Greenhill Faculty Member Records Louis Ballard Works

Hallie Michaels, Greenhill MS/US orchestra and strings teacher, is a member of the Fort Smith Symphony. The symphony, led by its Music Director, John Jeter, recorded works of Louis Ballard on the Naxos label, and the new recording of Louise Wayne Ballard: The Four Moons was released November 10.

The new recording features four world premiere recordings of orchestral works by Ballard, recognized as the first Indigenous North American composer of art music. Along with the music from the ballet The Four Moons, the album includes Devil’s Promenade, commissioned by the Tulsa Philharmonic in 1973; Fantasy Aborigine No. 3, “Kokopelli” from 1977, infused with cultural elements from the Hopi tribe of the Southwest; and Scenes from Indian Life, the first three movements of which were premiered by the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra under Howard Hanson in 1964; the final movement, “Feast Day,” was added in 1994.

“I am so proud and honored to be a part of this historic recording,” Michales said. Listen to the promo here.
Louis Wayne Ballard, whose Quapaw name was Honganozhe, meaning “Stands with Eagles,” is recognized as the first Indigenous North American composer of art music. He was born in Devil’s Promenade, an area of Quapaw in northeast Oklahoma, to a Cherokee father and Quapaw mother. After earning a bachelor of fine arts in music theory and a bachelor of music education in vocal and instrumental music in 1954, he completed the master of music degree in composition in 1962 at the University of Tulsa. 

After graduation, Ballard worked from 1962-68 as performing arts director for the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which became an important center of Indigenous education and culture. In that capacity, he realized that many of the young Indigenous North American students did not know the songs of their own tribes, so he began collecting and lecturing on Indigenous North American music, also including stylized rhythms, Indigenous instruments, folklore or mythology, and the occasional borrowed melody in his own works. 

In 1973, Ballard was given the Indian Achievement Award and the College of Santa Fe awarded him an honorary doctorate. Ballard received a Lifetime Musical Achievement Award from First Americans in the Arts in 1997. He received honorary doctorates in music from The College of Santa Fe and William Jewell College and in 2004 was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, the first classical composer to be so honored. He died on February 9, 2007, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In 1973, the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned Devil’s Promenade, titled after the area of Quapaw in northeast Oklahoma where the composer was born. It premiered in Tulsa with Skitch Henderson leading the orchestra. In 1975, Dennis Russell Davies, an important advocate for Ballard’s music, conducted the work during the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz, California. Devil’s Promenade was once a ceremonial dance ground for the Quapaw Tribe, in recognition of which the instrumentation includes a water drum, a war drum, a Seneca cow-horn rattle, seashell rattles, a tom tom, and a Dakota drum. The main melodic material was borrowed from a Sioux Ghost Dance song. 
Ballard composed a series of six orchestral works under the title Fantasy Aborigine throughout his career. Like Devil’s Promenade, these tone poems were infused with cultural elements from Indigenous groups, with each work focusing on mythology from a different tribe. The Hopi culture of the Southwest provided the basis for Fantasy Aborigine No. 3, “Kokopelli,” which was commissioned by the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra and dedicated to the conductor Thomas Kirshbaum. In a radio interview before the premiere, Ballard explained that he envisioned Kokopelli as “the God of music of Native America … as Orpheus was the God of music in the old world.” The orchestration contains a hide bundle drum, a Yaqui Indian gourd water drum, Tewa seashell rattles, a Hopi rasp stick resonator, Hopi gourd rattles, and a cricket clicker. 
The Four Moons was Ballard’s third ballet, premiered as part of Showcase ’67 in celebration of Oklahoma’s 60th anniversary of statehood. The work featured four Oklahoma ballerinas of Indigenous North American descent: Moscelyne Larkin (Shawnee), Rosella Hightower (Choctaw), Marjorie Tallchief (Osage), and Yvonne Chouteau (Cherokee). Traditional European dance forms were combined in the work with modes and rhythms associated with the tribal dances of each of the ballerinas. As the composer’s wife, Ruth Ballard, wrote in the original program notes: 
Scenes from Indian Life is a satirical musical depiction of scenes the composer observed in Santa Fe in the 1960s, using stylized rhythmic elements from Pueblo music. The first three movements were dedicated to Mrs. Stewart Udall, founder of The Center for Indian Arts of America. The final movement, “Feast Day,” was added in 1994, and the complete work was premiered by the San Jose Symphony led by Leonid Grin the following year.
Ballard’s compositional style was eclectic and likened to that of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Bartók. His instructor at Tulsa, Béla Rózsa, was a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. Lessons with Darius Milhaud, Felix Labunski, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco also shaped his style. His works contain a mix of tonal approaches with atonal and twelve-tone elements. They often include some reflection of his Indigenous North American heritage; the music, art, dance, literature, and mythology of all Indigenous peoples interested the composer. Ballard’s participation as a dancer and musician in powwows, knowledge of traditional songs, and cultural elements of many tribes informed his works. He included stylized rhythms, Indigenous North American instruments, folklore or mythology, and occasionally even borrowed a melody for use in his compositions. 

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