Native American Composer Apprentices program 2005

Young composers at Hopi High

Photo by Stan Bindell
Each fall, Grand Canyon Music FestivalÕs Native American ComposerÕs Apprenticeship Program pairs reservation student musicians with working professionals. Above, Hopi High student Jose Acevidi, left, works with vionlinist, Ralph Farris of the Ethel quartet.

Photo by Stan Bindell Each fall, Grand Canyon Music FestivalÕs Native American ComposerÕs Apprenticeship Program pairs reservation student musicians with working professionals. Above, Hopi High student Jose Acevidi, left, works with vionlinist, Ralph Farris of the Ethel quartet.

POLACCA -- Ethel played chamber music at Hopi High School with a Native American twist.

Seven Hopi High School students composed music for Ethel, a quartet performing chamber music as part of the Grand Canyon Music Festival Sept. 21 at Hopi High School.

The young Hopi High School composers involved in this program included Ryan Hoosava, Jose Acevedo, Lance Talaswaima, Evan Silas and Kiyanie Haungooah.

The Grand Canyon Music Festival performed at the Grand Canyon from Sept. 7-24, but students from Hopi High School, Greyhills Academy High School, Tuba City High School, Monument Valley High School and Salt River High School composed pieces for Ethel. The quartet then performed the student pieces at each of those schools during the week of Sept. 19-23.

Jerod Tate, artist-in-residence at each of those schools during the past month, helped the students compose the pieces. He gave each student individual composing tutoring. Tate's musical tutoring was part of the Grand Canyon Musical Festival experience.

Tate has composed for orchestras and ballets throughout America. As a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, he is one of the few Native American composers in the United States.

Tate served as the composer for the Native American Television Inc. documentary series titled "First Americans Journal." He composed the score for the documentary "A Seat at the Drum" on Native American Public Telecommunications, which will air on PBS in 2006.

Ethel, based in New York, showed that chamber music isn't just boring as their upbeat tunes had the students moving to the beat. Ethel has four members: Ralph Farris on viola, Dorothy Lawson on cello, Cornelius Dufallo on violin and Mary Rowell on violin.

This is the fifth year that the Grand Canyon Music Festival has taken its tour on the road to let Native American high school students write and hear their music.

Claire Hoffman, artistic director for the Grand Canyon Music Festival, said this year has gone really well because the schools have learned what to expect.

"When this program began the schools didn't know what to expect, but now they know and it makes it easier," she said.

Hoffman said the music fever has caught on as the students who are involved are excited and the other students pick up the excitement and they want to get

involved in this unique musical program.

"The kids surprise themselves and gain confidence," she said. "They know that this is something they can do and it demystifies the process about composing music."

Hoffman said the composing music program is rigorous, demanding and challenging. She noted that all the students in the program completed their task of

composing a song for Ethel.

"The students experience the musical skills, but they also learn about the broader goal of meeting a challenge," she said.

Hoffman said--just like writing, storytelling or weaving--composing music has a start, a middle and an end.

"It's the narrative of music. It can be translated into a logical sequence," she said.

The Grand Canyon Music Festival is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Western States Arts Federation, Chamber Music of America, Compton Foundation and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)

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