very proud of it. I think it opened their eyes to something they might want to do in the future.”
The children range in age from 2 to 18 and come from the General Beadle Community School, Rapid City, and programs such as the Sue Ann Big Crow Boys and Girls Clubs in Pine Ridge, and Ateyapi Mentoring and Girls, Inc. in Rapid City. Other groups participated from the towns of Lead, Deadwood, Sturgis, and more.
Crosswhite said he helped out on the video with the Lakota language pronunciation, and that the children enjoyed participating. “There were some children who were shy at the microphone, and some you couldn’t get the mic away from,” he chuckled.
The video was conceived by Dawn Marie Edwards, artistic director and education coordinator of the Orlando Chamber Soloists in Florida. Edwards and Hill are music teachers and performers at central Florida colleges and perform with regional and local orchestras. Their goal was to bring classical music to children in South Dakota—both on rez and off—and to do it in a culturally appropriate way.
Hill is no stranger to South Dakota reservations. His father was a tribal attorney, and growing up, Hill spent time on Pine Ridge and Rosebud. That was one of the reasons Hill started a music festival in the Black Hills in 2008. “We now have four education programs,” he said. Of the video, Hill said, “We are thrilled with the results.”
The video starts with all of the children singing in Lakota, and moves into a drum interlude, and wraps up with the children singing the second stanza of “Ode to Joy,” by Henry Van Dyke “which is about joy, water, mountains, hills, and streams, the themes we consider when we think about the Black Hills,” Hill said.
Mount Rushmore appears as the final shot, but Hill said there were reasons for the choice. “Crazy Horse Monument is copyrighted, and we knew the monument was controversial, in any case. We want the video to be seen nationally, and Mount Rushmore is identifiable to everyone,” he said.
Hill said the video and music programs are community projects, with more than 40 groups that collaborated on the video. “The virtual choir is a chance for each child to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The music and score were arranged so that every child interested in participating could play or sing, regardless of their musical experience or age,” Hill said.
“We started in the fall of 2012,” he said. “We had to figure out a way to write the music so that the children who could sing had solos, and some have really phenomenal voices.” In other cases, the children were taped as a group, which was challenging with three part harmonies. “We came up with an arrangement in four parts, and we had to find appropriate levels for them to sing,” Hill said.
While recording, the musicians returned to some of the areas several times, and the children were able to perform with professional musicians from Florida, South Carolina, and New Orleans. “We rehearsed with the drum group so the kids would be able to perform with the orchestra,” Hill said.
The video editing, which created the virtual choir, was done in Orlando by Anna Christine McCarty, professor at Full Sail University in Florida, which according to Hill, is one of the premier media editing schools in the country. The project took 15 months to complete.
This was the seventh summer that the Orlando Chamber Soloists have participated in the Black Hills Music Festival, but this was the first video. They are making plans to return this summer and will host their preschool “Teddy Bear Musical Introduction Program.” Combining stories such as the Ugly Duckling and Rumpelstiltskin, and using popular classical music, the program helps children recognize classical music, even at very young ages.
This year’s children’s concert will be “Music of the Night Sky” featuring the 13 Lakota constellations, and the “Attack of the Rosin Eating Zombies from Outer Space.” To contact the organization visit the website at OrlandoChamberSoloists.org.