The Native American
Composer Apprentice Project
Arizona: Last September, the Grand Canyon Music Festival held its 25th season at the Shrine of the Ages in Grand Canyon National Park. The festival hosted the Native American Composers Apprentice Project. This project brings 25 high school students from Hopi and Navajo schools to participate in a three-week composition tutorial. Coached by a Native American composer, they learned how to develop string quartet music; how to notate it; and how to transfer the work from their minds to live string quartet of professional musicians.
Since 2004, the composer-in-residence has been Raven Chacon, a Navajo from Chinle, Ariz. Raven is among the few American Indian composers working in the world today. He has recorded many works for classical and electronic instruments and ensembles. His music has been exhibited and performed live across the country. Raven also belongs to the First Nations Composers Initiative, a group of composers and musicians working to progress the education and works of Native composers.
Chacon helped the NACAP students realize their musical ideas into a final 2-minute composition. One of his earlier participants, Michael Begay, helped him as composer assistant.
The string quartet, ETHEL, worked with the student composers to refine their musical ideas. The quartet consists of four Juilliard trained classical musicians including, Cornelius Dufallo, violin; Ralph Farris, viola; Dorothy Lawson, cello and Mary Rowell, violin. Its repertory includes rock, blues, classical, jazz and other popular genres to create a sound that defies categorization.
“I see the students work with their creativity; they discover in the process an ability to use their talents,” Rowell said.
After the pieces had been heard in workshop performance, ETHEL performed the students’ works at a number of schools.
The world premiere performance of the students’ works took place in the Grand Canyon Community Building. Students also received a portfolio of their work, including a professionally copied score and professionally recorded CD.
Chacon said parents are enthusiastic about their children's works. And since many students are avid guitar players and heavy metal fans, the NACAP helped enrich their musical experience. He also said the Navajo Nation has a rich musical tradition which can be expressed in non-traditional instruments.
Claire Hoffman, artistic director of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, secured program grants from many sources including the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music of America, Arizona Commission on the Arts, and the Utah Arts Council.
If other tribal areas are interested in developing a program for their youth, they may contact Hoffman at Claire@i-2000.com.