August 12th, 2013 Last Updated on: August 12th, 2013
Rhonda Head is a Mezzo Soprano from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba. “Singing Classical Music allows me to share beautiful music with the general public. I believe that no matter what language you sing in, one hears the beauty of the songs through the melody of the music, ” she declares. Her debut CD, Kayas, won a 2011 Native American Music Award for Best World Recording – the songs are recorded in five different languages- Italian, French, Latin, English and Cree.
Q) You have a gorgeous voice! What a talent! I'm so honored to have the opportunity to visit with you today! How would you describe your lovely voice to someone who's never heard it before? How would you describe your style of singing,? What kind of singer do you call yourself?
A)Thank you!! I would tell them to enjoy the melody of the song. I don’t always sing in English and to listen and enjoy the beauty of the song.
I would have to describe my style of singing as Classical. I have been trained Classically by some fantastic vocal teachers in my journey.
I call myself a Classical singer.
Q) With such a mighty talent as yours,did you grow up singing? Did you always want to be a professional singer? How did you decide that singing and music were your true calling and your passion? How did you finally strike out and pursue performing as a career?
A)I did not grow up singing. I grew up studying piano and theory, and was in the high school band playing the clarinet. I did not see myself singing at all, till I took voice lessons when I was in College. The teacher that I happened to connect with was an Opera Singer and he introduced me to the music. I totally fell in love with the music. It found me, I didn’t find it.
I decided that singing was my true calling after I performed in public and the response was amazing. I decided to record my first CD Kayas and opportunities starting arising from there. I started getting invited to sing at events.
Q) Will you please describe some of your favorite pieces that you perform and tell us what you each one means to you?
A)One of my favorite pieces to perform is “Habenera” from the opera Carmen. This piece is brilliantly composed by Bizet and its one of the most recognized Opera Tunes in the world. Its melody is so beautiful and full of passion. It s truly one of my favorite pieces to perform.
“Panis Angelicus” is another favorite that I perform in Latin. It’s a Prayer song, and has a beautiful melody. I sang this piece at both my late parents' funeral.
“How Great Thou Art” which I perform in Cree is one of my favorite hymns. When sung in the Cree Language, the song has a spirit to it, which make it really special.
Q) Tell us about the very first time you performed in public. What was that experience like? Do you have other memorable experiences from your performing? Please share with us?
A)The first time I performed in public was terrifying. I wasn’t sure how the audience would receive me, however I’m glad I took the risk, it was an exhilarating experience and I wanted to keep performing after that.
My most memorable experience from my performing is when I got a standing ovation for the first time. It was such an incredible feeling and I got very emotional. I have received other standing ovations and they feel like the first time. I find it really rewarding when the audience is moved by clapping, crying and making the effort to stand when the song is complete, that feeling is a moment that stand stills for me. I try to enjoy every moment.
Q) What kind of thoughts and emotions and feelings go through your heart and your mind and your soul when you're performing? Why do you feel that you have become such a masterful performer? What do you hope audiences will experience when they listen to your music or come to one of your performances?
A)When I am performing, I really learn the song, and what part of the song is from if it’s an opera piece, or musical theatre piece. I want the audience to feel what is going on in the piece. I like to sing my heart and soul and share that experience with audience.
I don’t think that I am a masterful performer, I am always taking voice lessons, and learning new songs. There is always something to learn from my vocal teacher or from another performer. That is the beauty of music, the sharing of the music.
I hope that audiences can appreciate the beauty of the songs that I perform. The majority of the music that I perform are in different languages, and I like to capture the beauty of the song through the melody of the music. I truly believe that music is a universal language that everyone can understand.
Q) You have such a brilliant career already, but I'm sure you had to overcome obstacles along the way. Please tell us about some of the challenges you have faced and how you've overcome them? What did you learn from these experiences? How have these life lessons impacted you as an artist?
A) There were some obstacles on the way, I had an acoustic neuroma (brain tumor) that set me back for one year, which I just focused on getting better. As a result I lost hearing completely in my right ear. The tumor grew back five years later and again I took time off to tend to my health. It was a difficult time for sure, but it gave me character and showed me humility. I try to live my life to the fullest each day and am very thankful for the gift of voice.
