The first and most important aspect to note is that “Native American” or “American Indian” denotes multiple tribes across the U.S. and should not be perceived in the classical world (or any genre for that matter) as a single group. As Gail Wein notes in her research, the plethora of Native American composers—many of whom either lived on reservations or are of Native American descent—reflect that diversity. They draw inspiration from folktales and customs and incorporate these ideas within classical music genres, like chamber pieces, solo works and symphonies, and choral pieces. Wein cites Louis Ballard (Quapaw) (1931-2007) as one the first Native American composers to advocate for proper cultural representation through education. He is best remembered for his pieces Why the duck has a short tail (1967) for narrator and orchestra, as well as his Incident at Wounded Knee (1974) for chamber orchestra. Although audio recordings of music by Ballard are surprisingly difficult to locate (at least, through social media and music streaming services), listeners can still access a few of his pieces, like his Four American Indian Piano Preludes (1963)
Of course, contemporary Native American composers are aware of the dangers associated with cultural misinterpretation through performance practice in classical music. Jerod Impichchiaachaaha’ Tate (Chickisaw) once spoke about this problem in an interview with the American Composers Forum. He describes the challenge for performing Native American classical music stems from avoiding stereotypical sounds. As a possible solution, Tate suggests drawing inspiration from Impressionistic music, citing Ravel and Debussy as examples because of their emphasis on musical coloration.