SHERMAN — Austin College organist and Van Alstyne resident Dr. Lisa Thomas has been named a Fulbright Scholar through Fulbright Canada. The University of Alberta will host her for its winter 2017 term, January through May, as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Arts and Humanities to research, collect, and catalogue ancient musical elements of the North American indigenous people.
The Fulbright Canada Awards provide approximately 50 teaching and research grants to U.S. faculty and experienced professionals from academic and professional fields. The Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program promotes collaborative research and discussion of topics relevant to Canada and the United States. Thomas’ project is titled “The Legacy of Canadian Indigenous Music as Classical Compositional Material.”
“I aim to find, encourage, and inspire music composition based on the melodies and rhythm of these indigenous groups,” Thomas said. “By adding these to my lecture recitals, publications, compositions, and performances, my hope is to add to the education and knowledge of this cultural treasure. It should be secured for posterity and preserved in the fine arts.”
Thomas will also research the cultural context of the songs and music collected. She has chosen to research the Canadian aboriginal cultural as a natural progression of her research work about North American indigenous culture in the U.S.
“It has been my experience, so far, that we in the U.S. visualize Native American music and culture mainly in the light of our exposure to only Plains and Southwestern intertribal cultural elements,” Thomas said. “This project will widen the perception about North American indigenous music and culture.”
The opportunity to conduct first-hand research directly with First Nations tribal members is rare, Thomas explained. The First Nations are the various Aboriginal Canadians who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently 634 recognized First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada.
Considering that political and cultural issues could impact the research, Thomas said, “I believe because I am also part Native American and that the work is for educational purposes, I will be entrusted with these cultural treasures. I will be researching the cultural content of the songs and music collected, because that is such an important part of understanding Native American and First Nations music.
“I expect that by sharing these collected melodies and rhythm elements we can promote cultural diversity, foster pride in native resources, and stake a significant claim to an unmistakable Canadian American identity in classical repertoire.”
The Austin College organist since 2011, Thomas has taught “Native American Music and Culture of North America” during two January terms on campus. She holds master degrees in piano performance and piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate of piano performance with related studies in ethnomusicology from University of North Texas. She has recorded three CDs with classical label, Toccata Classics, in London, including works based on Native American tribal melodies.