Native American composer Louis Ballard to be spotlighted in benefit concert


In 1988 a group of Native American gay and lesbian people from across North America hosted an event called The Basket and the Bow at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. This summer the event, now called the International Two-Spirit Gathering, will return to Minneapolis to celebrate its 20th year.

To help raise funds for the Gathering and a related organization called Two Spirit Press Room, All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis will be hosting the Twin Cities debut concert of internationally known pianist Tim Hays (Ho Chunk). Hays, a Nebraska-born pianist, writer and advocate for American Indian issues, will be performing works from Native American composer Louis Ballard (Quapaw/Cherokee), as well as Bach, Scarlatti, Bartok, and Debussy this Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 7:30 PM. There will be an opportunity to meet Hays immediately after the program for light refreshments and a post concert discussion moderated by members from the First Nations Composer Initiative.

Hear a sample of Louis Ballard’s work on the Web site of the American Music Center.

The term “two spirit” or “two spirited” is an English translation of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe phrase niizh manitoag. In the early 90s, First Nations groups in Canada and participants at the Basket and the Bow gatherings adopted the English translation to move away from colonialist and contemporary definitions of gender. The term also acknowledges the group’s belief that within everyone there are male and female spirits. Today the term encompasses many different gender identities, including gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex and queer.

The concert this Saturday recognizes and celebrates the two spirit philosophy of bringing together energies that might, to outsiders, seem opposite. Female to male, or Western musical tradition with Native American musical traditions. It is no stretch to say that Indigenous and Native American composers are under-represented in the canon of American composers, but they do exist and have been working with these themes for many years.

Louis Ballard, the Quapaw/Cherokee composer whose work Four American Indian Preludes Hays will be performing, is one of the preeminent examples of contemporary Native American composers and their work. Born in 1931 near Quapaw, Oklahoma, Ballard’s early life was immersed in traditional music, while his adult life was studded with acknowledgments from various universities and classical Western-style artists. His work has premiered at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Tyrone Guthrie Theater, and the JFK Performing Arts Center, as well as many other prestigious national and international venues. Last year in February 2007—in Santa Fe, where he lived much of his life—Ballard died after battling cancer for several years.

Christopher Pommier ( is a citizen journalist in Minneapolis. He also writes poetry and works as an immigration case manager at a small downtown law firm.