HCC celebrates native culture, arts

KEILA TORRES Staff writer, CT Post

Article Launched: 11/15/2007 10:52:37 PM EST

Joseph Fire Crow, Jr.

(Left) Joseph Fire Crow Jr., a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe and a resident of Winsted, sings and plays a traditional song during a workshop at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport on Thursday. (Brian A. Pounds/Connecticut Post)

Theater Arts students at Housatonic Community College had their 15 minutes of fame on Thursday afternoon when they performed alongside a Grammy-nominated musician.

Joseph Fire Crow Jr., an award-winning flutist, participated in a workshop with the students to create a program that included American Indian poetry, song and dance. The program was then presented in the evening to an audience. Both events were open to the public.

Fire Crow, 48, is from the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Lamedeer, Mont. He now resides in Winsted.

He has won three American Music awards and has performed at the Grammys. In 2001, he was nominated for Best Native American Music Album for "Cheyenne Nation," one of his many albums. At Thursday's event, Fire Crow talked to the students about his cultural traditions and explained the connection he found between the earth and music. He said the sound of his flutes "literally come from the earth" because trees are used to create the instruments. He said he only takes the wood from fallen trees, not from trees that are still "alive." During the workshop, Fire Crow also sang in his native language while playing the drum and rattles, or maracas. His wife, Joann Moore, said her husband knows how to play many instruments. "He plays around with just about everything; whatever happens to be in the room." Moore, 50, said the fame and awards have not changed her husband. She said he has stayed humble throughout his 15-year career as a flutist

Fire Crow allowed some students to play his drums and rattles for the performance. Other students held hands with members of the audience to create a circle in a roundabout dance that accompanied a greeting song Fire Crow sang. The event was part of the Performing Arts Center's Third Thursday Cultural Celebrations, which were started four years ago by Geoffrey Sheehan, theater arts program coordinator at the college.

"I wanted to get more performing opportunities for our students," said Sheehan. "I looked for a monthly event that they could do in front of an audience."

Each month, while school is in session, the students pick a different culture to celebrate. Sheehan said that the first year, the students organized the event. In the second year, Sheehan hired artists to work with the students and show them that "their goals were real."

He said he wanted the students to meet people who were actually making a living through music, art, theater and dance. A few of the artists Sheehan brought in were friends of his who agreed to carry out workshops. When he saw the students and artists come together and create whole performances out of ideas brought up in the workshop, Sheehan said he became excited. He said the process was "so dynamic and so real" that he decided to open up the workshops to the public this year for the first time.

The idea was for other theater students and people from the community to see the creative process behind the monthly performances.

Sheehan said he finds artists through the Connecticut Commission on Arts and Tourism. He said because artists have to audition to be on the commission, he knows he will find "professional, reliable and high quality" performers.

The next event will be a celebration of the "culture of imagination" held on Feb. 21.