Grand Canyon Music Festival program benefits Tuba City High music students

The Ethel quartet perform.

The Ethel quartet perform.

TUBA CITY-Originally inspired almost 25 years ago, Clare Hoffman and Robert Bonfiglio-both professional musicians who lived in New York-were searching for adventure and a break from the heavy pressure of musical life in the Big Apple.

They came to the Grand Canyon for a quiet vacation and from that first visit, the Grand Canyon Music Festival was born. Since then, the festival has been nurturing the ears and hearts of music lovers from all over the southwest each fall season with a special, selected chamber presentation that is featured at the Shrine of the Ages at the Canyon during the month of September.

Along with this special concert series, another program was born in 1984.

A Native American student educational outreach concert program was initiated to serve under-served and rural communities, so students in remote reservations areas could also have the opportunity to hear and participate in a concert program that featured world-class musicians playing classical music.

Ten reservation area schools in both the Navajo and Hopi communities were selected and the featured chamber group would travel to the reservations to perform a short concert.

The interest was so keen with the Native student population, that Hoffman and Bonfiglio decided that it would be the next logical step to include Native American composers to work at individual selected reservation school sites with high school students to help develop and create original chamber music compositions, which would heighten both the student's mathematical and critical thinking skills.

The Native American Composer's Apprenticeship Program (NACAP) was born in 2000.

Now in its seventh successful year of Native student and professional Native American composer participation and partnership, NACAP was again at the Navajo and Hopi reservations this past week, working with students on their projects. The final compositions will be presented at the Shrine of the Ages on Sept. 15-16.

This year's NACAP Composer In Residence is Raven Chacon, who is of Navajo-Hispanic heritage originally from the Chinle area.

Chacon is one of the very few Native American experimental composers working in the world today. Chacon has recorded many works for both classical and electronic instruments and ensembles and has also performed and exhibited many of his own original works across the southwest.

Chacon has studied and worked with such notable composers such as James Tenney, Morton Subotnick and Wadada Leo Smith.

Chacon has recently gained national attention for his series of work with processed voice, Native flute and percussion and also for his audio collage work involving 10,000 Beatles samples.

Chacon recently moved from Los Angeles to start a new career teaching classical guitar at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M.

Hopi and Navajo music students at Tuba City High School this past week not only got to work on their own original pieces of music, but also will be featured in a PBS special that features the NACAP programming through filmmaker Molly McBride.

McBride was in Tuba City last year filming Tuba City High students who worked with Chacon, and his student-mentor apprentice Michael Begay, who was also an original NACAP intern for three years and has since pursued music as his primary career goal after graduating from high school.

Composer Chacon and student mentor Begay have been at five schools this year, including Tuba City High, Monument Valley-Kayenta High, Hopi High School, Greyhills Academy High and Chinle High with a total of 30 students in the 2007 NACAP program.

Courtland Willie, Diné, a junior at Tuba City High School even got a part-time job at the local Bashas' supermarket to be able to make some money to buy his own guitar.

"I have really enjoyed learning and understanding more about music through the NACAP program and the Grand Canyon Music Festival. Writing and composing music gives you something special to do and relaxes your mind in a creative way. At first I thought that only electric guitar would make sense for me, but after listening and appreciating more of the classical acoustic instruments, I would now like to mix both electric with the wood instruments for my own compositions," he said.

Tommy Suetopka Jr., Hopi, a sophomore at Tuba City High, gets his musical inspiration from his father, Tommy Sr., who played saxophone and also learned to play classical guitar when he was in high school in California. His father started teaching him basic chords and rhythms when he was still in junior high and that has helped his experience and lessons with Chacon while in the NACAP program this year.

On Friday, Sept. 14, the band room at Tuba City High School was packed to the rafters with other students, staff members and interested community members just to hear the student classical compositions being played by Ethel, the chamber ensemble from New York who are here in Arizona this week to play at the Grand Canyon Music Festival series.

Members of Ethel include Cornelius Dufallo on violin, Ralph Farris on viola, Mary Rowell on violin and Dorothy Lawson on cello.

Lawson, a cellist, had this to say about the NACAP students. "Our group, Ethel, has a deeper sense of the world because in working with these gifted Native students and gaining knowledge of their Native cultures and traditions, we will carry that cross cultural experience with us throughout the world as we travel."

For more information about the NACAP program at Tuba City High, contact the District Office of Public Relations at (928) 283-1185 or for more information about the Grand Canyon Music Festival, contact them at 800-997-8285 or visit their Website at

www.grandcanyonmusicfest.org.

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