By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – April 2, 2016) — Two of the many benefits of living in New Mexico are the many Native American tribes residing in the area and the various artistic expressions embedded in the New Mexico culture — be it visual, musical, architectural, or literary.
So when I heard about the recent composer’s symposium that melded the two—Native American culture and art music — my interest was perked.
The John Donald Robb Composer’s Symposium, hosted by the University of New Mexico, brought together modern composers influenced by Native American culture and Native American composers writing in a form not normally associated with Indigenous groups (art music, aka… “classical music”); for as a note from the directors states in the program, “The historical record of inclusivity in classical music is not strong. To say that women and minorities have been poorly served by the classical canon is a gross understatement.”
The John Donald Robb symposium hopes to change that. The directors, Peter Gilbert and Karola Obermuller, state, “We are attempting to embrace and learn from indigenous contributions to the contemporary classical canon.” Together—with a host of help—they are doing a masterful job, highlighting the Native voice within art music.
Spanning four days of concerts, lectures, classes, and panel discussions, the symposium ranged in scope from artwork discussions (noted artist, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, was the featured visual artists), to poetry readings (Navajo Nation Poet Laureate, Luci Tapahonso), to a variety of discussions and performances of new music by leading Native art music composers, Raven Chacon (Navajo), Trevor Reed (Hopi), and Valerie Naranjo (Ute), among them. To say the least, it was a feast for the senses.
I was able to attend two of the week’s events. On day one, I heard local composers, Lauren Coons (Bear Canyon Epitaphs, a composition integrating poetry, visual art, and dissonant musical impressions) and Matthew Stanley (Lymbcxrsx, a percussion piece performed by Jonathan Rodriguez) premier their works. When you add Falko Stenbach’s Camp II and If That Helps to the program (with Falko on the piano), the evening was one of intrigue and many musical surprises; an experience for the ears and eyes.
On the final day, I listened as the Amernet String Quartet performed music by John Donald Robb (String Quartet No. 2), Trevor Reed (Colors), Raven Chacon (Double Weaving), the world premiere of Peter Gilbert’s, Colors of early morning, of salt (influenced by a poem by Luci Tapahonso, Old Salt Women, read by Tapahonso before the performance), and three other though-provoking works. The Amernet String Quartet played with sublime beauty through the compositions, many of which involved modern techniques and dissonant, other-worldly tonalities.
As I chatted with Trevor Reed in the food line after the concert, I told him his work, Colors, was quite moving and beautiful. With his child standing next to him, he politely said, “I’m so pleased you liked it,” stating that many folks find it “too dissonant and strange.” As a seasoned listener of modern music, I understood his concern, but was impressed with his vision none-the-less.
Yet what impressed me as much as the music, art, and poetry was the intent behind the symposium: an intellectual and stimulating way of highlighting fascinating music in the context of underrepresented culture. With the hope to support new music, encourage the work of emerging composers, educate the community, and collaborate with the community, the John Donald Robb Musical Trust at UNM is truly paving new ground, both musically and culturally.
For this, I say, bravo; and please give us more!
To learn more about the John Donald Robb Musical Trust at UNM click here: http://www.robbtrust.org.
Photo captions: 1) The String Quartet. 2) Composer, Trevor Reed. 3) Composer, Raven Chacon. 4) Poet, Luci Tapahonso, reading at the symposium. 4) Musicians and composers, standing ovation. 5) Brian Nixon
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About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist,Brianspends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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