Program exposes music to youth on state reservation
Then she took part in a program on the reservation called Independence Through Music that aims to give youth an outlet through singing and songwriting. Spotted Thunder now has released her own album of indigenous love songs and is touring South Dakota and other states like California, North Dakota and Utah.
“I had all these ideas for myself and goals for myself but I didn’t know exactly what to do because I didn’t have those types of connections. With Independence Through Music it was a perfect tool for me, especially socially and to learn how to interact with people professionally,” said Spotted Thunder, 19.
Independence Through Music matches young musicians on the Pine Ridge reservation with well-established American Indian musicians to learn the ropes of the music business — from properly holding a microphone to planning a tour and creating a marketing plan. Before Independence Through Music started, no school on the reservation offered music. Now three do.
The all-volunteer program is meant to ignite a fire in the reservation’s youth to go out and achieve their dreams, said Davidica Little Spotted Horse, the program’s creator. Participants range in age from 16 to 32. In Lakota culture, “youth” means anyone under 40.
“What I find that is lacking here on the reservation is ambition and passion. There’s so much hopelessness on the reservation they’re not taught to be passionate about something because they don’t think they can go anywhere,” said Little Spotted Horse, a professional musician who went from writing her own music about seven years ago to touring the country, acting as her own manager and publicist along the way.
She and her fellow mentors are trying to change the attitude of hopelessness one musician at a time.
Participants are selected through an audition process, and workshops are held over a two-month period with performances planned all over the reservation. The program gives them a chance to record an album at KILI, a radio station for the Pine Ridge, Cheyenne River and Rosebud reservations. As a requirement to audition, participants must write a song to record.
The first year, 16 people were selected for the program, but that number dwindled to eight once they realized what all was involved, Little Spotted Horse said.
“I don’t think they realized how much work really went into being a working musician. I think they just thought it was what they see on TV,” she added.
During the most recent year, four youth were selected for the Independence Through Music program.
Little Spotted Horse begins the training by talking honestly about what it takes to be a professional musician.
“Being a musician is not a hobby. It can be ... there’s a difference between really wanting to be a musician and just liking to play music every once in a while,” said Little Spotted Horse, 38.
Image comes next. Little Spotted Horse and the mentors explain the importance of finding a genre and niche and how to create their own press kit. After that, it’s perfecting the stage presence through acting exercises and learning to let go of self-consciousness. That’s the part that can be difficult for many of the youth, she said.
“As Native kids, we’re taught to be docile, to be respectful, quiet,” she said.
One student, in fact, had never screamed before, so Little Spotted Horse gave her a pillow, everyone left the room and the student screamed into the pillow.
A mock tour comes last in which students learn how to set up hotels and budget for food and gas.
Tracy Bone and her husband, J.C. Campbell, who are based in Winnipeg, Canada, travel to Pine Ridge several times a year to take part in the mentorship in hopes of creating a music community on the reservation.
The hope is that the youth dream bigger and know there are people to help support them as they work to become professional artists, said Bone, a member of the Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation.