The Creation, Residency & Premiere of

Life Songs of a Southern Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Descent
for Soprano, Piano, Oboe & Cello


If you have been longing for a new work...allowing your voice to take flight…look no more:  A score of depth and beauty awaits you!  194 pages – over one hour's worth – of exquisite beauty...

To order:
The BYNA PROJECT is pleased to announce that a generous donor has contributed to this project allowing the score price, which was $120.00 to be reduced by half!

Send $60.00* check or money order to:
Delilah Elsen, Manager Byna Project
111 Cambridge Drive
Brevard, NC 28712

* Includes media postage rate for two full scores with separate oboe and cello parts.  7 day delivery.

Questions and additional info email:


The following excerpts taken from the recording of the premiere performance at Porter Center for the Performing Arts, November, 2005, featuring Julia Broxholm, soprano; Kelly Vaneman, oboist; Anthony Fanning, cellist; John Cobb, pianist.

Click on titles below to listen to excerpts:  
I. The Heart of the Mountains (Instrumental)
II. The Silence Is Loud In The Woods
III. My Name Is Byna
IV. Ready To Start My Day
VPrecious Memories  (Arranged from the gospel song by J.B.F.Wright)
VI. The Hemlock Trees
VII. The Wachesa Trail (Instrumental)

VIII:  Daddy’s Fiddle
IX.  Mama’s Quilt
X.  My Wedding Day
XI.  Nundayeli: Nantahala: Flowing River in the Land of the Midday Sun (Instrumental)
XII. One Spring Day
XIII. The Morning Robert Died
XIV. Looking to the Overhills (Instrumental)
XV. The Old Deer

XV. The Old Deer


Austin, Texas composer Rudy Davenport (see bio), originally from Western North Carolina, and Delilah Elsen, (see bio) spent many hours working on this major chamber music work, BYNA: Life Songs of a Southern Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Descent for soprano, oboe, cello and piano. The lyrics for BYNA come from a play of the same title, written by Elsen, also originally from Western North Carolina. Byna’s songs are based on the character’s life experiences as a Southern Appalachian mountain woman of Cherokee descent. Byna is a fictional character, representative of the many women of Cherokee descent of her era—from the early 1900s-70/80/90s—who lived in the mountains their entire lives. The Byna we meet is deeply in tune with the beauty and the natural world around her; she is in her late 60s, has lived in a small cabin in the woods for most of her life and has recently lost her husband of 50+ years. Davenport and Elsen, after much discussion, created lyrics which preserve Byna’s native dialect (in the best possible sense). They settled on 10 passages from the play for Byna’s Life Songs. Altogether, Davenport set 11 sets of lyrics, or songs; 10 of these pieces are original songs, and 1 piece is an arrangement of Byna’s favorite old gospel hymn. The work also features four original instrumental interludes, bringing the total number to 15 pieces. Performance time for this work runs just over one hour.

BYNA Ensemble The premiere of BYNA took place at the Porter Center for the Performing Arts at Brevard College, Brevard, North Carolina in late 2005, featuring the BYNA ENSEMBLE, (at left) accomplished musicians residing in the Appalachian region including: Julia Broxholm, soprano; Kelly Vaneman, oboist; Anthony Fanning, cellist; and John Cobb, pianist. The ENSEMBLE was formed to premiere and perform the work in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and throughout the Southern Appalachian during a two year period.

Now the score has been finalized. Byna’s Life Songs not only give voice to an older mountain woman’s profound memories and perspectives, but also reminds us all of the history and the deep cultural heritage that sprang from the Southern Appalachian region unique in all America as the original homeland of the Cherokees. BYNA begins with an instrumental prelude—The Heart of the Mountains, which is precisely where the composer and librettist want the listener to be. Through her Life Songs, Byna tells us about her present life, but she often reminisces and entertains us with stories from her past. She tells us about the people she loves and events which have been important in her life—about her wedding day, the day Robert died, her Daddy’s fiddle, her Mother’s quilt, the day she sat under the hemlocks with her full-blood Cherokee Grandmother, who as a child hid out with her family in the mountains to keep from being driven off to Oklahoma during the Removal; and Byna turns back to one spring day, “when childhood seemed t’rise up from the fields.”

As Elsen was inspired by the traditions of her mountain heritage and Byna’s place within that heritage, Davenport, has also tapped into the wells of his mountain upbringing and his years of experience developing his style of Appalachian inspired music. Byna’s words set to Davenport’s music truly make for a dynamic musical experience and is sure to be an inspiration to all who Byna: Life Songs of a Southern Appalachian Woman of Cherokee Descent.