Sometimes it was hard to find a vocal teacher as well. I got stereotyped because of my Cree accent and my nation. I took it in stride, and when the teachers heard me sing, they changed their attitude towards me. Some teachers were even calling me to take lessons. Other than that, I’ve been real lucky with the teachers that I have studied with.
Q) Pease tell us about your tribal background. How does your culture, your traditions and your identity impact your singing and your performing? How do you blend your heritage and your life ways into your singing and performing? How do you hope to include your Native language and your Indigenous culture in future projects?
A)I am from the Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba from the community of Opaskwayak Cree Nation. My culture and traditions impact me, by the pride and passion that I feel coming from the Cree nation. I am so proud to be representing my tribe when I get invited to perform outside my community and country.
The way I blend my heritage into my singing and performances by adding a Cree song into the song line up. The Cree Language is so beautiful, I compare it to the languages of love – Italian, French and Spanish those languages just flow and Cree is the same way.
I am in the process of finishing up my second cd, which I recorded in the Cree Language. It’s a spiritual cd, and I m so excited to share this music with everyone. These Cree Hymns have been sung in our community for years, and to record them in the style of music that I perform is unique.
Q) Your music is soul stirring! How can we order your music, hear you perform, and connect with you for events?
Q) You have such great musical talent, but you have other talents as well! What are you excited about besides music?
A) Thank you!! Yes I dance Ladies Northern Traditional, received my designation in Event Planning and also promote other First Nation/Native American Musicians. I also sing with the Flin Flon community choir, we performing at the Lincoln Center on December 1, 2013.
Q) What do you think truly makes you who you are as an artist? What makes your music unique?
A) The passion and the drive to think outside the box. What makes the music that I sing unique is the style that I sing in, everyone around the area performs country, and all the languages that I perform in especially the ones that I perform in the Cree Language.
Q) What would you like us to know about you that we might not already know?
A) I love going to pow wows, as a spectator and to dance as well. I enjoy going to concerts, live music is the best! I appreciate good food and enjoy learning about different cultures. I was # 1 on the Classical Reverbnation site for 10 days in March….one of my proudest moments!!
12)Wonderful! Congratulations! I'm sure you're a role model to many other singers and artists. I certainly admire you! Who are your inspirations?
A) Thanks again!! I’m inspired by other First Nations artist who have paved the way for other artists in the music industry, such as Derek Miller, George Leach and Crystal Shawanda. I support as many as I can, by promoting them, sharing their music and downloading their music on Itunes. I have a playlist with only First Nation artists and it’s awesome!!
Q) What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in music or in performing? What would you say to them to encourage them to press forward and follow their dreams? What do you wish you had known when you first started out that might have made your career easier? What are you glad you didn't know?
A) My advice to someone who is considering a career in music is to love what you are doing no matter what genre.
I would tell them to just do it and keep doing it, it gets easier and easier.
I wish that I had the confidence to perform at an earlier age on the stage. It can be a very scary when you put yourself out there on the stage and everyone is looking at you, you feel very vulnerable.
I’m glad I didn’t know what doors of opportunity where going to open up for me when I recorded my first CD. It’s been such a wonderful journey, and meeting all the incredible musicians since and continue to meet. I’m glad that my journey has been very interesting and exciting. I’ve crossed paths with some awesome people and fantastic musicians.
Q) What do you dream your career will look like in the future? What are your hopes and goals?
Thank you so much for visiting with us today! Your singing is tremendous and I wish you all the best! Thank you!
Thank you so much for sharing with us. We look forward to more great music from you.
Dr. Dawn Karima Pettigrew (Creek/Cherokee) is a NAMMY winning recording artist, who hosts A CONVERSATION WITH DAWN KARIMA, a Native American radio program that airs on TalktainmentRadio.com and its affiliates. Her home is the Qualla Boundary Reservation in North Carolina.
Home » Native American Articles » Native American Music »