As a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, Brandi grew up looking at her great-great-great-great grandmother Pa I Sha’s portrait, which hung in her living room. Every time she gazed at her, she saw a woman of immense strength who carried the Chickasaw reputation of “unconquered and unconquerable." This musical work is inspired by Pa I Sha, and highlights three major stories in Brandi’s Chickasaw heritage.
The first story is about Pa I Sha herself, who was full-blood Chickasaw and walked the Trail of Tears (or, more correctly, called The Removal by the Chickasaw tribe) in 1837 from her home in Mississippi to her new nation in Oklahoma as a result of the Indian Removal Act. In Oklahoma, she married her husband, another full-blood Chickasaw, who also walked this trail. The second story is about Pa I Sha’s daughter, Mary Sheco, who was also full-blood Chickasaw, but married an Englishman who fought in the Civil War. Because interracial marriages with the tribe were taboo at the time, they were forced to live in a railroad tent outside of town with their nine children. Their children and grandchildren were discriminated against to the point that some did not declare their full degree of Indian blood, or in some cases, dropped their indigenous identity altogether when required to register. Pa I Sha’s great grandson, Earnest, is the last of Brandi’s relatives on the Dawes Rolls from Indian Territory. He was born in Indian territory before Oklahoma became a state in 1906. The third story is about how Brandi’s great grandfather Earnest met her great grandmother, Elvera. She had come to Texas from Illinois on a train when she was 12 years old around Christmastime. Her parents had told her that there would be no presents that year, but that they would still celebrate Jesus' birth. When they arrived, her family was invited to dinner by the people of the town and were given presents after all. The girls were given corn husk dolls and the boys were given whittled animals that were made for them. After Earnest moved to the Texas panhandle, he met and married Elvera, who gave birth to Brandi’s maternal grandfather.
In partnership with the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, and as co-director of the Bach & Beethoven Experience (BBE) Brandi premiered this new work on November 7 and 8, 2023 as part of Native American Heritage month. Using melodies from the Chickasaw Nation, the instrumentation of this work featured Rachael Youngman/ Choctaw narrator and vocalist, Leighann Daihl Ragusa/ flute and Native American flute, Brandi Berry Benson/ violin, Kiyoe Matsuura/ viola, Erica Rubis/ cello, and Michaela Marchi, indigenous percussion. The narration is mostly in English, and includes some Choctaw language in telling these stories.