Byna is a strong conceptual project which has a tremendous potential for appeal. Davenport and Elsen were interested in creating a work that is highly accessible and would be a profoundly moving artistic and cultural offering. Davenport’s music has proved to be highly accessible to listeners, both in terms of age, and in terms of listening quality. “It is gratifying to have found a creative talent who writes music of sensitivity, deep feeling and with a special gift for melody.” Dr. Larry Palmer, Professor of Music, Southern Methodist University. “…The first public hearing of Songs of the Bride moved the audience to tears.” Dr. Palmer noted

Byna is a chamber music work, centering on a libretto carrying the weight of a dynamic personality, a woman’s ethnic heritage, representing the unique language of a region, and is overall representative of the cultural heritage of the Southern Appalachians of western NC, east Tennessee, north Georgia, the northern region of South Carolina. The Byna Project incorporates many of the arts—play writing, theatre, linguistics, cultural heritage, ethnic heritage, the composing of music, performance of music, ethnic arts—and more--geography, colonial history, US History and NC/GA/TN/SC history. Therefore a large number of educational outreaches can form around this project, particularly in a university setting.  The Native American Studies and the Music Department at Newberry College, for instance, jointly presented BYNA in November, Native American History month, and educational opportunities  for students were created by both departments.  At Young Harris College BYNA was presented as the yearly public program centering on Appalachian themes; both the English Department and the Music Department sponsored educational outreach opportunities for students and the public.  At Brevard College, area high school students/public came to the lobby of the Porter Center for the Performing Arts for a presentation by the composer/librettist which was followed up with an open rehearsal with the Ensemble.      

BYNA Ensemble
(All Photos by Linda White)

We had the opportunity to partner with several individuals and organizations for pre-concert lobby activities. We partnered with many regional Quilters Associations, who displayed early 1900s era quilts in the lobby and conducted pre-concert lap quilting demonstrations. We encourage presenters to fully explore the enormous partnering opportunities this project offers. Another important aspect of this work is the acknowledgement of the Cherokee heritage when speaking of the Southern Appalachian region. We very much desired to incorporate and reflect on the Cherokee’s role in the Southern Appalachian heritage and culture. In The Hemlock Trees Byna tells us of sitting under the hemlocks with her Grandmother who taught her the art of Cherokee Indian basket-making. The river cane double-weave baskets made by the Cherokee women were among the goods first traded with British Traders who came into the Cherokee territory from the SC Colony. Today the art is kept alive in Cherokee by a small number of basket makers who practice the difficult craft of double-weave basket making—many of the women are older, and it is vital to inspire the younger generation to keep this art alive.

We partnered with businesses specializing in Native American crafts who exhibited Cherokee crafts and baskets in the lobby prior to concerts. We partnered with the Cherokee Qualla Arts and Crafts Co-op who installed a basket exhibit in the lobby of the Porter Center two weeks prior to the NC premiere. We have involved individual Cherokee artists in pre-concert exhibits prior to most of the BYNA concerts. Indeed, one of the project goals was to enable Cherokee artists to be a part of this project, providing them and their art/craft an avenue into the wider community.

Lucille Lossiah
Faren Sanders
Lucille Lossiah
Toward that end, Cherokee basket maker, Lucille Lossiah, (left) conducted basket making demonstrations prior to the NC premiere and brought the raw river cane materials for concert goers to see. Cherokee artist, Faren Sanders Crews (left) who created the BYNA visual image—Byna and the Old Deer—(top of page) brought her art to exhibit prior to each BYNA concert. Cherokee artist’s participation is based on elements found in the text. The titles of two of the instrumental works in BYNA are taken from the Cherokees.

WACHESA TRAIL was a segment of the primary path used by the Cherokee from the Overhill region around “CHOTA,” which is close to Monroeville, TN, crossing over the mountains leading in the southeasterly direction down to the Lower Settlements in present day South Carolina and in the southwesterly direction into Georgia. This diverging path touches 4 states in the Southern Appalachian region of the original Cherokee territory, was the primary path used by the first traders coming up from the SC Colony and most likely was the path used by Sir Alexander Cumming who made a tour of the Cherokee nation in 1730. The second title pays tribute to a Forest and a River, an important part of the region: NANTAHALA: NUNDAYEL: FLOWING RIVER IN THE LAND OF THE MIDDAY SUN: (Nantahala means: Land of the Midday Sun in the Cherokee language.)


Byna has been labeled, "Appalachian Romanticism." The work has strong theatrical elements, as the text was taken from a play and tells, in broad terms, the story of Byna’s life. The words reveal intimate, dramatic moments from her present and past life. The composer’s music purposefully and dramatically accentuates the words and very effectively captures the drama of the words and the mood of Byna’s surroundings, setting up dramatic elements which are rare in chamber music.

The composer’s instructions to the instrumentalists when the score was finished were to play their instruments as though they were part of Byna’s environment:

“The cello is the earth upon which Byna walks--'black and rich." The piano is the spring from which she drinks in the morning, and the creek in which she plays with her dog. It is the morning light, and the sky with its changing colors. The oboe is the trees, the wildflowers, and the plants Byna loves, which surround her."

To heighten the dramatic, environmental and mood elements, we used lighting, which is an uncommon aspect in the performance of chamber music. Furthermore, soprano Julia Broxholm's diction was superb. Her performance most effectively captured and accentuated the drama and story elements in the lyrics and music. The other Ensemble members fully used their instruments in support of the drama and story. When all these elements are combined, the performance is unusual and, as more than one audience member commented, “mesmerizing.”

Click here for the BYNA lyrics.

For further info on the BYNA project, or to schedule a performance of this work, email Delilah Elsen atl: